There’s that popular old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And it’s popular for a reason: because it’s true. Especially when it comes to Hollywood. Usually, it’s not worth attempting to recreate a character on the big screen that had worked so well in previous incarnations, whether on screen or elsewhere. But despite the number of remakes and re-castings that have failed over the years, they keep trying. Sometimes it’s even an ill-advised celluloid take on a literary classic.
Having already bashed the worst movie and TV adaptations of beloved comic book characters, this time we set our sights on those horrible interpretations of characters outside of the comic genre, from spies to womanizers (sometimes you get both in one package) to bogus bad guys to creepy kids’ book characters.
Here is Screen Rant's list of the 11 Worst Movie Versions of Beloved Characters.
11 Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart (Get Smart)
Inspired by the success of slick spy James Bond and slapstick spy Inspector Clouseau, Get Smart debuted on television in 1965, created in part by the legendary Mel Brooks and starring Don Adams as the bumbling Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86. Thanks to Adams’ portrayal, Smart was ranked the 19th greatest TV character of all time by TV Guide in 1999. He was lovable for his beyond-Bond gadgets, like his infamous shoe phone, and his ability to foil the bad guys despite being forgetful, naïve and clumsy. Adams starred in five seasons of the series, a feature film, a TV movie, and a short-lived revival on TV in 1995.
In 2008, Steve Carell was a hot commodity thanks to The Office on TV and The 40-Year-Old Virgin on the big screen. If anyone not named Don Adams was going to play Maxwell Smart, Carell seemed like the guy. He had the deadpan thing down, the everyman appearance and the ability to appear simultaneously pathetic and sympathetic. Truthfully, he didn’t do a terrible job – in fact, if anything, he may have underplayed it compared to Adams. But everything around him was so bad (in particular, the bizarre focus on action over comedy) that it brought him down.
10 Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau (The Pink Panther)
Let’s first establish this: Steve Martin is one of the most brilliant comedians and comic actors in the history of life, the universe and everything. But even geniuses have their bad days (or extended series of days, weeks and months while co-writing and shooting two movies). Inspector Jacques Clouseau, of course, was originally played to slapstick comic perfection by Peter Sellers in a series of films from 1963-1982.
Following a previous attempt to reboot the Pink Panther franchise in 1993 with Italian actor Roberto Benigni, Martin was brought in to add some real star power for the 2006 reboot. Financially, his star power worked, with box office revenue doubling the production budget, resulting in a 2009 sequel that barely made anything. But Martin just seemed like he was trying too hard to duplicate Sellers’ unique form of comic genius, it came off as too choreographed. It worked for kids who had nothing to compare it to, which is why the first film did so well, but Sellers fans couldn’t help but view the performances with skepticism.
9 Jude Law as Alfie
When Jude Law took on the role of Alfie in the 2004 feature film, there was a long line of Alfies to live up to. First, there was the radio play Alfie, by Bill Naughton, which became a theatrical play in 1963 and eventually hit Broadway with Terence Stamp in the title role. Naughton then adapted it as both a novel and a screenplay in 1966 when Michael Caine played the lead and made it his own. It was his breakthrough role, as the Cockney womanizer with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall, who eventually sees the errors of his ways. Caine masterfully rode a delicate line as a character that was unapologeticaly misogynistic for most of the film, referring to women as “it” and uttering lines like, “My understanding of women goes only so far as the pleasures.”
The same could not be said for Law in the remake. Truth be told, he was lauded by many critics for the role, which actually added a little more humanity to the character. But ultimately, Law couldn’t carry the film and it was a disaster at the box office, grossing $35 million worldwide on a $60 million budget. It took Alfie out of London and into New York, and out of the swinging '60s and into the more careful 2000s, so it just didn’t work.
8 Johnny Depp as Tonto (The Lone Ranger)
The idea of the Lone Ranger emerged at a time – the 1930s and into the 50s – when little boys were obsessed with the gritty, good-guy/bad-guy dynamic of the wild west. The Lone Ranger was the epitome of the white-hat-wearing good guy, beginning on radio, moving on to books and movie serials, and then the wildly popular TV show from 1949-57. He was always accompanied by his Native American sidekick, Tonto, who, according to the backstory, was saved by the Lone Ranger when they were both children, and later saved the Lone Ranger as an adult. Tonto was most notably played in the TV series by Jay Silverheels, a Mohawk, who was inextricably linked to the role.
Following that heyday, there were unsuccessful attempts at films in 1981 and 2003. They tried one more time in 2013 with Johnny Depp as Tonto, getting top billing over Armie Hammer as the title character. Though Depp claims to have some small percentage of Native American heritage, there was immediately controversy when a white man took over the role. That, combined with a bloated budget and plodding script, made for a box office bomb.
7 George Lazenby as James Bond (On Her MAjesty's Secret Service)
Sean Connery introduced James Bond to the big screen in 1962 with Dr. No and to this day he is arguably the first image that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the name “James Bond.” He appeared in the first five Bond movies, through 1967, after which he abruptly quit. Producers had a cash cow on their hands and had established a hectic release schedule, with five films in five years, so they had to act fast in casting their new 007.
Boasting a fantastic face, a strapping frame and zero non-commercial acting credits, Australian model George Lazenby was getting his hair cut when Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli ran into him. Broccoli immediately thought he’d be perfect to replace Connery for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Word from the set was the novice actor irked everyone by wanting a lot of input. But he was ignored, then shortly before the film’s release he announced he was done as Bond. In the film, his inexperience showed and to this day he’s the only actor to play Bond just once. Producers then threw a bunch of moneybags at Connery, who returned for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
6 Stuart Townsend as Lestat (Queen of the Damned)
In the Vampire Chronicles series of novels, beginning with the 1976 classic Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice created arguably the world’s second most popular vampire (after Dracula, of course), Lestat de Lioncourt. He’s an 18th century French nobleman turned vampire; he’s the ultimate extrovert, a lover of the arts, philosophy and anybody who strikes his fancy, regardless of gender. But he’s also bold and defiant. In the 1994 film adaptation of the first novel, Tom Cruise offered a surprisingly faithful and captivating performance as Lestat.
The same could not be said of Stuart Townsend in 2002’s Queen of the Damned, a very loose adaptation of the third book in the series. It was a terrible film, really an attempt to merge parts of the second and third Chronicles books into one movie, which was far too daunting a task – it eliminated major plot elements. Townsend’s Lestat lacked the charisma of both the books’ version and Cruise’s, and lacked the same motivations. After all, in the book Lestat was devastated by the death of the queen, but in the movie he’s elated. And then there’s the fact that Lestat is notoriously blonde-haired, but in this movie he’s a brunette.
5 Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
When Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, he introduced us to a super-rich, super-eccentric man who did and said whatever he wanted. No, not Donald Trump. Willy Wonka was the reclusive owner of the eponymous chocolate factory and, getting older, wanted to find the right child to leave his factory and fortune to, since he had no family. Gene Wilder starred as Wonka in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and gave a memorably wild-eyed performance where you’re never quite sure if he’s brilliant or insane, which is quite faithful to the novel.
Johnny Depp loves to bring strange and eccentric characters to the big screen. Sometimes it works (Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean), sometimes it doesn’t. His Wonka appeared in 2005’s Tim Burton directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And it was just plain weird. Too weird. He lost the balance Wilder brought between madness and brilliance. They tried to replace that balance by adding a pointless subplot surrounding Wonka’s estranged father. His appearance and persona was compared to Michael Jackson, and in a movie about children and for children, that’s more than a little disturbing. Even more disturbing: it worked (financially, anyway) to the tune of a $325 million profit.
4 Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Freddy Krueger is a true film icon, as portrayed by Robert Englund from 1984-2003 in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and the spin-off Freddy vs. Jason. He’s almost the Mickey Mouse of the horror genre, instantly recognizable and completely reliable. You’ve got the horribly burned face, the brown fedora, the red-and-green-striped sweater, and, of course, that terrifying bladed glove on his right hand. Not to mention the spine-chillingly hilarious wisecracks he’d offer just as he was about to shred someone to pieces.
But in 2010, in light of Rob Zombie’s successful reboot of the Halloween franchise (along with other horror reboots in the early 2000s), producers decided to do the same with A Nightmare on Elm Street, with Jackie Earle Haley now wielding the bladed glove. Freddy being a child murderer and complete psychopath, Haley’s casting seemed fitting based on producers watching his performance as a pedophile in Little Children and his screen test as Rorschach for Watchmen. But it just didn’t work. The character was made much darker than the old Freddy, with none of the dark humor, and overall the remake just didn’t capitalize on the surreal freakiness that made Freddy’s dream world so awesome. Fortunately (or not), it’s been reported that yet another reboot is in the works.
3 Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (Psycho)
In 1960, immortal director Alfred Hitchcock scared the pants off the world with Psycho, a portrait of a quietly but psychotically unhinged man named Norman Bates, a motel owner who liked to slice up pretty patrons while dressed as his dead mother. Anthony Perkins brought a quiet, awkward intensity to the role, with his gangly frame and haunting, far-off eyes. It was a performance that defined his career at age 28.
In 1998, director Gus Van Sant released a shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic and it was immediately ridiculed by critics and fans alike. And he cast Vince Vaughn, also 28 and largely known for his comedic skills, as Norman Bates. Sure, the whole idea of the film was flawed, but so was his casting. He didn’t have the range to play the subtleties that Perkins had brought to the character. He always had “crazy” in his eyes and in his line readings, so the audience never had the sympathy for him required to make him a villain you love to hate.
2 Russell Brand as Arthur
Back in 1981, everyone loved the original Arthur, starring Dudley Moore. It was one of the year’s biggest box-office success stories, was nominated for four Oscars and won two. Moore himself was nominated for playing the title role, as a gregarious alcoholic heir to a vast fortune, who was being pushed into an arranged marriage with a rich woman, while falling for a poor woman. Despite Arthur being a booze hound, Moore brought such heart and charm to the role that audiences fell for him just as much as Liza Minnelli (who played the “poor” love interest).
Thirty years later, TV director Jason Winer (Modern Family, The Crazy Ones) was teamed with another British funny man, Russell Brand, to remake the classic, which is almost always an inadvisable move in the first place. It was Brand’s first chance to carry a movie on his own, and, well, just look at how many more chances he’s had to do that since Arthur in 2011 and that will tell you a lot about how it went. (The answer is zero.) In fact, New York magazine critic David Edelstein wrote, “Russell Brand gives a career-killing performance.”
1 Mike Myers as The Cat in the Hat
Way back in 1957, author and illustrator Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Suess) gave us The Cat in the Hat. It went on to be a children’s book beloved by generations, listed at number nine on Publishers Weeky’s 2001 list of the best-selling children’s books of all time. In the original book, we’re introduced to a tall, mischievous-looking cat who walks on his hind legs and wears a red-and-white-striped top hat and red bow tie. He performs tricks for children and makes a mess of the children’s house, with help from his friends, Thing One and Thing Two, but he busts out a crazy machine to clean up before the kids’ mother comes home.
Originally, Tim Allen was going to play the Cat in a somewhat dark film adaptation, but that plan never got off the ground. Mike Myers finally took the role for the 2003 film, Dr. Suess’ The Cat in the Hat. Sure, he brought to the character the irreverence and love of chaos he was known for in Suess’ books, but it went too far for a children’s movie. There were too many jokes aimed at parents, too much toilet humor and the facial prosthetics were largely inexpressive, but leaned toward angry-looking. Shortly after the film’s release, a planned sequel was canceled and Suess’ widow said there would be no further live-action adaptations of Dr. Suess books. Meanwhile, Myers’ career has mostly stalled since then, with only one lead role in a live-action movie (the 2008 dud The Love Guru).
Can you think of any other characters that belong on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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