Movies that were nothing like the book
Book lovers can be the harshest movie critics. Even when a film sticks very close to the book it’s based on, people who loved the text will no doubt pick out any tiny changes that were made, or casting decisions that don’t match their own vision of the characters, and find themselves disappointed by what’s on screen. Of course, there are also those movie adaptations that share the book’s title … and that’s about it!
We’ve rounded up some of the most egregious instances of movies that claimed to be based on a book, only to share virtually nothing in common with it. In some cases the authors were fans of the new interpretations of their books, but in many cases they hated them as much as the dedicated readers who showed up at the theater.
‘The Shining’ (1980)
Based On: “The Shining” by Stephen King (1977)
Director Stanley Kubrick was notorious for having authors despise his loose adaptations of their works, and his version of Stephen King’s “The Shining” is a perfect example.
The filmmaker changed much about the book, most glaringly the dynamics of the Torrance family. While King’s Jack Torrance was mostly a good father and husband, and his wife was an independent woman, Kubrick turned Jack into an abusive man and his wife into a meek enabler of his behavior. Many other important parts were changed as well, including character deaths.
King has been open about his disdain for the movie, saying he didn’t like Jack Nicholson’s performance and felt the whole thing was “so misogynistic.”
Based On: “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean (1998)
There’s probably no better example of a film being completely different from its source book than 2002’s “Adaptation.”
Susan Orlean’s book was a nonfiction investigation into a man who poached rare flowers from a state park in Florida, while the movie was a bizarre tale about a writer and his twin, each played by Nicolas Cage, as he tries to adapt “The Orchid Thief” into a film. The movie does keep Orlean’s titular orchid thief as a character and minor subplot, and has Orlean herself being played by Meryl Streep, but these two have nothing in common from a stylistic standpoint.
‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’ (1971)
Based On: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl (1964)
This is a rare example of the book and movie both being excellent for their own reasons despite having little in common. Beloved author Roald Dahl famously hated the 1971 movie adaptation so much that he never allowed another of his books to be made into a film during his lifetime, but he was definitely in the minority in not liking it.
The movie turned his dark cautionary tale of naughty children, a demented candy maker and his Oompa Loompas (who were basically African slaves) into a whimsical musical that was fun and harmless. Among the movie’s biggest changes were expanding Slugworth’s character into a supposed villain and the infamous scene where Charlie and his grandfather sneak the fizzy-lifting drinks and have to belch their way down to the ground.
‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
Based On: “Forrest Gump” by Winston Groom (1986)
If you thought the movie “Forrest Gump” was a little too wacky and far-fetched, you’d better stay away from the book.
The 1994 Oscar-winning film version of author Winston Groom’s novel made major changes to the main characters and eliminated a few of his wilder adventures. The book’s version of the character is a hulking man who curses a lot and has freakish mathematical skills, while his girlfriend Jenny is a normal girl with a happy childhood who becomes a hippie. The book also sees Forrest become an astronaut, a Hollywood stuntman and a professional wrestler, and he survives being stranded in a jungle with cannibals.
‘I Am Legend’ (2007)
Based On: “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson (1954)
For some reason, author Richard Matheson’s classic sci-fi/horror novel “I Am Legend” is a magnet for loose adaptations. The book has been made into three films since 1964, with each being wildly different from the novel — perhaps none more so than Will Smith’s 2007 version.
In the book, the main character is a ruthless killer of the vampires who now inhabit Earth and is made to pay for his crimes against them. In the movie, the main character is painted as a hero who saves the world by sacrificing himself. The main character’s backstory, the creatures, the nature of the apocalypse and the setting were all changed as well.
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
Based On: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey (1962)
The beloved movie version of Ken Kesey’s anti-establishment novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” keeps much of the source material intact but makes some drastic changes in terms of characterization and style.
Whereas the book was narrated by the character known as Chief Bromden, who gives the reader constant insight into his thoughts and his background, the movie puts the Chief mostly in the background as a mysterious figure. Kesey has said that he never saw the movie after hearing about the changes that were to be made, comparing Hollywood’s version to a comedic adventure rather than a serious look at life in an asylum.
Based On: The Book of Genesis, the Bible
Filmmakers deviating from their source material doesn’t get much more controversial than when they are adapting a religious text.
Director Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film version of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark was widely protested and banned in some countries due to perceived differences between it and the written version, though some Biblical scholars have said the movie is true to the text. Some differences include the addition of a human rival of Noah’s who acts as a villain, the ages of the main characters being cut by hundreds of years, the time it takes Noah to build his vessel and details about his children.
‘The Golden Compass’ (2007)
Based On: “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (1995)
When fans of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy heard it would be made into films, they were excited … until they saw the first entry. It’s been described as the prototypical example of a Hollywood studio making a smart, edgy book softer and stupider for film audiences, all with the goal of making tons of cash. The movie also leaves out a lot of material, including the last three chapters, which were moved to a potential sequel that never happened.
In a comparison of the two versions of “The Golden Compass,” An A.V. Club writer wrote, “There are so many alterations between the book and the film that I could go on about them all day.”
‘Blade Runner’ (1982)
Based On: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick (1968)
When you think of director Ridley Scott’s legendary 1982 sci-fi masterpiece, you can’t help but think of terms like “replicants” and “blade runners.” But in the book, those phrases never appear. The book follows the same main character, a guy named Rick Deckard who hunts escaped androids, but there are many differences between the two versions. In the book, Deckard is a married man and the androids he hunts are not presented as deserving of much sympathy — both huge differences from the film. The book’s Roy Baty also doesn’t give his epic “tears in rain” monologue, which is one of the movie’s signature moments.
‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997)
Based On: “The Lost World” by Michael Crichton (1995)
After author Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” became one of the biggest movie blockbusters ever, he wrote a sequel called “The Lost World,” which was also adapted, albeit very loosely.
Spielberg’s version of “The Lost World” opts to leave out several characters completely and wildly changes the story’s climax and ending. Remember the big set piece in the film where the T. rex gets shipped to San Diego and runs wild in the city? That never happened in the book but was one of the most essential plot points in the film.
‘World War Z’ (2013)
Based On: “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks (2006)
Fans of author Max Brooks’ 2006 hit “World War Z” were in for a shock when they went to see Brad Pitt’s 2013 movie adaptation.
The book, told via interviews with survivors of the Zombie War, can be read as a meditation on human nature and a criticism of bureaucracy. Where the book focused on the human price and fallout of the Zombie War, the film was a big, loud action movie that follows a hero who tries to save the world from a zombie outbreak. Brooks, the son of Hollywood legend Mel Brooks, said the film and his book share only the title “and that’s it.”
‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988)
Based On: “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf (1981)
Here’s another example of a movie adaptation that totally deviated from its source material and actually eclipsed it in the process.
The cutting-edge 1988 Disney film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is a beloved classic, while the book it was based on is pretty hard to find these days. Author Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” followed detective Eddie Valiant solving a mystery involving Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit and Baby Herman — but the similarities pretty much stop there. Wolf’s version had Roger as a much less sympathetic character and shares virtually no scenes with the movie, save for a couple lines of dialogue.
‘Animal Farm’ (1954)
Based On: “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (1945)
George Orwell’s beloved classic “Animal Farm” uses talking farm animals to tell the story of the Russian Revolution as a gripping allegory, while the 1954 animated movie told the same story in a safer, more sanitized version.
There are many notable differences in plot moments and characters, but the most glaring difference is the ending, which completely negates the book’s foresight about the rise of the Soviet Union. In Orwell’s book, the farm continues to be dominated by the evil pig Napoleon and his army, while the movie sees the animals rise up and topple the pig’s oppressive regime. If he hadn’t died in 1950, the author likely wouldn’t have approved.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)
Based On: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Long before Hulu’s award-winning series, a 1990 film version of Margaret Atwood’s classic feminist dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” hit theaters.
The movie kept the setting, characters and plot mostly the same but had some glaring differences that likely made lovers of the book roll their eyes. Everything in the movie is much more obvious and very Hollywood. For example, Offred gets some deadly revenge and escapes Gilead with a baby in her womb — things that either don’t happen or aren’t clear in the book.
The movie also skips the iconic winged white headpieces for plain red veils, and they give Offred’s real name as Kate. Plus, the movie’s poster makes the film look like a steamy romance, which is creepy on all sorts of levels.
‘The Jungle Book’ (1967)
Based On: “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling (1894)
Rudyard Kipling purists who went to see Walt Disney’s animated version of “The Jungle Book” in 1967 had to be aghast when they saw Mowgli dancing and singing with the animals he befriends while being raised in the wilderness.
While Kipling’s collection of short stories was full of frightening imagery — as one would expect of tales about a little boy being raised among wild animals — Disney reportedly told his animators to ignore the book’s tone as much as possible and make Mowgli’s journey much more fun. A couple of major changes to the characters included Baloo being a funny slacker instead of a wise, old leader, and Kaa being presented as a goofy villain rather than a friend of the boy.
‘Fever Pitch’ (2005)
Based On: “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby (1992)
When British author Nick Hornby wrote his autobiographical account of his lifelong love of soccer, and especially the Arsenal Football Club, he could’ve never predicted that it would be made into a rom-com about a couple who falls in love while watching Boston Red Sox baseball.
Hornby’s 1992 book follows his own life as it has related to significant soccer games he remembers watching. Meanwhile, the movie — which Hornby executive produced — follows Jimmy Fallon as a guy from Boston who worships the Red Sox and falls in love with a woman who has no interest in baseball. The versions have nothing in common other than the titles and a musing on the connection between sports and life’s important moments.
‘All the King’s Men’ (1949)
Based On: “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
The book version of “All the King’s Men” won a Pulitzer Prize, while the 1949 film adaptation won best picture at the Oscars. Clearly, both are great, but they vary wildly from one another. Both tell the story of Willie Stark, a Southern politician who becomes corrupt as he gains power, but the film totally focuses on him, while the book makes Stark a secondary character. The book is much more focused on Jack Burden, the journalist who follows Stark and narrates the story. The movie also made major changes to the story of Stark’s family, most notably, his son.
‘War of the Worlds’ (2005)
Based On: “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells (1898)
Maybe it’s not fair to say Steven Spielberg’s 2005 update of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi landmark is nothing like the original, but it does make significant changes.
The basic story of an Earth taken over by aliens who underestimate our atmosphere is the same, but the film moves the action from England to America and follows a divorced father with his kids, while the book is about a lone man who’s just trying to make it home to his wife. The film also changes the time period from the 19th century to the 2000s, peppering in some American paranoia that only makes sense in a post-9/11 setting.
‘The Scarlet Letter’ (1995)
Based On: “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Kids who tried to outsmart their English teachers by watching the movie version of this American classic instead of reading it likely failed their tests. While the book is all about the religious guilt that racked early America, the movie is a steamy, rah-rah statement on standing up to bullies. The movie clearly feels like something written in the ‘90s versus a story from the mid-1800s. All you have to do is compare the endings of the two and you’ll see how glaring the differences are.
‘The Bourne Supremacy’ (2004)
Based On: “The Bourne Supremacy” by Robert Ludlum (1986)
Aside from having the same title and following a man named Jason Bourne, the book and movie versions of “The Bourne Supremacy” have almost nothing in common. The plots are completely different, and the pacing is about a million times faster in the film than the book, which is more of a slow burn. Among the drastic changes are entire plotlines, settings, Bourne’s grasp on his true identity and the fate of his wife, Marie.
‘The Lawnmower Man’ (1992)
Based On: “The Lawnmower Man” by Stephen King (1975)
Anyone who read Stephen King’s bizarre short story “The Lawnmower Man” and went to see the 1992 film of the same title had to be scratching their heads through the whole thing. The stories have absolutely nothing in common, other than the interesting title and the fact that there’s a character in each who cuts grass for a living.
King’s version made the title character the villain, a depraved landscaper who sacrifices living things to his magical lawnmower, while the movie makes the title character the victim, a man with a mental disability who is experimented on by a scientist. King sued the film’s production studio and got his name removed from the credits because he didn’t want to be linked to it.
‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy (2012-2014)
Based On: “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
Stretching a single, 310-page book into three films that span nearly nine hours total is the definition of trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. The fact that director Peter Jackson’s screen version of “The Hobbit” stretches so much means that not only was virtually every detail from the book covered, but he had to add some things from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, too. That amount of bloating meant that a single sentence from the book equated to more than two minutes of screen time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Based On: “Dune” by Frank Herbert (1965)
Not unlike Stanley Kubrick, director David Lynch is probably the last filmmaker you’d want to adapt your novel to the screen if you’re looking for a faithful retelling. Lynch’s movie version of the sci-fi landmark “Dune” sees the famously offbeat director running with the weirdest elements of the book and milking them for all they’re worth, while confusing the hell out of anyone who isn’t already familiar with the written version. While Frank Herbert’s book is regarded as an essential, widely beloved classic, the movie only appeals to a small group of people and has largely been forgotten.
‘First Blood’ (1982)
Based On: “First Blood” by David Morrell (1972)
The first film of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo series was based on a book, but the movie drastically changed its tone, characterization and ending.
David Morrell’s book, “First Blood,” follows an unlikable Vietnam War veteran named Rambo who kills many police officers and national guardsmen while hiding out in the American wilderness before being killed himself. Stallone’s movie keeps Rambo as a Vietnam vet on the run from villainous cops but makes him a hero who doesn’t kill any police officers and makes it out alive for several sequels.
‘Minority Report’ (2002)
Based On: “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick (1956)
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller “Minority Report” had a nifty premise that came straight from Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, but the film made plenty of big changes to the story.
In Dick’s version, the main character is a middle-aged, out-of-shape cop who created a police division that can see crimes before they happen, while in the film, the part is played by a 30-something, handsome Tom Cruise and he merely works in that department. The film’s biggest departures come in the story’s ending, which made Cruise’s character more sympathetic than he was in the end of the book and gives him a much more feel-good fate.
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)
Based On: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote (1958)
After my wife read Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” we picked up the movie and she was stunned by how different the two versions were. The author’s vision of Holly Golightly, his enigmatic breakout character, was Marilyn Monroe or Shirley MacLaine, but she was, of course, played by Audrey Hepburn — showing just how different the visions for the movie and book were. The style of the story was also made to be more light and romantic for the film, and the ending was drastically altered, completely changing the way one views Holly’s character after it’s over. Capote said the film “was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly.”
‘Simon Birch’ (1998)
Based On: “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving (1989)
Author John Irving liked the 1998 movie that was based on his novel, “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” but requested that the filmmakers change the title and the characters’ names because it was such a departure from his story. The movie, which was called “Simon Birch,” took only the initial setup and first chapter of Irving’s book and went in a wildly different direction from there.
“I felt it would mislead the novel’s many readers to see a film of that same title which was so different from the book,” Irving said of the film.
‘Mary Poppins’ (1964)
Based On: “Mary Poppins” Series by P.L. Travers (1934)
Walt Disney had such a hard time getting P.L. Travers to agree to let his studio adapt her stories that there was an entire movie made just about their hate-hate relationship during the film’s production. Disney, as he often did, made Travers’ book series much more cheerful and light. In the books, Poppins is intimidating, vain and had absolutely no romantic relationship with Bert. Meanwhile, in the movie, she’s played by the infinitely charming Julie Andrews.
‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007)
Based On: “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair (1927)
The epic, Oscar-winning movie “There Will Be Blood” was technically based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” but the film’s director, Paul Thomas Anderson, has called the book more of a “collaborator” than a source.
Anyone who read the book would be shocked to see the film’s version of its main character, an oil tycoon, as such a blatantly evil figure. Both versions tell the story of the oil man and his son but hardly mirror one another aside from that. The character of Eli, the preacher, isn’t much of a figure in the book but is one of the central characters of the movie.
‘I, Robot’ (2004)
Based On: “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov (1950)
Since the 1950s, sci-fi icon Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” stories have been a go-to pick for lovers of stories about machines as beings.
But the 2004 movie was far different. Where the book, a collection of connected short stories, told varied tales of fascinating robots and gave a fictional history of their being, the film, which starred Will Smith, was a cliche-packed thriller filled with robot paranoia. Screenwriter Jeff Vintar wrote the film originally without using Asimov as the source but was later convinced to incorporate some of the writer’s elements when 20th Century Fox told him it had the rights to his stories.