It’s a slight exaggeration to say that there are no original ideas in Hollywood, but it is true that a significant portion of the movies that come out each year are literary adaptations. While it seems easy enough to turn a book into a movie given that there is already a preexisting story in place, books and film are two very different storytelling mediums and what works in one form doesn’t necessarily translate well to the other. For this reason, many authors elect to get involved in the adaptation process personally in order to make sure their work isn’t changed significantly in the transition from page to screen but no matter what, there will always be some authors who end up unhappy with the way their work has been adapted. Even though some of the following 11 movies are considered classics, the authors who originally wrote them view them in a much different light.
11. The Shining – Stephen King
As one of the most prolific and popular authors of the twentieth century, Stephen King has seen many of his works turned into various films and TV series over the years. Generally, King has no real issue with filmmakers adapting his work — in fact, he’s long had a policy of offering film students the chance to adapt any of his works not under contract for the low price of $1 US — and has praised adaptations like Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. However, King has also taken issue with certain adaptations, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which may come as a surprise given how critically-revered it is.
Though King regard’s Kubrick’s take on The Shining as a film with memorable imagery and one that has been deeply influential to the horror genre, he maintains that it is a poor adaptation and has criticized it for downplaying the novel’s supernatural elements and for Shelley Duvall’s performance, telling the BBC “She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid, and that’s not he woman that I wrote about.” So yes, technically King has never said that he hates Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but it would be inaccurate to call him a fan either.
10. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend is an interesting case when it comes to film adaptations as it’s actually been adapted multiple times since its original publication — and Matheson has hated all of them. The first one was 1964’s The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price and despite praising the film for “more or less” following his story, Matheson took issue with Price’s casting (he felt he was miscast) and the overall direction. The next version was The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, though Matheson was rather indifferent to the film, stating that it “was so removed from my book that it didn’t even bother me.”
By the time the most recent and popular adaptation, 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith (which, it should be noted, completely changed Matheson’s original ending because it didn’t play well with test audiences), the author could barely produce much in the way of vitriol, commenting, “I don’t know why Hollywood is fascinated by my book when they never care to film it as I wrote it.” Ouch.
9. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Stanley Kubrick just couldn’t do right by the authors of the books he adapted, it would seem. Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange is considered a classic by any measure these days, but Burgess had mixed feelings about it. While he praised the performance of Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, he criticized the film for turning DeLarge and his band of raping, murdering Droogs into pop culture icons, arguing that the film as a whole glorified sex and violence.
Burgess was so critical of the way Kubrick’s film seemingly misinterpreted his work that he actually said he wished he had never written the novel in the first place. “The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation.”
8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is arguably one of the best film adaptations of all time, winning five Academy Awards in 1976, including Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher, and Best Picture. Unfortunately, none of these accolades impressed author Ken Kesey. Kesey was actually involved in the production early on, assisting with script development, but left after several weeks due to creative differences with producers over casting and narrative point of view. He then went onto file a suit against the production and managed to win a settlement.
Kesey maintained until his death in 2001 that he never saw the film and disliked what he knew of it; in particular, Kesey was upset that the film didn’t translate the viewpoint of Chief Bromden, who plays a much more significant role in the novel. However, according to Kesey’s wife Norma Faye Haxby, he was ultimately glad the film was made.
7. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
To be fair, Bret Easton Ellis hates pretty much every adaptation of his books but arguably hates the 2000 adaptation of American Psycho starring Christian Bale the most. In fact, he thinks the very idea of adapting the film is ludicrous because “the problem with American Psycho was that it was conceived as a novel, as a literary work with a very unreliable narrator at the center of it and the medium of film demands answers.” However, Ellis seems to have softened his stance a bit on the film over the years.
During a 2014 appearance on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, Ellis said that while he still thinks Patrick Bateman is too unreliable a narrator to make the transition successfully to film, he praised the film for the way it handled humor and for giving his novel “a second life” with new readers but that ultimately, “the movie was okay, the movie was fine. I just didn’t think it needed to be made.”
Then again, Ellis has also taken issue with the fact that American Psycho’s director, Mary Harron, is a woman, arguing that “the medium of film itself … I think requires the male gaze,” so his opinions really should be taken with a grain of salt.
6. Queen of the Damned – Anne Rice
Initially, Anne Rice was not a fan of the adaptation of the first novel in her The Vampire Chronicles series, Interview with the Vampire (she actually co-wrote the original screenplay). Her chief complaint was with the casting of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat, claiming that the decision was “so bizarre” that “it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work.” After seeing the film, Rice’s opinion completely changed, stating that “from the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me.” Unfortunately, the 2002 film Queen of the Damned, based on Rice’s third Vampire Chronicles novel, was not as well received by critics as Interview with the Vampire was and Rice herself was among the detractors.
Interestingly, Rice was initially optimistic about the film. In a July 2001 interview, she stated, “Everything I hear about the film is good … they are working very hard to make it perfect.” However, her stance changed dramatically after seeing the finished product, to the point where she outright dismissed the film in 2003 and has repeatedly stated on her Facebook page anytime the film is brought up that it hurt her to see her work “mutilated” in the way it was and has asked fans to “simply forget about [the film].
5. Sahara – Clive Cussler
No one would ever mistake Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels for good literature, but his books have a considerable cult following and their pulpy action-adventure stories seem well-suited for film adaptions. Unfortunately, Dirk Pitt hasn’t had great luck on the silver screen, with 2005’s Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, and Steve Zaun being the most recent attempt to adapt Cussler’s work (1980’s Raising the Titantic! was the first and Cussler was disgusted with it). Personally, I kind of like the film, but it was a flop both commercially and critically, and Cussler was not happy with any of it.
The film made just $68 million at the box office on a $145 million production budget and Cussler argued that it was because he wasn’t given total script control and promptly sued the producers for $38 million. Cussler lost the suit and was ordered to pay $13.9 million for legal fees incurred by the Sahara production company (although the order was later overturned). With that sort of history, it’s not surprising that no one else has attempted to do another Dirk Pitt adaptation since.
4. The NeverEnding Story – Michael Ende
The NeverEnding Story (1984) is fondly remembered today as a beloved children’s fantasy movie that also scarred many of us psychologically (why Artax, why?!). Based on the novel of the same name by German author Micahel Ende, The NeverEnding Story was ripped to shreds by Ende, who hated it so much that he demanded his name be removed from the credits. “They changed the whole sense of the story,” he told People in 1984 and his main criticism of the movie was that it was “a humongous melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic.” To be fair, he has a point, as the film really doesn’t hold up well and Ende’s rage eventually cooled off … but not enough for him to bother watching the 1990 sequel, The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter.
3. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
The 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is widely considered a classic, but author Roald Dahl did not much care for Mel Stuart’s adaptation of his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl publicly disowned the film and criticized many things about it, including Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka and the emphasis the film placed on Wonka over Charlie. He also said that Stuart was a director with “no talent or flair whatsoever.”
Fortunately, Stuart, Wilder, and the rest of the cast and crew who worked on Willy Wonka shouldn’t have taken Dahl’s criticisms too harshly, as the late author hated every film adaptation of his books … but he seemed to hate Wonka the most and probably would have also despised Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation, despite it placing more emphasis on the character of Charlie than Stuart’s film.
2. Every Adaptation Of His Work – Alan Moore
Alan Moore is arguably the greatest comic book writer of his generation but he’s also a notoriously eccentric and prickly customer. Moore has adamantly refused to watch a single adaptation of any of his books (or so he claims), but this hasn’t stopped him from dumping on all of them. To be fair, it’s not hard to see why Moore was upset initially, as both From Hell (2001) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) are simply poor adaptations, but his dissatisfaction with those films prompted Moore to distance himself from any and all future films based on his work.
On V for Vendetta (2006), which received quite a positive critical reception, Moore refused to even entertain the idea of watching it and asked not to be credited or paid any royalties. While Moore admitted that David Hayter’s script for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) probably came “as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen,” Moore still refused to see it and had this to say on the matter:
“I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying,” he’s said. “It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The Watchmen film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms. Can’t we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change.”
Like I said. Moore is eccentric with a capital ‘E.’
1. Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers
This author-studio feud is so infamous, Disney actually made a movie about it called Saving Mr. Banks (though the film downplayed the extent to which P.L. Travers and Walt Disney disagreed on the development of Mary Poppins). Walt Disney had wanted to adapt P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins for years by the time the author finally agreed to hand over the rights (and she only did so because of financial need). Disney and Travers clashed throughout the production, as Travers made frequent demands and suggestions throughout the entire process, most of which Disney ignored. A few of Travers’ biggest gripes included the animation sequence and the characterization of Mary Poppins herself, as Travers thought that Julie Andrews’ take wasn’t strict enough.
After watching the film the first time, Travers was reduced to tears and disliked it so much that she decided to not let Disney or any other studio get a hold of the other books in the Poppins series. In the 1990s, Travers gave the go-ahead for a Mary Poppins sequel stage production but only on the condition that English-born writers were used and no one from the film production was involved. Disney will finally release a sequel in 2018 called Mary Poppins Returns, a full 54 years after the original film’s release and 22 years after Travers’ death.