5 Movie Adaptations That Are Very Different Than The Books

The Lord of the Rings movies were a pretty faithful adaptation of the novels on which they were based.  Same goes for No Country For Old Men.  Below are five books that were changed a good bit before they hit the big screen.

5. The Scarlett Letter.  Just in case what you thought an 1850 novel about Puritanical hypocrisy needed more sex and violence to make it interesting.  1995’s enormous flop, The Scarlett Letter, was advertised as being “freely adapted” from Nathanial Hawthorne’s original novel.  And, boy, was it ever.  This tale of an adulterous women who has a child out of wedlock with the very pastor who demonizes her in public is a staple in high school lit classes everywhere.  A long book that is short on action, it seemed an odd choice as a Hollywood blockbuster.  So, the movie cast Demi Moore in the leading role and put in some sex scenes and fights with Indians.  Much of the conflict in the novel is internal, but the movie decided that T&A was a better sell.  Moore, when interviewed about the changes, had the best flub when she said “not a lot of people have read the book”.

4. Up In The Air.  This 2009 George Clooney flick was a big hit that was loved by critics, audiences, and even the author of the original novel on which it was based.  Impressive, because it’s so different from the book.  The 2001 novel, about a man constantly traveling and racking up frequent-flyermiles, is often directly the opposite of the movie.  The relationships are different and important characters in the movie (the female leads) are either barely in the book or not at all.  The fact that the main character makes his living terminating people is just a side note in the novel, as the narrator hates his employer and is trying to rack up miles before he quits his job or is fired.  On top of that, the novel has a mysterious stranger who–gasp!—may be stealing the narrator’s miles!  Funny enough, fans of the novel are still fans of the very-different movie.  And  vice-versa. 

3. I Am Legend.  Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel is one of the most influential books in sci-fi history.  It has spawned no less than three movies, the 2007 Will Smith flick being the most current.  All about the sole survivor of a plague that turns the rest of the world into vampires, the novel is creepy as all hell and has one of the most celebrated finales in the genre.  The Will Smith movie, which gets many elements from the novel correct, changed enough to thoroughly piss off many die-hard Matheson fans.  The infected in the movie are more zombie-like and do not communicate with the lead character.  They do not speak, in fact, which is something they do a lot of in the novel.  Most fans of the book were angry, however, at the fact that the entire third act of the book (including the famous ending) is changed in favor of a more “Hollywood-ized” finale, complete with explosions and a tidy clean-up of events.  Still, the movie was an enormous hit worldwide.  Most  viewers had a bigger problem with the unrealistic CGI than they did the different storyline.

2. Less Than Zero.  This 1987 movie, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Andrew McCarthy, was produced following the hype surrounding Bret Easton Ellis’ hit first novel of the same name, which the author wrote when he was 21 and still in college.  The novel is all about bored, soulless, drug-using, bisexual rich teens living in LA in the mid-80s.  A dark, downbeat novel, Less Than Zero offers no apologies for its characters behavior, nor any moral to the story.  The movie, however, came right on the heels of “Just Say No”.  Gone is almost all of the sexual content and ambiguous characters.  Several characters are flat-out “bad guys” and “good guys”, and the flick has a very heavy-handed anti-drug message.  Unlike the novel, the movie was not a hit, although it has grown a cult following over the years.  Even Ellis, who originally hated the movie, has softened to it over the years.

1. Die Hard.  One of the most influential, successful action movies of all time (with four sequels following it), Die Hard made Bruce Willis a bonafide moviestar and was followed by countless copies.  Die Hard is, however, based on a book which is itself a sequel.  Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp is a 1979 sequel to The Detective, which was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra in 1968.  The novel follows a cop (with a different name than “John McClane”) hiding out from terrorists who have kidnapped his daughter.  The novel is much darker (main characters are killed off) than the film, and features an older lead character and political terrorism plot.  Sinatra opted not to do the sequel, so the script was changed to be a stand-alone film.  The movie was then intended to be a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando.  When Arnold turned it down, Bruce Willis was brought in, the daughter was changed to a wife and action movie history was made.


There you have it.  Read any good books lately?



  1. I admit to being a bigger fan of the movie version of Up In the Air than I am of the novel. The novel is an odd entry for me. I would read it again because the character resonates, but I do not enjoy the ending at all.

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