With a few rare exceptions, most people tend to agree that the book version of a story is always better than the movie. But what about the cases when those two works are so different that they’re practically impossible to compare? We don’t mean stories where things have been tweaked a bit for the film adaptation, but rather movies that feature totally different endings, story lines, and main characters than the original book. Here are a few of our favorite examples. Be warned, spoilers ahead!
Thank You For Smoking
In the movie: Nick Naylor is a charismatic tobacco company lobbyist during the early-’90s — aka, before the tobacco hearings in Congress forced the industry to formally admit that smoking can cause lung cancer. Throughout the film, Naylor works to improve his relationship with his son who lives with Naylor’s ex-wife and her current husband.
Eventually, Naylor’s smooth talking ways get him in some hot water when he starts receiving death-threats from anti-tobacco campaigners who eventually kidnap him and try to kill him by overdosing him with nicotine patches. Fortunately, Nick’s smoking habit has actually provided him a high tolerance to the drug, so he manages to survive.
In the end, it’s a sexy reporter who proves to be his undoing as she manages to get him to spill the beans on his true feelings about the industry during their bedroom pillow talks. She exposes him, causing his friends and co-workers to turn against him. Fortunately, he is able to scrape up his reputation in the Senate hearings he has been subpoenaed to attend. In the end, Naylor continues his work as a lobbyist, just moving on to a different industry.
In the book: To be fair, this one is fairly faithful rendition of the original, up until the end, when the entire story changes drastically. In fact, in this version, it’s his co-workers who stab him in the back and he ends up becoming an anti-tobacco advocate.
Ring of Bright Water
In the movie: Graham Merrill is wandering the streets of London, when he happens to pass by a pet shop selling an adorably charming otter. Merrill adopts the little critter, names him Mij, and brings him back to his apartment. Soon enough, he realizes that an apartment is not an ideal home for an otter, so he and Mij move to a cottage in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Scotland. Merrill begins to fall in love with a local doctor, as Mij keeps up his delightful hijinks throughout the film, which has a shocking ending that we won’t ruin for you here.
In the book: The writer moves to the middle of nowhere in Scotland on his own and describes the beauty of his natural surroundings in so much depth that the otter doesn’t appear until halfway through the book. Did we say “otter”? We meant to say “otters.” That’s right, there are more than a few of the cute critters, many of which get lost or die throughout the book. Oh, and the romance with the doctor? That never comes up in the book.
The Scarlet Letter
In the movie: What happens when you combine a classic Nathaniel Hawthorne story with softcore sex, lesbian overtones and nude scenes? You get The Scarlet Letter starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman, was anything but. Who knew Puritanical New England was so steamy. In the end, Demi Moore and Gary Oldman escape to a new life of happiness after all the prosecution they face. Hooray.
In the book: Many of you probably already read this one, even if it was just for English class. Essentially, it follows the story of Hester Prynne, who is pregnant with a child despite the fact that her husband has been presumed lost at sea (and thus, couldn’t be the father). Hester is heavily punished and ostracized by her community, even being forced to wear a red letter “A” on all of her clothes to inform everyone that she is an adulterer. While her tormenters assure her they will stop punishing her if she gives up the name of the father, she refuses, bravely taking all of the shame and humiliation upon herself.
Later, we learn that the father of the child is the town preacher, who feels so guilty about his acts that he is starving himself and has burned the letter “A” into his own flesh. In the end, Reverend Dimmesdale confesses his sins to the entire town and then collapses on the scaffold, finally succumbing to his terrible health.
While the story involves an affair, it’s not really about sex, but instead is an exploration of guilt, punishment, communal mentalities and love -few of which are really explored in the movie.
In the movie: Jimmy Fallon plays Ben Wrightman, an obsessive Red Sox fan who falls in love with Lindsey Meeks, played by Drew Barrymore. Lindsey doesn’t like sports and doesn’t understand Ben’s fanaticism. Eventually, she invites Ben to go to Paris with her, but he declines because the Red Sox are going to the playoffs and he has to be there. Like any rom com, the couple eventually breaks up and Ben finally decides that he wants to prove his love for Lindsey by selling his tickets to the World Series. She finds out about his plan and stops him before he signs the papers, saying if he loves her enough to sell them, then she can love him enough to stop him from selling them.
In the book: If you’re only familiar with the Farrelly Brother’s version of the story, then you’ll be forgiven for thinking the book would be about baseball. As it turns out, that’s because the Farrelly Brothers decided that Americans wouldn’t be able to relate to a movie about soccer, nor would they want to watch a sports movie without any romance. That’s right… the original story is simply a man’s recollections of being an Arsenal soccer fan. Granted, the book isn’t focused exclusively on sports, it also recounts the successes and failures in the writer’s life and how they parallel with his favorite team’s wins and losses. Even so, it’s apparently not nearly well-rounded enough for Americans.
Less Than Zero
In the movie: Young, rich Clay is an upright, heterosexual hero determined to help his best friend, Julian, overcome drug abuse, even after he catches Julian having sex with his girlfriend, Blair. Fortunately, he loves Blair enough to forgive her and moves to the East Coast with her, determined to help her recover too.
In the book: The film has a determinedly strong anti-drug message, but in the book, Clay uses drugs as well, and watches passively as Julian becomes a prostitute to fund his heroin habit. Clay was also bisexual and admitted that he never even cared about his ex-girlfriend who hooked up with Julian. Instead of focusing on drugs, the book was about the emptiness of all of the characters involved. Eventually Clay moves back to the East Coast alone.
There Will Be Blood/Oil!
In the movie: You’ve almost certainly seen this Best Picture-nominated film, but just in case, the basic plot follows the story of Daniel Plainview. He is a successful and ruthless oilman who sacrifices his family and soul just to maximize his bottom line.
In the book: Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! chronicles the life of James Arnold Ross, the son of a ruthless oilman. Rather than focusing on how a conniving man makes his fortune, it instead is about a son trying to decide between his father’s capitalistic ways or his friend Paul’s socialistic leanings.
Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
In the movie: Again, you’ve almost certainly seen this cult-favorite, but just to review, Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, who is hired to track down replicants — robots that look exactly like humans. These replicants are not allowed to live on the earth and the Blade Runners are police officers hired to kill them. Beyond that, the story will change depending on which extended director’s cut you happen to be watching.
In the book: While the movie’s androids are identical to humans, the book’s replicants do not have the ability to express empathy. As a result, the story largely follows Deckard’s journey to discovering what exactly makes a human a human — hence the name of the story.
In the Movie: Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you know it’s about a Vietnam War vet named Rambo who responds to police brutality and harassment by going on a killing rampage. While it’s a violent movie, Rambo is definitely a hero who is just fighting back against those who wrong him. In the end, he is arrested.
In the book: We’re willing to bet you probably didn’t even know this one started out as a novel, but if you did, good for you. In this version, Rambo is a not a hero, but a villain. When he suffers from a flashback while getting arrested, he kills a ton of people, many of whom are innocent. In the end, Rambo is killed after being shot in the face.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit/Who Censored Roger Rabbit
In the movie: We’ve loved Who Framed Roger Rabbit since we were kids. Which is funny, because between the movie’s noir feel and the horrifying climax with Christopher Lloyd turning into an evil, maniacal cartoon, this movie is definitely intended for adults.
In the book: The original story is set in modern times, but all of your favorite characters are still there, including Roger, Eddit Valiant, Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit. Unfortunately, they are totally different. In the book, Roger hires Valiant to find out why his employers reneged on their promise to give the rabbit his own cartoon strip. Within no time, Roger is killed as a means to censor him. Yes, you read that right, Roger Rabbit dies in the original story and pretty much right at the beginning of the book. That alone makes the movie version way better.