Sometimes a book’s themes, ending or both go off the rails during a film adaptation.
The adaptation from book to movie is inordinately difficult. Stray too far from the source material (like many on this list below), and you’ve just reiterated that longstanding bias that film is an inferior and less sophisticated medium than literature. Stay too close to the source material and you’ve got a three-hour marathon lacking nuance or creative vision. It’s virtually impossible to win.
I’m not sure of the best approach, but it’s pretty clear what the worst approach is: Making a movie that’s completely contrary to its book. Maybe it’s taking a thoughtful ending and sanitizing it into a happy Hollywood ending. Maybe it’s totally missing the major theme of the book and inventing a different one. Or maybe it’s just taking the name of the book and slapping it on some completely unrelated movie. None of these scenarios is a good one, yet they happen over and over and over.
Here are 11 movies that totally betray the books they’re based on…
1 | Starship Troopers
Book: Heroic soldiers take on the noble cause of justifiably protecting humanity from an alien bug attack, learning in the process the value of earning citizenship through participating in the necessity that is war.
Movie: South American Aryan fascists provoke then slaughter alien bugs and are probably in the wrong in doing so, earning citizenship through participating in an unnecessary war.
2 | I Am Legend
Book: The vampires (yes, vampires), now forming a viable society on Earth, eventually kill Robert Neville because he was murdering them for no reason. He was a legend — like the boogeyman.
Movie: Robert Neville (unnecessarily) blows himself up to kill a bunch of zombies (yes, zombies), including one kinda intelligent one, allowing two uninfected humans to escape with the cure and meet up with others to rebuild human society. He will become a legend — as a martyr who saved humanity.
3 | The Scarlet Letter
Book: Hester Prynne sees Reverend Dimmesdale die, completing her downward spiral into a tragic life. She eventually dies and is buried next to him, sharing a tombstone memorializing the scarlet “A.”
Movie (1995 version): Prynne and Dimmesdale run away to live happily ever after.
4 | World War Z
Book: A story featuring zombies called World War Z.
Movie: A totally different story featuring zombies called World War Z.
5 | Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Book: Holly Golightly loses her cat and heads to Argentina, continuing and (most likely) permanently ensuring her life as a boundless free spirit.
Movie: Holly Golightly finds her cat and kisses her neighbor Paul, ostensibly abandoning her plans to leave for Brazil in order to finally settle down.
6 | The Count of Monte Cristo
Book: The moral of the story: Revenge will devour you, destroy you, and, even if you achieve it, will leave you alone, miserable, and ultimately unfulfilled.
Movie: Revenge is awesome! You’ll really stick it to your enemies, get your family back, get rich and live happily ever after. Gooooooo revenge!
7 | A Clockwork Orange
Book: Alex matures and leaves his violent, psychotic tendencies in the past.
Movie: Alex remains psychotic and ultraviolent.
8 | Forrest Gump
Book: “Bein’ an idiot is no box of chocolates. People laugh, lose patience, treat you shabby. Now they say folks ‘sposed to be kind to the afflicted, but let me tell you — it ain’t always that way.” Thus the theme of a harder edged, more aware and even cynical Forrest. Also, Jenny lives, sans-AIDS, and doesn’t have Forrest’s child — she has one with another man.
Movie: “Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.” Thus the theme of an unpredictable life featuring a more naive, optimistic Forrest. Also, all the Jenny stuff.
9 | Red Alert / Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Book: The world is not blown up.
Movie: The world is blown up.
10 | The Dark Fields / Limitless
Book: Eddie, now tragically addicted to the brain-enhancing drug (MDT), takes the last of it in a cheap hotel room knowing it will kill him, because limitless power must have consequences. He also thinks the president appears to be on MDT.
Movie: Eddie uses his super brain power from the drug (NZT) to figure out how to keep it from killing him, because limitless power does not eventually yield consequences. He’s happy, healthy, rich and running for the Senate.
11 | The Natural
Book: Roy takes a bribe to lose. He thinks differently of it during the game, when he learns Iris is pregnant with his child, but he splinters Wonderboy, thereby greatly affecting his ability. He strikes out to end the game. The news of his bribe comes out and he’s instantly a pariah; his records are deleted fro history. His hubris and weak character (meaning his constitution, not literally him as a character) left him broken and forgotten.
Movie: Roy hits a HOOOOMMMME RUUUUNNN.