The Five Worst Crime Novel Adaptations

For last year’s #MysteryMonth, Michael Cart gave us a list of his top suspense films of all time. However, most films are nowhere near as good as Double Indemnity or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The sad truth of it is that some films are just the worst. And some of the very worst thrillers are adapted from beloved crime fiction, making them even worse. Now look, I’m not one of those killjoys who thinks the book is always better than the movie (hello Twilight saga), but in the case of the following stinkers, presented in chronological order, the book can’t help but be better than the movie. Enjoy—or don’t.


The Killer Inside Me (1976, 2010)

Poor Jim Thompson. When the Zeus of noir fiction wrote his 1952 novel about a depraved sociopath with a day job as a detective, he had no idea his creation would become fodder for not one but two stinky stinkers. The first adaptation, starring Stacy Keach and directed by Burt Kennedy (The Money Pit), was merely “unengrossing,” yet reportedly broke Thompson’s heart. Thank God he wasn’t alive to see Michael Winterbottom’s recent adaptation which, according to the Houston Chronicle, is uninteresting “plain old unreconstituted no-means-yes misogyny,” as well as “a crock.”



Get Carter (2000)

First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home in 1970 and filmed as Get Carter in 1971 with Michael Caine in the title role, Ted Lewis’ second novel became a bona fide crime-fiction classic, influencing hard-edged writers—Derek Raymond, James Sallis, David Peace—who then went on to be influential themselves. Director Stephen Kay’s 2000 version starring Sylvester Stallone? Not so much. “Is it a zombie coming to alert us it’s time to start shopping for a Halloween costume?” wondered one critic. “No, it’s just our old friend Sylvester Stallone, sleepwalking his way through a stillborn crime drama that belongs in a morgue, not in a movie theater.”



Be Cool (2005)

While Elmore Leonard’s 1998 sequel to his revered 1990 novel, Get Shorty, earned nothing but praise, John Travolta’s reprisal of his role as Miami loan shark Chili Palmer didn’t do so well. When Tony Manero appeared in Barry Sonnefeld’s Get Shorty in 1995, he was cresting the comeback that began with Pulp Fiction, cementing himself as one cool dude. By the time F. Gary Gray got his hands on the franchise in 2005, things weren’t looking so hot. “Travolta looks zombified, as if all the comic energy had seeped out of his performance,” Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone. “You know a sequel isn’t working when, ten minutes into the movie, a voice inside your head ts screaming, ‘Please make it stop!'”




Freedomland (2006)

Richard Price’s 1998 novel Freedomland wowed readers with a timely story of racial tension and fraught politics. Writing in Booklist, Joanne Wilkinson praised Price for bringing “the powerful analytical skills and psychological acumen of an Austen or a James to the barren landscape and roiling emotions of the inner city.” But Roger Ebert had no such laurels for director Joe Roth’s adaptation, which managed to squander the considerable talents of Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, and Edie Falco: “Freedomland assembles the elements for a superior thriller, but were the instructions lost when the box was opened?”



The Snowman (2017)


Look, I can’t hate on this movie too much. Whenever the commercial would come on—the one with the stick-figure snowman that was supposed to somehow impossibly be considered scary (maybe by a race of timorous aliens from Planet Campfire? I have no idea)—I’d laugh and laugh and laugh. (The lil’ cutie has since become an excellent meme.) Plus, there’s nothing more enjoyable than a review that sets its subject on fire, especially when that subject is a literal snowman, and The Snowman generated plenty. There are so many excellent pans of this one-star movie that it’s hard to choose the best one, but I guess my favorite is Alissa Wilkinson’s takedown in Vox. “All you may need to know about The Snowman is that its main character is an alcoholic police detective named Inspector Harry Hole, and it is not a comedy,” she writes, calling it “the most transcendently awful movie I expect to see in 2017, and this is the year I saw The Emoji Movie.” Jo Nesbø’s 2011 novel had no such problems. (But seriously, can we give that stick figure his own talk show? I mean, come on, he can’t be as boring or as criminally boorish to interns as Charlie Rose was.)



About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

1 Comment on "The Five Worst Crime Novel Adaptations"

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  1. Bill Ott says:

    Well, at least Jim Thompson’s second-best novel, Pop. 1280, was made into a brilliant movie, Bernard Tavernia’s Coup de Torchon.

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