Every book nerd has the same mantra tattooed over their heart: the book was better than the movie. Sure, there are a few exceptions... but come on. Nine times out of ten, the book wins. But there's a difference between a disappointing book-turned-movie, and a book that had no business becoming a movie at all. I'm not saying that these books are completely and utterly un-filmable now and for all time, but they're certainly not books that lend themselves well to the blockbuster Hollywood treatment. Here are some books that should never, ever, have been made into movies.
I mean, there are some book-based movies that make you go, "Hmm... why did they change that one great scene?" And then there are some that make you go, "Why wasn't this a wildly expensive, lavishly costumed HBO series lasting for years instead of trying to cram hundreds of pages into two mediocre hours?" (looking at you, The Golden Compass and half of the Harry Potter movies).
These are not those books-turned-movies. These are the book movies that seemed like a bad idea to begin with, turned out extremely "meh," and made you realize that not all books are destined for the silver screen:
1'The Hobbit' by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings movies have their strong points, and overall they do a good job of adapting three epic volumes into three epic films. The Hobbit... is not that at all. The book is a sweet, relatively short adventure. Maybe it could have made a single fun movie, but there wasn't enough there for the huge, action trilogy treatment (and don't get me started on the creepy animated one from the '70s).
2'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell
The book consists of six brilliant short stories, all set in different times and written in different styles, interwoven to create a singular meditation on humanity, love, and justice. But... there's just too much there for a movie. And a lot of it is esoteric thoughts about reincarnation. A very savvy TV show might have pulled it off, but if you want to understand what's happening from scene to scene, you probably have to sit down and read the book.
3'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote
CONTROVERSIAL OPINION, sorry, because a lot of people love this movie (I love parts of it... but I can't get past the Mickey Rooney scene). But when Capote's novella was turned into the beloved classic film, Hollywood scrubbed away all of the queerness and shoved a hetero romance in there, permanently ruining everything forever. Perhaps a more nuanced movie could be made today, but at the time there was no chance of adapting the book with the sexual subtext intact.
4'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I'm calling it, guys. Enough with the Great Gatsby adaptations. None of them to date have managed to bring the book from page to screen, although some of them are very pretty. We might have to accept that the story, from Nick's narration to Gatsby's wild house parties, only works as a novel. Hollywood can't help but make Gatsby into the tragic hero onscreen, which loses a lot of the subtleties of the book (and the movies always cut the scene where Nick has sex with a man).
5'The Iliad' by Homer
Epic poems seem like they would make for great films. Wars! Gods! Sexy women crying! But somehow, we always just end up with a vague swords-and-sandals mess of a film. Everyone in the Mediterranean is suddenly blonde, the mythology is all wrong, and (are you sensing a pattern?) all same-sex romantic relationships mysteriously disappear when the story hits movie theaters.
6'Beloved' by Toni Morrison
Yes, there is indeed a movie of Beloved from 1998. Yes, it stars Oprah. And yes, it was a box office flop. Beloved is such a power, poetic piece of writing, far more complex and gut-wrenching than your typical ghost story. Any screen adaptation seems doomed to turn a visceral, beautiful story into a costume-drama horror film. Even with all the power of Oprah behind it, the film doesn't quite do justice to the depth of the book.
7'Watchmen' by Alan Moore
Comic books make for great movies, right? All those guys in tights punching each other? But Watchmen isn't your typical superhero comic. It's a dense graphic novel, a cynical satire of the whole superhero concept, and an intense psychological look at the Cold War. Not exactly the kind of thing you can eat popcorn to. Any movie was going to turn all of that angst into a sexy, gritty action film... and the result looks slick, but misses the mark.
8'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert
Is there anything in this life more desperately sad than watching a thin actress pretend to enjoy pizza onscreen, knowing full well that she must diet constantly to maintain Hollywood's unreasonable standards of beauty? Anyway, Eat, Pray, Love is a feel-good memoir about travel and food and finding oneself. It doesn't really have a plot. It doesn't really make sense to try to give it a plot. It shouldn't have been a movie.
9'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is another book that isn't bad as a movie... it just didn't need to be a movie. Kazuo Ishiguro's tragic novel works best as a tragic novel: a slow burn of romance and dystopian horror that still feels rooted in reality. The movie (like many movies) takes a subtle story and makes it overwhelmingly pretty and sad—the subtlety that works on the page translates to a lot of staring into the distance onscreen.
10'The Cat in the Hat' by Dr. Seuss
What have we, as a species, done to deserve the modern plague of Seuss adaptations? I'd argue that Seuss's charming children's books make for charming short, animated films. Even the longer, computer animated Seuss adaptations have been bad but not unimaginably horrific. Live action adaptations of Seuss, like The Cat in the Hat, however, are their own circle of hell. This book had no business being turned into a live action film. No one was asking for that. Please make it stop.