We’re all familiar with the concept of movies based on books, but far stranger are film novelizations, in which an author writes a book based on something they’ve seen on the big screen. While a very few novelizations are actually worth taking a look at (Dead Poets Society was required reading at my high school), most of this fanfiction is so awful that you’d feel better reading The National Enquirer. Here are some of the strangest and most terrifying movie novelizations out there:
1. Jumanji by Todd Strasser
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: That cover does say “based on a screenplay based on a screen story based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg,” and yes, that is Robin Williams’ bodyless head floating in the abyss above the title. As a child, I was too scared to see the movie version of Van Allsburg’s story about a board game that turns into real life unless you finish it, but somehow I think I’m even more terrified of this book-to-movie-to-book adaptation.
2. Bram Stroker’s Dracula by Unknown
The idea of writing a book based on a movie based on Bram Stroker’s classic was apparently so embarrassing that no one wanted to put their name on this novelization. The mystery writer of this film adaptation isn’t fooling anyone by adding Stroker’s name to the title, although the writer did have the sense to base the paperback off of Coppola’s well-received film instead of some other movie version of the book (like the direct-to-video Dracula II: Ascension). Stroker would probably roll over in his grave if he saw the words “8 pages of full-cover movie photos” advertised on the cover of a paperback based on his classic, but at least it’s more exciting than Sparknotes.
3. The Blob by David Bischoff
You might know Bischoff as the author of your other favorite classic, The Phantom of the Opera (the book based on the movie based on the book). Horror film to paperback book seems to be the most popular execution of the novelization, but it’s unclear as to why Bischoff wanted to make a literary version of a film that only got so-so reviews in the first place. Bischoff’s book is actually based on the 1988 version of the 1958 horror film, so if you’ve always wanted to write up a novelization of the original movie, don’t despair: There’s still room in the market.
4. Child’s Play 3 by Matthew J. Costello
Some of the world’s most expensive books include da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, Shakespeare’s first folio and Child’s Play 3 by Matthew J. Costello. Okay, maybe not quite, but getting your hands on a copy of the third book in this series of novelizations based on Chucky’s violent adventures will cost you, at minimum, $400. The popularity of the novelization is surprising given the fact that the movie was a box office disappointment, but if you’re a hardcore fan, apparently the three-digit price tag is worth it.
5. Jingle All the Way by David Cody Weiss
Is there really such a shortage of Christmas literature on the market that the world had to release a holiday book with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover? This novelization, which omits sex scenes and language that’s anything other than PG, is more kid friendly than the actual film. So finally, a way for the whole family to partake in the genius that is Jingle All the Way.
6. Great Expectations by Deborah Chiel
Great Expectations: An important coming-of-age novel about the victory of good over evil, a classic read in English classes across the country, and one of the most popular novels at the time of its publication. The world thanks you for your contribution to the canon, Deborah Chiel.
6. Gremlins by George Gipe
Gremlins was so successful that there was a breakfast cereal named after it, so it’s no surprise that a book followed the release of Spielberg’s film. Gipe’s work actually contains some content not found in the movie, like a backstory that explains the circumstances behind Gremlins’ creation. The original movie is so weird, though, that creating a 77-page book version if it seems even stranger. Just another reason that Furby will forever be terrifying.
7. The Terminator by Randall Frakes and Bill Wisher
Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, it seems, are prime candidates for novelizations. Frakes’ and Wisher’s literary masterpiece deserves a spot on this list not because of anything having to do with the film it’s based off of, but because it’s hard to believe that anyone would rather read a paperback version of one of America’s most popular action films than see the movie. If you have to use your imagination to hear Schwarzenegger growl his iconic “I’ll be back,” then what’s the point?
8. Broken Arrow by Jeff Rovin
Broken Arrow is basically a movie about two guys getting hit by bullets, fireballs and, memorably, one man getting his throat smashed in with a flashlight. The plot is so based on scenes of things exploding that it’s questionable as to what exactly made this manuscript 200 pages long. A more reasonable novelization would probably be as long as, well, this paragraph.
9. The Cat in the Hat by Jim Thomas
Fine, rewrite Stoker’s work in Dracula. And you know what? Deborah Chiel, go to town on Great Expectations. But the world seems like a really dark place when everyone’s favorite childhood book is rewritten into a 128-page book with the tagline “What a cat-astrophe!” and a cover plastered with the most terrifying image of Mike Myers to ever grace cinema. Random House, you’ve committed a sin that’s unforgivable.
Does seeing novelizations of big-screen productions make you more or less inclined to watch the movies they’re based off? Is there a value to writing up literary versions of box office successes (and flops), or is reading a version of a movie just as mindless as watching it? Are any of you out there one of the lucky owners of a $400 copy of Child’s Play 3 and, if so, can I have your number? Weigh in below — although if you’re a die-hard fan of Jim Thomas’s Cat in the Hat novelization, you might want to keep that to yourself.
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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