Adapting a popular book into a movie is a risky proposition. No matter how good the film is, some people will always say, “the book was better.” Even worse, the film could just straight up be viewed unfavorably. Sometimes, even good books are turned into not-so-good movies, many of which also flop at the box office. Here are some popular books that were developed into unsuccessful movies.
To be fair, it was a bold choice to adapt Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette." The book is told through a series of letters, emails, and other pieces of ephemera. Still, Richard Linklater was directing, and they had the amazing Cate Blanchett to play Bernadette. Despite that, the movie landed with a thud and didn't even make its budget back in the box office.
Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is an extremely popular fantasy novel series. As such, when it was announced that his books would be turned into movies, there was a ton of excitement from fans. “The Golden Compass” featured big names like Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and also polar bears in armor. While the film made money, by the standards of a big, epic potential blockbuster it was a flop and a disappointment, and critics gave it mixed reviews as well. The other two books were never adapted into movies. They've tried the whole "His Dark Materials" thing again as a TV show, but it hasn't really taken off either.
Unless you have kids of a certain age, you probably aren’t familiar with the “Judy Moody” series of books. That may have been a problem, as the summer flick based on the books ended up completely falling flat at the box office. Even the presence of Heather Graham as Judy’s aunt was unable to help the movie make back its budget.
OK, so maybe it isn’t accurate to call “Battlefield Earth” a popular book, unless you are talking about members of a certain organization. Still, it certainly sold its copies, regardless of quality. Plus, we had to talk about this movie, given that it is one of the biggest flops ever. In addition to failing at the box office, “Battlefield Earth” is considered one of the absolute worst films in the history of the medium.
Kids have been reading “The Giver” in school for years at this point. It’s a staple of middle-school English classes. As such, when it finally got turned into a movie it seemed like a great idea. Plus, Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep were in it! However, “The Giver” barely made a dent in theaters, seemingly being forgotten the second it was released. Maybe too many people didn’t like having to read the book for school?
There have been A LOT of Stephen King adaptations. There have been successful ones, failures and also “The Shining,” which is considered an iconic movie even if King himself didn’t like it. “The Dark Tower” is a sprawling, somewhat insane book series and trying to turn it into a movie was a daunting task. It didn’t work out because apparently you can’t shove a ton of stuff into one 95-minute movie. The film adaptation landed with a thud, only making $113.2 million in worldwide box office numbers.
Though author Orson Scott Card has turned out to be a problematic figure, his sci-fi novel “Ender’s Game” is deeply beloved by many fans of that genre. There had been excitement about a potential movie version for years, and then, finally, it happened. It seems that only people who loved the book were interested in seeing the film, though, and even some book lovers (and Card haters) probably skipped it. Even though Harrison Ford was in it, and even though “Ender’s Game” had a budget of around $115 million, it barely broke even at the box office.
Poor Kevin Costner. He had a real rough stretch there in the mid-'90s. First, there was the “Waterworld” fiasco. Then he personally directed an adaptation of the post-apocalyptic novel “The Postman” that takes place in the far-flung future of…2013. Costner pulled out all the stops, as the movie cost $80 million. The film didn’t just flop with critics, but it also died at the box office, making only $20 million. That’s a staggering financial flop. At least Costner could go back to making movies about baseball.
Despite being a book about a murdered girl, “The Lovely Bones” was a huge bestseller. It seemed inevitable that it would get turned into a film, and it wasn’t just any adaptation. Peter Jackson, the man behind the “Lord of the Rings” movies, directed the project. Stanley Tucci did get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but the movie did not live up to the popularity of the book, getting shrugged off and only being a marginal success financially.
In short, the people behind “The Girl on the Train” were really hoping to recapture the runaway success of “Gone Girl.” They found a pulpy thriller book that was super successful and then tried to turn the beach read into a hit movie. It was almost like an assembly line project. It made money but it wasn’t a hit, and it didn’t get anywhere near the success of “Gone Girl.” Plus, critics didn’t really like it at all. Given the expectation, this qualifies as a disappointment, especially since it had an air of cynicism around it.
The adaptation of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” was hugely successful, so the film industry decided to try its luck again by adapting an early book from the YA author. Unlike “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Paper Towns” was just sort of a bland mess. It was a low-budget movie, so it made money, but nobody, other than some teens who love any tragic romance story, seemed to really like it. “Paper Towns” has a 56 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and on Metacritic.
The Netflix series based on the “Series of Unfortunate Events” book series seems to be successful, maybe because it can stretch the story out over many episodes and also because people love binging. This earlier attempt to adapt the strange comedic of the fake author of Lemony Snicket’s books tried to adapt three novels in one film. That may have proved unwieldy, and even Jim Carrey couldn’t make the movie a box office success. The film had a massive budget of $140 million but only made $209 million. That killed any plans of it being a movie franchise.
It’s been a while since a Tim Burton movie really clicked with people. Even his “Alice in Wonderland” films, which made a ton of money, have no real cultural impact. While Ransom Riggs’ debut novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” doesn’t have the same cache of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” stories, it has a ton of fans. Alas, as is the case with Burton films these days, the critics were mixed on it, and it needed the worldwide box office to help it make a profit, as it only made $87.2 million in the United States and Canada.
Due to the dystopian YA boon, including films like “The Hunger Games” series, suddenly there were YA series being turned into potential movie franchises left and right. That’s how we got three “Maze Runner” movies. The attempt to turn the six “Mortal Instruments” books into a movie series didn’t go quite like the “The Hunger Games.” The first film, “City of Bones” was a lackluster offering, and plans for a sequel were canceled. So much for all the other books in that series.
We’ve got one more YA adaptation for you. It’s the typical story. You take a popular YA sci-fi or fantasy series and try and turn it into a hit film franchise. “I Am Number Four” has a weird title, and critics hated it. “I Am Number Four” was never No. 1 at the box office, as it debuted second, which is a disappointment for a film like this. Once again, a potential film franchise ended after the first movie.
There have been a few adaptations of “Gulliver’s Travels,” which makes sense given that the book was written in the 1700s and has become an iconic piece of literature. We can’t speak to all the takes on the story of a man traveling through different worlds, but the one starring Jack Black was a massive flop. Critics savaged it, and the movie debuted at No. 8 in the box office. Black also got nominated for Razzy but lost to Ashton Kutcher.
Poor Dr. Seuss. “The Cat in the Hat” is a book that seemingly everyone has read or is at least familiar with. And then it got turned into this monstrosity. Mike Myers looks like a nightmare as the titular Cat in the Hat, and there have been rumors that he starred in the movie to make up for not making a movie based on his “SNL” character Dieter. It’s a total disaster despite only being 82 minutes long, and it barely made a profit.
The book “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was weirdly successful. It followed in the mashup footsteps of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” taking advantage of a strange, brief moment that this sort of thing was able to capture the zeitgeist. By the time the film version of the novel about the 16th President of the United States fighting vampires came out, people seemed over it. In addition to being a bad movie, somehow it cost $99.5 million to make. It brought in $116.4 at the box office.
Do you think Tom Hanks can do no wrong? Think again! He, and Bruce Willis, starred in this failed adaptation of a Tom Wolfe novel. Despite also being directed by Brian De Palma, this movie was a huge bomb — one of the biggest of all time. We’re talking about a movie that made only $15.6 million against a $47 million budget.
When you are adapting an American classic, you have to tread carefully. Turning “The Scarlet Letter” into something of an erotic thriller starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman feels like a bit of a misstep. Roger Ebert famously loathed this movie, but at least he saw it. The film, which was nominated for seven razzies, barely made more than $10 million at the box office.
Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is an insane novel, which is part of why it has become a sci-fi classic. Fans of sci-fi and fantasy tend to be REALLY into their genres. David Lynch, a straight-up weirdo in his own right, seemed like a good fit to try and turn the book into a movie. It…didn’t work, though it was interesting in its ambition. The film was a flop, but at least Sting was in it.
Douglas Adams is one of the most beloved writers of his era, but adapting him has proved hard. He’s also got a real British sensibility, which means that translating his work to a big-budget American movie is a daunting proposition. Martin Freeman and Mos Def are solid actors, but they aren’t the kind of big names who draw people in. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a perfectly fine movie, but it didn’t live up to the hopes of Adams fans or box office expectations.
The book “Billy Bathgate” by E.L. Doctorow hasn’t had a long shelf life as a classic novel, but it was hugely successful when it came out. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was the runner-up for the Pulitzer. The movie starred Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman and, hey, Bruce Willis. Maybe putting Willis in your period piece is the issue. “Billy Bathgate” made $15.5 million at the box office despite costing $48 million to make.
Some may argue about including this adapation or the one from the ‘70s starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. However, “The Great Gatsby” is maybe THE quintessential Great American Novel. When you adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic story, the stakes are higher, and you have to deliver. Did “The Great Gatsby” starring Leonardo DiCaprio make money? Yes, a decent amount, though it wasn’t a huge moneymaker given that it cost $105 million to make. It also polarized critics quite a bit, given how bombastic and over the top it is. We’re still ready to call it a disappointment.