We’ve all heard it before: The book was better. For the most part, that’s true. The best literary adaptations extract something new cinematic from their source material; at worst, they’re so stubbornly faithful to the text that the end result feels either nervously redundant or like an overly brave cash grab.
We’ve seen it on big and small screens. Take Joe Wright’s infamous 2020 Netflix thriller “The Woman in the Window”: a film that has gone through so many ups and downs – from squirming test screenings and rewrites and reshoots to a cash switch from the now-defunct Fox 2000 to the streamer. : never had a chance to come out the other side as anything less than maimed. The story of an agoraphobic drunken voyeur played by Amy Adams, the film was adapted from an already controversial turntable by AJ Finn, an auteur whose rocky backstory could easily fill his own film (or even a limited series).
Last year, psychosexual thriller author Adrian Lyne whipped out a Patricia Highsmith adaptation so bad that, may she rest in peace and not be alive to give notes, it might make its author reel. “Deep Water” was an incomprehensible hoard of decidedly unethical polyamory, murder, and slugs led by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas on Hulu. Observant readers disappointed in disheveled melodrama may be inclined to go back to the source material and figure out where it all went wrong.
Much has also gone wrong on the television side of the adaptations, with George R.R. Martin feeling left in the cold by the finale of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and vowing to get it right with his next follow-up series’ Song of Ice and Books of Fire. Whenever they may come. And while it’s not finished yet, Elisabeth Moss’ Hulu adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” — and all the increasingly silly narrative decisions it contains — it inspired Margaret Atwood to repeatedly remind fans that she has no control over the show.
To get you in the spirit of risky and will fail literary adaptations, take a look at some of the most controversial book-to-film revamps ever, including those deplored by audiences and disowned by their authors. The titles are listed in no particular order.
(Editor’s note: This article was published in May 2021 and has been updated several times since.)