10 Biggest Book Adaptation Flops

Gabe Habash -- May 16th, 2013

For this list, we didn’t just want book adaptations that were a critical/audience failure or a box office failure–we wanted both. That’s why the films you see below might not be the biggest money losers or the most panned; instead, they’re a combination of the most hated and most wasteful uses of celluloid out there. If none of these movies were made, over $913,000,000 would have been saved and approximately 4 billion viewing hours would have been saved.

(The following films were either critical or money failures, but not both, so they couldn’t make the list: The Great Gatsby [the Redford one], Lolita [1997], Treasure Planet, Beloved, The House of the Spirits, many more)

10. John Carter (2012)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $67,221,900

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%

Representative Review Quote: “There’s nothing to see, nothing to think about, nothing to care about, and nothing to feel, just emptiness. The emptiness is never filled over the course of 132 long, barren minutes.” -San Francisco Chronicle

Everyone was excited to call John Carter a flop before it even came out in 2012, and though it did tank, it lost less money than some of the other films on this list and it actually received so-so reviews. It’s hard to justify the $250 million dollar budget, and while it was trying to capture the same adventure feel of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it ended up being compared to the worst aspects of Prince of Persia, The Phantom Menace, and Cowboys & Aliens. Yeah, I forgot about Cowboys & Aliens, too.

9. Atlas Shrugged: Part I, II (and probably) III (2011-2014)

Net Losses (first two parts combined, not adjusted): $22,036,572

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11% (Part I); 5% (Part II)

Representative Review Quote: “A disaster as a film, Atlas also is laughable in its presentation of Rand’s ideology.” -Philadelphia Inquirer

Have you seen the poster? The trailer?

8. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $55,695,546

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 23%

Representative Review Quote: “At bottom it’s just an aggressively shallow Tom Hanks comedy” -Entertainment Weekly

Even Tom Hanks (The Most Trusted Person, according to Reader’s Digest) couldn’t keep The Bonfire of the Vanities from tanking during Tom Wolfe’s golden era. Among the movie’s issues, Brian De Palma said: “We made a couple of choices that in retrospect were wrong. I think John Lithgow would have been a better choice for Sherman McCoy, because he would have got the blue-blood arrogance of the character.”

7. Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $83,450,070

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%

Representative Review Quote: “Has that cheesy, chintzy mid-Florida feel that we all know and love, despite its $110 million budget.” -Washington Post

The critical reception isn’t horrible, but a financial failure to the tune of $83 million dollars is the second highest amount on this list.

The 2004 version of Jules Verne’s novel was a catastrophe, despite the fact that the 1956 version won five Oscars, including Best Picture. So what went wrong in 2004? One critic said “It’s ironic that this film is less about traveling and more about beating the crap out of people all over the world,” and at least a few speculated that Cliff’s Notes was consulted during the making of the film.

Check out the trailer and see if you can spot the Schwarzenegger cameo.

6. The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $54,324,802

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

Representative Review Quote: “If you’ve read the book you won’t know the ending. Let’s just say that Indians with flaming arrows come to the rescue. They manage to keep a straight face, which is more than anyone in the audience will be able to do.” -New York Times

One of America’s great novels has been adapted over 10 times (including, most recently, as Easy A), but only the 1995 version can boast 7 Razzie Nominations, including Worst Screen Couple (“For Demi Moore and either Robert Duvall or Gary Oldman”) and a Win for Worst Remake or Sequel. And that much discussed ending? This is what Demi Moore had to say about it: “”In truth, not very many people have read the book. The ultimate message of Hester Prynne would have been lost if we’d stayed with the original ending.”

Bonus points for that funky music in the trailer.

5. All the King’s Men (2006)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $52,511,544

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%

Representative Review Quote: “Failures on the scale of writer-director Steven Zaillian’s All the King’s Men are as rare as falling sequoias, and they make a noise even if no one’s in the woods to hear them.” -New York Daily News

In 1949, Robert Penn Warren’s classic was adapted for the screen and won Best Picture, Best Actor (Broderick Crawford) and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge). In 2006, the book was adapted again, this time with Sean Penn screaming over inspirational music for two hours. No awards were won and the movie was called “depressing,” “dull” and “hysterically over-the-top yet strangely lifeless.”

4. Sphere (1998)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $61,284,276

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12%

Representative Review Quote:Sphere winds up just a load of balls.” -Salon

I know some of you are excited because this is the first mention of Sphere‘s existence since it was hidden under Ishtar in the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

There are two sides of Crichton adaptations: the side with the likes of Jurassic Park, CongoTwister; and the side with stuff like Timeline and Sphere.

3. Gods and Generals (2003)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $59,475,259

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 8%

Representative Review Quote: “It may not be the worst war epic ever made — that probably would be Battlefield Earth — but it’s darn close to being an unqualified disaster of that magnitude.” -Philadelphia Inquirer

The first problem with Gods & Generals is that it’s pretty boring. The second problem with Gods & Generals is it’s 3 hours and 49 minutes. In case you want the quick version, here’s the end of the movie, where Stonewall Jackson dies. The end.

2. Pinocchio (2002)

Net Losses (rough estimate, not adjusted for inflation): $10,129,405

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 0%

Representative Review Quote: “I can’t say this enough: This movie is about an adult male dressed in pink jammies.” -Washington Post

Yes, Pinocchio lost far less money than the others on this list (only because it didn’t lose too much in Italy, where it was made), but it’s also the only movie here with the coveted 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating (aka The Stink Trophy), and one of only 94 movies IN HISTORY to have zero positive reviews.

1. Battlefield Earth (2000)

Net Losses (inflation adjusted to 2012): $98,888,497

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 2%

Representative Review Quote: “Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.” -Roger Ebert

And so it comes to this, the movie you knew was coming, the movie that since its release has become less a movie and more of a cautionary tale, an example of what happens when everything goes wrong. Battlefield Earth is the 15th biggest flop of all time and tops any other flop on this list by a sizable margin; it bankrupted its distributor; it put a black eye on all involved. It is included in this list. But, in 100 years, when no one else remembers any of the other adaptations on this list, they will surely remember the hose scene and Travolta’s big troll head cackling.




24 thoughts on “10 Biggest Book Adaptation Flops

  1. simon okill

    Dune is one of the greatest scifi films ever made and possibly the worst is Star Wars. Dune is so good it was remade recently as The Chronicles of Riddick. Heaven’s Gate was trashed by the studios before it hit the screens, and BTW, the director purchased the rights to the film released it in its original 4hours 15 minutes and it was a success. Now if anyone wants to see something awesome watch the director’s cut of Apocalypse Now with over 1 hour shoved back in. And then there’s The Godfather series neary 12 hours long.

  2. Kitti

    I am so sorry to see that John Carter made this list. I found the movie to be quite a lot of fun as well as a good action film. I am a fan of science fiction and action films. John Carter was good for all ages with great special effects, fair acting and good dramatic tension.

  3. Michael Autin

    I actually saw Sphere in the theaters and by 2/3 of the way through knew the best answer was if they WISHED away their powers, BUT no… that would have been too easy and it was downhill from there… a real travesty. Suprised waterworld and heavens gate are not on the list… (I think it’s heavens gate,,, there was a GOOD critic one and a bad critic one, but they sounded similar….

    1. Kitti

      I didnt’ realize that Waterworld was a book adaptation. HORRID, TERRIBLE movie. But some of that was because Kevin couldn’t act out pain if he was set on fire.

  4. David Greybeard

    JOHN CARTER? Personally I think it’s one of the very very best SF adaptions. Maybe even the best.
    JOHN CARTER succeeds in every aspect, other than the negative media coverage.

    1. Linda

      I also enjoyed John Carter — and I wasn’t expecting to, based on reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it got a bad rap.

    2. Kitti

      I agree! I really enjoyed it! There was humor, drama, great special effects, mystery, wonder, romance, action! The story moved along, the acting was fairly good (often the worst point of a sci-fi movie). It was good all around!

  5. Adam

    I have no idea why the Queen of the Dammed is not in the list, let alone number one.
    Also, Around the World in 80 Days was funny enough that it worked for me, you have to go in expecting a silly Coogan & Chan comedy, with a silly Arnie cameo.


    In case you ever do one of these for “Worst movies ever made” without the financial or critical criteria, I would like to nominate every Baz Luhrman picture ever made. They are, without exception, grotesque, garish, frantic, neurotic, a complete waste of the time of some very excellent actors and actreses and of no interest to anyone except the decadent, jaded and probably depraved critics, make-up artists and costume designers they are obviously written and produced for.

  7. Elizabeth Bennett-Bailey

    The film versions of two of my favorite books, Empire Falls and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, were abominations.

  8. K. Rowe

    Oh, what stingers! I only hope that if any of my books make it to screen that they are well produced and directed to avoid ever being on this list. But that’s Hollywood.

    1. Steve Fahnestalk

      What was wrong with Mars Needs Moms? Cute animation, okay storyline.
      I enjoyed it enough once it hit TV to watch it more than once.


    Most of these movies actually made a lot at the box office and after but simply cost too much to begin with.

    1. Peter

      Were movies where they changed the name considered? I’m thinking specifically about Simon Birch, originally made as A Prayer For Owen Meany, but the adaptation was so bad they had to remove any reference to the original work.

  10. Honestly

    I loved John Carter. That was an epic Disney failure in marketing. — and they shouldn’t have changed the title.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>