EW Looks Back

Great Book, Lousy Movie

Literary film adaptations have a mixed history. For every Harry Potter, there is a Percy Jackson best left on the bookshelf. We examine five page-to-screen projects that didn't live up to their source material

1. The Great Gatsby (1974)
Look at the talent involved: Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as the leads, a script by Francis Ford Coppola, and clothes by Ralph Lauren. So why was this adaptation of the flapper-era classic, which premiered March 29, 1974, a bust? Lifeless performances, a staggering lack of chemistry, and a tin ear for F. Scott Fitzgerald's take on the idle rich. Gatsby is like a very expensive (and very, very shallow) game of dress-up. Zzzzz. —Chris Nashawaty

2. Dune (1984)
Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic can be as dry as Arrakis, but as a whole, the novel is as addictive as the spice. David Lynch's bloated, New Agey mess, on the other hand, features soporific acting, laughably self-serious dialogue, and Sting in a thong — a bad acid trip that just refuses to end. —Keith Staskiewicz

3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
John Berendt's spellbinding 1994 book — a seductive blend of nonfiction and a certain something extra — brings Savannah alive as a Southern gothic hothouse of fabulous characters. But when director Clint Eastwood got his hands on it, he messed with the story, watered down the idiosyncrasies, and killed everything lush in the Garden. —Lisa Schwarzbaum

4. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Under the direction of Brian De Palma, Tom Wolfe's savagely witty satire of the social and racial conflicts that roiled 1980s New York City morphed into a symphony of wrong notes. The most glaring problem? The cartoonish performances from its famously miscast actors, including Bruce Willis as a boozy journalist and Tom Hanks as arrogant, WASPy Wall Streeter Sherman McCoy. —Stephan Lee

5. Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (2003)
Dr. Seuss' beloved 1957 rhyming classic about a mischievous feline inspired a love of reading for generations of kids, but apparently director Bo Welch and star Mike Myers felt what the story really needed was more raunchy double entendres, hits to the groin, and crude bathroom jokes. The resulting cinematic hair ball earned eight Golden Raspberry nominations. Perhaps the book's own cranky goldfish put it most succinctly: ''Oh, I do not like it! Not one little bit!'' —Josh Rottenberg

Originally posted Mar 09, 2012 Published in issue #1198 Mar 16, 2012 Order article reprints
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