Recently, Keith Ulrich tweeted his epic facepalm as he gazed upon the movie tie-in cover for As I Lay Dying, the classic William Faulkner novel that James Franco has adapted into a movie, against the world’s protests. Franco’s face now graces the cover of the books, slightly marring Faulkner’s words for all of eternity.
However, Faulkner’s not the only one to subjected to a poor film adaptation of his novel, and plenty of other authors have to answer to crappy movies. Mediocrity, let thy face be called Demi Moore. Without further ado, here 21 book covers that will make you wince.
1. As I Lay Dying
Well, we all have to gaze into its monstrous, beast-like face, don’t we? Look at it, humanity. This is what we have wrought.
Every time you’re having a bad day or wonder how things could possibly be worse, remember that you do not have to electively watch this movie ever. And you will feel much better.
Remember when James Franco was just that nice kid from Freaks and Geeks? I miss that.
2. The Great Gatsby
When did 1920s art deco become Watch the Throne starring Tobey Maguire? I can’t with this poster, and I especially can’t when it has to ruin one of the best books ever written.
3. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
If you don’t remember this movie happening, there’s a reason. Tom Robbins’ phantasmagoric prose is already unadaptable, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors by casting Uma Thurman as a hitchhiker with freakishly long thumbs.
4. The Scarlet Letter
As if having Demi Moore play Hester Prynne in Roland Jaffe’s Skinemax interpretation of Hawthorne weren’t bad enough, this edition is the annotated version. It’s like those abridged versions of Moby Dick. If you’re going to read a classic piece of fiction, go big or go home.
5. All The King’s Men
Steven Zaillian’s movie adaptation of All the King’s Men was supposed to be a major awards played in 2006, with the Oscars practically engraving themselves based on cast pedigree alone. But then people saw Sean Penn mugging with a horrid Southern-ish accent for two hours, and it was all over. Bookstores were then stuck with this copy for the rest of time, a movie tie-in pushed just as hard as the actual film.
6. One Shot
I never got around to reading the series that the film Jack Reacher was based on, but unfortunately, I saw Jack Reacher in theatres last December, one of the most unintentionally funny movies I’ve ever seen. If I were a fan of the novel, I would be pissed to have to be reminded of that every time I passed by the novels in a store.
7. The Blind Side
Personally, I’m just mad that more versions of this stupid, stupid, stupid fucking movie exist, the most embarrassing Best Picture nominee in history. Michael Lewis also wrote the fabulous Moneyball, so I’m sure he didn’t deserve the glorified Lifetime channel movie that became of his work. On the plus side, the Brad Pitt movie wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be.
8. World War Z
The film adaptation of World War Z shares two things in common with its source material: They are both named World War Z and they’re about zombies. Max Brooks’ clever oral history of the zombie uprising got turned into a sleek Hollywood global conspiracy thriller, like The Da Vinci Code and Lost, with a smattering of the undead. It was better than it had to be, but it wasn’t the book.
9. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Of Seth Grahame-Smith’s undead mash-up epics, I personally prefer Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but his biographical satire didn’t deserve what Hollywood did to it, a strangely serious rendering of camp that sucks the life from the book. Having fun never looked so grim.
10. Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas was by far the strangest and most divisive movie released last year, one featuring Jim Sturgess in yellowface and Hugh Grant as a naked cannibal covered in blood. If you think it’s a disasterpiece or plain brilliant, I highly doubt you want to think about the guy from Notting Hill feasting on human flesh every time you look at the book.
Cosmopolis is far from DeLillo’s best work (see instead: Mao II, Underworld), but goddamn if David Cronenberg didn’t pour gasoline on the novel’s problems and then light a match. On top of being interminably boring, Cronenberg forces us to look at Robert Pattinson’s face for two hours, which is a form of torture in itself. And now we have it preserved on the novel’s cover until we die.
12. I, Robot
In Hollywood, no one can hear you butcher a classic. This is the place where great sci-fi gets paid tribute to when it becomes a Will Smith vehicle, between this and the terrible I Am Legend. It could be worse, though: Ray Bradbury had to be alive to see the A Sound of Thunder movie. At least Asimov got out while he could.
13. Anna Karenina
Like all of his films, Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) stages a gorgeous adaptation of Anna Karenina, but one that’s all artifice and no substance. Tom Stoppard’s screenplay is daring and unique, but it takes away from the actual novel. Sometimes there’s no substitution for great literature enjoyed the way it’s supposed to be — right on the page.
14. The Stepford Wives
Ira Levin’s 1972 satirical potboiler might have been forgotten about if not for Hollywood’s many adaptations, culminating in the 2004 Nicole Kidman vehicle, saving the worst for last. The movie is an entertaining disaster, with a script that makes no sense and a tone that’s all over the place. Instead of biting, director Frank Oz switched to tacky, as if he refused to take the plot seriously. It’s a total disservice to the novel’s feminist leanings, and the women of Stepford deserved better.
15. Twilight: New Moon
So, all of the books are pretty fucking terrible — a magic combination of anti-feminist and boring as fuck — but this cover somehow makes it worse. We have Bella getting spooned by a gay werewolf while her stalker undead boyfriend watches from a distance. He also might be the moon. This is what young women masturbate to these days? We gotta get them some porn subscriptions.
16. One for the Money
Janet Evanovich’s wildly popular series is exactly the kind of book your grandma would read: fast-paced and engaging with broad characters you can’t help but like. It’s a CBS pilot as a book. However, not even your grandma wants to be reminded that Katherine Heigl got her stinky mitts all over it, turning Evanovich’s spunky heroine into a snarky sad sack with a Jersey accent she learned from the Real Housewives. It’s fucking painful.
17. On the Road
There’s a reason that the Salinger estate refuses to let a Catcher in the Rye adaptation happen: Because some things just shouldn’t exist, and this is one of them. The movie feels like kids playing beatnik dress up, sweating the novel instead of feeling it. If you want to truly understand what it was like to be on the road with Kerouac, read the book instead, a stream-of-consciousness epic that can’t be recreated.
However, don’t look at the cover. Just try to forget.
18. The Road
The movie version of The Road wasn’t terrible so much as unnecessary, and the real problem with the movie tie-in cover is that it mars the original cover’s iconic blackness, a stark depiction of the novel’s apocalyptic mood. It’s the perfect fusion of design and text, and even Viggo Mortensen’s snowy face can’t measure up.
19. The Time Machine
Did you forget that this movie got made, like everyone else? Well, if you owned this movie tie-in version, you would never be able to, because Guy Pearce would be longingly staring at nothing at you every day. Could you imagine being an H.G. Wells fan and getting this as a stocking stuffer on Christmas? It’s worse than a lump of coal. At least coal minds its own business.
20. Water for Elephants
This is Robert Pattinson’s third entry on the list, so I’m hoping that you’ve noticed a pattern here. If you want to adapt a beloved novel without the audience throwing things at you, leave Robert Pattinson out of it. Cast a ficus instead. It’s cheaper, more pleasing to look at and has better screen presence.
The problem with movie adaptations is that not all things merit being made into a movie, like Chuck Palahniuk’s raucous 2001 novel, Choke. After Fight Club’s massive cult success, Hollywood was desperate get their hands on anything of his they could, which resulted in this forgotten 2008 film.
The Village Voice once described Choke as a “bitchy bitch read,” which is the perfect way to describe it: entertaining and slick — hardly a brain-teaser. Not every book wants to be Ulysses, and even geniuses just want to have fun. The movie seemed to believe the book was more important than it was, but you have to enjoy the text on its own terms. By canonizing it this way, it misses the entire fucking point. Great job, guys.