8 hit movie adaptations that made huge changes to the original story
Books, plays and comics have been a ripe source of material for movies since the very beginning – just look at A Christmas Carol, which first appeared on the screen in 1901 and has been adapted endlessly since.
But, while some movies carefully recreate the original step by step, others see them more as a jumping-off point, leading to some huge differences between the source and its adaptation. Here are some of the biggest changes from the original ever made by the movies.
1. A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick had a reputation for upsetting the authors of the books he chose to adapt. Whether his infamous movie adaptation of A Clockwork Orange really did “glorify sex and violence” as author Anthony Burgess complained, it certainly made a significant alteration to the original book.
Kubrick’s movie ends with its anti-hero protagonist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) realising that the conditioning that made him averse to violence and sex has been undone, implying that he will return to his old ways.
In Burgess’ novel, there is a final chapter that follows this, in which Alex is unable to find the joy he once did in “the old ultra-violence”, ending on a somewhat brighter note than the movie. The original US publication of A Clockwork Orange also omitted the chapter, and Kubrick said that he wasn’t aware of the missing part of the story until well into developing the movie – and didn’t ever consider adding it in.
2. The Little Mermaid
A key and beloved entry in the Disney renaissance of the late ’80s and early ’90s is The Little Mermaid, the sweet and romantic tale of Ariel, the underwater princess who dreams of joining her true love on dry land. She makes an unwise bargain with the fabulous sea witch, Ursula, but manages to win through in the end and achieve her wish.
All very cute and not at all true to Hans Christian Andersen’s bleak and weird original, which ends with the titular mermaid refusing to murder the prince and save her own life. She dies instead and becomes a disembodied spirit who must do good deeds for 300 years to earn a soul and go to heaven. The 19th century loved a Christian allegory.
Visually speaking, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie sticks very, very closely to the legendary comic on which it is based. The most overt change that Snyder made was replacing Alan Moore’s giant squid-based fake alien invasion with a plot that pins the attacks on Earth to Doctor Manhattan.
Most people actually agree that the change is for the better and makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, a harder change to get over is the complete lack of irony in Snyder’s adaptation of Moore and Dave Gibbons’ subversive and satirical masterwork.
4. The Shining
Another Kubrick classic that upset its creator, the 1980 movie adaptation of The Shining has divided film and book fans for decades.
Superficially, the stories are the same: troubled writer Jack Torrance, his wife and psychically gifted son move to a remote hotel to serve as its caretakers in the winter months. As Jack attempts to overcome his writer’s block, the sinister Overlook Hotel works its magic on him and slowly begins to drive him insane.
Stephen King’s book explains in explicit detail exactly what is happening to Jack and the hotel’s dark past, while Kubrick’s version is weird and ambiguous, with many of its iconic moments completely original to the film. It’s easy to see why King doesn’t love it – his far more sympathetic Jack is very much an author stand-in – but there’s no denying that the film is a creepy, iconic classic.
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
There are many differences of various sizes between Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Gary K Wolf’s book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? The ‘toons’ of the novel are comic-book characters rather than cartoons, and the latter half of the plot bears little resemblance to the terrifying confrontation with Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom.
Roger is in fact murdered in the middle of the book, and Eddie Valiant is left to solve the case with Roger’s stunt double, who is doomed to fade away after a short time. So much for a happy ending.
6. I Am Legend
The Will Smith-starring 2007 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend ditches the creepy, night-haunting vampires for the fast-running zombies that were all the rage at the time.
This we could forgive, but in altering the climax of the story, the movie completely misses the point of the book’s title and disturbing twist. (Spoilers coming!) In the novel, our hero realises that he is a ‘legend’ among the civilisation of intelligent vampires – a monster who stalks the day and murders them indiscriminately. He’s the bad guy, basically.
Smith’s version, meanwhile, sacrifices himself to secure a cure to the vampire/zombie plague, thus proving himself a ‘total ledge’.
7. My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult’s bestselling novel centres on two sisters. The elder, Kate, has leukaemia, while the younger, Anna, was born as a potential donor to save her big sis’s life. In a nutshell, Anna sues for medical emancipation so that she won’t have to donate one of her kidneys, but then it is revealed to be Kate’s plan, as she felt ready to die. Anna wins the case, but because life is so fragile and random, is immediately killed in a car accident, with her kidney donated to Kate after all.
Fans of the book (and Picoult herself) were not happy with the change in Nick Cassavetes’ movie adaptation, in which Kate just dies of leukaemia instead. So much for the randomness and fragility of life, eh?
8. Forrest Gump
The version of Forrest Gump in Winston Groom’s 1986 novel does not bear much of a resemblance to Tom Hanks’ sanitised take. He has a sex life for one thing, swears a lot, is something of a mathematical savant, and takes on jobs including astronaut, chess champion and stunt man. As for Jenny, she just marries someone else rather than dying from complications related to (presumably) AIDS, for which she was no doubt very thankful.
Groom was definitely not impressed with the alterations to his character – his sequel, Gump and Co, opens with Forrest explaining: “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of your life’s story.”
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