Adapting a book into a film is hard, which is why some filmmakers just say “Forget it,” and make their own movie while paying lip service to the source material. Sometimes this cavalier attitude leads to some surprisingly amazing films. Let’s check out 10 of these films that have almost nothing in common with the books they come from.
1. Blade Runner
You could write a book about all the changes filmmakers have made in their adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s novels. I’ll focus on the first (and arguably most famous) adaptation: Blade Runner. Director Ridley Scott barely even included Dick in the production of this film. Scott hated the term “android” and, unfortunately, Dick’s book was entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” He substituted the word “replicant” for “android” and made numerous other changes, such as excising the whole animal subplot. The film (in all its permutations) barely resembles the story Dick crafted, but it manages to remain true to the book’s style and atmosphere. Dick saw a cut of the film shortly before he died, and he expressed his approval of it. It’s too bad he couldn’t have lived another 20 or 30 years to see the legacy his work had on science fiction films.
2. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Jason Bourne lies unconscious and half-dead in the Mediterranean Sea, having lost his memory. From there, the book and 2002 film version of The Bourne Identity diverge wildly. Robert Ludlum’s book is a Cold War spy thriller, and it involves a lot of misunderstandings and Bourne posing as a spy to try to kill a real one. The film is mostly about Bourne trying to escape from his CIA superiors who are trying to kill him for no good reason. Ironically, the fact that the film and book are so different from each other seems to reinforce the main character’s dichotomy.
3. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, wrote one children’s book in his life: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car. It’s about an inventor who works with Scotland Yard to hunt down criminals with his family. The movie feels like a prequel to the book. In the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the inventor tries and fails to get some candy mass-produced, but he manages to soup up an old racecar, which he and his children use to go on an adventure in a magical land. All of that could be the precursor to the book’s events. Either way, it’s a fun ride.
The 1985 Chevy Chase comedy Fletch is a hilarious sendup of serious crime dramas, which is ironic because the novel it is based on is a serious crime drama. The filmmakers decided to cut out the prostitution, drug addiction, and many of the darker elements of the book when they translated it into a film, and instead emphasized the more comedic aspects. No complaints here. I read the book at age 14, thinking it would be as fun as the movie. I was in for a real shock. The book is definitely good, and it uses a lot of gripping plot devices to keep you engaged and wondering what will happen right up to the end. But it is rather depressing. It ends completely differently from the film, but I won’t spoil it for you if you prefer the film’s lighthearted ending.
5. How to Train Your Dragon
So there’s this kid named Hiccup and he has a pet dragon named Toothless. And there’s a villain called the Green Death. That’s all I can think of that the book How to Train Your Dragon has in common with the movie of the same name. In the book, Toothless is tiny and the plot revolves around Hiccup trying to train him so he won’t be kicked out of his Viking village. Eventually he messes up, but he redeems himself by defeating a sinister dragon and saving his village. You can see how the makers of How to Train Your Dragon got some inspiration for their amazing film from the book, but there are really not many similarities between these two stories. It will be interesting to see what they do in the sequel.
6. The Natural
Bernard Malamud’s book The Natural is a tragedy while Barry Levinson’s film adaptation of it is a triumph. I love the way the movie focuses solely on the best aspects of the book. Roy Hobbs is a gifted baseball player who suffers a terrible experience that keeps him from being as great as he could have been. In the book, he allows his weaknesses (gambling, overeating, and greed) to destroy him. In the film, he has his ups and downs, but he manages to come out on top by knowing his limits and not lowering himself to the villains’ level. The ending of the film could not be more different from the one in the book. It’s a home run.
7. The Omega Man
The Omega Man is a loose adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, which debuted thirty-six years before Will Smith starred in a somewhat more faithful version. In the book, humanity has regressed into a sort of vampire race and the only man not infected with their disease struggles to survive and kill them off. But the irony is that he turns out to be the villain of the story, terrorizing the peaceful vampires until he is finally captured and forced to kill himself. The Omega Man has a lot of these elements, but it’s much different in practice. The main character tries to stay alive, and he finds a whole group of uninfected people who he tries to help. In the end, he is betrayed and killed while the group he was helping manages to get away safely. It’s a little less grim of an ending than I Am Legend, but it’s much less interesting.
8. The Spy Who Loved Me
Pretty much every James Bond movie after the 1960s has nothing in common with the book it’s supposedly based on. Nowhere is this truer than The Spy Who Loved Me. This is the only Bond novel that is written in the first person, and it barely even focuses on Bond at all. It was so poorly received by readers and critics that Fleming specifically asked the filmmakers that if they ever turned it into a film they wouldn’t use any plot elements from it. Sure enough, the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me is a completely original story about a megalomaniac who wants to take over the world (okay, so maybe it’s not completely original), and it became one of the most popular Bond movies of all time and saved the series after the disastrous The Man with the Golden Gun. All in a day’s work for the world’s greatest spy.
9. The Ten Commandments (1956)
I’m pretty sure the book of Exodus in the Bible doesn’t mention a woman named Nefretiri falling in love with Moses, or Joshua coming to Midian to beg Moses to return to Egypt to free the Hebrews, or a whole lot of other speculative details from the 1956 film The Ten Commandments. But all of those apocryphal or otherwise fabricated plot devices are designed to heighten the drama and drive home the spirit of what the scriptures are trying to get across. For example, having Nefretiri play the part of scorned lover and seek to destroy Moses by whispering lies into Ramses’ ear is an effective way of getting across Ramses’ internal struggle. I’m all for these story changes and additions. They make you want to read the original account by helping you get into the minds of the principal players in the story.
10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
In the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? the titular character is the one who is killed at the start, not Marvin Acme, like in the film. Before he dies, Roger creates a temporary duplicate of himself to help Eddie Valiant solve his murder. It’s an even darker take on the world of real-life toons than is depicted in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s actually reminiscent of Cool World with its modern-day, fantastic setting. The Depression-era setting of the film is much better because it’s easier to suspend our disbelief, especially as we see our favorite classic characters share the screen for the first and only time.
I’m sure there are plenty of other great movies that bear little resemblance to the books they’re supposed to be based on. Feel free to share any you can think of in a comment below.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images are the copyright of their respective owners.