This story was first published on The Reading Room.
Hollywood makes a habit of stealing our favorite books to make movies out of them. Sometimes that’s a good thing, like with these 20 great film adaptations, and sometimes it’s a bad one. But, for better or for worse, no book goes through the filmmaking process unchanged.
Most of us don’t mind when small details from the books are changed (though some of us do – looking at you, Lord of the Rings fans.) But when the filmmakers drastically change the story or tone of the book, things can get weird. Take these ten books, for instance, which were totally changed to suit the silver screen. If you’ve only seen the movie versions of these books, you don’t know the real story! SPOILER ALERT from here on, so proceed with caution.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
The film version of this story is a Hollywood classic. It’s the archetypal romantic comedy, right down the end, when the two main characters get together. The only problem is, that’s not how it went down in Truman Capote’s story at all. There’s no real love story in the original novella, and the main male character is actually gay.
Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby
Fever Pitch is a memoir of Hornby’s life as a fan of the English soccer club Arsenal. It’s not a romantic comedy, but somehow the producers of the film version missed that memo. 2005’s Fever Pitch starred Jimmy Fallon as fan of baseball’s Boston Red Sox, and was a love story, for some reason. Despite the film’s poor reputation, the book is quite good.
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
The Insurgent movie has only just come out, and we’re already hearing from fans about how different it is from the book. Filmmakers have introduced an entirely new central concept: a mysterious “box” that can only be opened by someone who is Divergent. The movie keeps some key scenes from the book, but it’s a whole new ride.
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Though both the book and film versions of Jurassic Park were blockbuster hits, they’re two very different stories. In particular, Steven Spielberg changed the characters quite a bit: one of the children changes gender, Dr. Grant becomes a kid-hater instead of a kid-lover, and a few characters who die in the book make it out in the movie. Changing a book as popular asJurassic Park was a pretty gutsy move, but ultimately the film version became a classic itself.
The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
Malamud’s classic baseball novel is a good deal darker than its famous film counterpart. The two versions both feature Roy Hobbs, a baseball player with the fictional New York Knights. In both tales, Hobbs accepts a bribe to throw the last game of the season and lose the National League pennant. And in both versions, he has second thoughts and comes to the final at-bat of the game intending to win. The movie’s conclusion is famous: Hobbs hits a home run into the stadium lights and wins the ball game and the pennant. In the book, though, he strikes out and is found out as a cheater, giving the story a much sadder ending.
The Shining, by Stephen King
Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but it’s not a faithful adaptation of King’s book. In the book, Danny’s father is a much more sympathetic figure even as he loss his mind. Danny’s “shining” (the sort of sixth sense that gives the book its name) is more prominent in the novel, and several spectacular scenes – such as the frightening living topiary – are cut entirely from the film version.
My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult’s novel about a girl who donates a kidney to her sister features some very upsetting scenes, including a brutal car crash that kills the sister who was planning to donate the kidney. The kidney is transplanted, and the sister who has cancer goes into remission. The film completely changes this, instead having the sick sister die and the healthy one live (maybe the car crash was a little too depressing for Hollywood.) There’s an entire asection of the film’s Wikipedia page dedicated to all of the differences it has from the book, so you know that fans have noticed the changes!
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein’s sci-fi classic is about interstellar war between humans and bug-like creatures called the Arachnids. When it was made into a film 37 years later, producers re-worked a script that wasn’t originally intended to be a Starship Troopers film. The result is a movie that shares little more with the book than the title and the names of characters. It’s worth noting that both works take on political and moral issues, though the film does so in a much more satirical way.
World War Z, by Max Brooks
Max Brooks’ World War Z is an excellent book that replicates the oral history style of non-fiction narrative and repurposes it as a way to tell a zombie story. The film version scraps all that and follows one character all around the world as he tries to solve the zombie crisis (which he does with a clever trick, rather than the slow military victory that the book describes.) Even the zombies are different: in the movie, they’re much faster.
Almost every James Bond story
Okay, so this is more than one book and more than one movie. Still, it’s worth noting that the world’s most famous spy is very different in Ian Fleming’s books than he is on the screen. The books’ Bond is a hard-drinking man prone to gloomy moods. Outside of 2006’s Casino Royale, the film versions have featured a much more gleeful and invincible Bond.