13 Beloved Books That Made Terrible Films, According to Critics

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Leave It On the Bookshelf

Plenty of popular books have made for incredible movies: the “Harry Potter” series, “The Notebook,” “The Help” — the list goes on. Some readers and viewers even prefer the movie versions of their favorite stories. On the other hand, some film adaptations are better left in their original, written form. Here are some of the most notable, well-known, and well-loved books that were made into cringeworthy films.

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‘The Hobbit’ | J.R.R. Tolkien
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‘The Hobbit’ | J.R.R. Tolkien

Film Adaptations: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013), and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)

Critic Quote: “‘The Hobbit’ is just one book, and its expansion into three movies feels arbitrary and mercenary.” — The New York Times

Despite “The Hobbit” being only one book, the 310-page novel was split into three different movie installments, resulting in some serious overkill. J.R.R. Tolkien’s lighthearted fantasy is full of action and adventure, but stretching the story across a trilogy of films bogs down the impact, deviating from the original, simple plotline. 

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‘The Scarlet Letter

‘The Scarlet Letter’ | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Film Adaptation: “The Scarlet Letter” (1995)

Critic Quote: “Read the book. Forget this movie.” — CNN

Arguably one of the most well-known stories of all time, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” completely falters from the original intention of the story and deviates to an over-sexualized romance instead. Even stars Demi Moore and Gary Oldman as the unlucky lovers can do nothing to salvage this mangled interpretation.

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‘The Time Machine
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‘The Time Machine’ | H.G. Wells

Film Adaptation: “The Time Machine” (2002)

Critic Quote: “So much effort has been put into creating a believable world for the traveler to come from and a creditable back story for his trip that what happens 800,000 years in the future seems to belong to a completely different — and less interesting — picture.” — Los Angeles Times

H.G. Wells’ classic novella “The Time Machine” was penned in 1895. In 2002, Wells’ great grandson unveiled the film adaptation, but missed the mark. While the original story’s plot line revolved around an inventor creating a time machine in an effort to save the life of the woman he loved, the movie contained too many bells and whistles and muffled the point of the tale.

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‘The Lovely Bones’

‘The Lovely Bones’ | Alice Sebold

Film Adaptation: “The Lovely Bones” (2009)

Critic Quote: “In this case, though, he has changed the focus and characters to such a significant degree that his film might resonate more with those who have not read the book.”— The Hollywood Reporter

Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” is a haunting, yet beautiful story about a young girl who is murdered and watches over her family as they grieve her loss and try to find her killer. While the book exudes an eerie beauty and focuses on the healing process, the movie leans more toward a suspenseful thriller that is a little disturbing. Despite earning an Oscar nod for Stanley Tucci as the murderous neighbor, the movie was considered a fail by lovers of the book.

‘Paper Towns’ | John Green

‘Paper Towns’ | John Green

Film Adaptation: “Paper Towns” (2015)

Critic Quote: “Teenage angst has been a lucrative movie racket for years, but what happens when the kids are pretty much all right? Not a whole lot, at least in ‘Paper Towns,’ a serenely bland adaptation of the John Green young-adult novel about a regular boy in love with the mystery girl next door.” — The New York Times

After the success of the film adaptation of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” it made sense to try for another box office hit and turn “Paper Towns” into a movie. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t measure up and wasn’t able to effectively convey the charm of the novel.

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‘A Walk to Remember’ | Nicholas Sparks

‘A Walk to Remember’ | Nicholas Sparks

Film Adaptation: “A Walk to Remember” (2002)

Critic Quote: “‘'A Walk to Remember’ proves that a movie about goodness is not the same thing as a good movie.” — The New York Times

Plenty of Nicholas Sparks novels have been translated over to film adaptations, many of which became commercially successful. “A Walk to Remember” ended up being quite underwhelming, however, despite featuring a pre-”This Is Us” Mandy Moore. While the movie follows the same general plot of the book, it lacks some of the more detailed conflicts that occur in the novel, making it less captivating.

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‘Twilight’ | Stephenie Meyer

Film Adaptations: “Twilight” (2008)

Critic Quote: “Bella’s decision to get hot and heavy with a hot-and-hungry vampire, far from seeming like an act of mad, transgressive passion, comes across as merely stupid and ill-considered.” — Variety

While Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novel was able to dive into character development and provide insight for readers, the movie did not spend enough time allowing viewers into the minds of characters, making their actions seem confusing and at times, comical. As a result, the movie didn’t quite land the way the book did, though it was successful enough at the box office to turn Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart into stars and fuel four sequels.

‘Gulliver’s Travels’

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ | Johnathon Swift

Film Adaptation: “Gulliver’s Travels” (2010)

Critic Quote: “The film feels rushed and slight at every point.” — The Hollywood Reporter

Jonathon Swift’s 1726 novel “Gulliver’s Travels” is a beloved classic for adults and children alike, but the big screen adaptation is cheesy and lacks the whimsy and charm that the novel exudes. Critics everywhere agreed that the film had a lazy, lackluster script and star Jack Black did little to salvage it.

‘The Great Gatsby

‘The Great Gatsby’ | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Film Adaptation: “The Great Gatsby” (2013)

Critic Quote: “Arguably, the movie reaches its orgiastic peak 30 minutes in, with the first full reveal of Gatsby himself (Leonardo DiCaprio), accompanied by an explosion of fireworks and the eruption of Gershwin on the soundtrack. Where, really, can one go from there?” — Variety

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby” has now been adapted into film four different times, with the most recent rendition debuting in 2013. The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, focused too much on the style and pizazz of Gatsby’s world rather than emphasizing the actual substance of the story. While everyone looked the part and there was no shortage of glitz and glam, the plot just wasn’t as engaging and well-executed as it should have been.

Wikimedia Commons

‘Eragon’ | Christopher Paolini

Film Adaptation: “Eragon” (2006)

Critic Quote: “Even the scaly star, a Delft-blue beastie whose tint suggests either royal lineage or hypothermia, seems unsure of her motivation.” — The New York Times

While Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” is a book full of rich mythology and fantasy, the film adaptation was underwhelming at best. The movie lacked creativity and missed so many opportunities for humor, charm, and flair. Despite stars like John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons, there was no cure for terrible dialogue and nonsensical plotting.

‘A Wrinkle In Time’

‘A Wrinkle In Time’ | Madeleine L'Engle

Film Adaptation: “A Wrinkle in Time” (2018)

Critic Quote: “‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is wildly uneven, weirdly suspenseless and tonally all over the place, relying on wall-to-wall music to supply the missing emotional connection and trowel over huge plot holes.” — Variety

The film version of Madeleine L’Engle’s fantasy “A Wrinkle In Time” rushes through the story and doesn’t spend enough time developing characters and the plot, jumping from scene to scene too quickly. The film is overdone to the point of tackiness and the theme of the story becomes muddled with all of the background noise despite Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which and lush special effects. 

“The Cat in the Hat

‘The Cat in the Hat’ by Dr. Seuss

Film Adaptation: “The Cat in the Hat” (2003)

Critic Quote: “For an alleged comedy, “Cat” pulls few real laughs out of its hat, but does have the effect of putting the viewer into a state of low-level stupefaction, a condition that can cut either way depending upon one’s mental and physical constitution.” — Variety

Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” is a children’s classic, full of fun and whimsy. The book is the perfect amount of cheeky and is entertaining for both kids and adults. The movie, starring Mike Myers, might amuse children but will leave adults feeling overwhelmed by the chaotic scenes and underwhelmed by the humor. 

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‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’ | Rick Riordan

Film Adaptation: “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (2010)

Critic Quote: “What’s really lacking in ‘The Lightning Thief’ is a genuine sense of wonder, the same thing that brings viewers back to Hogwarts over and over again. Percy’s world seems like a decent place to visit, but it’s just not magical enough to make you want to live there.” — The Hollywood Reporter

Book lovers everywhere are often skeptical when their favorite stories are turned into movies. In the case of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” the story deviates from the book quite a bit, ultimately rubbing viewers and readers the wrong way. The movie has a weaker plot line than the book and bland characterizations, making it an overall flop.