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9 Great Books That Became Bad Movies (and Why You Should Still Read Them)

Books covers of The Giver, The Lovely Bones, and The Lightning Thief
HMH Books for Young Readers/Back Bay Books/Disney-Hyperion

There are a lot of fantastic book-to-movie adaptations out there, but our list doesn’t showcase any of them. Here you’ll find a roundup of the very good books behind some very bad movies.

Sometimes, movies do an incredible job of adapting a story from a well-loved book. True Grit, Silver Linings Playbook, and the Lord of the Rings franchise are a few examples. This is, of course, subjective, because most readers will insist the book is always better than the movie. But when both the book and the movie are good, you can generally count it as a win.

Unfortunately, film adaptations are not always done well. The worst offense to any reader is when a fantastic book does not translate well on screen. Some of the movies on this list bombed at the box office and some were okay, but none did their respective books justice. We encourage you to give the books these films were based on another try. The stories are incredible and deserve to have a more praise-worthy spot in your mind.

And hey, if you happen to have really enjoyed the adaptation of one of the books listed below, there’s a silver lining to our criticism! We’re letting you know that if you thought the movie or TV show was good, the book is that much better!

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is based on the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, a popular series from the late ’90s. The books create a complex and beautiful story about philosophy, love, religion, and multiple dimensions. Although it was slated to follow the success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings on screen, the deep themes didn’t translate well to a movie. Critics felt the movie fell flat and became nothing more than a fantasy story about children talking to animals. The book is beautiful and best left by itself.

The Giver

If you weren’t impressed by the film, you still need to give the book a shot. The Giver is another example of complex themes not carrying enough weight in the film. The beloved young adult novel explores a dystopian world where emotional depth is taken away from everyone. That is a difficult concept to put into a movie, and not even a star-studded cast could save this attempt. However, the book is beautifully written and should be on everyone’s must-read list.


Based on the first installment of The Inheritance Cycle series, Eragon was highly anticipated by devoted fans of the book. Unfortunately, the movie may go down in history as one of the worst adaptations of all time. The film kept a few main points, like a boy finding a dragon egg and going on a journey, but completely altered the plot. The emotion and wonder of the story never translated. Give the book a try if you want a seriously cool story about dragons, magic, and adventure.

The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones

This is another fantasy series that is best left on the page. City of Bones garnered a huge following of readers who had been asking about a movie for years after the book’s 2007 release. A studio company delivered a film in 2013, but fans felt the movie stripped away the emotion of the book and filled it with cheesy romances and glamour instead. Consequently, the sequel was canceled due to lackluster reviews. Check out the books if you want a series full of colorful prose, emotional depth, and intriguing storylines.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones is a serious novel that shares the story of a girl murdered by her neighbor watching the aftermath unfold from Heaven. The unexpected lens exploring grief and trauma resonated with millions of readers around the world. But when director Peter Jackson took the lead of the film rights, he put in a few too many misguided creative directions that turned the dark story into a somewhat painful CGI spectacle. If the movie felt strange and off-putting, try the book for a surprisingly uplifting book about death and trauma.

The Da Vinci Code

While the movie starring Tom Hanks wasn’t terrible, The Da Vinci Code film didn’t live up to Dan Brown’s novel. The plot is more complex than a 2-hour film could accurately portray and the movie is full of continuity mistakes. Combined with controversy over its portrayal of religious history, the film earned a measly 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. But considering the book sold 80 million copies worldwide, you should give it a try before you ignore the story altogether.

The Lightning Thief

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series quickly became successful due to the original story mixing mythological tales with teenage adventure. The Lightning Thief was the first attempt to bring the books to life and fans were not happy. Huge parts of the source material were ignored, including the ages of the characters and the ending of the story. The book is a fun escape from reality that shouldn’t be ignored because the movie was bad.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The New York Times Bestseller is a favorite in many households. The story is a whimsical and intricate tale about a journey through space. Science fiction is notoriously difficult to bring on screen and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was no exception. Stick to the book if you want to enjoy the unusual, quirky writing and the answer to the ultimate question of life.

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower is the first film in a potential series of sequel films based on Stephen King’s novel series. While The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (and the entire series, for that matter) is a fantastic combination of fantasy and horror, the first movie fell flat. Fans felt that the movie ignored most of the source material, threw in a few Stephen King easter eggs, and called it a day. The books tell one of the most unique stories you’ve ever heard, so give them a chance even if you hated the movie.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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