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6 Classic Books with Misleading Movies

March 1, 2014
This comic book was more faithful to the books than just about any movie or television version. (image via Wikimedia)

This comic book isn’t as misleading as the movie. (image via Wikimedia)

The great thing about watching a movie based on classic literature is that there should be a sense of familiarity that comes with it.  If a movie is based on classic literature, you should know ahead of time what the story is.  There shouldn’t be many surprises.  But this is Hollywood we’re talking about.  Sometimes moviemakers want to update the book and end up with a movie that is unrecognizable from the classic novel it was based on.

I’m not complaining that the unrecognizable movies based on classic literature are bad.  The problem is that anybody who sees a misleading movie based on classic literature might try reading the book afterward and then have a “What the F…!” moment.  If you try reading certain classic novels after seeing a movie that changed everything up, it could keep you from reading more classic novels (not that avoiding certain classic novels is a bad thing).

The following is a (not complete) list of movies that took waaaayyyy too many liberties with the classic novels that they’re based on.

The War of the Worlds

Tom Cruise is not in the novel, and the book is not very exciting by today’s standards. To be fair, no modern film maker is going to set War of the Worlds back in the early 1900’s, but it could be awesome if they did!  I might go see it, as long as Tom Cruise isn’t in it.  I’ve seen too many movies with Tom Cruise in them.

BEST TRICK EVER (to play on teenagers)!

  1. Tell kids about the Orson Welles radio program based on The War of the Worlds and explain how a bunch of listeners thought the radio program was real and started panicking.
  2. Listen to the kids as they make fun of people who panicked (probably calling them “dumb” or stupid”).
  3. A few minutes later tell the same kids that you just heard Justin Bieber is going out with Katy Perry.
  4. Watch the kids as they react with disgust, disdain (or whatever probable negative reaction they have).
  5. Explain to the kids that they just fell for a vicious rumor without verifying it (just as the radio listeners automatically believed what they heard on a radio program).
  6. Laugh at the kids as they completely miss the connection.


The Frankenstein monster in the novel is far scarier than the movies’ Frankenstein’s monsters, but it’s tough for some readers to understand that because of Mary Shelley’s writing style.  And whenever somebody tries to make a version of Frankenstein that is close to the novel, the audience always gets mad, and the movie tanks.  Sorry, Mary Shelley, but Frankenstein’s monster has a flat head with a bunch of staples in it.  And he’s not very introspective.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney animated version)

This has to be one of the most bizarre animated movies I’ve seen, with a happy ending (what?).  I’d love to see what Disney would do with Romeo and Juliet, or Oedipus Rex, or The Awakening.  Some classics are not for little kids.

The Last of the Mohicans

I can watch the last hour of this movie, and it always seems new.  I can read the novel over and over again, and it always seems new… but for a different reason.

The movie doesn’t take that many liberties for Hollywood, but the movie is far more watchable than the movie is readable.  Therefore, somebody trying to read the book after viewing the movie might toss the novel away in disgust (not that I’ve ever done that with The Last of the Mohicans or any other book).

I, Robot

Yet another movie where Will Smith says, “Aw, Hell no!”  But at least none of his kids were in it.

Sherlock Holmes

The movie was kind of fun, but c’mon; that wasn’t Sherlock Holmes!

Speaking of Robert Downey Jr….


Iron Man

Yeah, Iron Man is a comic book and not a classic (Maybe some of those Tales of Suspense comics were classic, but the Captain America stories were usually way better, except for that two-issue Iron Man vs. Submariner fight that crossed over into Tales to Astonish and…. Never mind).   The point is that the first Iron Man movie was one of the BEST SUPERHERO MOVIES EVER, but Iron Man has almost always been a sucky comic book.  Anybody reading an Iron Man comic book after seeing the first movie had to be disappointed.


The reason it’s not on the list is that Troy wasn’t that good of a movie (but had a few great scenes) so it didn’t make a lasting impression on anyone (except those who liked  seeing a shirtless Brad Pitt with long hair).  Also, it wasn’t called The Iliad.


What other movies based on classic literature were misleading?  How was The Great GatsbyThe Raven? Catching Fire?  Do you enjoy the movies that are faithful to the literature, or do you like the ones that are misleading?

  1. Oh mon dieu, Notre Dame de Paris! Though one does not simply accurately adapt a Hugo novel (the Les Misérables miniseries that starred Gérard Depardieu was pretty damn close but even it had its shortcomings) the Disney adaptation of Notre Dame de Paris would surely make him turn over in his grave. I also wasn’t a fan of the 1920s silent adaptation of L’homme Qui Rit starring Conrad Veidt looking creepy as fuck. Who thought it was a good idea to make a film of a Hugo novel with minimal language? And as much as I like the musical adaptation of Phantom of the Opera as its own thing, it wasn’t particularly loyal to the novel.

  2. Actually the story of people panicking during the War Of The Worlds broadcast is another one of those stories that people believe without verifying–it didn’t happen. It was a popular program, and a lot of people thought it was tense and exciting, but they knew it was a fictional program. The mass panic story is a myth.

  3. I am a HUGE Hunger Games fan. I know the books like I know my own. I thought the first movie was a good adaptation, though I came out wondering at the things left out. But I thought Catching Fire stayed more true to the book than any adaptation I’ve seen in recent memory. I think it’s somewhere around 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not the only one.

  4. If you’re going to give a shout out to a shirtless Brad Pitt, the least you could do is mention Daniel Day Lewis in a loincloth.

    The Disney version of Oedipus Rex? Can you imagine the scene where in stabs his eyes out with a sword, in 3D? Awesome. My 10 year old would NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.

    Yes. Iron Man was one of the Best Super Hero Movies ever. In my head, that’s how I picture you. Like Robert Downey Jr. in that movie. Or even before, when he was a mess and on drugs and stuff. I liked him then, too.

    • I’m sure Disney would leave that part out, or turn the eyes into talking orbs that sing and tell jokes, and maybe his mom wouldn’t really be his mom, and the whole thing with his dad, while tragic, would be a complete accident. There’s a way to get a happy ending out of that, I’m sure.

  5. I too am a huge Hunger Games fan. Loved the books and have taken a fair amount of ribbing from my wife and friends for this. I suffer for the art. I thought the movie adaptations were really good. I make my wife come with me to the movies however so I don’t look like some creepy old man. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has yet to be turned into a decent movie.

  6. The Commitments is one of the few movies I’ve seen that’s better than the book.

    • I didn’t even know The Commitments was a book until the author wrote a sequel this year (I think). Or am I confusing The Commitments with another book/movie?

      • The Commitments I’m talking about is the Roddy Doyle novella. I think the movie came out in the early 90’s.

        • Yeah, that’s the one. Doyle just wrote a sequel (or a somewhat related book) called The Guts.

          • Oh. I didn’t know that. I read a few of his books: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and A Star Called Henry wich was pretty decent but the sequel was tilting into post modernism and, well, I can’t think of a better way to ruin a story so I had to stop reading it.

  7. I’m surprised The Hobbit doesn’t make your list. The films are very entertaining to be sure, but it’s not exactly the children’s tale Tolkien originally wrote. I read one review on The Desolation of Smaug basically accusing it of turning the novel into a video game.

    • I haven’t seen The Hobbit yet. I don’t go to movies much anymore, The Hobbit movies are long, and the last one hasn’t come out yet. I am might binge watch all of them once the last one is out on video. But I think you’re right about it being different from the book. It might be one of the few times that the book is “easier” than the movie (if that makes sense).

  8. I loved War of the Worlds, the book, and although the movie was alright, they were totally different. I would have loved to see the movie in the 1900s in England though. The scene in the book with the old ironclad attacking the aliens is one of my favorite in all literature.

    • Hollywood probably wouldn’t make a version like that, but maybe some British studio would (or has and I just don’t know about it). Maybe cast Sean Bean or that guy from Horatio Hornblower (or Mr. Fantastic). I’d watch it.

  9. JAWS. I read it only a few weeks ago, and although the novel is creepy as heck, even when you’ve seen the movie first (as I have), you might be a bit disappointed by the ending of the book version because in comparison to the movie, the novel ending is pretty boring. And the novel is much more about the relationships between the people and the differences between wealthy and poor people – the shark is more than just a monster in the novel, it’s a damn good symbolic character because it doesn’t care if you have money or not, so in one way the shark attacks make everybody equal but at the same time drive the community even more apart.
    I guess what I want to say is, the movie is brilliantly done but you are afraid of the shark, and only of the shark. In the book, you are more afraid of the people, because they are the ones making the (wrong) choices and then blame somebody else for the bad outcome – which is absolutely frightening but wouldn’t have made such a successful movie.

  10. I miss Fighters’ Club from the list. I’ve seen the film first, and I didn’t know that the end of the book and the film is different. It was quite a shock 🙂

  11. War of the worlds mockery was bang on

  12. The Howling Fantogs permalink

    Although not fitting into the category of ‘classic’, Trainspotting was the biggest difference between film and book. The Beach took a few liberties too.

  13. Hahahaha Disney DOES have an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet!! It’s called Gnomeo and Juliet xD with a healthy serving of happy ending and humor

    • Ugh! I forgot about that. My daughters even watched it (I didn’t). At least the film makers had the decency to change the title so it wasn’t Romeo and Juliet. But still…

  14. “The film ends happily with the red and blue gnomes finally coming together to celebrate their newfound peace. Tybalt is revealed to still be alive having been glued back together, Featherstone is reunited with his wife after Benny finds and orders her online, Gnomeo and Juliet are married on a purple lawnmower, which symbolizes the new union of both gnome clans.”

  15. shawneemckee permalink

    If Hollywood strays from the book, 1) they better make it good and 2) make sure you keep the essence of the story and characters. Though I don’t complain if the book and movie are almost exactly the same.

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