There are some movie adaptations so bad, you want to hop into a time machine and go back to the invention of film and show that guy what hell his invention will bring onto the earth. Here are a few:
Bonfire of the Vanities
Many people have said this book was unfilmable to begin with, in part because it’s so cynical and its main characters are so “unlikable.” Well, sure, but the solution isn’t making the main character of Bonfire of the Vanities likable, since it takes away a good portion of the book’s point about how class and racial disparity can allow even greedy jackholes nobody likes to get away with manslaughter. This movie is pretty universally hated, and the only reason I hesitated to include it in this list is because I hate the book about as much.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas/The Cat in the Hat
Before you shriek in outrage, I’m not talking about the animated specials that are time-honored classics, so go pop a Xanax and relax. You know the live action movies? With Jim Carrey as the Grinch and Mike Meyers as the Cat in the Hat? They of the uncanny valley, unfunny, childhood-pillaging land of failure and tears? No wonder Taylor Momsen (Cindy Loo Who) grew up to be such a freak.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
It is possible to make a good movie from a series of short stories. Robert Altman did it with Short Cuts, which is loosely adapted from short stories by Raymond Carver. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men tries to string together several “interviews” from David Foster Wallace’s book of the same name, with a frame story that is basically: “smart girl gets her heart broken and decides to devote her entire doctoral work to figuring out why men are such assholes.” This sucks on two levels: for one, it makes the main character out to be some kind of obsessive freak who can’t keep her personal life separated from her academic life. But, more importantly, the best parts of Brief Interviews aren’t actually the “brief interviews,” but rather two unadaptable stories: “Forever Overhead” and “The Depressed Person”. You can’t adapt DFW to screen. Nice try, John Krasinski, but please don’t do it again.
The Scarlet Letter
Demi Moore and Gary Oldman starring in a steamy, sexy movie based on the most unsexy book in the history of literature! This movie is the literary adaptation version of those soft-core movies that parody popular Hollywood films and have titles like The Bare Witch Project or Star Whores.
The Human Stain
Phillip Roth’s book is about professor Nathan Zuckerman, whose teaching career is ruined by a charge of racism. His wife dies, he takes up with a not-exactly-erudite worn-out janitor who has an abusive husband. Anyway, it turns out that his entire life, Zuckerman has been living a lie, posing as a white, Jewish man when he is in fact half black. So who would you cast in the role of a biracial man posing as a Jewish professor? Who said Anthony Hopkins? Yeah, that’s right, NOBODY because it’s a terrible casting choice. And who would you cast as his careworn janitorial ladyfriend? Raise your hand if you said Nicole Kidman. Anyone? Yeah, bad casting in a movie that’s character driven is kind of a deal breaker, folks.
Lolita is not a comedy. I will say it again: LOLITA IS NOT A COMEDY. Stanley Kubrick should have left this one alone. At the time the movie came out, its poster read, “How did they ever make a movie of ‘Lolita?’” The critics’ response? “They didn’t.”
Well, okay, Adrian Lyne did, but his adaptation, while more faithful, was not any better.
What book adaptations make you cringe and wail in agony?