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Movie Characters That Don’t Look Anything Like How The Books Described Them

Updated September 23, 2021 4.8k votes 1.2k voters 246.5k views13 items

List RulesVote up the characters that take creative liberties with the source material.

When books are adapted into feature films, casting can be determined by who is the best box office draw, or who gives the best audition. As a result, while sometimes the actor chosen to play the part really fits the book's description, other times actors who look nothing like their characters end up being cast.

It's understandable that the author of the original source material will be protective of his or her creation, and that fans of the book have expectations about how the characters are portrayed on the screen. Sometimes the actor does such a good job portraying the role, it doesn't really matter that he or she doesn't fit the author's description. But other times, the person cast cannot overcome the fact that he or she does not look or act like the character fans expect to see. 

Here are some examples of actors who did not really fit the original description of the character they portrayed. Vote up the biggest differences from page to screen.

  • Photo: Jack Reacher / Paramount Pictures

    Lee Child has written 20 novels - as well as additional short stories and novellas - that center around the character of former US Army MP Jack Reacher. These novels have been adapted into two feature films, Jack Reacher (2012) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), with Tom Cruise playing the titular action hero. 

    In the novels, Reacher is described as a massive man, standing 6 feet 5 inches tall with a 50-inch chest and weighing somewhere between 220 and 250 pounds. His face, meanwhile, "looked like it had been chipped out of rock by a sculptor who had ability but not much time." Clearly, this isn't a description that fits Cruise, who only stands around 5 feet 7 inches tall and, even in his 50s, is still slim and boyishly good looking. He also has dark brown hair and green eyes, while Reacher is described as having dirty blond hair and blue eyes.

    In 2018, Child announced that there would be no more films made from the Reacher books, partly because he felt that Cruise was getting too old to play an action hero, and partly because the author agreed with readers who complained that the actor did not look like the character from the books.

    “I really enjoyed working with Cruise. He’s a really, really nice guy. We had a lot of fun. But ultimately the readers are right,” Child told BBC Radio Manchester's Mike Sweeney. “The size of Reacher is really, really important and it’s a big component of who he is.”

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  • Photo: The Running Man / TriStar Pictures

    The 1987 film The Running Man is a loose adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. The author has disliked several film adaptations of his work, especially The Shining, The Lawnmower Man, and Firestarter. The movie version of The Running Man falls into this category. King's dislike of this film stems from two main issues: The film retains very little of the novel (aside from the basic plot of the main character competing in a dystopian game show), and he thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the right person to play protagonist Ben Richards.

    In the novel, Richards is a true underdog, an everyman who is competing on the game show in a desperate attempt to get his family out of poverty. In the novel, which is far bleaker than the film, Richards is described as scrawny looking, almost pre-tubercular. This is the polar opposite of how the muscular Schwarzenegger appears in the movie; he's definitely not an "everyman." 

    The character's motivation is also completely different in the film. Schwarzenegger's Richards is looking for revenge on the government after being framed for a massacre during a food riot.

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    Boris Karloff As Frankenstein's Monster

    Photo: Frankenstein / Universal Pictures

    In her classic novel, Frankenstein, author Mary Shelley has the scientist describe his horrified reaction when he first sees the monster he has created:

    His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great god! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

    Rather than being adapted directly from the book itself, the 1931 film was based on a 1927 theatrical adaptation of Shelley's novel written by Peggy Webling. And since it was filmed in black and white, it's unclear whether Boris Karloff's skin was supposed to be yellow. However, his skin covers the muscles and arteries more fully, his eyes are clearly a different color from the sockets, his lips aren't black, and while his face is scarred and sunken, it isn't really shriveled.  

    Karloff also walks with a stiff-legged gait, while in the novel, he is described as being more flexible than a human being. Another difference is that while in the film, the monster is mute and innocent - Karloff saw him as a "lost child" - in the novel, he not only speaks but also becomes educated and has a better understanding of his circumstances.

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    Michael Fassbender As Rochester

    Photo: Jane Eyre / Focus Features

    One of the iconic characters in 19th-century English literature is Edward Rochester, the mysterious and brooding employer and love interest in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. In the novel, he is compared to a wild beast or bird, and is described as being an unattractive, pigeon-chested man of about 35 with a dark, stern, and craggy face, a heavy brow, and shaggy black hair. After the fire at his manor, he loses a hand and is temporarily blinded. 

    There have been dozens of feature film adaptations of Jane Eyre, including a 1943 Hollywood film starring Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as the title character. The last feature film adaptation came in 2011, with Michael Fassbender taking on the role of Rochester, opposite Mia Wasikowska as Jane.

    The film's director, Cary Fukunaga, admitted that there were actors considered for the role of Rochester who were closer in appearance to the character than the light-haired, German-Irish actor - with the decidedly non-craggy facial features - but he ended up casting Fassbender because the director felt he had "the spirit" of the character.

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