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Things Movie Adaptations Had To Leave Out Because They Were Too Dark

Updated September 23, 2021 62.1k votes 13.9k voters 1.1m views15 items

List RulesVote up the things you're glad were left out of adaptations because they're just too creepy to watch.

This article contains movie and book spoilers.

The next time you leave a movie theater having watched an adaptation of a beloved novel or comic book, strain your ears a little and you might just be able to hear the voice of a disgruntled fan muttering, "the book was better..." under her breath. And those disgruntled fans are far from wrong. So many children's book movie adaptations leave the darkest, most disturbing material from the source out of the film. 

Love it or hate it, translating a story from one medium to another is nearly impossible without changing something to make the transition work, whether it's altering characters or plot elements or chopping out entire sections of narrative. This is usually done to improve the pace of a story, focus on the most cinematic (action-based) elements of the story, appease studio directives (i.e. get the rating to justify the budget), or because a creative team wants to make its mark on a story. Whether these changes work or not is subjective, although dark material left out of adaptations often changes to the tone of a story. 

What about those changes made purely to soften the sharper edges of a story? This happens a lot in children's films, but there are cases of movies for adults omitting or censoring controversial elements from the source material. Sometimes it's to appeal to a wider audience, other times because cinema is a visual medium, which makes things a lot more graphic and disturbing than they are on the page. 

Here are some of the disturbing details left out of movie adaptations. 

  • One of the biggest things the X-Men movies put a shine on from the comics are the gray areas of Professor Xavier's character. He is a deeply flawed man in the source material, and one of his creepier hang-ups is his sexual obsession with student Jean Grey.

    Teacher/student romances are always controversial for obvious power abuse reasons, but this is heightened in the early issues by the age gap. Proff X is clearly well into middle age, while Jean is just 15. Ugh. This icky detail keeps popping up throughout X-Men comic history, even in alternate realities like the Ultimate universe, in which Xavier confesses his long-repressed lust to a bemused Cyclops.

    In an interview with Digital Spy, young Jean Grey actress Sophie Turner insisted that their relationship was "really sweet" and completely non-sexual in the X-Men movie-verse.

    • Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum
    • Released: 2016
    • Directed by: Bryan Singer
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  • Photo: Disney

    Disney had plans to adapt Han Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen since the 1930s, but always struggled with its dark themes. Decades later, the tale was broken down and completely rebuilt by the studio as Frozen.

    Andersen's Snow Queen is a tragic figure like Queen Elsa, but, unlike Elsa, she's definitely the villain. She's an adult woman who kidnaps a little boy and repeatedly kisses him to erase memories of his family. That kind of immorality is pretty clear-cut.

    Then there's also the inclusion of a magic mirror made by the Devil. Early concept art for the film reveals Disney was toying with the idea of a truly villainous Elsa at one point, but producer Peter Del Vecho explained to Bleeding Cool that "evil Elsa" didn't work.

    "Hans Christian Andersen's original version of The Snow Queen is a pretty dark tale and it doesn't translate easily into a film. [...] When we decided to make the Snow Queen Elsa and our protagonist Anna sisters, that gave a way to relate to the characters in a way that conveyed what each was going through and that would relate for today's audiences." 

    • Actors: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds, Jonathan Groff
    • Released: 2013
    • Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
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  • Photo: Disney

    Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid was far more melancholic than the version Disney made. Andersen's mermaid is also more shy and passive than Disney's rebellious Ariel, despite the stakes being far higher for her - if she doesn't seal the deal with the prince, she'll die. Sadly, this tragic scenario plays out; the prince chooses a human bride and the mermaid dissolving into sea foam.

    "I realized it was an incredibly sad story, with a very, very sad ending," Ron Clements, who directed the film adaptation, told HuffPost Entertainment. He knew a happier ending would be needed for his pitch to get approved by the powers that be at Disney.

    • Actors: Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
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  • We all know Spider-Man's origin story. He got his powers from a radioactive spider's bite, lost his uncle, and donned a skin-tight suit to fight crime. The same basic version of this premise has made it into every film adaptation so far, but there's a darker element that has yet to surface on the silver screen. And it probably never will.

    In a special 1984 story, Peter Parker tries to cheer up an abused boy by spinning him a story he knows of a boy who found himself in a similar situation. In the story, the boy is nearly molested by a character named Skip, who is name-checked again in a 1987 story by Spidey as he chats to a random villain about the evils of child abuse. Not only is the kid in Peter's story a deadringer for Peter, he has an "Aunt Nay" and "Uncle Den." Gee, can you guess who the story was really about?

    Also, there's this

    • Actors: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson
    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Sam Raimi
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