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15 Bestselling Books That Were Turned Into Terrible Movies

Culture December 14, 2017 By Hugo

If a book sells millions of copies, studios waste little time acquiring the rights. But then again, cinematic success is never guaranteed. 


Just take a look at some of these book-turned-films. Adapted to the screen soon after their bestseller status, the results left fans and critics immensely disappointed. In some instances, it was a culmination of bad screenwriting and directing while in others, the actors seemingly had little grasp of the book's characters. 

With that in mind, here are 15 movies that weren't nearly as memorable as the books.

1. Bonfire of the Vanities 

Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel about a Wall Street banker's take on the socioeconomic landscape of 1980s New York became an instant bestseller and cemented Wolfe's reputation as one of America's great writers. But quite what Hollywood had in mind when they adapted it to the screen is anybody's guess. 

Released in 1990 and starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Wills, the movie was a long and excruciatingly boring watch. One critic even wrote, "[The] screenplay eviscerates Tom Wolfe's forceful work of social criticism of its moral meaning." Ouch.

2. The DaVinci Code

When Dan Brown wrote his fourth novel 'The DaVinci Code' he wasn't expecting anything life-changing to come of it, but today Brown is one of America's best-selling authors with sales of over 200m. 

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood soon came calling once The DaVinci Code took off, but it seems the plot's detailed accounts of conspiracy theories and adventures was hard to replicate on screen, which was perhaps summed up best by the film critic Brandon Fibbs who wrote, "So intent on being faithful, 'The DaVinci Code' forgets to be entertaining."

3. A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 

First released as a graphic novel series, the comics won multiple awards for the story lines and illustrations, but the 2003 movie adaptation left people feeling shortchanged.

One critic even called it, "odd, loud, unintentionally funny and quite awful."

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Douglas Adam's 1979 fictional guide for hitchhikers became a massive success but the movie earned just $50 million at the box office.


5. The Great Gatsby

Any film that attempts to capture the essence of Fitzgerald's most enduring work will often find it hard and Baz Luhrmann's star-studded 3D adaptation was no exception. Admittedly, it wasn't as bad as the 1973 version, but Fitzgerald's narrative about the social and moral decay of a country was quickly turned on its head and transformed into a movie intent on being a melodramatic tearjerker rather than a serious work of art.

'Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby: a faithful film – and a terribly, terribly bad one ' wrote the Daily Telegraph. 

6. Christmas with the Kranks

John Grisham is one of America's most celebrated novelists but his beloved New York Times Bestseller 'Skipping Christmas' was quickly butchered by Hollywood.

One critic went as far as to label it an "unfunny disaster." 

7. The Scarlet Letter

At the time of its release, the esteemed 1850 novel caused much controversy due to the protagonist mothering a baby outside wedlock, but it was the movie adaptation some 150 years later that caused controversy of a different kind. 

"Freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne," the credits say cautiously. I'll say," wrote Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaumm,

8. Left Behind: The Movie

At its time of release, 'Left Behind: The Movie' was described by promoters as the "biggest and most ambitious Christian film ever made."

But it didn't quite live up to the hype of the best selling book. In fact, the adaptation grossed a paltry $3m and a host of negative reviews.

9. Gulliver's Travels

We've already listed some painful reviews, but the woeful 2010 adaptation of Jonathon Swift's classic novel led Rolling Stone to call it, "a dumb excuse for a movie."

Not that they were being harsh....

10. Bicentennial Man

Isaac Asimov's 1976 novella 'Bicentennial Man won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for best science fiction novelette, but the 1999 adaptation starring the late Robin Williams failed to achieve the same success.

Instead, many viewed it as a bland an uninspired interpretation of the book.

11. The Kite Runner

'The Kite Runner' was a runaway bestseller across the world, and a film adaptation soon followed.

However, the film took a meagre $15m at the box office, despite positive reviews.

12. Great Expectations
Charles Dicken's classic book has been adapted for the silver screen countless times, but the 1998 version wasn't loved by critics.

Changed to a modern-day setting, Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow's on-screen chemistry was forced at best, with one critic even labelling it, "more of a tragedy than a story." 

13. The Time Traveller's Wife

For many years Audrey Niffenegger's first novel couldn't find a home. But then a small publishing house in San Fransisco finally decided to publish it and changed her life forever. To both their surprise, it became an award-winning best-seller, but the 2009 movie adaptation wasn't as good. 

The New York Times, a place where teenage girls are presumably few and far between, labelled the film "ridiculous, awkward [and] unsatisfying."

14. Eat, Pray, Love

Following a terrible divorce, Elizabeth Gilbert decided to write a memoir chronicling the lessons she'd learned from her marriage as she travelled the world.

Soon after publishing it, it became an international sensation, but the movie which followed was a tad too dramatic for many peoples' liking, and critics universally panned it.

15. The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones, told from the unusual perspective of a murdered girl watching her family's trauma from heaven as they cope with her loss sold millions before Hollywood turned it into a film starring Mark Wahlberg and Saoirse Ronan. 

Still, though the movie would give supporting actor Stanley Tucci his first Academy Award nomination, critics felt it lacked any real conviction, and the consensus was that it was ultimately a poor re-telling of a great book. 


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