16 Movie Adaptations That Totally Missed The Point

Adaptations for the screen are often a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re horrible, and unfortunately the latter is more common. However, what also sometimes happens is that the adaptation completely misses the point of the original work. Sure, it could still be a great movie, but they’ve changed things so much that they manage to miss the crux of what made the original work so special. These 16 examples are all adaptations that totally missed the point of the original work — sometimes intentionally.

16. Starship Troopers

Let’s start with a movie which misses the point of the book, but does so gleefully and intentionally. Paul Verhoeven is a master hack filmmaker, and when he adapted Starship Troopers he took Heinlein’s love-letter to military service and semi-fascism, and turned it on its ear. He took the over the top military action story about how war was awesome and communist bugs suck and turned it into a parody of exactly that. Many people missed the parody part and took to Verhoeven for being a fascist, but it’s so obviously tongue in cheek that I can’t believe so many mistook it. He took Heinlein’s novel-as-a-political-creed, and just mocked it. Plus, nudity. Just saying.

15. V for Vendetta

I quite enjoyed V for Vendetta, it was a great fun movie. What it was not, however, was anything close to the book. The movie was a rebuke against the neoconservatism of the Bush years and a yell to the left to stand up to it. The book was a love-poem to anarchy — not just blowing up shit, but true democracy, ruled by and for all. V himself is an utterly broken human being who destructively kicks back at a totalitarian regime, and calls for a world ruled by its own consent. Almost none of this comes through in the movie, which is about being a freedom fighter instead of an anarchist, and the only lasting legacy of the film version is the masks that Anonymous now uses.

14. Dune

It’s…arguable if the original Dune movie was any good. David Lynch is a great director, and it’s a superb novel, but his brand of uniquely offputting surrealism and occasional body horror doesn’t really mesh with Herbert’s ecofiction and politics of drugs and control. Lynch heavily, heavily changed the source material — though you could equally blame that on the constant rewrites and troubled editing and past of the project. While he added some cool things, like the weirding modules and the whole “by will alone I set my mind in motion”, the problems came through regardless. He lost much of the politics of control, the discussions of the importance of ecology and the environment, and we just ended up with a muddled mess.

13. Howl’s Moving Castle

I’m loathe to say anything even vaguely negative about a Miyazaki movie, as I love absolutely everything that man has touched — but even with that said, Howl’s Moving Castle is a great, great movie that completely misses the point of the children’s classic book. It takes some of the same characters and a plot point or two, and completely changes the setting, story, and underlying basis for the plot. The movie is set in a Victorian fantasy world, with muskets and steam trains, flying machines and magic, and Howl is a vain but powerful wizard. On the other hand, the book takes place in your stereotypical high-fantasy world, and plays with many of the traditional fantasy tropes. Where the movie really falls down is missing one of the key points about Howl — he’s actually from Wales, Earth. The twist of having him from our on world is a major point about the character, which animated version drops completely.

12. Watchmen

Alan Moore really has abysmal luck with adaptations. Even though it attempted to stick very close to the original comic, the movie still failed to carry over much of the important subtext and explanations that are required to drive home the point of the story. Revealed mostly through backstory, internal monologues, and the weird bits of info at the end of each chapter, most of this content was cut to keep the film down to a normal length. What that means is that you miss the parallels of Rorschach to the pirate survivor. You don’t see any of the newspaper stories about the missing psychics. You never understand that Veidt was right, and the Rorschach gives up on his ideals without meaning to. And swapping out Dr Manhattan for the Squid at the end may seem to make more sense, but falls apart if you try and analyze it, because he’s an American invention rather than a truly outside threat.

11. To Your Scattered Bodies Go/Riverworld

The Riverworld saga by Philip José Farmer is a classic series of novels telling the story of all of humanity being resurrected on the banks of an impossibly long river, and struggling to come to terms with the weirdness around them. The books reveal the cause of the relocation at a glacial pace, eventually showing that it’s an alien race’s attempt to understand if humanity is inherently good or evil, and if we worth uplifting to a higher state — but that’s beside the point, as Farmer uses it as an opportunity to take incredibly disparate historical figures, and use their interaction to pick apart what makes us human. His stories are incredible studies of individuals and of groups, of real, detailed humanity. The movie is a SyFy schlockfest which loses almost all the original characters, and is monumentally overblown and boring.

10. Catwoman

The blame for the monstrosity that is Catwoman is at least partly at the feet of Batman Returns, which was the first film to make Catwoman a resurrected wallflower, raised from the dead by a panoply of cats with super powers. The movie Catwoman took this premise and got even more retarded with it, deciding that it still somehow made sense to have cats running around bringing dead ladies back to life. A Catwoman movie that actually pays attention to the comic origin would be fantastic. She’s a morally grey cat thief. That’s it. She’s in it for her own interest, is an incredible acrobat, and will side with either good or bad, depending on how the payout it. Not strictly evil, but definitely not a good guy. It’d be a great flick. Seduction, heists, action. Why can’t they make that one?

9. Wanted

Wanted really only takes the lightest of nods back to its comic origins. Very, very little from the original story survives, except the premise of a dude whose father is a great assassin being recruited by a bunch of killers. The movie tries to paint them as vaguely moral, killing one or two so that more may live, thanks to the future told through a magic loom. The comic, on the other hand, is much simpler. What if the bad guys won? The supervillains won against the superheroes, took over the world, and mindwiped everyone so they didn’t notice. Every character is a reference to a celebrity or comic supervillain. Hell, it stars Eminem and Halle Berry lookalikes. They’re evil, murdering, raping scum, fighting against villains that are even worse. None of that makes it to the movie.

8. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Once again, poor, poor Alan Moore. His collection of Victorian almost-heroes, saving the world despite being fundamentally broken human beings is instead simplified down to an incredibly dumb action movie. Moore’s work is incredibly dense, so much so that annotated guides float around the internet, explaining the dozens of background references and nods that fill the League’s pages. Not just that, but every member of the group is fundamentally flawed. Quatermain is hooked on opium and a self-admitted coward. Nemo doesn’t care for the fate of the world. Hyde’s well…he’s Hyde. He rapes a man to death. And these are the good guys. Or are they? Morally grey, utter failures, but still trying. Much better than that Connery flop.

7. Howard the Duck

Sorry for the string of comic related ones, they all seemed to fit around here. Howard the Duck is both a bad movie, and a bad adaptation — and frankly, one that should never have been made. Howard in his comic form existed as a fourth wall breaking court-jester of comics. He was there to poke fun at the industry, the books and the readers from within a Marvel comic. Intentional metafictional and tongue in cheek, it’s a title that has no business going on the big screen. He’s a satirical parody of comics, so why make him into a movie? Plus you have the whole horrible special effects, nonsensical plot and just general stupidness which really caused it to fail. Creator Steve Gerber has said that the book is existentialist and absurdist, and “that life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.” Whereas the person who adapted it for screen said “It’s a film about a duck from outer space… It’s not supposed to be an existential experience.” Yeah. Missed the point.

6. Clockwork Orange

It’s arguable that the film version of Clockwork is better than the book, and that Kubrick’s vision trumps Anthony Burgess’. It’s certainly easier to understand than trying to get through the Nadsat, but I think they’re both amazing works. Where they deviate is on a single point, which is the crux of the novel, but falls apart in the film. See, the original version of the book had a final chapter which was cut in the censored American release — the version that Kubrick read in order to adapt. In the final chapter, Alex decides to turn his life around as he doesn’t have the strength for the craziness anymore, and become a functioning member of society. It shows that these horrible human beings, these violent savages of the novel turn into normal, functioning adults — the people around us. Without this chapter, you lose the final note of both despair and happiness — that they’ll grow out of it, but also that it’s seen as normal.

5. Hunchback of Notre Dame

Despite what everyone seems to think, Disney movies always have a pretty dark undercurrent. I remember being really young when Little Mermaid came out and being terrified of Ursula’s cave. Disney’s always had horrible villains, violence, and usually some truly bitter and dark imagery in their animated movies — but even they had to tone down the Hunchback. The novel is a tragedy, there’s no two ways about it. In the movie, Quasimodo rescues the gypsy, she escapes to a happy life with a handsome guy, and Paris accepts the hunchback with rapturous cheering. In the book, she’s hanged to death due to Quasimodo’s actions, and he’s so distraught that he holds her corpse until he dies of starvation in a pauper’s grave, leaving their skeletons in an eternal embrace. Not exactly Disney material.

4. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

There’s a great quote about Atlas Shrugged: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” Anyway, in 2011 a film version of Rand’s “free markets will solve everything but I’ll talk about it for 1100 pages” was created, telling the first part of the novel with a two more planned. The only problem? The movie bombed horribly, and the universal critical reaction was that it was utter tripe — poorly acted, horribly shot, and generally poorly made. Randian Objectivists rushed to call it a conspiracy of the liberal Hollywood set, trying to keep them down — when they should really be embracing what happened. Hey, that’s free market economics. Your product sucked, so no one purchased it, don’t go looking for a conspiracy.

3. Legend of Earthsea

Usually when an author’s work gets horribly adapted, they shrug their shoulders, cash their paycheck, and live with the gnawing guilt that their stuff was horribly misrepresented, but they had no control due to the nature of a film’s production process. Things have to be really bad for them to speak up against it. Really, really bad. None in recent history have been as abysmal as the SyFy adaption of the Earthsea novels, which were so badly off course that Ursula K Le Guin publicly and loudly decried them in a number of essays. The biggest crime? A complete whitewashing of the series. The original novels were intentionally written by Le Guin to have a multiethnic cast, a rebuke of the standard European characters of most fantasy. The characters have wildly different skin tones depending on their origins, and are incredibly diverse. In the movie, there was one black guy. That’s it. Well done SyFy. Plus, it was just a shitty adaptation that captured none of the spirit and darkness of the original.

2. Minority Report

Philip K Dick really got the short end of the stick when it came to adaptations. Scanner Darkly was great, Blade Runner was amazing but not very faithful. Everything else was more or less drek — though Total Recall was fun. Minority Report had great special effects and some serious design chops — but managed to completely screw the pooch on the ending of the story, completely swapping it out for a cookie cutter happy ending. See, the premise is that these three precognatives hooked up to machines can see crimes in the future — hence precrime. In both versions John Anderton is a police officer who sees his own arrest warrant arrive due to a murder he’s said to commit. In the movie, he escapes from the police, unravels a conspiracy, and dissolves the precrime unit as free will, blah blah blah, unjust imprisonment, whatever. In the book, however, Anderton is told he will kill a prominent anti-precrime proponent. The man deliberately attempts to incite his own murder and then prevent it in order to discredit precrime. So Anderton kills him anyway, as Anderton understands that as a police officer and head of precrime, he’s the only person for whom the system could give a false positive for, and it works just fine for everyone else. It’s a dark and curious twist, and a far better ending than the movie.

1. I Am Legend

Oh good lord, this Will Smith vessel completely didn’t get it. Just astonishingly so. Look, it doesn’t matter that they changed his background, or the settings, or even that they were zombies instead of vampires. None of that really matters. It doesn’t matter that the main character is now a scientist instead of a depressed alcoholic. What matters is that they changed the monsters from *smart* vampires to *dumb* zombies. The great big twist at the end of the novel is that Neville has been spending his days out hunting vampires, staking them while they sleep. He didn’t realise that they were intelligent and non-aggressive for the most part, and that through his actions he had become a bogeyman for them, a terrifying creature of the day who kills them when they’re weakest. Hence the title “I Am Legend”. There wasn’t even an inkling of that in movie, instead he just cures everyone and sacrifices his life. Sigh.

About The Author