Science fiction and fantasy have rich histories of adaptations to film and television.
Continuing the theme from last week, let's look at notable science-fiction and fantasy books of yesteryear that have been adapted to film.
Richard Matheson was not just a prolific author in terms of novels and short fiction, but he was also a prolific screenwriter in terms of television and film. Perhaps his most notable work as an author is the 1954 novel I Am Legend, a wonderful story which can be seen as either science fiction or horror, depending on how you look at it. It's about the last human on Earth who stays alive by fighting off the hordes of undead vampires the rest of the world has been turned into. That novel was adapted three times: as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 (starring Vincent Price), as The Omega Man in 1971 (starring Charlton Heston), and as I Am Legend in 2007 (starring Will Smith). In 1956, Matheson released The Shrinking Man, the story of a man who gets smaller and smaller. It was made into the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man. His 1958 novel A Stir of Echoes, which features a man who learns of latent psychic abilities that allow him to read the minds of others, was made into the 1999 film Stir of Echoes starring Kevin Bacon. Matheson's Bid Time Return, a 1975 novel in which a man from the 1970s travels back in time to the 19th century to court a stage actress he saw in a photograph. That one was turned in to the 1980 film Somewhere in Time which starred Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. His 1978 novel What Dreams May Come is about a man who dies and goes to heaven, but descends into hell to rescue his wife. It was adapted in the 1998 Academy Award–winning movie of the same name which starred Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Annabella Sciorra. (In addition, his 1973 horror novel Hell House was made into The Legend of Hell House that same year, with Matheson himself as screenwriter.)
The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1955) was outwardly about a quiet alien invasion as people were replicated by strange, plantlike pods. Underneath the covers, it was a reflection of the era's loss of freedom. This appealing story was adapted several times: as Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter), Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, and Veronica Cartwright), Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993, starring Gabrielle Anwar And Meg Tilly), and The Invasion (2007, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig). Not a bad run for a single book.
Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1962), which flips the evolutionary coin and puts apes as the dominant species and man as animal, has been adapted a few times. First as a 1968 film (written by Michael Wilson and Twilight Zone's Rod Serling) starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. That film, in turn, spawned four sequels. Secondly, as a 2001 Tim Burton film starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter. Finally, as a rebooted franchise in 2011 called Rise of the Planet of the Apes which starred James Franco, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow. That one got a sequel too: 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Although Walter Tevis' most famous adaptations are based on his nongenre books The Hustler and The Color of Money (both adapted to films starring Paul Newman), of particular interest to science-fiction fans is his 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. It's the story about an extraterrestrial from a water-weary planet who arrives on Earth with the intent of saving the people from extinction, only to find himself drawn into the trappings of everyday human life. Tevis' poignant story was adapted by Nicolas Roeg in 1976, with David Bowie playing the enigmatic Thomas Jerome Newton. There was also a television adaption in 1987.
Philip K. Dick is a writer who has had numerous stories turned into films. Most of those were based on his warped-but-brilliant short fiction, but a few of his novel-length stories found their way to the theaters. The most famous is 1982's Blade Runner, the story of rogue androids that was originally published as the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick's dystopian novel Radio Free Albemuth (written in in 1976 but published posthumously in 1985) was adapted into Radio Free Albemuth in 2010. The author's paranoia-infused drug-culture novel A Scanner Darkly (1977) was turned into a film in 2006 directed by Richard Linklater and starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. More recently, an adaptation of Dick's classic alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle (1962), in which the Axis powers won World War II and control North America, just popped up on Amazon video as a series pilot.
Frank Herbert's Dune is a considered a masterpiece of worldbuilding. The story is set in a future controlled by a vast empire comprised of multiple noble houses, where power goes to whomever controls the most valuable substance in the universe: the spice known as mélange, which is found on the planet Arrakis, a desert planet referred to as Dune. Herbert's sprawling novel was made into a poorly received 1984 film adaptation by David Lynch, who removed his name from the film's original credits. In 2000, the SyFy network adapted Herbert's book into a miniseries called Frank Herbert's Dune. A 2003 miniseries sequel called Frank Herbert's Children of Dune combined two of Herbert's literary sequels: Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.
Ursula K. Le Guin's much-loved Earthsea seies starts with 1968's A Wizard of Earthsea, in which a young mage named Ged joins a school of wizardry. It spawned a series of sequels...and an adaptation from the SyFy channel in 2004, with the author herself serving as its harshest critic, calling it a "whitewashed" version of the diverse world she imagined. Meanwhile, Le Guin's beautiful 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven, in which a man's dreams retroactively alter reality, was adapted not once, but twice as a made-for-TV film: once in 1980 and again in 2002.
Michael Crichton was also a fountain spring of adaptation source material. His 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, about a team of scientists investigating a deadly extraterrestrial organism, was first adapted into a 1971 film directed by Robert Wise and again as a 2008 television miniseries. His 1987 novel Sphere, about a (different) team of scientists investigating an enormous spacecraft on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, was adapted into a 1998 science-fiction psychological thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Steven Spielberg adapted Crichton's 1990 novel Jurassic Park, about an amusement park showcasing genetically recreated dinosaurs, and its sequel, 1995's The Lost World, into cinematic history. Chrichton's 1999 time-travel novel, Timeline, was also adapted to film (in 2003), though with not nearly as much success.
Other now-classic science-fiction novels that have notable adaptations include:
¨ A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962), a dystopian novel drenched in ultraviolence and themed in rehabilitation, was adapted by Stanley Kubrick in 1971 as A Clockwork Orange, starring Malcolm McDowell.
¨ Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (1966) explored themes of population growth and food shortage and was adapted to film as Soylent Green (1973, starring Charlton Heston).
¨ Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (1967) portrays an ageist dystopic future society where a delicate balance is maintained by killing people off on their 30th birthday. This was adapted as a 1976 film starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter and as a 1977–1978 television series.
¨ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979), a comedic science-fiction novel that starts off with a bang (the destruction of the Earth to be precise), was adapted, among other things into the 2005 film The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy starring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, and Zooey Deschanel.
¨ L. Ron Hubbard's giant novel Battlefield Earth, which depicts an Earth under the rule of giant humanlike aliens, was adapted into a financially unsuccessful film in 2000 starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, and Forest Whitaker.
¨ The Children of Men by P.D. James (1992) is the harrowing story of the last generation of humankind. It was made into the well-received 2006 film Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón.