ByAlisha Grauso, writer at
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

Making movies based on beloved novels is always a really tricky business. If you adhere too closely to the story, you might run the risk of making a movie with no real vision that doesn't necessarily adapt well to the screen. But if you deviate too much, you run the risk of angering the built-in fanbase of loyal readers who feel you've changed what they loved about the story in the first place.

Apparently, director David Fincher's approach to this is full on no f*cks given, because in a recent interview with Swedish site Afton Bladet (which literally translates to "evening blade" in case you were wondering), he revealed his thoughts about whether or not the sequel to his 2011 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would ever happen:

I think because it [Sony] already has spent millions of dollars on the rights and the script, so it will result in something. The script that we now have [has] huge potential; I can't reveal as much as it is extremely different from the book.**

I think Fincher is a genius, but even I have to admit hearing that makes me a little bit nervous because there's no telling how it will turn out. This of course isn't the first time a movie script has been completely overhauled from the book, but it's always a roll of the dice. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it just leaves you feeling confused...




Fans of Max Brooks' game-changing novel were incensed to learn that Brad Pitt backed [World War Z](movie:12855) was nothing like the original novel. Still, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, with Brooks' novel being next-to-impossible to adapt directly for the screen due to its ever-changing narrative. The movie itself exceeded expectations: Gripping, tense, and visually stunning. The third act fell apart a bit, but it was an engaging, globe-spanning look at an apocalyptic scenario that injected some new life into the somewhat stagnating zombie genre.


From the time it hit theaters in 1997, Starship Troopers immediately had "instant cult classic" written all over it. It was so purposely cheesy, so over-the-top, that it came full circle to being brilliant. Director Paul Verhoeven admitted that he intentionally diverged far from the original Robert A. Heinlein novel because he didn't agree with the author's politics. Still, it was proof that a director's vision for a movie adaptation can be wildly different from the original novel and still be a work of art on its own.


1987's The Princess Bride is one of those movies that is almost universally beloved, both by the people who grew up with it (such as me) and any generation that came after. Though William Goldman's screen adaptation of his own novel changed the story-within-a-story framework and got rid of just about all of the backstory for the supporting characters, the wit, whimsy, and magic of the book remained completely intact. It's telling that in an age in which virtually every even moderately successful movie from the 80s is being rebooted or remade, The Princess Bride has remained untouched, left to stand alone in its uniqueness...hopefully forever.




Where to even start with the disaster that was The Golden Compass? The adaptation was so poorly done that it made legions of fans (including yours truly) physically angry by the time they left the theaters. Phillip Pullman's brilliant His Dark Materials trilogy explored such broad, complex ideas as string theory, theology, faith, and language. The movie took every single thing that made the book thought-provoking and removed it, turning it into a lifeless fantasy-action film completely devoid of any soul. Upsetting.


Everyone really, really wanted to love this film when it came out. The follow-up to the wildly successful Interview With the Vampire, 2002's Queen of the Damned was also the last film of pop princess Aaliyah, who had died the previous year in a tragic plane crash. But neither the goodwill built up for the late singer, nor the quality of the original film could make up for the confusing mish-mash of the sequel. For some reason, the screenwriters thought taking the plots of The Vampire Lestat (the actual sequel in the novel series) and merging it with the Queen of the Damned storyline, with a bit of The Tale of the Body Thief thrown in at the end. It was a baffling mashup with a rewritten ending and no discernible point. I believe my friend summed it up best when, after a minute of silence once the credits rolled, turned to me and said, "Somewhere...Anne Rice is crying."




You had to respect what [The Giver](movie:723657) tried to do, truly you did. It was an ambitious adaptation from the start due to the brevity of the original young adult novel and the difficulty in transferring the nuances of the written word into a visual medium like film. And it accomplished some very impressive things in the film, particularly visually - some scenes were truly stunning. Still, the movie had the feel of a film that didn't know exactly what it wanted to be. Was it a straightforward YA adaptation? Was it trying to be more a subversive arthouse film? It never could decide and so you left the theater feeling like you weren't quite sure what you just watched. What's more, any time you can take the great Meryl Streep and completely waste her performance, it's a tragedy.


Taking Richelle Mead's quirky, adult [Vampire Academy](movie:609357) YA novel series and turning the first into a movie seemed in theory to be a slam-dunk of an idea. Vampires, but vampires with wittier writing, snappier dialogue, and more sexual and adult themes than it pale, sparkly cousins of Twilight. In practice, however, the final product fell well short of its potential. Part of this was on the marketing team, who clearly had no idea how to sell something to teenage girls that involved vampires if it wasn't a simpering romance. But part of this was also due to the fact the script tried to cram way, way too much of the complicated mythology into the film instead of paring it down and focusing on the colorful characters and quippy one-liners that could really have made the movie a modest hit. That a few key scenes were removed or changed from the book and a few characters seemed badly miscast certainly didn't help its cause.

**Tip of the hat to Film Divider for the English translation.

Are there any book-to-film adaptations that stick out in your mind as being truly great...or awful? Share them with me in the comments!


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