You have likely noticed the number of books being made into films at the moment. Science fiction, in particular, is in the spotlight, with blockbuster films, such as The Hunger Games, raking it in at the box-office. Films like this are almost destined to be popular – after all, they are based on phenomenally popular book series. But what about those cases where the film becomes far more well known than the book it was based on – to the point where no one remembers there was ever a book to begin with?
Here are my top five “based on a book” sci-fi films that you have probably seen but never read – you may not even know there was a book that came first.
1. I Am Legend
Many people are unaware that before the Will Smith film, I Am Legend was a 1950’s sci-fi vampire novella by Robert Matheson. Described by critics as “possibly the greatest novel [ever] written on human loneliness” (Dan Schneider), the book has since inspired a number of films, including The Last Man on Earth, and The Omega Man. The most recent remake is the 2007 blockbuster of the same name, in which Will Smith played the role of protagonist Robert Neville brilliantly. Unfortunately, the plot was “Hollywoodified”, and the resulting Earth-can-be-saved ending missed the entire point of the story. The book is unquestionably better, and a must-read for sci-fi lovers.
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Here is another example of a book-was-better adaptation: 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was rather disappointing, despite the fact that Martin Freeman makes the perfect Arthur Dent. Though the fact that this film was adapted from the hilarious bestselling book by Douglas Adams is hardly a secret, what is less known is that the book itself was, in fact, an adaptation. The Guide began life as a BBC comedy radio show in 1978, and was polarising amongst listeners – people either loved it or hated it. Luckily, that people hated the show didn’t seem to bother author Adams, who edited it into book form in 1979 (and if the plot differed somewhat from the radio show – well, this is because there isn’t really supposed to be a plot at all). Other forms of the Guide have included a television programme, comics, a stage show and even a series of printed towels.
3. Planet of the Apes
The Planet of the Apes story has been a cinema classic for a long time, beginning in 1968 with the original award-winning film. This was followed by many, many sequels, after which the story hit a brief hiccup with the critically panned 2001 Tim Burton remake before finally cementing its place in science fiction’s hall of greatness with the more recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The original Academy Award nominated film is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, so it is funny to think that it was, in fact, adapted from a book – La Planète des Singes, by Pierre Buelle. It is a shame that so many other book-to-film adaptations have failed, but here is proof that it can be done successfully!
4. I, Robot
Will Smith seems to make a habit of starring in literary sci-fi adaptations. I, Robot, the 1950’s book by Isaac Asimov, was given the Hollywood treatment in 2004. Unlike the point-by-point plot of the film, the book is a masterful collection of anecdotes from the near future, about robots and their relationship to humans. It’s worth noting that Asimov created the Three Laws of Robotics, a device used in many books and films since.
5. Author Philip K. Dick
Number five is more a collection of books by a single author, as almost anything by Philip K. Dick is likely to have been seen somewhere in a new form. A huge number of films have been made based on his books and short stories, the most famous of which is probably the classic Blade Runner, adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Among others, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale has become Total Recall (a couple of times now), A Scanner Darkly became… well, A Scanner Darkly (obviously this name did not pose a problem to any Hollywood executives), and the short story The Adjustment Team was recently expanded into the Matt Damon romance-thriller The Adjustment Bureau. Then there’s Minority Report, Paycheck, Screamers… As brilliant as many of the films are, the books are still better.