I enjoyed watching the movie Starship Troopers and the issues it "addresses" (to use the term lightly). However, Wikipedia says:

The film diverged greatly in terms of the themes and plot of the novel, and received mixed reviews from critics.

How did the film diverge? What remains of Robert A. Heinlein's original novel?

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    "I greatly enjoyed watching the movie, Starship Trooper" ...you're going straight to the bad place for that...*"I felt it had a very poignant if tongue in cheek outlook on the military"*...then (1) you don't know very much about the military and (2) you're not going to like the book because it makes a very different set of philosophical points. Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 21:40
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    Perhaps I'm not getting across what I mean here. But I felt like it pointed out the ridiculousness of some aspects of propaganda, recruitment, etc and the motivations of some people for those ends. Ultimately it only reflects a distorted caricature of real life, but in doing so points out some of the issues therein. I think.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 21:44
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    Newsreel announcer: "Would you like to know more?" Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 21:56
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    Actually they took a lot from the novel, but what they left out was Heinlein's unabashed glorification of militarism and war. In turn, they added in the propaganda that you would need to keep people thinking the right way despite the tremendous bloodletting of a sustained conflict. Have a look at what U.S. citizens were exposed to during World War II and the "would you like to know more?" ads in Starship Troopers don't seem nearly so over-the-top.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 1:36
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    @KyleJones that smells like an answer!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 15:48

7 Answers 7


TL;DR: The answer to "what remains of Robert A. Heinlein's original novel?" is "Very very little, beyond superficial general settings and common terms/names". Also, the movie and the book have deep and vast philosophical and ideological differences in underpinning ideas, in some ways 180 degree opposites.

First, major differences:

  • Moral/philosophical/ethical/political/social underpinnings.

    • The novel was an ode to the citizen soldier, with in-depth asides for explaining the ethical and political system of humanity.

      Christopher Weuve's excellent "Thoughts on Starship Troopers" resource addresses this in great detail with supporting cites, see especially "Myth #3" section.

      Very specifically, the society was in no way fascist/militarist. The power is held by civilian authorities (see Zim's quote below as well); you don't get to vote until you retire from the Civil Cervice; you don't even need to be in the military to earn Citizenship; you don't lose any rights except franchise by not serving; and the overall amount of freedom seems to be higher than most democracies in Real World (either in 1959, 1997 or 2023).

      Additionally, H&MP teacher in Rico's school, Mr. Dubois, waxes eloquently on freedom in Chapter 8, portratying freedom in a very positive light, as something that should be fought for (and tyranny as something that should be opposed).

      Paul Anderson (not exactly a right wing jingoist) summed it up best:

      I never joined in the idiot cries of "fascist!" It was plain that the society of Starship Troopers is, on balance, more free than ours today. I did wonder how stable its order of things would be, and expressed my doubts in public print as well as in the occasional letters we exchanged. Heinlein took no offense. After a little argument back and forth, we both fell into reminiscences of Switzerland, where he got the notion in the first place. ["RAH: A Memoir."]

    • The movie was basically a satire of fascism/militarism, with absolutely the opposite message/idea from the book. And the satire was based on Verhoeven-made-up strawman society which had virtually nothing in common with one in the book.

    Of course, given that, none of the book's many moral/political philosophy bits (or deep game-theoretical and historical rationales for espoused philosophies) are even remotely alluded to in the movie aside from brief mention that people enlist so they can be citizens and vote.

  • The book focused much more on training and the ethos of the soldier.

    In the movie, the ethos was merely "kill kill kill", as per the prior point.

    • As a very interesting pinpoint example, witness the training scene with Sgt. Zim teaching recruits how to throw the knives.

      In the film, this is basically just the usual attempt to show military to be between mindlessly jingoistic and sadistic, with Zim's answer pretty much being to put a knife through the questioner's hand.

      In the book, Zim provides two thoughtful answers, one military (and deeper than one in the film), and another, more important one, a whole mini-lecture about measured use of force... interspersed with the notions of civilian control of the military.

      The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him . . . but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing . . . but controlled and purposeful violence. But it's not your business or mine to decide the purpose or the control. It's never a soldier's business to decide when or where or how — or why — he fights; that belongs to the statesmen and the generals. The statesmen decide why and how much; the generals take it from there and tell us where and when and how. We supply the violence; other people — 'older and wiser heads,' as they say — supply the control. Which is as it should be.

      Hardly a rah rah jingoistic militarism made-up to be caricatured by Verhoeven. This is a drill sergeant - basically, the main source of training and wisdom of recruits - stressing civilian control of the military. This is 180 degree opposite of "Militaristic".

  • Johnny Rico's ethnicity was changed. In the novel Juan "Johnny" Rico is Filipino (and Carmen is Hispanic, last name Ibanez). Heinlein was known for putting minority characters in important roles in his novels and often in a positive light at a time when ethnic diversity in SciFi to say nothing of the status of race relations in the United States (segregation) at the time of writing.

    In the movie Rico and Carmen are depicted (both casting wise and as characters) as typical all-American Homecoming King/Queen.

  • Power armor - which makes one of the main points of the book's scifi components - doesn't pop up in the Verhoeven movie (and only pops up in CGI sequel #3).

Book Plot details missing from the movie

  • Rico's entire Officer Candidate School arc is missing.

  • The "Skinnies" aren't mentioned in the movie, in the novel they're allied wit the Bugs initially; and are in the first combat scene we see (where Dizzy dies).

  • Rico's MP teacher (Col DuBois), his first commander (Lieutenant Rasczak) and Sgt/Lt Jelal were all compressed into a single Rasczak character.

Movie Plot details made up despite not being in the book

  • The love plot with Carmen and Johnny is non-existent in the book (she merely has a brief platonic date with him when he's in OCS).

  • Co-ed military, especially common showers

  • Romance between Rico and Dizzy Flores (who's a male soldier in the book)

  • Pretty much entire story with Carmen (training, participation in space battle #1, participation in space battle #2).

    In the book, she enlists, and isn't heard of aside from except from meeting Rico once when he's in OCS.

  • Carl's character (who dies early in the book, off-page), gets merged with a listening specialist "talent" character, and with not-actually-shown-in-the-book intelligence officers; to become, in the movie, a very nazi-looking (link, link, and especially link) and to put it mildly, unsympathetic, intelligence officer.

  • Entire naval fighting. In the book, all we see of the Navy is the MI carriers function - no space warfare.

Minor differences:

  • The Bugs in the novel are much more technologically advanced, employing firearms and starships

  • Johnny's father lives in the novel, he's away on business when Buenos Ares is hit and his wife dies, leading him to enlist in the Mobile Infantry eventually serving under his son's command.

Please note that the movie was originally 100% unrelated to Heinlein - I won't bother with the full quote here but see my similar but more concise answer on the topic on M&TV.SE.

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    To sum up, the film kept some of the character names. Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 17:02
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    Oh, for Christ's sake. It's reasonable to argue that Heinlen's proposals are not fascist. It's completely unreasonable to argue they're not militarist. The whole point of Heinlen's novel is to exalt military ways of thinking, organizing, and behaving as superior to those prevailing in contemporary liberal democracies. It's openly and explicitly militarist. How is this the top answer??? Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 0:51
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    @EvanHarper -- This is a common mistake when dealing with Heinlein -- confusing the plot of the book, or the society it describes, with something Heinlein is espousing. Consider the same person who wrote this "Militarist" work also wrote "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" which shows an almost anarchistic society overcoming Earth. Or "Stranger in a Strange Land" which became almost a bible to hippies. RAH created worlds and explored them, but the society was rarely meant to be the lesson -- he left that to his character behaviors. The worlds show how a society MIGHT work, not what he suggests.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 1:41
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    @K-H-W Heinlein expressed militarist views personally. In his 1961 WorldCon keynote he argues (seemingly - it's very rambling) that Soviet world conquest is almost inevitable barring WW3, that Americans who approach the war with a light heart and no excessive attachment to life will find it a great adventure, that America will probably lose but the resistance movement to Soviet occupation will be equally glorious, and that comely résistants will use their charms to disarm the enemy. He wasn't playing devil's advocate. He really was in love with his own wildly unrealistic ideas about war. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:21
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    @EvanHarper -- That's quite true. Then. But at other times he has expressed other opinions; as an example, lost Legacy and other stories came about while he was enamored with General Semantics. Like many authors, his opinions evolved over time, and aren't always reflected in his writing. Regardless; this isn't a platform for debate; feel free to initiate a chat with me if you would like to discuss it further.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 17:42

There's a scene in the book where on the first day of boot camp, the super-hardass Sergeant Zim accidentally breaks someone's wrist in a hand-to-hand combat demo. He says "I'm sorry. You hurried me a little," and sends the soldier off to the hospital.

In the movie I remember a similar scene at the start of boot camp where the sergeant deliberately and sadistically breaks a soldier's wrist. (Can anyone confirm the details? It's been a while.)

Similar event; completely different message.

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    That's a brilliant point, about the different message.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 22:27
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    Zim basically challenges the new recruits, asking if anyone thinks they can best him. A farmer's son, taller and beefier than Zim, takes him up on it and lasts about five seconds before Zim has the guy in a wrist lock and breaks his forearm. Then Diz comes in (late) and in answer to Zim's questioning why he should let her join his squad, she assumes a fighting stance and actually gets in a few hits before being choked out.
    – KeithS
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 23:10

At least two major themes remain from the book:

  1. Citizenship (and the right to vote) is earned, not just something you are born into.
  2. Alien bugs at war with humans

Beyond that, not so much remains. There is no powered battle armor. I suppose some of the character names may remain, and Buenos Aires gets crunched in both, but not much else.


The movie is, at best, inspired by the book. Not that it's a bad movie, I found i pretty entertaining. But other than borrowing some names, places and events they really have very little in common. The book is to a large extent a political and philosophical statement about militarism and moral imperatives. The movie is mostly a war/adventure-story with some romance mixed in.

There is a short sequence from a school-session in the movie where they have a dialog about citizenship that echoes, at least weakly, some sentiments in the book but that is never followed up on and it doesn't really tie into anything else in the movie. The rest is shootin' aliens and kissin' girls.

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    after all "inspired" can be applied to anything, like you see a picture showing mercy and get inspired to kill the next guy. Just as about everything in the movie was backwards
    – Balog Pal
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 16:47

The majority of the book is Rico going deciding to be a trooper, why, getting schooled on why the government system works the way it does, and the experience of him going from naive rich kid slacker to hardened soldier, hero, and leader. Something like 80 to 95% of the book is essays on Government, Rights, Ethics, etc.

So just about everything is changed from the book to the movie considering the movie focuses on boot camp and then 1 or 2 mission, one of which everything goes wrong with little to none of the understanding of the why or how of anything. In other words, all the important intellectual stuff was removed to provide a action comedy (brainless humor) more or less. I would say that the movie is more of a Parody of what someone who doesn't understand what the book is about made.

All that being said... Go read the book. It's one of my 5 must reads and should be forced on everyone to read at some point, and enjoy the movie for what it is. You might also want to read everything else by Heinlein too, because while they aren't the same universe, it will help understand Starship Troopers and put its world in better context.

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    I wouldn't say "should be forced on", but the book belongs on every science fiction fan's must-read list, not just on its own merits (it's an excellent example of the genre, it provokes a lot of worthwhile arguments, and it forces pacifists like me to really justify our views) but because it touches off a long string of great novels which (intentionally or not) respond to it, including The Forever War, Bill the Galactic Hero, Armor, Ender's Game, and Old Man's War, to name a few, all taking a stab at Heinlein's basic questions about the relationship of the soldier to society. Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 22:14

The one I could never get over - No powered armor! Not sure if it is true, but for me, Heinlein created the modern concept of powered armor. One of my favorite books ever!

So it was as if - We're going to be make a new Iron Man movie, except we are not going to do the metal suit thing...

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    I think you might have missed the forest for the trees there a bit.
    – Misha R
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 7:40
  • It was the most interesting part of the book when I read it in the early seventies -> "How warfare might be fought in the future". Lots of treatments on that topic these days, not so much back then. The movie missed the boat on that, in my opinion.
    – WillC
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 12:41
  • Perhaps it was, @WillC, but that has little to do with the question. This is not a discussion site, and the top two answers do a very thorough job of describing the differences. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:44
  • The question was "What were the major differences" between the book and the film. To me, that was a major disappointing difference (there were others) between the two that was not emphasized enough in the other answers.
    – WillC
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 17:44

A few names... and part of even those mixed up.

Most movie adaptations that eviscerates an original novel look like doing so out of ignorance. ST raises the bar to new level, even with elaborate application of ruining effort it is hard to reach.

(IMO accidental stuff like having war, enemies, aliens, human, future, etc is not worthwhile to list.)

  • 1
    Could expand on this? Currently it just looks like you griping at Starship Troopers.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 19:15
  • Guess I could, but expand on what? The question asks about the common subset of movie and books, that is almost empty. If you post more directed questions I'm more than happy to write up.
    – Balog Pal
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 19:20

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