I've just finished reading the book World War Z and I'm struggling to see how the film World War Z can claim to be 'based on the book'.

The only three things I can see that match in the book and film are:

  1. The title.
  2. The bit about the Israeli '10th man'.
  3. Both have zombies in them.

Beyond that, nothing from the book is in the film and nothing from the film is in the book.

So, how can it claim to be based on the book?

[Footnote: I saw the film first so was pleasantly surprised that the book was much better. If I'd have read the book then seen the film, it would have been a great disapointment]

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    It can't and shouldn't. During production there were constant accounts of rewrites AMD personnel changes. Even in the last minute before release. I'll write a real answer when I get the time
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 7:23
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    If you want a real treat, try he Audible version. While it is slightly abridged (a couple chapters left off), Max Brooks used his connections as Mel brooks' son to get a truly amazing full cast of voices for it. As far as i am concerned, the movie never happened.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 10:57
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    @paul - When I said 'read' I really meant, 'I've just finished listening to the audible version' ! I know exactly what you mean :)
    – Pat Dobson
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 11:01
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    theoatmeal.com/comics/wwz Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:40
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    This sort of thing is commonplace in movies. Hollywood not only ignores the text of books, but documented history - they would make Jesus and Buddha into bad guys if it suited their purposes. Is WWZ the first movie in which you've noticed this?
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:43

2 Answers 2


In short - its "based" on the book because Max Brooks sold the rights for a movie under the same title.

So the book and the movie have (almost) the same title and they are both about zombies. More or less that's all they have in common.

According to the interview with Max Brooks about the movie :


Interviewer: Which brings me to the movie of the same title

Max Brooks: And pretty much that's all it has. At least what I have seen. I have not read the script ... looks like "World War Z" name only

A bit later in the interview Brooks also says that after he decided to sell the movie rights to Brad Pitt's studio:

That was pretty much the last decision I was allowed to make.

So practically the movie was done without the involvement of the book author.

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    The real point here is that in Hollywood-speak "based on" means either something like "we payed for some IP and may have subsequently screwed it up in any number of ways" or "we heard about a real story that you might be interested in and then got someone to make up something more exciting or romantically interesting up so we could make the show we wanted to make" rather than something a sentient being with a hint of honesty would understand it to mean. Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 16:09
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    @dmckee - it would be better to replace the words "based on" with "inspired by"
    – Omegacron
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 16:59
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    @dmckee - I have two words for you: "Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine". Er... "Starship Troopers" Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 23:48

I was hitch-hiking once and the guy who picked me up turned out to be a scriptwriter. We discussed this issue in general and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to make good movies from good books.

Movies require plot, dialog and action, and not too much of even these - there's only 100 minutes or so available. Good books have long descriptions of scenery, feelings, inner dialogues, weather, what someone would have thought if this other thing had happened, etc. How would you film any of that? Good books frequently have little plot. Good books sometimes have very complicated plots that would be impossible to make into a film of less than ten hours in length. Some great books have very little in the way of characters speaking. How do you film irony? Jane Austen can be hilarious in print, but filmed her novels always become vapid boy-meets-girl costume dramas.

Authors know all this, so if they agree to sell the rights, they do not have much cause to complain if the film turns out very different from their vision or is just plain bad. Filmmakers will buy the rights to a blockbuster with the intent to capitalize on the name but in full knowledge that the book is impossible to make a movie of.

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    While I agree wholeheartedly that you can't distill an entire novel into a "short" film, I do prefer that they at least try to make a connection between the two. The Lord of the Rings movies dropped chapters, changed orders of things, etc., but kept (in my opinion) the "heart" of the story, and I loved them. The Hobbit trilogy (same people and original author!) did not - and I refused to see the 2nd and 3rd installment. YMMV.
    – Ghotir
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 20:26
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    "Good books have long descriptions of scenery, feelings, inner dialogues, weather, ... how would you film any of that?" While I get your point about some of this, it really shouldn't be that difficult to film the scenery and weather as described in the book.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:39
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    "Jaws" is practically the type specimen for this sort of thing. Spielberg dropped a lot of elements from the book and focused mostly on the action, which, of course, was the right answer. I love both the book and the movie (and I'm still enough of a 12-year-old that Quint's non-stop swearing makes me giggle), but the two products are very different.
    – John Bode
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:57
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    From what I've heard, The Martian pretty much refutes this. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:59
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    @Shadur They didn't describe the biochem of turning martial dirt into soil in the movie the right way. Heresy! And the catalogue of the media watched was sadly incomplete in the movie.
    – Yakk
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:19

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