Most of us love to see book to screen adaptations, but we’re often confused by the results. What book fan hasn’t anticipated the film adaptation of a favorite novel only to watch dumbfounded as important parts of a story were changed, moved around – or worse, eliminated altogether?
Sometimes plot points are changed to create more drama, other times it’s to make a story work over a prolonged period of time, work within time constraints, or make the story more interesting to the viewer. There are even times when there doesn’t seem to be any logical rhyme or reason for certain changes other than writers and directors exercising the right to editorial liberty.
What follows is a look at book to screen adaptations where significant changes were made in the telling of the story. Not all of the books listed below became something completely different in the movie, but a few are hard to recognize.
We’re not out to justify any serious diversion from storyline, heck, we’re still trying to make sense of half of them, but you can’t deny it’s fun to compare.
18 Books Made Into Movies & TV Shows With a Few….Changes
Warning: Spoilers ensue.
1. Under the Dome
A mysterious dome fell on the town of Chester’s Mill, trapping most of its inhabitants inside…and that’s where the similarities between Stephen King’s book and television series end. Butterflies, alien babies, and secrets behind a high school locker are only a few of the differences you’ll find in the TV adaptation. Stephen King even addressed the differences in a letter to his readers.
2. Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s semi-fictional take on her pioneer roots was watered down even more for the television series, which became nothing more than a preachy Michael Landon vehicle. Instead of being a look at a real-life pioneer family who kept moving West until they eventually became the very first citizens in a town in South Dakota, the TV version of “Little House,” was a show about an ever-expanding family and their neighbors’ ever-expanding families in the 1800’s. Hint: Want to know what it was really like for Laura and her family? Read
Hint: Want to know what it was really like for Laura and her family? Read Pioneer Girl.
3. Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is one of those rare cases where most will agree the film adaptation is better than the book. The movie doesn’t feature a chain smoking, swearing, bad choice making, going to space with a pet gorilla, main character. Instead, the movie Forrest Gump is a mentally-challenged savant who changes the course of history simply by being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time.
4. The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is a beloved classic about a Puritan woman, Hester Prynne, who was punished for her infidelity by living out the rest of her days with a big red “A” pinned to her dress. In the book, Hester accepted her punishment and acted in accordance with the times. The movie Hester Prynne was more of a feminist who wasn’t going to take this scarlet letter business lying down. She eventually removed the blasted thing from her dress and ran off with the man with whom she was having an affair. So basically a completely different story.
Stephen Gould’s book about a teleporting teen who uses his power to get away from his abusive father and rob a bank is a quick, absorbing read – as are the book’s sequels. If you read the books and eagerly look into renting the movie, you will likely be disappointed (and it has nothing to do with Hayden Christensen’s acting). We’re talking about two completely different stories here. Sometimes that works (see the aforementioned Forrest Gump), but in this case it doesn’t.
6. World War Z
Quite possibly one of the best zombie apocalypse books ever written, World War Z chronicles survivor accounts of “The Zombie War.” The film version is more plot driven and features Brad Pitt traveling around the world to stop hoards of speedy, wall climbing zombies from devouring mankind.
7. The Leftovers
The premise of The Leftovers – 2% of the world’s population (literally) disappeared into thin air – is the same in both Tom Perotta’s book and the HBO’s TV show of the same name. But in order to turn a 300-page book into a 3 season television series, some changes have to be made. Thus, Kevin Garvey is a police chief, rather than a businessman/mayor, and the TV series is bloodier than the book. There are plenty of other differences beyond that. The book version of The Leftovers is a riveting read and we recommend you take it for a whirl and draw your own comparisons.
8. Mary Poppins
It’s a given that once Disney buys the rights to adapt a book, the film version has the potential to lose all semblance of the original story and Mary Poppins is an excellent case in point. For one thing, the Mary Poppins of book fame wasn’t so gosh darned adorable. She was no nonsense and not very good looking – the complete opposite of the movie Mary. And the book Mary Poppins whipped five kids into shape – not two. We won’t even get into dancing cartoon animals and Supercalifragislistexpialidocious, which isn’t really a thing.
9. I Am Legend
The film version could also be known as “I am almost completely different from the book.” The location changed, the circumstances in which Dr. Neville meets a woman (after many years alone) changed, even how Sam came to be Neville’s best friend is different. Oh and those monsters? In the book they’re vampires.
10. The Devil Wears Prada
Most of the changes in the film adaptation are minor nitpicks as they don’t really do anything to change up the plot to become a totally different story. However, in changing the ending, the film version loses an important element from the book– the very satisfying “eff you” from Andi to Amanda.
11. The Shining
It’s no secret Stephen King wasn’t thrilled about Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. It was King’s contention that Kubrick didn’t dive deeply enough into the hotel’s inherent evil and changed the overall tone and plot of the original story. Regardless of whether one enjoyed the book or the film more, it’s safe to say Kubrick had a different vision than King, and that fans of both are divided as to which is the better version.
12. Game of Thrones
When it comes to the differences between the popular Game of Thrones books and the equally popular HBO series, George R.R. Martin famously said “The show is the show and the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story. ” Indeed. And the two stories will most likely become more skewed as HBO writes the series ahead of the book series – which isn’t completed and probably won’t be for a long time.
13. Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
The film version of Rick Riordan’s story about a demi god battling mythical evil forces in the present world is entertaining, for sure. However, many elements of the books were totally changed up or eliminated completely. The essence of the story is there, but we admit, it would have been cool to see Percy Jackson battling Echinda and the chimera on top of the St. Louis Arch on screen.
14. The Book Thief
Almost all who saw the movie agree The Book Thief is a beautiful story, one that is told well both in the book and the film. The casting is perfect, and the film nicely captured the book’s essence and message. However, there were definite changes made in the re-telling of the story. Some people, for example, Hans and Rosa Hubermann’s biological children, weren’t in the film at all. Also, some elements of the book were changed to a different place or certain plot points handled in a different way in the film. We’re on the fence as to whether or not the changes were necessary for the sake of adaptation, or if we’re nitpicky book to movie purists. Regardless, both book and movie are well worth the price.
15. Orange is the New Black
It should go without saying that anytime a book is adapted into a television series there will be changes. After all, there has to be enough material to keep people interested for years to come. So it stands to reason the Netflix adaptation of Piper Kerman’s self-serving look at her short, uneventful stay in prison featured different – but much more interesting – characters and story lines than the book. This is one instance where we’re happy for the change.
16. Children of Men
The premise is the same in both the book and the film: A man protects the only pregnant woman the Earth has seen in years. However, the film changes drastically when compared to the book. For example, the book’s main characters have different occupations, personalities and motives, rendering it a different story as well.
17. Battle Royale
There’s no way you could be completely faithful to the book version of Battle Royale unless you make it into a twelve hour long three-parter. There are many characters and each has his or her own story. The plot – a Japanese version of The Hunger Games (written several years before Suzanne Collins’ book) about junior high school kids who have to fight to the death until one person stands – remains the same in both book and film. However, some students’ storylines were changed or eliminated outright, and while the ending was similar it does stray from the original. However, the tone and outcome of the film remain the same.
Too many changes to list here, the film version of Eragon is like watery coffee; nowhere near as satisfying or robust as the real thing, and only enough of the original so you know where it came from.
This list is far from comprehensive. We know there are scores of book to film adaptations in which many changes were made to the original story. We know we haven’t even begun to touch on them here. Stay tuned as we add a sequel or two to this storyline. In the meantime, feel free to share your own book to screen adaptations to this list. There’s nothing we love more than a lively discussion about books and movies.
To be continued….
Read more about books made into movies at Books & Chardonnay.
- 7 Times Other People Made it Possible for Katniss to Win the Hunger Games
- 25 Books Becoming Movies in 2017
- 20 Books Being Made into Movies in 2016
- 23 Times They Spunoff TV Shows into Books
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