Let's say you write a book. The readers love it, the critics love it, and everyone wants to see a movie of it. But when the movie finally comes out, it's a major letdown. Or perhaps it works out fine, but a few years later, people still love the book yet don't seem to remember that the movie ever happened. Not wanting to waste a good story, the studio makes up its mind to try again. And again, and again, and again. Anyway, this is all about stuff that doesn't merely get multiple or long-running adaptations, but actually has a whole bunch of Alternate Continuities (preferably at least three within the same medium) as a result. Perhaps in some cases, the audience will "win" and one adaptation will cement itself in the public memory for all time.... Perhaps the studios will keep playing anyway. In most cases, it seems they just can't seem to get it right, but that's always a matter of opinion. This is not about works that simply have lots of sequels or vast expanded universes within the same continuity; in other words, Star Wars and Star Trek are not examples. Star Wars almost could count as an example for the sheer number of times the individual storyline of each film has been adapted. A New Hope, for example, has two novelizations, three comic strip versions, a manga version, a Radio Drama version, some journals written from the POV of the characters, is retold in part of the LEGO Star Wars video games, and a version written In the Style of... William Shakespeare. However, all but the Lego and Shakespeare versions supposedly take place in the same continuity.
Examples (listed by the original work):
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Anime and Manga
- Mahou Sensei Negima! probably gets the award for the most thorough invocation of this trope in the shortest amount of time. At present, there has been the original manga, two broadcast Animated Adaptations, a Live-Action Adaptation, a few OVAs, a second manga released parallel to the first, a Spinoff Babies series, and a movie covering an alternate end to the manga. Only the OVAs and the first manga seem to occupy the same continuity. At this rate, by the year 2020 there'll be eight or nine movies, a couple of noir or western-themed animes, and an opera.
- Appleseed (manga, 1980s anime OVA, recent CGI movies, and now a new CGI series)
- Ghost in the Shell (manga, movies, Stand-Alone Complex anime TV series, Arise OVA series).
- Neon Genesis Evangelion is famous for this. The original anime and manga series are set in similar, but distinct continuities. Then after that you get into the Raising Project games, the Raising Project manga, Girlfriend of Steel/Iron Maiden, Rebuild of Evangelion, Angelic Days, Gakuen Datenroku, Eva Pucchi, the reportedly-still-under-development live-action movie... oh, and of course the End of Evangelion as possibly alternative ending.
- Hana Yori Dango has no less than three official live action series adaptations (one in China, one in Tokyo, and one in Korea), plus a second, unofficial Chinese adaption, an anime, and the original manga.
- Robotech spun off of Macross above, merging it with two other anime series. Then there were novelizations and RPG and comic adaptations, none of which quite perfectly matched with the others. There were spin-off novels and comics, as well. Then there was an abortive 3-episode sequel series, which was again adapted and continued three different ways in comics, novels, and game. Then there was the sequel The Shadow Chronicles.
- The Gundam franchise. 11 main series and loads of OVA, films, manga, novels, games and plastic modeling kits, spread over 7 different continuities. There are also spin-offs like Super Deformed Gundam.
- The Saiyan, Namek, and, to a lesser extent, Androids/Cell arcs in Dragon Ball Z might count, as almost every game released ever since they started back in 1988 covers one or several of them and quite a few cover those and just those. The only exceptions are either sequels to them or the ones that cover Kid Goku stories (either Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball GT), which are very few. They're also the first arcs to be adapted on Dragon Ball Kai, with a long gap before the Buu Saga was confirmed.
- Cutey Honey has four animated incarnations, two live action incarnations, and five manga incarnations. Try asking a fan of the show where Honey's powers come from. Heck, try asking them whether or not she's human; the answer changes in just about every version. You'd think they'd run out of answers to a yes/no question eventually, but no...
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The original TV anime, a manga (plus two Spin-Off manga), a novelization, a PSP game, and now a pair of Compilation Movies. And all of this was announced in less than a year after it started, so there's still the possibility of more still being created.
- Code Geass has only one full-length anime, but there are four separate and completely different manga adaptations as well as three games based on it. As of early 2012, two spinoff OVAs, a film version of the original series, and yet another alternate-viewpoint manga are planned (the original anime came out in 2006).
- Himitsu no Akko-chan has three animes and a Live-Action Adaptation.
- Sailor Moon is a particularly notable example, in that it's still ongoing: on top of the manga (which was based on a pilot chapter that ended up becoming the Sailor V prequel), there's been an anime, a musical, a live-action adaptation, countless videogame spin-offs, an attempted American cartoon/live-action hybrid (!), and in 2014 another anime version began airing. Each adaptation tends to be quite different, too - the Four Generals in particular seem to have different plots, relationships, and even personalities in each.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Starting as a comic book series it has expanded to three cartoon series (one only loosely based on the original comics; another that started out a direct adaptation but later diverged; the third somewhere in between), two anime OVA's, two live-action specials (song themed), a live-action series, three other comic book series, a daily strip, three live-action films (number four on the way), a CGI film, several kids' books, novels, magazines, games and crossovers, and heaven know how many toys and merchandise (including a set of "automutating" TMNT transformers of all things).
- Batman, Superman, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and indeed any comic character/organization/series with enough fans and pages to their name have accumulated a massive number of adaptations with multiples in every medium possible, each referencing each other but clearly in their own separate continuities. It would be far easier to go to their respective pages and look at the lists there than mentioning them all here.
- Hellboy, despite being a relatively young property owned by one guy, has at least three continuities, including the comics, the animated series, and the live-action series. There are also at least two "little Hellboy" spinoffs.
- A lot of literature that is no longer copyrighted (particularly fairy tales and children's novels) gets this treatment. For example, the works of William Shakespeare, as well as most of the older stuff in the Disney Animated Canon (Peter Pan, Pinocchio, etc.). In fact, there's enough stuff in this category to deserve its own trope.
- Sherlock Holmes definitely deserves to be mentioned separately, having been played by over 75 different actors in 211 films.
- A Christmas Carol: Has been made into no less then 40 films, including animated versions, made-for-tv movies, musicals, silent films, and a Muppet version. There are also many stage adaptations, and at least one ballet version! And that's not even getting into the Yet Another Christmas Carol trope...
- I Am Legend has had three movies since it was written in the 1950s, and all of them take the plot and characters in different directions.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was originally a 6-expanded-to-12-episode radio comedy, then a series of novels based on it, an adventure game, a TV series, a sequel radio comedy series, and a movie. Each one of them considerably different from the others. Unusually, this was intentional on the part of Douglas Adams (who was the primary or sole writer of the radio, TV and novel versions).
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has 39 books, a series of silent short films, the classic musical adaptation which itself has a sequel, a prequel and an Andrew Lloyd Webber-helmed stage version, a Muppet version, an anime series, stage plays including a pop music-driven reimagining with an all-black cast which itself got a film adaptation helmed by the unlikeliest of directors, a modernized TV series, an alternate interpretation of Oz and the villain (which in itself has a musical and an upcoming film), cartoons, anime, and a Russian translation that diverges considerably as it goes on.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has 16 different film adaptations, including two by Disney, a Darker and Edgier video game, a TV miniseries, an anime remembered in many places that aren't the States, a re-imagining book series, Sci Fi,...
- Mutiny on the Bounty: At least three film versions, a few novels, probably a play or two.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964, and by its 50th anniversary in 2014 had already yielded one sequel, several audiobook versions and a pop-up book abridgement, and the following adaptations, all of which are distinct takes on the story:
- Two movie versions (1971 and 2005)
- A stage play in The Seventies
- A touring stage musical in The Eighties
- A ZX Spectrum video game
- A BBC radio play
- A ride at England's Alton Towers
- An opera
- An island in the online game Poptropica
- A 2013 West End stage musical (which includes Internal Homages to and one song from the film adaptations but is not a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation at all)
- The two film adaptations have each been incorporated into other media: The 1971 film was greenlit to launch a still-extant defictionalized candy brand, its songs appeared in a 2005 stage musical (Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka) that otherwise stuck closer to the novel, and in 2013 it was the basis for licensed casino slot machines. The 2005 film was the basis for several tie-in video games.
- Every decade or two, The BBC goes on a Jane Austen kick and remakes most of her most famous works (usually Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Emma) as miniseries. Each of those four novels has three or four BBC adaptations as well as several movie adaptations. Her works also frequently receive the Setting Update treatment (Bridget Jones books and movies, Clueless or The Lizzie Bennet Diaries).
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie has had multiple film adaptations.
- There have been several adaptations of most of H. G. Wells' books, especially The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. The former is especially prone to getting a Setting Update about once a generation.
- Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, in addition to being part of a 5-book series, has itself been adapted to film at least five times, with the last (most famous) one being a remake of a previous screenplay; a graphic adaptation by Marvel, and inspired a series of classical oil paintings when it first came out in 1827, along with having some local landmarks named after the characters.
- Zorro has been adapted many times.
- The Phantom of the Opera began as a novel by Gaston Leroux. Has since been adapted into goodness knows how many movies, at least six stage musicals (seven if you count Love Never Dies, which is a sequel to the most famous musical version), quite a few additional novels and numerous spoofs/reworkings on TV. Not to mention songs about it by Iron Maiden and Iced Earth.
- The Phantom Reviewer owes its whole existence thanks to this trope.
- Little Women has been made into several stage plays, movies, TV miniseries, anime, an opera and a Broadway musical.
- Anna And The King Of Siam has given us one Broadway musical, four movies (two of which are based on the musical), and a short-lived sitcom.
- The Jungle Book has had so many film and TV adaptations, both live action and animated, that Rudyard Kipling's version is probably the least well-known.
- Similarly, Tarzan has had so many movies, TV shows and cartoons based on it that the original books by Edgar Rice Burroughs are obscure by comparison.
- The Ring has been made into a film four times - twice in Japan (once as a semi-pornographic TV movie!), once in Korea (as The Ring Virus), and once in America. There have also been two Japanese TV series, three Japanese sequels, and one American sequel (directed, oddly enough, by the same guy that directed the original Japanese film). It was also adapted into a manga.
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. A quick search on IMDb returned 48 results. This page has a very incomplete list of adaptations.
- And one of the book's sequels, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, has been adapted to film many times as The Man in the Iron Mask (the article covers only the 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio version).
- Douglas Fairbanks adapted both books, the first as The Three Musketeers in 1921 and the second as The Iron Mask in 1929.
- The Count of Monte Cristo, also by Dumas, has also had a ton of adaptations. The film with Jim Caviezel is only one of many.
- Dracula. The fact he has his own page on this very website should be proof enough of how much often he tends to appear in mediums of every shape and form. Most tend to adapt more from the famous 1931 Universal film then the original novel by Bram Stoker.
- The Girl Who Leapt Through Time one novel that received: three televisions series, four live-action films, one animation film, and two manga adaptations.
- Les Misérables: So much Les Miz. Over 60 adaptations for radio, anime, theatre, TV, film (the latest being a big-screen adaptation of the stage musical) and at least one fighting game. Yep.
- The Bible has been adapted literally hundreds of times, covering just about every medium there is, which can be expected, since it's the religious text for the world's largest religion. Among the most commonly adapted Bible stories are the stories of Noah, Moses and Jesus.
- Treasure Island has many film adaptations, including an Anime, a Muppet version and a couple of versions set in space. There are also a number of television series, as well as theater, radio, video games and music.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë gets adapted in film or miniseries or on stage a lot, and not only in English-speaking countries. Check the work's film page.
Myth and Legend
- The King Arthur mythos, of course. Every few generations needs a new adaptation of the old stories, starting with Le Morte d'Arthur by Malory and moving on to Tennyson, T.H. White, Peter David...
- Robin Hood also has a ridiculous amount of adaptations, including TV shows, movies, books, video games, and that's not even getting into "Modern Robin Hood" territory.
- Myths in general have a LOT of adaptations, especially as different forms of the same legend. Even a myth dating from the Middle Ages will have a lot of different versions floating around.
- Carmen is known for its frequent adaptations. Although most of them are derived from one particular adaptation, Bizet's opera, with the original novella falling victim to Adaptation Displacement.
- Any play by William Shakespeare can be found as a hundred stage adaptations (Hamlet is almost never performed whole), straight up stage-to-screen adaptions, and the inspiration for new scripts.
- The BBC appears to feel a need to produce a definitive TV version of the compleat Shakespeare folio, approximately once every fifteen years or so.
- Chess started out as a Concept Album in 1984. It was adapted into a stage musical for the first time in 1986, but a mixture of Executive Meddling and attempts to cope with The Great Politics Mess-Up meant that for some time, every time the show popped up in a new location it was practically a new musical, sometimes venturing pretty far from the album's storyline. Even a couple decades later there's no consensus on which staged version did it right if any did at all, so new variations of the story continue to pop up.
- Transformers has to take some kind of a record. It has—let's see now—several lines of toys, the original American cartoon, several successive anime that continued from where the American one left off, five or six different comic book series spanning all the different TV show and toy eras (American and British), Beast Wars, the Japanese Beast Wars spinoffs, Beast Machines, several more Transformers anime set in Alternate Universes that were dubbed for American consumption after Hasbro succumbed to fan backlash over Beast Machines (they originally intended a sequel to that named Transformers: TransTech), the live-action films which occupy their own AU and possess their own novel and comic adaptations, two more American cartoons which are also their own universes, and a Japanese toy and manga series called Kiss Players which involved Interspecies Romance on the Autobot side and vorarephilia on the Decepticon side.
In short: Look at this full listing of everything and try to not go too cross-eyed. And that's not even counting the Diaclone and Micro Man Japanese lines whose overstocks and remainders were sold to Hasbro to become the original Transformers toys.
- The Lunar series began on the Sega CD, was reworked for the Saturn and PlayStation, had an updated version of the PS reworking, another GBA remake, and is now being remade a fifth time. The PlayStation version is generally best-known (and sadly rather thicker in clichés than the Sega CD original).
- Super Mario Bros.. Less so now, but as well as the games there are the spinoff games in about ten series, three cartoon shows, about four anime films, the live action film, various manga series, three series of American comic books, German comics in Club Nintendo, the Ice Capades, books, and random series that have very little to do with anything (Mario All Stars cartoon series consisting of recycled stuff from the first three, King Koopa's Kool Kartoons).
- Sonic the Hedgehog has an anime, an adaptation of that anime, an OVA, two American animated series that were launched simultaneously, a later American animated series, another American animated series over a decade after those three, a U.S. comic, a UK comic, several manga, and numerous '90s book adaptations not based off any comic. And we haven't even mentioned the spinoff games.
- Pokémon: There's the original games, the spinoff titles, the remakes of the older games (which both expand upon the originals and retcon certain aspects of them), the anime, at least three manga adaptations of the anime and several movie-specific ones, various adaptations of the games, over 30 other manga which seem to do their own thing separate of other continuities. And that's just the beginning.
- Scooby-Doo spawned numerous animated series, including a Spinoff Babies series, as well as many animated movies (Reluctant Werewolf and The Ghoul School), several live action movies, more animated movies (Zombie Island, The Alien Invaders, etc.), another animated series with a modern update, and many more animated movies based off of that series.