12 Books Nobody Should’ve Adapted Into Film

When people across the world paid a total 571 million dollars at movie theaters to watch the film adaptation of E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey, the literary world was baffled. After all, how could a novel of such low quality lead to record breaking success with book sales and at the box office, despite its scathing reviews? But if we look beyond works that should never make it to the silver screen because of their poor artistry, we’ll notice there are great pieces that should never risk being transformed into audiovisual projects.

There are excellent literary adaptations out there. The problem seems to lie in the filmmakers not realizing that not all literature has the structure of a movie. A novel might contain several climactic moments, timelines, and characters that won’t fit in under 120 minutes.


The following titles are adaptations that never should’ve occurred. Some failed because of low production value, others by poor directing, and a couple because of terrible acting. Yet they all share the inability to synthesize fantastic narrative into brief film works.

 Perfume – Patrick Süskind

The story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille became a film directed by Tom Tykwer in 2006. Despite receiving acclaim for its visual aspect, it was torn apart for its portrayal of the protagonist. While the book describes an unattractive man, Ben Whishaw, who plays the main character, is a good looking young actor. The story does not flow and becomes hard to follow for those who have not read the novel, making it an unsuccessful work on its own.


 The Perks of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

The author of the novel was also the filmmaker in charge of bringing it to the screen. It’s a decent cinematic offering that captures interesting moments from the book, as well as evoking the emotions explored in the narrative. The aforementioned plus sides seemed to be thanks to the original author adapting the story into film. Still it seems to lack the greatness of the original piece.

 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

Since the first time Kerouac’s novel was published, several directors attempted to bring it to the movie theater. However, all proved unsuccessful until Walter Salles was able to do so. Yet he showed us why we didn’t need an adaptation. Helmed by Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart, it’s a shallow and absurd work that tries to depict a sense of freedom, yet only captures the decadence Kerouac wanted to show in the last chapters.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

This science-fiction book series was first adapted into a television series, then into a video game, and in 2005 Garth Jennings did his best to take bizarre comical adventures to the big screen. The result is underwhelming regardless of having a few exciting moments.

 Howl – Allen Ginsberg

Rob Epstein brought us a double adaptation by presenting us the story behind the creation of the book alternating with scenes from the text mixed with animation. It’s an attempt that doesn’t work and shows why poetry to film is not the best route.



World War Z – Max Brooks

Seven years after its publication, Marc Forster adapted this zombie thriller starring Brad Pitt. It maintains the spirit of the book for not keeping with the cinematic tradition of the living dead. However, it fails to be as shocking and surprising as the original.

Love in Times of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

Despite the approval from the author, the film by Mike Newell received the same response other Garcia Marquez adaptations have been met with: disappointment. Not only does it fail to present the many layers of Florentino and Fermina’s relationship, but it included a song by Shakira on the soundtrack.


Tokyo Blues – Haruki Murakami

This widely recognized novel is a reflection on youth and the different kinds of relationships that affect our life on the way to discover our destiny. The Japanese film that was released shortly after the book is a mediocre attempt to making us feel a glimmer of what Murakami’s captures on his pages. The movie exploits the sexual aspect and disregards the dialogue, turning into a clichéd filled work.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s illogical to plan a trilogy based on one book, especially when each film installment of The Lord of the Rings was based on its literary version. Hollywood’s exploitation based on monetary incentives resulted in something that barely compares to the first trilogy. Despite Martin Freeman’s outstanding performance, the bad CGI, interactions, and directing prove that nothing should be forced. 


The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

Hollow Man was the 2000 adaptation from H.G. Wells’ story of a scientist accidentally becoming invisible. The Kevin Bacon film received bad reviews for straying from the text and using boring horror movie formula. Critics claimed that the original text dealt with themes of existentialism, abuse of power, and God complex, something this film lacked.

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

The first Disney adaptation was a great feat of both design and animation. Over 40 years later Tim Burton made his own version which destroyed the original text. Though it includes some interesting elements that evoke the psychedelic, it adds a premise that breaks with Carroll’s ideas, turning into an action film of good versus evil.


The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Baz Luhrmann had wondered audiences with his adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Yet from the moment his involvement with Gatsby was announced, the world was skeptical of what would happen to one of the most beloved American novels. While the movie is not terrible in its depiction of the Roaring Twenties, it focuses too much on the relationships and not enough on the decadence of the times.

War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

Another great work by Wells was shattered through its Hollywood portrayal. This film starring Tom Cruise erases the narrative to center on the story of a man and his family during an alien attack. This version cannot hold a candle to Orson Wells’ radio adaptation, which caused nationwide panic due to how real his narration captured the premise.


Translated by María Suárez

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