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Top 10 Biggest Differences Between Annihilation Book And Movie

VO: Matthew Wende
Written by Nick Spake You may not have even realized because they were so different, but Annihilation was based on a novel! WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Biggest Differences between the novel and the book. But what will take the top spot on our list? Will it be hypnosis, the tower, or the ending? Watch to find out! Watch on WatchMojo: Have an idea for our next video, submit your suggestion here: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/

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Top 10 Biggest Differences Between Annihilation Book and Movie

You may have watched the movie, but that doesn’t mean you can do a book report on the source material. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Biggest Differences Between Annihilation Book and Movie.

For this list, we’re taking a look at how Jeff VanderMeer’s novel differs from Alex Garland’s 2018 film adaptation. Since we’ll be delving into key plot points, a spoiler alert is in order.

#10: The Southern Reach

“Annihilation” is actually book one in VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy. Southern Reach is the name of the secret organization trying to unlock the mysteries that lie within Area X. In the source material, we’re given more information on Southern Reach, which helps to distinguish it from all the other governmental agencies in popular culture. The book most notably explores how the team tasked with investigating Area X has been programmed by the agency. Garland’s screenplay puts less emphasis on what goes on behind the scenes at Southern Reach, instead focusing more on the inner workings of Area X. As a result, Southern Reach is really nothing more than a footnote in the movie.

#9: Area X, aka The Shimmer

In the book, the public is well aware of Area X’s existence, deviating from the movie where this quarantined zone is top secret. Natalie Portman’s character doesn’t even learn about Area X until her husband returns from a highly classified mission. The film only briefly references this mysterious setting as “Area X” via title card. Instead, the characters calls it “the Shimmer,” a term that never even appears in the source material. The movie takes several other liberties with Area X, or the Shimmer. Not only does Garland play around with time, but he also throws in mutated animals like a massive alligator and a bear-like beast, both of which were absent form the book.

#8: The Biologist’s Husband

In both the “Annihilation” book and movie, the biologist’s husband returns home from a mission, (although it’s later revealed that this is actually his doppelgänger). The book suggests that the biologist and her husband had a very strained relationship. In the movie, however, many of the flashbacks are dedicated to Lena and Kane embracing their love (although, in her husband’s absence, it’s revealed that Lena turned to a colleague named Daniel for comfort). This affair wasn’t present in the book. And the biologist's doppelgänger is called Ghost Bird in the books, but not in the film.

#7: Mutations

Area X is a fairly vague setting in VanderMeer’s novel, requiring the reader to use their imagination and fill in the blanks. Since film is a visual medium, though, Garland offers more details while still keeping the setting clouded in mystery. As mentioned before, the film depicts the Shimmer as an otherworldly zone crawling with mutated creatures. We actually get to see these brutal beasts kill certain characters in the film where the book kept their deaths a tad more ambiguous. Oh, and those creepy brushes that manifest to look like humans? They were nowhere to be found in the book, but they were a haunting highlight of the film.

#6: The Team

Adding to the novel’s vagueness, the team members sent into Area X are never referred to by name. They’re merely known as the anthropologist, the biologist, the psychologist, and the surveyor. There’s also a linguist who quickly withdraws from the expedition. Meanwhile, the film gives each character a name and also switches up some of their professions. Natalie Portman’s Lena is a biologist and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Ventress is a psychologist, but Gina Rodriguez’s Anya is a paramedic, Tessa Thompson’s Josie is a physicist, and Tuva Novotny’s Cass is both a surveyor and a geologist. What’s more, the film gives everyone slightly more background information and in some cases entirely new character arcs.

#5: Writing on the Walls

While exploring Area X in the book, our protagonists come across strange writing on the walls, equally cryptic and religious: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner”. While reading these words, the biologist inhales spores that instigate her change. The being that wrote these mysterious messages is dubbed the Crawler, and is eventually confronted in a tower. Both the Crawler, and the text it leaves behind, are further explored throughout the “Southern Reach” trilogy. In the movie, however, the words on the walls, and their significance, are essentially left on the cutting room floor.

#4: The Mission

The biologist’s husband plays an important role throughout her character arc in the book and film. However, her motivations for venturing into Area X differ quite a bit. In Garland’s movie, Lena’s husband is put on life support after returning from the Shimmer. Lena believes she can find a cure for her dying husband by studying this danger zone. This strays away from the novel where the biologist believes her husband is already dead. Thus, her reasons for embarking on this dangerous mission are harder to get a grasp on. In either case, though, she’s a woman desperately seeking answers.

#3: Hypnosis

In VanderMeer’s novel, the psychologist uses hypnosis to take control of her group, unbeknownst to them. With the exception of the biologist, everyone can be sent into a hypnotic state with the trigger words “consolidation of authority.” The psychologist can then force her team to do certain things they normally wouldn’t. Most notably, “annihilation” is the trigger word to make a team members commit suicide. Despite playing a huge part in the book, hypnosis is never even brought up in the movie. In due course, the entire meaning behind the title is changed to instead imply that what rests within Area X will lead to an act of “annihilation.”

#2: The Tower

You know those words on the walls we brought up earlier? Well, in the book, the team first discovers them after traveling down a spiral staircase that descends into the ground. Where her other team members refer to this as a tunnel, the biologist for some reason labels it as “the tower.” This tower doesn’t exactly appear in the movie, although the climax does bring Lena to a lighthouse with a big hole in the floor. While Garland does work a lot of ideas from the novel into this sequence, he still cuts out one of the source material’s most substantial plot points.

#1: The Ending

If you were hoping to see the whole “Southern Reach” trilogy adapted to the big screen, you might be in store for a little disappointment. Rather than acting as the first chapter of a new film franchise, it’s clear that Garland set out to make a standalone picture with his take on “Annihilation.” Where VanderMeer’s novel left room open for two sequels, Garland’s film wraps the story up as the Shimmer vanishes. At the same time, though, Garland still leaves us on a note that’s ambiguous and unsettling. So while there are many differences, this ending still very much captures the spirit of its source material.

Do you agree with our list? Are there any changes we missed? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to


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