3 Epic Fantasy Novels that Died on the Big Screen

Fantasy books become movies all the time, and fans love to discuss whether or not they measure up to their literary equivalents. There’s never going to a perfect adaptation that pleases everyone, but the following three fantasy epics managed to make major blunders.


Fair warning: Spoilers ahead for I Am Legend, The Golden Compass, and War of the Worlds.

The War of the Worlds

George Orwell managed to create mass hysteria with a convincing radio broadcast that played on the plot of War of the Worlds, which was originally written by H.G. Wells. Fast-forward around 70 years, and Hollywood takes up the mantle. What do they deliver?

Tom Cruise’s love letter to himself. That’s what watching the 2005 adaptation of this book felt like. While it actually remains true to the original story, and to its meaning, something simply doesn’t add up.

That’s because the movie throws in a couple of extra characters, taking out  another one to make room. Instead of the protagonist traveling with an adult companion, he is playing the part of valiant dad. While the movie didn’t negate the meaning of the book, it tried to modernize it by adding commentary on family dynamics in the United States.

And, that just kind of turns into Tom Cruise looking cool and saving the day. Kind of like in all those other movies he's in ...

The Golden Compass

This movie commits the same kind of faux pas as I Am Legend. It leaves out the biggest themes in the novel by completely cutting the commentary on the struggle between religion and science. Phillip Pullman, the author, does a masterful job at interweaving the culture of technology with that of magic, mixing in some commentary on the Catholic church. In the end of the final book, everything converges into one epic angel battle.


I Am Legend

This movie is based on a book by Richard Matheson. Let me begin by saying that it can’t be easy to capture what a book means when 90% of that dialogue happens as the character’s thoughts. Any loss there is forgivable, and the movie is actually really good. So, how did it make this list?

It’s all about the beginning and the ending. The movie paints the fall of man as being the fault of man himself. A genetically re-engineered measles virus gets released, and it turns people into violent mutants that can only come out at night. The rest of the movie becomes the main character’s attempt to create a vaccine and undo the destruction he had a hand in creating.


The problem with this is that the book had nothing to do with the folly of man. The monsters in the book were slowly shown to be a product of normal human evolution. They are similar to vampiers, and there is never much scientific background given to explain what happened to them. The movie is very Science Fiction, but the book presents more like Fantasy or Horror. It also turns the idea of the folly of man on its head, bringing an almost Taoist approach to the notion of seemingly cataclysmic destruction.

The end of the book reveals that the monsters are not monsters at all, they’re simply the next phase in human evolution. So, instead of asking if and how we will destroy ourselves with our own technology; the book places humanity back within the realms of nature. Here, we’re subject to the whims of the world instead of being the force for change upon it.

This movie was an epic fail because it threw away everything that made the book unique, turning it into a standard tale of Science Fiction that we’ve heard over, and over, again. We book lovers don’t mind the occasional difference, but changing the entire meaning of a book to fit an overdone narrative? Now that’s an oh-no-no!

Unfortunately, the movies never got that far. Only the first book was adapted into a movie. The Catholic church itself became concerned over the content of the books being made into a film, and so they told everyone it was very “Un-Christian.” Despite a huge success at the box office, New Line mysteriously declined from making a sequel. There is still speculation that this was directly caused by the continued protests of the Catholic Church.

So, apparently, the Pope thinks we could use more science, but the Vatican is still banning books because they don’t agree with their worldview. Can’t really have it both ways, guys …

New Line attempted to stay away from potential controversy by removing the core meaning from the storyline. They still fell under the watchful eye of the Vatican, however, and now we only have one movie out of three. It did very well, but it was still disappointing for die-hard fans of the trilogy.

While all of these films could have been handled better, it’s always interesting to see another person’s take on our fan favorites. Whether we’re woefully disappointed or delightfully surprised, there’s never any real harm in re-imagining something. That’s because the original will always be there, waiting quietly for the next person to take their mind to it and see what they can recreate.

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