Bad Movie Adaptations With One Perfect Performance

Over 100 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Bad Movie Adaptations With One Perfect Performance
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Vote up the great performances that elevate not-so-great adaptations.

For every adaptation that cleans up at the box office or earns widespread critical acclaim, there are examples of Hollywood failing to do the source material justice. Sometimes, for one reason or another, the magic simply isn’t there, often because of weaknesses in the direction, the performances, or the script (or sometimes all three).

Every so often, however, there’s a performance in one of these movies which somehow manages to lift up at least the scenes in which they appear. In the most exemplary cases, such performances can even make the film much more enjoyable than it would otherwise manage to be, which in turn leads to a deeper appreciation for their charisma and prowess as actors.

  • Gary Oldman, ‘Hannibal’
    Photo: MGM

    The Silence of the Lambs is one of those films that maintains its ability to chill and frighten, thanks to Jonathan Demme’s direction and killer performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins (as well as the nature of the original novel by Thomas Harris). The sequel, Hannibal, never really attains its predecessor’s greatness, primarily because it leans too much into the gore and the horror rather than suspense. 

    Nevertheless, it does feature some exemplary performances. While Julianne Moore and Anthony Hopkins are of course superb, Gary Oldman often steals the show as the deformed and sadistic Mason Verger. Even though he is so heavily made up it’s hard to recognize him as Oldman, the veteran actor nevertheless delivers a chilling performance, ably capturing this deeply twisted individual with a deadly vendetta against Dr. Lecter. As he showed in his performance as Dracula, Oldman is a master at conveying emotions even when laboring under layers of makeup.

    43 votes
  • While Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings received major praise for its fidelity to the material, his subsequent adaptation of The Hobbit came in for a significant amount of criticism, in large part because it takes a slender novel and turns it into a bloated movie trilogy. In some ways, The Hobbit films are a victim of the previous trilogy’s success, and they often give in to the blockbuster mentality, with action and CGI-heavy set pieces which weigh down the drama and the humor.

    There’s no question, however, of Martin Freeman’s brilliance as Bilbo Baggins. He captures so much of what makes the little hobbit such a beloved character in literature. In particular, he ably conveys the extent to which Bilbo undergoes a significant transformation as a result of his journey to the Lonely Mountain. Freeman never loses sight of Bilbo’s humorous turns of phrase, but he also allows viewers to see into his heart, and his mourning of Thorin is particularly moving and emotionally wrenching.

    87 votes
  • While the cinematography is worth celebrating, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the novel by Alex Garland unfortunately never reaches the brilliance of its source material. It’s a rare misfire for both the director and his star, Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a young American who goes to Thailand and gets mixed up with some dangerous adventures. 

    Whatever the film’s various failings, it is still notable for containing a great performance from Tilda Swinton, who plays Sal, the leader of an isolated island community. As she always does, Swinton exerts a potent magnetism, and she imbues Sal with a steely strength that is in marked contrast to the more volatile nature of DiCaprio’s hero. Though she might not be the main character, there’s no question Swinton’s Sal is one of the movie’s few strengths.

    38 votes
  • Long before he would earn rave reviews and a devoted following for his portrayal of Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. gave an emotional and resonant performance in the otherwise forgettable Less Than Zero. In the film, he plays the character of Julian Wells, a young addict. It’s one of those performances that helps the viewer to realize there is something truly great about Downey, particularly as he so perfectly captures the character’s disintegration, showing the transition from happiness to desperate sadness.

    Otherwise, however, Less Than Zero is a rather toothless adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's original novel. While there are moments when it comes close to shedding a significant light on the hedonism of youth culture, for the most part it plays it too safe to ever be truly effective.

    47 votes
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a decidedly mixed bag as adaptation of Douglas Adams’s beloved and hugely funny novels. Though the movie hits some of the right notes, it can never quite decide just how faithful it wants to be, and it struggles to make the material accessible to those not familiar with the original books. 

    However, there is no question Sam Rockwell delivers a truly stunning performance as Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. There’s more than a little bit of George W. Bush to Rockwell’s interpretation of the character, as he manages to be both charming and also a bit empty. This seems entirely appropriate, as Rockwell would go on to portray President Bush in the satirical film Vice. It’s the kind of role Rockwell was, it seems, born to play.

    80 votes
  • Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining definitely earned its place in the pantheon of great horror movies (whatever the author’s hostility toward it). Though it’s not a terrible movie at all, Doctor Sleep is far more introspective, and it lacks the deep-rooted, visceral terror of Kubrick’s vision. 

    One of the more notable elements of the film, however, is the presence of Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat. Though she is rather blandly written in the novel, thanks to Ferguson she becomes the kind of villain who threatens to steal the whole film. She’s both beautiful and dangerous, and her good looks hide a truly vicious nature, capable of truly heinous acts (most notably, torturing a child). To Ferguson’s credit, she always keeps Rose from becoming just a cardboard cutout, and therein lies the success of the character.

    45 votes