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The 10 Worst Book-To-Movie Adaptations Of All Time

Two men writing a screenplay with books and movie clapper with scrunched paper

Sometimes, despite everyone’s best intentions and attempts, book-to-movie adaptations can go badly wrong…

Whether it’s because of terrible acting, unnecessary changes to the gripping plot of the book, or simply that the subject matter should never have been remodelled in the first place, some “movie versions” just don’t cut it. In general, when it comes down to the detail, the book reigns supreme over the movie. But that doesn’t stop producers, directors and movie-makers alike having a go at some astounding book-to-screen adaptations. Whether you’re looking for something to entertain or enrage, here are 10 movies that didn’t quite get the adaptation right.

The Girl on the Train
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The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is a 2015 book by Paula Hawkins following the story of an alcoholic woman who observes a couple from the window of her train on her daily commute. Here every day she builds a dark obsession with their ‘perfect’ lives. When she witnesses something terrible from her train, she inserts herself in their lives, and the subsequent police investigation. The film makes a few key changes, making the huge cultural shift to New York and changing how the characters are involved. In the end these changes make the movie feel much more trivial and create some massive plot holes, compared to the tight psychological thriller boasted by the novel.

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson is a beloved, clever and fun book series, blending teen adventure with classic Greek mythology. The books follow the trials and tribulations of Percy, who discovers he is a demi-god, the son of Poseidon, God of the sea. The movie makes a range of changes from the books – and not just the standard omission of details which is necessary for most adaptations. The cast of characters are aged around four years older, completely changing the dynamic of their friendships. Plus, some of the secondary characters also stray far from their original personalities – Annabeth is much cooler in the books. The genuinely fun and engaging nature of the book is completely lost on the CGI movies.

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The Great Gatsby
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The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a beautifully written novel, often interpreted as a cautionary tale of the American dream, against the backdrop of the roaring 1920s. Part of the novel’s brilliance is its narration from outsider Nick Carraway, and the inability to replicate this storytelling is part of the reason it is so hard to adapt to a good movie. While Baz Luhrman’s film is visually stunning and decadent with great acting and famed soundtrack, it doesn’t capture the darker layered notes of the novel.This adaptation also makes the unusual choice of Nick narrating the story to a doctor, and doesn’t quite capture how heartbreaking Gatsby’s end is. In the end, this is one of those novels that will never have a film do it justice.

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My Sister's Keeper
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My Sister's Keeper

Both the book, My Sister’s Keeper, and its movie adaptation are absolutely devastating. Both focus on one family, where the protagonist was born specifically to donate blood, bone marrow and even organs to her sick older sister, but she decides to stop the painful procedures. Without giving too many spoilers, this film had to be featured because of the way it changes the ending of the original novel, undermining key themes and lessons of the tragic tale.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We have to admit that splitting up J. K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts was probably for the best; It would have been impossible to create a single film without missing out so many plot features and details (if only the Goblet of Fire was split in two!).We’re not going to argue that the Harry Potter series is anything less than enjoyable and the last instalment of the series was no exception, but a few key changes mean it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been. Mainly the death of main villain, Voldemort misses key points, (he should suffer a regular death despite his dreams of immortality) and the complex plot of the Elder wand is left unclear, unlike in the novels, totally letting down the movie.

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The Time Traveller's Wife
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The Time Traveller's Wife

The Time Traveller’s Wife is an expansive book detailing the lives and relationship of Clare and Henry over different time periods, complicated by Henry’s illness which causes him to travel through time uncontrollably. The book explores their own relationship and those around them, along with universal themes of love, loss and free will. The movie adaptation removes their backstory, rushing through the romance so that the central love story feels forced. Key characters are also narrowed, downplayed, or even eliminated completely, and the ending is changed for the worse.

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The Golden Compass
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The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass has fallen victim to the classic problems that plague many on-screen adaptations. Somehow it combines a confusing mixture of an oversimplified, over-explained and watered down version of the book in hopes that it will help it appeal to a wider audience. The Golden Compass trilogy allow readers to pick up on things throughout the story, whereas the film bluntly explains them, taking away much development and intrigue. While the action scenes are stunning, the movie loses depth and character, making it a shallow and dim version of the novel.

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The Maze Runner
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The Maze Runner

The main issue many fans had with this adaptation is that is strays far from the brilliance of the original book. Once again, chunks of plot are cut out for a shorter running time, and character development are changed without helping the plot. While the acting is great, in the end, The Maze Runner is simply one of those movies that can never live up to the rich source material of the book.

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City of Bones
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City of Bones

Yet another young adult sci-fi saga that somehow managed to go very wrong, City of Bones was so bad that its sequel was never made. The book series allows the complex plot and characters to develop over time, while the movie crams it all in at the start and can’t seem to make it all come together. We would go into more detail but the 14% rating the film has on Rotten Tomatoes says it all.

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The Stepford Wives
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The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives movie made in 2004 is very different from the original feminist text, to the point of achieving an opposite result. At times veering into anti-feminist territory, this adaptation completely undermines the book. The novel is about a woman who moves to Connecticut town, Stepford and is shocked to find all the wives to be submissive, docile and beautiful. The book is witty and nuanced and is poignantly feminist, funny and satirical – however the movie turns it to a trivial mess.

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Want more book recommendations? Explore the best book series of all time or our list of 10 classic novels which we know you’ve just been meaning to read. If movies are what you’re in search of, try the best thriller films ever.


Editor’s Note: Our writers and contributors have independently selected and curated this article, and all opinions are their own. This article does contain affiliate links which allows us to make revenue off some purchases made by our readers.
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