With stories that feature mythical creatures and timeless themes, it’s no wonder that fairy tales have long been a rich source of material for filmmakers. Of course, basing a film’s story on a time-tested fairy tale doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the movie will be good. Along with the usual difficulties that are associated with making any type of movie, a film adapted from a fairy tale must overcome the additional hurdle of trying to present a well-known story in a new light. Since many fairy tales are not exactly feature film length, some movie adaptations have to flesh out one-dimensional characters with additional details, or even expand the fairy tale with new plot lines.
While filmmakers who tackle fairy tales occasionally hit it out of the park — like director Kenneth Branagh did with his critically-acclaimed adaptation of Cinderella — there have also been some spectacular misfires in this genre. Here are 10 of the worst live-action movie adaptations of fairy tales to have ever been made, listed in the order of their critical rankings (Tomatometer scores) on Rotten Tomatoes.
10. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010), Tomatometer score: 41%
The movie shows master sorcerer’s Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) training Merlin’s descendant in order to defeat a dark sorceress. The movie is based on a small segment of Disney’s Fantasia and the legend of the wizard, Merlin. The work behind the movie is somewhat rare in the days of sequels and remakes. But sadly the original story’s take on the fairy tale didn’t do well with audiences or critics. The budget for the movie was $150 million, however it only grossed $63,150,991.
The movie itself was described as superficial. “It’s strange to have a film have so much magic within and yet ultimately not have enough of the right kind of magic to make it work,” wrote critic Jeff Beck.
9. The Brothers Grimm (2005), Tomatometer score: 38%
Unlike many film adaptations of fairy tales that focus on a single story, The Brothers Grimm draws from multiple fairy tales that were compiled by the real-life Brothers Grimm. Additionally, unlike their real-life counterparts, the Brothers Grimm characters in the film are portrayed as itinerant con artists who pretend to help people with supernatural problems.
Directed by Terry Gilliam and featuring a cast that included stars like Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Peter Stormare, Lena Headey, and Jonathan Pryce, The Brothers Grimm appears to be a perfect movie on paper. Unfortunately, despite having a director who previously had success with similarly fantastical material in films like Time Bandits, The Brothers Grimm was widely criticized for being an incomprehensible mess. “The film is constructed of elements that probably seemed like a great idea in themselves but have not been assembled into a narrative we can follow and care about,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert.
8. Sydney White (2007), Tomatometer score: 36%
Starring Amanda Bynes in the titular role, Sydney White is a modern retelling of the “Snow White” fairy tale. In the film, Sydney is a college freshman who is humiliated by the president of a sorority she is trying to join. After becoming friends with “seven dorks” and overcoming a “Poison Apple” computer virus, Sydney stages a comeback that results in the sorority president being kicked out of the organization.
While this movie’s greatest weakness may be its clumsy attempts to shoehorn a teen comedy flick into the mold of an unrelated fairy tale, some reviewers have also criticized its offensive attempts at humor. “Amanda Bynes is charming, but Sydney White is a poorly adapted take on Snow White, relying on tired ethnic stereotypes laughs,” reads the critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.
7. Beauty and the Beast (2016), Tomatometer score: 31%
The French actually made a live-action version of this fairy tale before the 2017 Emma Watson version. It stars Léa Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color and Spectre. She, along with the film however, wasn’t loved by critics. She was criticized for being stiff in the role and it was said that the romantic leads didn’t have much chemistry. The good thing is that the movie was described as beautiful, it just lacked substance. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the AV Club said the movie “belongs to the most rote category of interpretations, hinting at nothing darker than a fascination with sulking bad boys bored by wealth.”
6. Hook (1991), Tomatometer score: 30%
Robin Williams plays an adult Peter Pan whose children are kidnapped by Captain Hook. He then has to follow them to Neverland to get them back. This movie has an excellent cast with Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, and more. It is also directed by Steven Spielberg.
The movie was a commercial success but that didn’t make critics hold back their thoughts on the film. They panned it for being full of exposition and for being overstuffed. “No matter how much cash Hook earns, it will take more than pixie dust to fly this overstuffed package into our dreams,” wrote Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.
5. Beastly (2011), Tomatometer score: 21%
Directed and written by Daniel Barnz, Beastly is a modern retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale that may be best known to modern moviegoers through the popular Disney animated movie. In the film, handsome and spoiled rich kid Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is transformed into a hideously scarred person after bullying a teenage witch (Mary-Kate Olsen). Like the “Beast” in the original fairy tale, Kyle must find true love in order to break the curse, which he eventually does when he encounters Lindy Taylor (Vanessa Hudgens).
Beastly was panned by most reviewers, many of whom criticized the film’s clumsy dialogue and wooden acting. “Because when the best thing in a movie is the performance given by Mary-Kate Olsen, that’s an ominous sign,” wrote film critic Todd Gilchrist. “And ‘Beastly’ is such an excruciating morality play that it feels more like a punishment to the audience than the characters.”
4. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Tomatometer score: 15%
Part comedy and part horror film, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters continues the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale story by showing what happened to the two main characters years after their near-death experience at the hands of a cannibalistic witch. As the title suggests, Hansel and Gretel both become professional witch exterminators as adults.
While Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters puts a unique twist on a well-known fairy tale, it unfortunately never finds the appropriate balance between its comedic and horror elements. “Perhaps there was a germ of a clever idea in the pitch meeting where this convoluted hybrid was born,” wrote USA Today film critic Claudia Puig. “But what’s on screen is a foul-mouthed, gory, R-rated fantasy/action/comedy/horror/dysfunctional-family saga.”
On the other hand, despite its low critical status, a sequel to this bizarre fairy tale adaptation may already be in the works, according to IMDb.
3. A Cinderella Story (2004), Tomatometer score: 11%
Like Sydney White, A Cinderella Story is another failed attempt to meld a well-known fairy tale with clichéd teen romantic comedy. When she isn’t toiling in a diner managed by her evil stepmother and stepsisters, Samantha “Sam” Montgomery (Hilary Duff) spends her time chatting with her internet pen pal, who turns out to be star high school football player Austin (Chad Michael Murray). After quickly falling in love with Austin while wearing a mask at a school dance, Sam is forced to leave before revealing her identity. Fortunately, she drops her mobile phone, which apparently is the modern equivalent of a glass slipper.
Although A Cinderella Story was a commercial success, it was a critical failure and even helped earn Duff a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress (she lost to Halle Berry for Catwoman). “An uninspired, generic updating of the classic fairy tale,” states the critics’ consensus at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Red Riding Hood (2011), Tomatometer score: 10%
Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke injects some teen romantic fantasy elements into the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale in this loose adaptation. In the film, the red hooded Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is in love with a woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but is betrothed to a wealthy man named Henry (Max Irons).
Valerie’s love life is further complicated by the fact that she lives in a village that has been plagued by werewolf attacks for many years. Although the villagers have long appeased the creature by offering it animal sacrifices, for some reason the werewolf begins to kill people. This turn of events forces the villagers to seek the help of renowned werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who inexplicably shows up with a giant metal elephant.
Red Riding Hood was panned by most critics for its nonsensical storyline and for being too similar in tone to Twilight. “’Red Riding Hood’ has the added inconvenience of being dreadfully serious about a plot so preposterous, it demands to be filmed by Monty Python,” noted Roger Ebert.
1. Pinocchio (2002), Tomatometer score: 0%
Widely considered to be the worst live-action fairy tale adaptation ever made, this poorly conceived film was the brainchild of Roberto Benigni, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the movie. In what might be the worst casting decision in the history of film, the 50-year-old Benigni decided to tackle the titular role of the wooden boy puppet that magically comes to life. The unsettling result is a balding man covered with pancake makeup doing his best impression of a young boy.
“It’s hard to tell what’s sadder, Geppetto’s belief that Pinocchio is a child puppet or Mr. Benigni’s need to play one,” wrote The New York Times’ film critic Elvis Mitchell. While this portrayal of Pinocchio would be creepy in any language, the American release of this Italian language film was made even worse by poor dubbing that made Pinocchio seem more like a ventriloquist’s dummy instead of a magical puppet. Benigni, who previously earned a Best Actor Oscar for his role in 1997’s Life Is Beautiful, was awarded a Worst Actor Razzie for this horrible portrayal of Pinocchio.
Additional reporting by Nicole Weaver.
All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.
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