Five Classic Novels That Hollywood Completely Ruined
Tinseltown loves to take influential pieces of literature and strip out all that's good from them for the big screen
People in Hollywood look anywhere and everywhere for material to adapt for the big screen — and one of the industry’s favorite places to look is novels.
If a book’s become any sort of best-seller or grown to have even a fraction of influence on popular culture, chances are good Hollywood will get its hands on it at some point.
Nothing is off-limits, not even classic literature.
The trouble is that movie adaptations often don’t work nearly as well as their book counterparts, especially those adapted from novels that have remained popular across the decades.
Here is a look at five classic novels that, to be blunt, Hollywood completely ruined.
1.) “Fahrenheit 451.” Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel is one of a handful of science fiction stories that gets only more relevant as time rolls on.
The book follows a future world in which books are outlawed and “firemen” are given the task of burning any pieces of literature that are found.
The 1953 story was adapted just this year by HBO into a film starring Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”) and Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire”).
With those two actors and a story with a lot of parallels to today’s overheated environment, “Fahrenheit 451” should have been a brilliant treatment about the state of art and political correctness today, but instead it was a mostly flat endeavor to which few paid any real attention.
The film lost the subtlety and nuance of the novel. It was too “on the nose” in some parts and too lost in others.
Note to Hollywood: If you’re going to adapt something as monumental and influential as “Fahrenheit 451,” make sure to take a few more cracks at the script until you get it right. Otherwise you wind up with a wasted opportunity.
For everyone else: Skip the movie and read the book.
2.) “The Scarlet Letter.” The “Scarlet Letter” adaptation of 1995 feels like a parody movie made as a film-within-a-film meant to poke fun at Hollywood.
The 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne — which follows a woman shunned by society after she has an affair — is still taught in many high school classrooms, but it’s unlikely teachers will choose to show this big-screen train wreck.
While the book requires some thought and reflection on the part of the reader, the movie simply lays everything out, period. It takes a great piece of literature about consequences, lust, and societal expectations and does its best to create a steamy romance out of it.
It’s not even a good steamy romance. The cast includes Gary Oldman and Demi Moore, but “The Scarlet Letter” falls on its face quickly and never recovers. Considering the source material, it’s a rather embarrassing endeavor.
3.) “The Cat in the Hat.” Many children are still introduced to reading through the words of author Dr. Seuss and through this classic piece of literature in particular. Despite his immense output, there haven’t actually been many adaptations of his work. The challenge lies in translating the zany art and waxing-poetic pages of words onto the screen without seeming goofy.
“The Cat in the Hat” film failed at this in every way. After the Jim Carrey-starring movie “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” Hollywood was eager to take another popular comedian, throw him into a costume and makeup, and adapt another Seuss story.
The obvious target seemed the immensely popular “The Cat in the Hat.”
Mike Myers got the unlucky task of leading this dreadful film, and it was off to the races after that. It’s as if the filmmakers took the pages of the Seuss book, scribbled out the words, and just started guessing at the story based on the pictures.
This film loses all of the heart of the book, and nobody in the cast seems to have a clue what’s going on, including Myers.
After “Cat in the Hat” failed to make a real splash at the box office, Hollywood swore off live-action adaptations of Seuss works, and that was probably for the better. The animated “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Lorax” arrived after this movie, and both found big audiences and won praises from fans. That’s the only silver lining to the terrible “Cat in the Hat” film.
4.) “The Great Gatsby.” The novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald remains one of the most influential and quoted works of all time. The 1925 book examines wealth in America, romance, ambition, and everything in between.
The mysterious Gatsby arrives one day to sweep a town off its feet; his wealth is vast, his past is unknown, and everyone has an opinion about him.
The novel is perhaps Fitzgerald’s finest work, which is likely why it’s been tough to nail the landing in terms of a film adaptation. There was a mediocre 1974 film starring Robert Redford — and then a 2013 adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Baz Luhrmann-directed picture (starring DiCaprio) played up the glitz and glam of the 1920s as described in the pages of Fitzgerald’s book, but it forgot everything else. The characters are cardboard cutouts compared to the richness within the pages of the novel.
The picture is overly reliant on CGI (computer-generated imagery) and seems to be nothing more than an excuse for Luhrmann’s costume designers to have a go at creating the shiniest 1920s clothes one has ever seen.
The empty and vapid adaptation is proof of why many Americans want Hollywood to simply leave their favorite pieces of literature alone.
5.) “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” H.G. Wells’ 1896 meditation on the progression of science and man’s relationship to animals is still a brilliant read. It’s horrifying and tightly written. And if someone followed the story closely enough, it still has great potential for a good movie adaptation.
It follows the story of a shipwrecked man who discovers a mad doctor’s island where animals are experimented on in horrifying ways.
It was first made into a forgettable 1966 film, and then into a Val Kilmer/Marlon Brando-starring 1996 blockbuster wannabe.
The movie is a disaster through and through. Brando’s performance is downright strange, and Kilmer basically sleepwalks through the role.
There was even a documentary made about the movie-turned-disaster.
The makeup work wasn’t bad — but the deeper contexts of the Wells book are completely missing. Those in front of the camera seemed as if they didn’t want to be there, while those behind the scenes perhaps lost the script; no one is any good at improvising. There was even a documentary made about the movie-turned-disaster.
Perhaps one day a good adaptation of “Dr. Moreau” will be made. All a filmmaking team needs to do is stick closely to the voice and heart of the novel.
The movie adaptation is actually so bad it ruins a bit of the experience of the novel, so skip it entirely if you can. Or read the book first — then go into this dumpster fire knowing exactly what it is.