Adaptations are a tricky thing to get right at the best of times. But some adaptations might as well not be adaptations at all. They’re basically an entirely different story with the same name. We’re left wondering if the director just wanted to tell an original story, but wanted the brand-recognition of the source material around to boost sales a bit.
Of course, not all of the adaptations end up being bad movies in their own right- some of them are good movies that just have nothing to do with whatever they’re supposedly adapting.
So let’s take a look at some of the most egregrious examples of adaptations that had nothing to do with the original. Be warned, fans of the original work, this will be a disorienting experience for you.
Aeon Flux (directed by Karyn Kusama)
The 2005 Aeon Flux movie had hardly anything in common with the original experimental animated series, a cyberpunk spy tale. That general genre, a few character names and some gadgets and other props were all the movie shared with the source material. Of course, some adaptation changes were understandable (such as giving the main character actual clothes, since her animated outfit was so minimal it’s not even physicially possible it could stay on her body.) But most egregriously, the original animated series was supposed to be a deconstruction of action movies….and it’s adaptation was a straight up action movie. As series creator Peter Chung put it, “Only two episodes in which Aeon does much physical fighting are the shorts "Pilot" and "War" -- in which her violent actions are portrayed as preposterous and futile. Not heroic.”
Catwoman (directed by Pitof)
The 2004 Catwoman film might be the most famous comic book movie that has nothing to do with the source material. Literally the only thing the main character of the Catwoman movie shares with her comic book counterpart is the Catwoman name, using a whip and being a thief. Catwoman of Batman fame is a non-powered cat burglar named Selina Kyle, who is skilled in martial arts and flirts with Batman. Most commonly in the comics, her origin is she’s a former dominatrix who took up martial arts to protect the women she cared for and later turned to thievery.
In the movie, she’s a woman named Patience Phillips who worked for a cosmetics company, gets murdered when she accidentally overhears their criminal scene and is literally licked back to life by a bunch of cats and gets cat-superpowers as a result. She has a generic cop love interest and the villain she fights is some evil cosmetics lady who has no connection to the comics whatsoever. Yeah. The movie didn’t do well.
Constantine (directed by Francis Lawrence)
You can barely call this 2005 film an “in-name-only” adaptation, because it doesn’t even share a name with the comics it’s based on (Hellblazer). Apparently, the movie didn’t want to be confused with Hellraiser. While the comics focus on British occult detective named John Constantine, the movie follows an American who acts more like exorcist. Heck, even the Constantine part isn’t the same. In the comics it’s indicated (through rhyme) to be prounounced Constan-TYNE, while in the movie it’s Constan-TEEN.
Frankenstein (directed by James Whale)
“In-Name-Only” adaptations are a lot older than we think. Probably one of the most famous is the 1931 Frankenstein film (and it’s many, many successors) which have very little to do with Mary Shelley’s original novel. The biggest differences generally have to do with Frankenstein’s monster.
In the novel, the monster teaches itself how to speak and even reads Paradise Lost. The monster is full of philosophical musings (and in fact, rarely shuts up). The movie’s Frankenstien is the green-skinned, bolt-headed guy who can speak in only grunts we all know best. Also in the movie, the monster’s actions are blamed on the fact he was mistakenly given the brain of a criminal. In the book, the monster was innocent and pure at the beginning and turned to murder only after being repeatedly mistreated by his creator and humanity at large. There’s a very different core message as a result- the book argues that it is “nurture” that makes a person evil, while the movie asserts it’s “nature”.
Victor Frankenstein, the doctor and creator of the monster in the book, is also much more of a cad than Henry Frankenstein, the doctor in the movie. In the end, the only similarities between the two stories are the names, the general premise of a scientist bringing the dead to life and creating a monster, and a couple general sequences that have different endings depending on the version anyway. (For example, in the book, the monster attacks Frankenstien’s bride on their wedding night and succeeds in killing her. In the movie, the same thing happens but he isn’t successful).
I am Legend (directed by Francis Lawrence)
The only connection between the book I am Legend and the 2007 movie I am Legend is that it takes place in a world where a disease turns people into monsters- though in the book they are zombie-like vampires and in the movie they’re just freaky looking cannibals.
Even the meaning of the title is different in the book compared to the film. In the movie “I am Legend” refers to the main character finding the cure to the disease. In the book, the main character is legend because he has become a monster-like figure to the vampires, a horrifying man who kills them in their sleep.
Ella Enchanted (Directed by Tommy O'Haver)
The only similarity between the 2004 movie Ella Enchanted and the book it’s based on is character names, the fact it’s about a girl who’s cursed to obey any order given to her and that she meets a prince.
An evil uncle for the prince is the main villain of the movie and he didn’t even exist in the book. How Ella reacts to her curse and what not is portrayed much differently too. The original author, Gale Carson Levine, even admitted how different it was, saying “I like the movie. I regard it as a different entity from the book, which is the way I can appreciate it. They are separate with a thin thread connecting them.”
How to Train Your Dragon (directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois)
Other than sharing some character names and including Vikings and dragons, the 2010 Dreamworks film has little to do with the original book series it was based on. In the books, the Vikings aren’t at war with the dragons in the beginning (through it’s said they were in the past), unlike the films, which start off with Vikings and dragons opposed. The main character Hiccup’s dragon is a small little thing in the book, whereas in the movie he's huge and intimidating. The book’s plot revolves around Hiccups attempt to train his dragon as a rite of passage, despite his dragon’s disobedience. The movie involves him secretly befriending a dragon and trying to change his community’s mind about dragons. Of course, the movie was still incredibly beloved and successful, so the original author’s not complaining.
Snowpiercer (Directed by Bong Joon-ho)
The 2013 sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer has the same setting as the thriller it’s based on, but that’s about it. Both take place on a train constantly circling the globe that holds all that remains of humanity after a new ice age. The people at the back of the train are given less food and whatnot than the people in the front. '
The movie focuses on entirely different characters than the novel. The movie’s protagonist is interested in leading a revolution and taking back the train in the name of the lower class, while the novel’s protagonist is simply selected to go to the front. Religion is also a huge theme in the novel not really present in the movie. The endings are also drastically different.
Jem and the Holograms (Directed by Jon M. Chu)
Jem and the Holograms was a truly outrageous 80s cartoon focused on a 20-something woman named Jerrica who uses a supercomputer called Synergy left by her father to project a hologram that transforms her into the glamorous “Jem”. While disguised as Jem, she jams with a girl band called the Holograms. The cartoon mainly revolved around secret identity shenanigans and the rivalry of the Holograms with another band, the Misfits, who are constantly trying to stop the Holograms from performing, even if it means murdering them.
The 2015 movie basically throws all of that out for a generic “smalltown girl gets big through Youtube, band gets famous, she considers going solo, corporate meddling happens and the band splits up, then they get back together”. The Holographic supercomputer was changed to a robot buddy that had little to do with the plot. It was literally Jem and the Holograms without holograms. Gone were the misfits, the adventure elements, or anything that made the series distinctive. No wonder fans hated it.
Big Hero 6 (Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams)
The 2014 Disney movie has very little to do with the Marvel comic it’s based on, and this is probably for the best. While the movie is set in the fictional “San Fransokyo” and the team is a mix or races, the comic was a superhero team Japan created in response to Hiroshima. Hiro’s relationship with his brother Tadashi was entirely a creation of the film, he didn’t exist in the comic. Hiro created Baymax himself and Baymax could morph into Godzilla or something.
Most characters were drastically different- for instance, in the comic “Wasabi No-Ginger” was a superpowered Japanese sushi chef. Yeaaaah, you can see why they changed that. Another change to be grateful for is “Honey Lemon” being an adult sexpot who shows up in her underwear and blatantly hits on 13 year old Hiro. Sometimes In-Name-Only Adaptations are the only way to go.
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