Best H.G. Wells Movie Adaptations, Ranked
English writer H.G. Wells was never content to stick to one genre or even type of story, writing long and short works for anything he wanted. However, today he is remembered most for his works in sci-fi; in fact, many people believe him to be the ‘father of science fiction.’ Not only are some of his books now considered classics that will stand the test of time, but many of his books are popular for movie remakes as well, from The Invisible Man to War of the Worlds.
Wells often wrote about utopian societies that not only predicted but perhaps influenced technological inventions that are common today, such as air and space travel, gene-based medicines, and even the internet. But Wells’ use of sci-fi also brought dark portends as well, discussing things like time travel, alien invasions, and disturbing surgical innovations. All of these things drew movie writers and producers in from the very early days of feature films, hoping to bring some of the fantastical ideas he wrote about to life. By looking at the best H.G. Wells movie adaptations, we can enjoy some of the first sci-fi stories that gave the genre its start.
7/7 The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)
The Man Who Could Work Miracles was a short story written by Wells now turned into a fantasy comedy movie. The film is about George Fotheringay, a man of the middle class who is suddenly bestowed miraculous powers due to a bet between a group of supernatural beings. The only thing is, Fotheringay believes miracles to be impossible.
When he is first bestowed these powers, he discovers them by trying to convince his friends about how ridiculous it sounds. When he returns home later and continues to produce impossible feats on his own, he is thoroughly convinced that he now actually has power. The only issue is, he’s not quite sure how he’s supposed to use it. The film is a great representation of this short story, and definitely has some good laughs as well.
6/7 War of the Worlds (2005)
Some of Wells’ writings are more popular for adaptations, and there’s no doubt that War of the Worlds is one of them. This was, of course, the story that Orson Welles adapted for radio broadcast and terrified many listeners who mistook it for actual reporting. Based on the book of the same name and the classic 1953 movie, Steven Spielberg’s lavish, post-9/11 allegory starts off seemingly normal by focusing on Ray Ferrier, a divorced man who is given his children to watch for the weekend. Unbeknownst to them, an alien race was watching Earth and hope to take it over.
They enter the Earth’s atmosphere under the cover of a thunderstorm, knocking out all the nearby electronics in the process. Suddenly massive war machines run by the aliens start up, seemingly indestructible and beginning to wipe out everyone in the vicinity. Ferrier manages to escape with his kids, and now they rush to Boston to try and reunite with their mother before everyone is killed. It’s a tense action film sure to bring thrills, utilizing some cutting-edge technology of its own at the time in order to create the most suspenseful and visually powerful adaptation of War of the Worlds.
5/7 The Time Machine (1960)
The Time Machine, a delightful 1960 adaptation of Wells’ classic tale, cleverly follows scientist H. George Wells as he dines with his friends and recounts a recent adventure to them. Just a few days prior, he had shown them a scale model of a time machine which, once he pressed a lever, disappeared and apparently traveled into the future. His friends are skeptical, however, and they leave him alone after dinner, where he is left to his private lab and the real time machine hidden within.
Wells decides to travel to the future, and begins to explore further and further into it, experiencing horrible events that are seemingly inevitable. There’s no doubt that this is another popular book to adapt from Wells’ work (thought the 1960 version reigns supreme), as it is one of the most influential sci-fi novels he wrote. It popularized the idea of time travel and time machines, something that is definitely more prevalent in today’s media now thanks to him.
4/7 Things to Come (1936)
Before he died in 1946, Wells adapted his story The Shape of Things to Come for the screen in a completely new way. The screenplay eventually turned into Things to Come, a sci-fi movie that is more about the sociopolitical consequences of human activity rather than being a thrilling sci-fi action movie. Regardless, the gigantic scope and pure cinema of the film wowed audiences; Geoffrey O’Brien writes about Thing to Come for the Criterion Collection, calling it:
An unprecedented event in British filmmaking, an extraordinarily ambitious and expensive production in which the full resources of cinema — an enormous cast, large-scale sets, and sophisticated visual design — were invested in realizing an epic of humanity’s future, as conceived by one of the world’s most famous living authors.
It starts in the year 1940, where Everytown residents discuss whether the imminent war is actually going to happen. It begins that very night, launching a 30-year war that destroys the world and ushers in a new dark age. As the war ends and humanity begins to recover, there are still more issues as new leaders pop up and quickly become tyrants trying to control everything. It might not be for everyone, but there’s no doubt its message still rings true to this day.
3/7 Time After Time (1979)
Time After Time is unique on this list for the fact that it is not directly inspired by a work from Wells. It was actually inspired by a work of the same name written by Karl Alexander, who used Wells as the main character. It follows Wells as if he was the scientist in his novel The Time Machine and had actually invented a time traveling technique himself. In the film, Wells reveals the machine to his skeptical dinner guests and explains some complications surrounding its use before the police interrupt in search of Jack the Ripper.
They find evidence there that one of his friends, Stevenson, is supposedly the murderer, and that he used the time machine to escape. However, without the proper components, the time machine returns without him. Wells jumps in to try and chase after him and bring him to justice. It’s a great, weird sci-fi film like no other, and a nice homage to Wells and his writing.
2/7 Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Based on The Island of Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls is a sci-fi horror movie. It follows Edward Parker, a shipwrecked traveler who ends up stuck on a remote island owned by Dr. Moreau. While it seems normal at first, screams quickly fill the air and when Parker goes to investigate, he finds Moreau and his assistant experimenting on a humanoid creature seemingly without any pain medicine. Scared, he tries to run only to find the building surrounded by many strange hybrid creatures, all humanoid but resembling different animals.
He comes to find Moreau was trying to accelerate the evolution of animals and turn them into humans, effectively creating a strange society on his island that all served him. Parker is then brought into the experiments as well when Moreau destroys the only possible way he could escape the island, forcing him to stay. Island of Lost Souls may not be as well-known as the Val Kilmer-Marlon Brando disaster The Island of Dr. Moreau in the ’90s, but this is one of the most haunting and poetic adaptations of all Wells’ work.
1/7 The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man is based on the book of the same name, and is the first of many adaptations of it. In fact, it’s the most popular of Wells’ books to adapt, and it has been turned into everything from a comedy with Chevy Chase to a feminist horror masterpiece with Elisabeth Moss. The 1933 version was the first, arguably the most underrated Universal Monster movie; it follows Dr. Jack Griffin and his discovery of how to become invisible. He was researching a new and dangerous drug when he stumbled across invisibility and used it on himself.
However, when his old mentor and fiancée discover what he’s done, they are able to see that a clear side effect of the invisibility drug is violent insanity. Griffin becomes murderous, even more dangerous when no one can see him. It’s up to a few of his friends to try and make a plan that will capture him to put an end to the murders. Even though some of the shock of old classics become lessened as they are integrated into pop culture, there’s no doubt that this movie still carries weight, not just for its importance to the horror genre but for its great performances, beautiful cinematography, and faithful, intelligent adaptation.