Movie Adaptations That Butchered The Books

The Scarlet LetterBuena Vista

You’re thrilled that will be a movie adaptation of your favorite book. You can’t wait to see if what you imagined as you turned the pages translates onto the big screen. Then as you’re viewing the film, your joy turns first to horror then to utter disgust as you realize that the entire book has been butchered worse than someone stuck in a room with Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees. You leave the theater with steam coming out of your ears.

Translating a book into a movie is tough, yes, because no one visualizes things the same way. That doesn’t let Hollywood off the hook. since these following movies were ones where the creative decisions were truly terrible.

The Scarlet Letter

 This movie took a classic novel and pretty much spat all over it. Demi Moore turns in a dull performance and not even the great Gary Oldman could save it. They took a situation that was supposed to be about the shame of adulturous sex and made it even more tawdry.What made matters worse was the fact that they changed the ending to a happier one. Moore even defended the movie by saying that not many people had read the book (I think every English teacher in the nation tore up the newspaper when they read that quote). Nathaniel Hawthorne was probably spinning fast enough in his grave to power Manhattan for 10,000 years.

 Bonfire of the Vanities

If you want to look up the term ‘surefire hit’, this movie should have been in there. It had Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. Admittedly, it was before they became TOM HANKS and BRUCE WILLIS, but they should have had the charisma to pull off this adaptation of the satirical Tom Wolfe novel. The problem was, they went with a comedy instead of making it a dramedy. Melanie Griffith was wasted, too. There were no Masters of The Universe here.

 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

 Nicolas Cage can act in a drama. Watch Leaving Las Vegas. He can do it. This was not a good drama for him. He especially can’t convincingly play an Italian. There was no real chemistry between Penelope Cruz and Cage. It also deviated a lot from the book and the movie just seemed to set the stage for Cage to start taking weirder and weirder roles (with a couple of National Treasures sandwiched in between).

 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Johnny Depp version)  

I like how the Gene Wilder version did with the childhood classic book. Wilder played Willy Wonka as a whimsical sort who enjoyed confounding the people who entered his domain. Depp, an actor who has really embraced eccentric roles of late, made a high-strung pale ghoul who probably was nightmare fuel for every kid that saw the movie in the theater. It just changed the whole overall tone from the book and was a bad choice. I wonder if Depp’s own children were like, “Um… Dad?” when they saw this.

The Great Gatsby (both versions) 

 I read “The Great Gatsby” a long time ago, but I had a fixed image of Jay Gatsby. It sure as heck wasn’t Robert Redford, who played the titular character in the ’70s version and I never saw Leo DiCaprio. For some reason, I also didn’t have the music of Jay-Z blaring in my mind when I read the book either. The modern version actually did fairly well in the theater, but I didn’t see it as a good adaptation, since it was too glittery.

 Any live-action Dr. Seuss movie

 I don’t think Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, had Jim Carrey and Mike Myers (the SNL actor, not the homicidal slasher I mentioned in the introductory paragraph) in mind when he wrote “The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas” and “The Cat In The Hat” respectively. He might have had issues casting someone who thought high comedy was talking with his butt cheeks and another who devised a character who was morbidly obese and would scream things like, “GET..IN…MY…BELLY!!!!” I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.


The dumbest decision in this movie was to remove the presence of the Greek Gods. You know, the ones that were a huge impetus behind the scenes for many of the events that took place during this epic? I think Zeus would have at least thrown a thunderbolt in the direction of Brad Pitt for making Achilles such a whiny, pouty prettyboy baby. There was such a big chance to make an epic movie and the creators punted on it; Such a shame.

 Gulliver’s Travels

 I like Jack Black. I do. I loved School of Rock and found his turn in Tropic Thunder to be hilarious. When I saw that he was going to be doing a version of this classic tale, with several key points changed, my first, second and third instincts were, “Uh… no”. Sure enough, it relied on kiddie humor and failed to carry anything from its original source.

 Running With Scissors

 This was a movie that I was actually looking forward to seeing, since I’m a big fan of Augusten Burroughs. Sadly, the movie took mental illness and had its characters act like cartoon characters. Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening and Joseph Fiennes all had their talent wasted in this movie. It was from a memoir too, which just made it worse. I found it a good opportunity vastly squandered.

I, Robot

I don’t care that the Asimov estate approved of this movie, one that took only a couple of names from the book and made it a COMPLETELY different film. I think Isaac, if he were still alive, would have taken one look at the script and sneered at the writers, “You’re kidding, right?” I don’t think he pictured Will Smith sliding down a huge tower screaming at a sentient computer.

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