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The Worst Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Published Feb 25, 2019


Whew! To say people feel strongly about book-to-screen adaptations is to grossly understate circumstances. Some people are so enraged, they’ve taken to the internet to bash everyone associated with an adaptation they feel woefully missed the mark.

The most notable offenders were films with altered endings, changed character traits, and skewed plots. Why stray so far from the book, especially when readers eagerly await their favorite story being filmed? Do directors really think we won’t notice?

We scoured sources in both the U.S. and U.K. and found consensus across the pond. Here are the top ten worst book-to-screen adaptations.

(Also, a quick spoiler warning: if you haven't seen these movies or read these books, turn back now!)

  1. The List
  2. Final Thoughts

The List

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


One person on BuzzFeed commented, "A godd*mn travesty, especially compared to the source material." The filmmakers changed instrumental elements like the characters’ ages to make them older. Why? We wish we knew.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


Voldemort’s death made so many movie-goers angry. In the book, he dies a human death, meant to show that in the end he was mortal. But not in the movie. He dramatically crumbles and explodes, ruining the entire point.

My Sister’s Keeper


The book’s ending is key. And they changed it in the movie. They had the wrong sister die, and the movie completely lost the impact and meaning Jodi Picoult had so heartbreakingly created.

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The Hunger Games


Why did the filmmakers decide Peeta shouldn’t lose his leg in the movie? It’s essential to understand why Katniss and Peeta are going their separate ways. There was no attempt to provide an alternative motive, which detracts from their relationship.

The Lovely Bones


Good grief! They made the movie into a murder mystery rather than the poignant look at a family that pulls apart and comes back together as they mourn Susie’s death. The film focuses too much on the search for the killer, taking the focus in a different direction.

The Girl on the Train


Instead of in London where the train commute makes sense, the filmmakers set the movie in New York City. It completely undermines how the main character sees into the back garden of a house. It’s not something you’d see in New York but definitely do in London.

The Hobbit


Particularly after the success of The Lord of the Rings, people had high expectations for this adaptation. Not only were they not faithful to the book, but they ineptly split it into three movies and added unnecessary characters. Again, why?

A Series of Unfortunate Events


This lamentable adaptation crammed three books into a single movie and changed the ending of the first book. Interestingly enough, several people commented on how disappointed they were with the film and they’re glad no further adaptations of the series were released.

The Golden Compass


Another film with an altered ending, The Golden Compass completely destroyed the order of the books. The filmmakers ended on a note that doesn’t set up the next story, taking away the dramatic ending and leaving the audience frustrated.



Because the filmmakers had to fit a 500+ page book into an hour and a half film, they dropped certain plot points and omitted some characters. Most viewers felt the movie didn’t have the wonder and emotional connection they got from the book.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps this is proof that the movie can never recreate the bond we get with a book. There’s only so much you can do on film while, on the page, readers get inside characters’ heads and become emotionally invested. What we envision in our minds as we read can never be translated faithfully to celluloid. And trying to jam a complex, character-driven book into a 90-minute film will always result in disappointment, right?

So tell us, what movie adaptations did you absolutely hate?

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Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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You might add "Dune" to your list. A wonderful, interesting book absolutely disemboweled by the film and turned into an epic farce.
Ready Player One. The worst movie adaptation ever! Like a terrible piece of fan fiction, they rewrote the entire story, and not well. Not only did they change almost all the events of the book, but they destroyed the female lead’s character, omitted that she was curvy, and turned her into a poor excuse for a revolutionary. They traded in all the references to eighties films (which made the book so fun and clever) for weaker, far more cliche references. It lost all its charm. And what’s even stranger is that the author adapted it with another writer. I imagine they forced him to make changes according to trends in other film adaptations of books, like Hunger Games and Divergent. Big mistake. The film was a complete disaster.
From book to film is a daunting task, so when I see a film of a book I have read, I wonder what they will leave out, and what I would leave out. But I just go to enjoy a film as a different story. Maybe that is why I have enjoyed the Hobbit and Harry Potter, but agree Eragon was a disappointing film.
Altering endings doesn't necessarily make a movie "the worst". The "worst" should be kept to those adaptations which were truly awful, and the question is just how many book to movie adaptations has the article writer seen? I ask this because off the top of my head, I can think of several which makes those on this list decent in comparison. For instance there's Vampire Academy, and there's a reason why the movie scores around zero on review sites. Then there's Dune, the movie being an unintelligible mess out of kindergarten school. It's rare that a movie adaptation works. One example is The Rag Nymph, the book having been written by Catherine Cookson. The truth, the so-called main male hero was nothing but a spineless pedo, but the movie manages to gloss over the wrongness of both book & movie to deliver a rich scenic setting.
Thanks, Ruth. Dune was one I saw people complaining about as well. Just not as often as these other ones, but maybe because these films came out more recently?
Jennifer, I've avoided watching Ready Player One because I loved the book so much. Sounds like I shouldn't watch it.
Janet, I get so invested in some books that any other depiction than what's in my mind almost always disappoints me. I wish I had your vision.
Sometimes I think it's what you've seen first...the book or the movie, that forms your view. I read Ready Player One after loving the movie and found myself bored to tears in places. Reading old movie scripts as part of a game wouldn't have made a good movie, but I loved what they did with the Shining. I didn't mind the change in Voldemort's death in Harry Potter, I was more disappointed in the third movie, Prisoner of Azkaban. They completely failed to inform the viewer where the Marauder's Map came from, which is a vital part of the story, and spent too much time on the changing seasons with the whomping willow. Plot vs. Artistic
Gone With the Wind! I've never seen a movie adaptation that chopped more things out of a book, lol. Not that the movie wasn't good, but I hate when a movie changes a book. A reverse take is Jack Reacher. When Lee Childs announced that Tom Cruise would play Reacher I was shocked. He looks nothing like Reacher! But when I finally watched the movie, I liked it and thought Tom managed to pull off the character even though he looks very different. My last comment is on Ready Player One. I never read the book, didn't even know there was a book. The movie popped up on HBO one day when I was looking for something to do, so I watched it. It was interesting and amusing, and I enjoyed it. I'll have to read the REAL thing. I'm sure I'll agree with the other review.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin is surely the widest margin between the excellence of the book and the sheer saccharine drivel of the film, gnarly plot points removed or reversed and all.
I cannot help but wonder why Lord of the Rings is not on your list, the best I can say about it was that it was inspired by the book, the whole essence of the book is missing from the film. Where in any Tolkien writings do elves have pointed ears? Elrond is not an elf, and certainly not hostile to men in the book. They totally got Aragon’s character wrong, plus he was supposed to be 6ft 7 inches tall, not the average size as portrayed. Aragon carried the broken sword with him at all times. I could go on. The hobbit however was more faithful to the basic story, I know there were a lot of silly additions, the giant worms, and armoured pig to name 2, and the ending had been changed, yet the basics were there, whereas in the lord of the rings movies the whole emphasis had changed too far away from the original story.
Great list. One that is glaringly missing, however, is the Bourne trilogy. Other than character names, the fact that he has amnesia, was an operative and that there is a Treadstone, there is no other correlation between the book and the movie. Good book, good movie, but not an adaption.
The Postman. I loved that book, as I have much of David Brin's science fiction. But it did not hold up too well after being hijacked by Kevin Costner's ego and ambition. Too bad!
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel. Darrel Hannah played the lead part. What a mess! Even as a child I was upset by the blatant differences. That's why I generally don't watch the movie, I'd much rather read the book!:)
Starship Troopers. That amazing book was taken, gutted, bastardized and made into pretty much a parody of itself, all to cater to Verhoeven's screwball politics. Would be great if someone could finally get a Heinlein story right!

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