The end of this decade has seen the sci-fi genre adaptation of novels simmer down quite a lot, which is a huge change from the beginning of the 2010s, where the genre seemed to be the next big thing. Now, superhero movies have solidified their claim as the apex films in the industry, while sci-fi movies are rather sparse in releases.
The reasons for both the rise and fall in sci-fi movie adaptations from books has been due to the arrival of many high-quality features, and those that couldn’t match up with the source material. In this list, the “worse” mentioned aren’t necessarily bad movies or books, but just aren’t as great as the other way round.
10 Better: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay
To be honest, even the novel version of Mockingjay was a far cry from the first two books, but it wasn’t too bad. The films, Mockingjay – Part 1 and Mockingjay – Part 2, on the other hand, were riddled with uneven direction. The first movie was a snoozefest designed to squeeze out more money from fans, while the second one was clustered with over-the-top sci-fi.
The novel was more balanced, with the theme shifted toward Katniss’ psyche over the special effects. There was considerable action, but this was made to reflect Peeta’s brainwashing and Katniss’ trauma at losing her sister. You got to go into the mind of the protagonist, rather than just witness a lot of CGI monsters.
9 Worse: I Am Legend
When you have Will Smith in prime form, then it’s not possible to have a better experience reading a book. Most people aren’t even aware of the book the film is based on, and I Am Legend’s huge commercial performance was squarely due to Smith’s star power.
The movie made us feel just as lonely as the protagonist, and this wouldn’t have been possible had we not seen by our own eyes how he would talk to a mannequin as if flirting with a woman, or how he had recited every line of Shrek because he had nothing else to do. His grief at having to kill his infected dog needed us to witness the haunting expression on the protagonist’s face. The film just had more impact than the book’s narration.
8 Better: The 5th Wave
Sometimes, less is more, and unlike I Am Legend, we didn’t need to see all the destruction laid in the post-apocalyptic world as seen in The 5th Wave. Nowadays, the only time people see any clips of the movie is to watch the impressive special effects from the tsunami scene; other than that, no one talks about the plot.
The books (yes, there were more than just one) have it different, and the destruction is only part of the story. The real plot comes from the protagonist’s attempts to survive in the world invaded by aliens. It’s more of a viewpoint over how humanity copes in disaster situations, rather than the disaster itself, which the movie was all about.
7 Worse: Edge of Tomorrow
Just like I Am Legend, people aren’t aware this film was based off a book. Besides, if it’s Tom Cruise at the helm, what does anything else matter, right? The action superstar is incredible in Edge of Tomorrow, which places the viewer in the same position as the protagonist.
The novel couldn’t achieve that factor toward the reader, where we feel like we’re in the world, too. However, the film accomplished this in spades. It was mainly because of Cruise’s amazing ability to make us like a character who’s more of a chump than a champ, and the narrative is boosted by his charisma.
6 Better: Divergent
The Divergent series was a total mess that overestimated its value onscreen. We’ll curb this down just to the first novel since that entry in the series is the most well-known. The book managed to create a world of its own, which, while treading similar territory, did have a unique aspect to it.
The film, meanwhile, was a copy of The Hunger Games in style. It was like we were watching Katniss being placed in another universe, as all the supporting cast felt similar to The Hunger Games one. There was no real charm to the film, which banked on the novel’s goodwill to be relevant. The novel had us identify with the characterization of the protagonist so we’d care about her; the film just had her be a palette swap.
5 Worse: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
This was a very hard decision, but we’ll have to give it to the film due to the cast being filled with one extremely likable actor after another. The novel is great on its own and is hilarious to boot, but the film forms a picture to what we read, and that is just too big of an advantage.
Each character has their own characterization that makes us enjoy their screentime. The comedy on display is elevated by the pure magnificence of the execution of the cast; we even have Alan Rickman in top form as a robot! The novel was superb, but the film has an evergreen quality that still has us intrigued and laughing.
4 Better: The Time Machine
Had there never been a novel, and the film was a story of its own, then perhaps Guy Pearce’s The Time Machine could’ve had more merit. However, the film really does not compare to the novel, which is relevant so very long after its initial release as well.
The novel also raises deep ontological and eschatological questions, which carries into the mind of the reader even after finishing the book. The film shows fragments of this story but then falls into flat sci-fi territory by making the climax completely over-the-top and rather illogical. The novel’s ending has been touted as so thought-provoking that we’re still wondering what the heck happened to the main character 124 years later.
3 Worse: Catching Fire
If a movie can achieve making a non-fan pick up the source material and become a follower of the overall series, then that is one film for the ages. The Hunger Games – Catching Fire was one such movie, which has incredible action set pieces and character development that will have you hooked from the very first minute.
The book is also an amazing read, but it doesn’t evoke that sense of urgency the film creates. At times, the novel glosses over certain deaths, which you don’t register until after you’ve gone ahead a couple of pages. The film not only shows you all the action but also makes you join the rebels’ cause in spirit.
2 Better: The Time Traveler's Wife
The film version didn’t know whether to stick to the sci-fi elements or make it a complete romantic drama. While it’s not a bad movie by any means, it doesn’t capture the science fiction aspect of the narrative.
The novel harmonizes the time travel aspect with the romance, so you feel that there would never have been a love story to begin with, had there not been the science fiction part. The ending as well is a whole lot more emotional in the book due to the time traveler journeying all the way into the future to see his now elderly wife, while the movie leaves us off with a rom-com style ending.
1 Worse: Jurassic Park
Forget books being turned into movies, Jurassic Park is without a doubt the greatest science fiction film of all time – it is even the best film of all time in the eyes of its fans. You don’t have even a second of boredom in the narrative, as the film has thrills galore along with the very important theme of humanity going too far in research and technology.
The novel is hardly anything like the film, where none of the characters have the same personalities and the action is a lot more horror-based than focusing on the sci-fi. Jurassic Park’s film version made it a point to separate the good and the bad from the main characters’ personalities, but the novel focuses mainly on the bad part. The film is simply too incredible to ever feel like old news.