Home Entertainment Top List Thursday: Film Adaptations That Missed the Book

Top List Thursday: Film Adaptations That Missed the Book

3 min read

Sometimes great movies come from great books. Many take some liberties with the source material, but a few change things so radically they barely resemble their inspiration.

  • Nosferatu


The makers of this movie really, really wanted to adapt Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but his estate wouldn’t give permission. So they went ahead anyway, but changed key parts of the novel in order to (unsuccessfully) avoid a copyright lawsuit. Dracula became Orlok and practically all the character names were changed – those who weren’t cut out in the first place. Orlok didn’t create other vampires, he now lived in Germany and, crucially, unlike Dracula the sun could destroy him – a hallmark of vampires ever since.

  • Alice in Wonderland

alice in wonderland

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is less of an adaptation and more of a bizarre sequel to the book and its best adaptation, the 1951 animated film. Other than retaining the characters, nothing is the same at all. Most glaring – and this may seem strange if you are not familiar with the originals – it made too much sense. The mere fact that the Mad Hatter wasn’t a completely deranged lunatic incapable of saying two sensible sentences in a row is a sign of how little the movie had to do with the book.

  • Neverending Story

neverending story

Based on a popular German novel, The Neverending Story was a big hit in the Eighties. It told the tale of a little boy who discovers a magic realm through a book and is eventually transported to it. The film version actually only covers the first part of the book and changes drastically once the hero enters the magical realm. It was such a significant shift that the author of the novel unsuccessfully sued to have the movie’s name changes.

  • Home


Dreamwork’s so-so animated hit Home is derived from a children’s book called The True Meaning of Smekday. At a glance they are quite similar: both tell of friendly and largely well-meaning aliens invading Earth and enslaving humans. A little girl teams up with an alien outcast to save her mother and ultimately save the planet both from its invaders and a much-worse approaching nation. But while the book contained a lot of nuance about race relations, colonialism and other rather heavy themes, Home dumped all that for Rihanna sing-alongs and Jim Parsons mispronouncing words.

  • Live and Let Die

live nad let die

The second James Bond novel to be released, it was also the first to introduce the prototypical Bond Villain in the guise of Harlem drug overlord Mister Big. In the movie Big is turned into Kananga, the dictator of a Caribbean island nation. A drug operation became a much more convoluted world-domination plot. Whereas the book kept to a few locations, the movie went all over the place. Series staple character CIA agent Felix Leiter is not only excluded, but one of the most brutal scenes – where Mister Big has him half-fed to a shark – only appears in movie form in License To Kill.

  • A History of Violence

history of violence

David Cronenberg’s underrated A History Of Violence was adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, but almost by name only. Though the movie retained some key themes and characters (though few of their names survived), a lot was altered. This includes the mystery about the main character’s past, his family’s feelings about that, what the mob did to his brother… it’s a pretty long list.

  • American Sniper

american sniper

Nothing should be taken away from American Sniper, which despite its American jingoism is a solid film experience. But what does it have to do with Chris Kyle’s autobiography? Nothing. The movie mainly focuses on one of Kyle’s Iraq tours, where he helped clear a city from insurgents. But nothing the movie relates is actually in the book. In turn, none of the various stories – even from that period – made it into the movie. Other than sharing the main characters’ name and a bit of the marital problems, the two have almost nothing in common.

Last Updated: August 20, 2015


  1. Never read the book myself but i believe World War Z was also quite a departure from the novels


    • James Francis

      August 20, 2015 at 16:14

      Very true – they basically only shared the title.


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