Being one of the most acclaimed American novels of all time, it is no surprise that Moby-Dick has been adapted to screen several times. The most famous adaptation is probably the 1956 version starring Gregory Peck as Ahab and directed by the legendary John Huston, with the screenplay written by Ray Bradbury. There are also two acclaimed mini-series, one from 1998 starring Patrick Stewart and the other from 2011 starring William Hurt (both playing Ahab).
Tropes featured in these three versions, and common to others:
- Casting Gag: In the 1998 mini-series, Gregory Peck played Father Mapple.
- Composite Character: In the 1956 and 2011 versions, Fedallah's part is filled early on by Elijah.
- Compressed Adaptation: The even-numbered chapters (the "whaling encyclopedia") are usually omitted.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: While the earlier versions kept Ahab accidentally getting tangled in the rope of the harpoon he uses, in the 2011 version, he inexplicably wraps as much rope as he can around his own body, leaving little tension to his inevitable demise.
- The Mockbuster: The Asylum released their own version, with Barry Bostwick as Ahab, a Navy Captain who reappropriates his submarine to take his revenge on the white whale, here a prehistoric whale that had crippled him decades earlier. Here, his desire for revenge was his motivating factor for working his way up from ensign for the opportunity to one day take his revenge. Surprisingly contained a lot of references to the novel. Renee O'Connor played Dr. Ishmael, a marine biologistnote whom Ahab shanghais into helping him.
- Playing Hamlet: In the 1956 version, Richard Basehart, who played Ishmael, was actually older than Gregory Peck.
- Politically Correct History: The 2011 version. While the Multi National Crew was not commented upon in the early versions, here there exists a new character whose sole purpose is to belittle the minorities, only to be told off by all the white characters.
- Race Lift: In the 1998 version, Fedallah (a Persian) is portrayed by an Indonesian actor.
- Setting Update: The Bedford Incident, a Cold War thriller, has a Soviet sub taking the place of a giant whale. The parallels to Moby Dick are even stronger in the novel.
- Skunk Stripe: In the 1956 version, Ahab has a white line going through his hair, tracing the scar left by a lightning bolt.
- The Smurfette Principle: In the 2011 version, Ahab's wife (Gillian Anderson) is given a small part early on — even though in the book, Ahab hasn't seen his family in years.