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50 Shades of yawn: The worst book-to-screen adaptations ever

Universal has wrapped up its 50 Shades trilogy with an absolute belter at the box office this weekend. An increase in ticket revenue propelled the female-fueled franchise past the $1 billion mark. In real terms, that means it is one of the studio’s most profitable franchises of all time.

However, while the movie series might have momentarily spiced up the sex lives of sheltered housewives everywhere, the only thing shocking and scandalous about the franchise is that people continue to watch it. In the case of Anastasia and Mr. Grey, BDSM seems to stand for boredom, depression, sorrow, and (now) marriage.

Still, the films didn’t stand a chance when originating from E.L. James‘s ongoing crimes against the written word. “Desire explodes like the Fourth of July throughout my body”. . . groan.

In celebration of the trilogy hanging up its paddle and riding off into the sunset on its vibrating pommel horse, we thought we’d pluck out our list of the most atrocious book-to-screen adaptations in cinematic history – proving that some stories are better left to the imagination.

Kill Your Friends

Owen Harris’s take on John Niven’s cut-throat novel was so rubbish that it made me want to kill my friends, random members of the general public, and whoever was involved in the production of this atrocity. The book was a wickedly gruesome satire on the music industry, while the film was tiresome and lacking in style, trying too hard to shock – something our protagonist Steven Stelfox would never do.


This hugely popular 500-page fantasy novel by Christopher Paolini was whittled down to an hour-and-a-half film, which predictably meant the omission of numerous plot points and characters. Also, when the film’s standout performance is from a dragon, you know you’re doing something wrong.

Hemlock Grove

With an excellent score, Bill Skarsgård in the lead, and Eli Roth in the director’s chair, this Netflix series based on Brian McGreevy’s horror novel should have been a smasher.  However, the only thing scary about the show is how crappy it is – a tiresome muddle of horror tropes and painfully clunky dialogue.

Norwegian Wood

Compared to some of the others on the list, Tran Anh Hung‘s take on Haruki Murakami‘s stunning romantic novel is not all that bad. However, when pitched against the book, it’s a mere faded shadow, proving that it’s impossible to encapsulate the magical power of Murakami’s writing on the big screen. Let’s just hope they don’t try and take on Kafka on the Shore next.

The Great Gatsby

“The book is always better than the film” has never been more relevant than with this remake of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. Even with impressive visuals from Baz Luhrmann and solid acting from Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, the film somehow felt like little more than an extended music video – the not-so-great-Gatsby.

The Da Vinci Code

From a fad book series to a fad film franchise, the only real mystery surrounding The Da Vinci Code is why it even gained popularity in the first place. Riddle us that, Dan Brown.

Under the Dome

Stephen King’s Under the Dome seemed like the perfect premise to convert into a TV series, telling the story of a town that’s completely cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome. However, the adaptation fell embarrassingly short, enraging King fans so much that the world-famous author himself was forced to explain why the changes were necessary. Damage control!

The Hobbit

We had such high hopes for this, especially following the success of The Lord of the Rings, but alas, Peter Jackson‘s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Hobbit was not a faithful one. Ultimately, the movie series turned out long-winded and not all that much fun. Childhood = ruined.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is considered one of the greatest comedy/sci-fi books ever written, so there were bound to be high expectations for the film. Sadly, the cult movie turned into a dud, and as is the case with a lot of these flops, there was just too much content to fit into one film. Stick with the book for this one, earthlings!


In Bram Stoker‘s novel, Dracula tries to travel from Transylvania to England to spread the undead curse.  This TV series, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, sees the titular character utilize the guise of an American entrepreneur as a mask to hide his sinister motives. If we’re honest, the only thing that’s book-accurate in this one is that both characters are called Dracula. It’s that loose of an adaptation.


As with Norwegian Wood, David Lynch‘s Dune is not so bad – but when compared with the book, it’s an absolute husk. There’s just too much going on in Frank Herbert‘s 1965 sci-novel to transport onto the big screen, and with the film trying to condense all of the essential plot points into one feature, Dune ended up a muddled mess.

Less Than Zero

This adaptation of the novel from Bret Easton Ellis is all the more upsetting when compared with American Psycho and Rules of Attraction, both of which hit the mark with stunning success. Less Than Zero, on the other hand, couldn’t even see the mark, and the film was instead used to promote Nancy Regan‘s ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign. However, the saying seems more apt in the case of Marek Kanievska’s remake. When it comes to the film version of Less Than Zero, just say no!

The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries might have been a technical success, having finished up its run with eight seasons, it’s a blood-sucking monstrosity compared with the book saga that inspired it. We had a lot of hope for this one, and there was plenty of time for improvement while it was on the airwaves, but choosing to ignore Smith‘s mythology in favor of turning the story into a teeny-bopper suck-fest was a bad call.

The Hunger Games

Rather than go through everything that’s wrong with this franchise, we’re instead going to sum it up in the name of a film-themed joke.

Do you know what they call The Hunger Games in France? Battle Royale with cheese.

If you don’t get the joke, we can’t help you.

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  • How is The Hunger Games on this list, but not Percy Jackson.
    Hunger Games was good AS AN ADAPTATION.
    Percy Jackson remains perhaps the worst adaptation of all time.

    February 28, 2020
    • Agreed

      March 13, 2020

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