10 Movies That Completely Reinvent The Books They’re Based On

Sometimes the best way to faithful to the book is to delete everything and start again.

The Big Lebowski
Working Title Films

There are many ways to adapt a book into a movie and it’s rare to see a film that doesn’t deviate from its source material in one way or another.

Characters get cut or replaced. Events in the plot get moved around or reimagined. Stories get streamlined. Subplots get jettisoned. Titles get changed. Sometimes Muppets get added. It's a very broad spectrum.

Fundamentally though, the central thrust remains more or less the same. After all, a screen adaptation is usually a way to tell the same story or make the same point in a different way. And the whole point of adapting - at least in Hollywood's eyes - is capturing an already engaged audience to sell more tickets. If you start changing things, all you do is annoy them.

But that's not always the case and it's not so for these ten films. Sometimes, filmmakers feel that the best way to stay true to the spirit of the book they’re adapting is to completely change everything. It's a bold choice, let's see how it plays out...

10. Naked Lunch

The Big Lebowski
20th Century Fox

William Burroughs’ 1959 novel Naked Lunch is an obscene, psychedelic incantation, a hypnotic and challenging mixture of science fiction and surrealism that relentlessly assaults the senses. It's a singularly strange beast, written over a period of intense heroin use. It pioneered Burroughs' 'cut-up' technique, a kind of experimental collage that constructed surreal, incoherent, borderline unreadable passages.

Its plot is non-linear, and its chapters can be read in any order you like. Its central themes - sexuality, drug use, and the extermination of all rational thought - are weird and taboo. Its portrayal of homosexual acts and opiate addiction led to it being seized by the US government as an obscene publication. There are plenty of reasons that it was long considered fundamentally unfilmable.

Enter David Cronenberg, who reimagined it in 1991 as a heady mix of hallucination, creature horror, and biopic. The movie combines several iconic moments from the book with moments from Burroughs' life, and turns the writing of the book into the film's major story.

Crazily, even though the film features mugwumps - pale, disturbing, humanoid creatures who are 'milked' by drug addicts - and typewriters that transform into horny insects, the scenes from the book aren't the most bizarre.

Emphasising Burroughs' career as an insect exterminator and the accidental killing of his wife during a 'William Tell routine', some of the most shocking moments in the film come from Burroughs' own life. Who knew that you could make a book as unhinged and nightmarish as Naked Lunch even weirder by adding elements from real life?


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