For over two decades, Stephen King fans have clamored for a big-screen adaptation of his epic fantasy saga, The Dark Tower. Though the series is renowned in part for its meta references to King’s ever-expanding universe spanning, to date, 54 novels, the core good-and-evil conflict between the Old West gunslinger Roland and the nefarious Man in Black seemed simple and compelling enough to draw in casual viewers seeking nothing more than a satisfying night at the movies.
Alas, somewhere along the way the desire to hook fans and newcomers alike resulted in an adaptation for no one. Rather than hurl themselves into the series’ narrative tumult, the filmmakers opted instead for a creative compromise, hoping that the star power and hint of mystery would whet mainstream moviegoers’ appetites for something bolder the next time around. Somewhere in New Zealand, Peter Jackson, who knew the only way to do cinematic justice to a sprawling saga like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was to go for broke, is paying an assistant $3.5 million to ruefully shake his head.
For every Gone With the Wind or The Grapes of Wrath, there are dozens of adaptation misfires that fail to capture the joy of giving oneself over to a master of prose and theme and characterization. Is there such a thing as an unfilmable book? Perhaps. But there’s always one ambitious filmmaker out there waiting to prove the world wrong with a visionary take on an all-time classic. Sometimes these movies are duds. Sometimes they go so spectacularly haywire that they become instructive in their wrongheadedness. Here are 9 films that fell well short of their source material’s brilliance, but, in the process, gave viewers something to remember and, in a few cases, cherish.