The complete history of The War Of The Worlds

Radio plays? Feature films? Musicals? The War Of The Worlds has done it all...

Since its inky debut in 1897, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds has been adapted into movies, TV shows, radio broadcasts and even a musical. Here then, is our rundown of every adaptation that really counts of Wells’ enduring classic…

The War Of The Worlds (1898 novel)

HG Wells’ pioneering alien invasion story may not have been the first science fiction novel to find its dramatic inspiration in the red planet (1880’s Across the Zodiac: The Story Of A Wrecked Record and 1887’s contemporaneous Two Planets just beat it), but it’s The War Of The Worlds that has cast the longest cultural shadow. First serialised in the socialist periodical Pearson’s Magazine in 1897, it first appeared in novel form a year later, and, rather remarkably, has never been out of print since.

The War Of The Worlds (1938 radio)

Orson Welles was just 23 when he made headlines for his wildly controversial and radical take on his near-namesake’s literary classic. Ever-experimental with narrative form, Welles decided against a straight adaptation, choosing instead to present Wells’ story as a live radio news broadcast. Legend has it that the drama caused mass hysteria, though it appears much of that – the programme only had a modest listening audience – appears to be the result of over excited newspaper hacks. Even then, the episode helped birth the cult of Orson Welles, leading eventually to his move to Hollywood to make his magnum opus, Citizen Kane.

The War Of The Worlds (1953 film)

Literary purists may have baulked at the myriad of changes in this Technicolour-drenched adaptation of Wells’ novel (it updates the action from the late 19th century to 1953 and relocates it from Woking to, ahem, southern California), but there’s still much to enjoy in producer George Pal’s handsome, chilling epic. Despite its vintage, the Academy Award-winning special effects are still eye-wowingly impressive, and Byron Haskin’s assured direction make this first ever big screen take on Wells’ story enormously satisfying.

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Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds (1978)

On paper, it looks like an insane idea – adapting a classic Victorian novel into a prog-rock-soundtracked musical? Yet Jeff Wayne’s best-selling double-album remains one of the most faithful versions of Wells’ story, with the sonorously-voiced Richard Burton narrating and a roll-call of rock’s 70s finest to provide the story’s musical soundtrack. A live tour, based on the album, began in the UK and Ireland in 2006.

The War Of The Worlds (1988 TV series)

A direct sequel to George Pal’s 1953 flick, this CBS-produced TV series ran from 1988 to 1990 and starred Jared Martin as astrophysicist Dr. Harrison Blackwood. According to the series, rather than being killed outright by germs at the end of the original film, the aliens had all slipped into a state of suspended animation, until, that is, a terrorist group, 35 years later, accidentally cause them to reawaken… The series solidified its connection to the 1953 classic when Ann Robinson joined the cast, reprising her role as Sylvia van Buren from the earlier film.

War Of The Worlds (2005 film)

If Wells fans were alarmed at the loose fidelity of George Pal’s version to the original novel, then they were open-mouthed with disbelief at the changes made to Steven Spielberg’s pulverising 2005 adaptation. Tom Cruise headlines as American dock worker Ray Ferrier who is forced to protect his children as the Martians invade. There’s little of Wells in this movie’s DNA, but fans of the 1953 movie will lap up the final reel cameos from its stars, Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.

HG Wells’ The War Of The Worlds (2005)

Director Timothy Hines’ heart was in the right place when he set out to make this starstruck adaptation of Wells’ novel. Sadly, the budget at his disposal couldn’t do justice to his vaulting ambitions and this direct-to-video curio was savaged by critics, with some even comparing it to the works of Hollywood Z-lister Ed Wood. Hines, bruised by the affair, would eventually re-edit his three-hour cut, reimagining the film as a faux documentary, as 2012’s War Of The Worlds – The True Story. This time, he got the reviews he wanted.

The War Of The Worlds (2018 TV serial)

A mostly faithful, generously-moneyed adaptation of The War Of The Worlds has been a long-time coming. Okay, so the action’s been pushed forward a few years to the Edwardian era, instead of the Victorian one, but we’re promised a much more authentic take than we’ve become used to. “The version of The War Of The Worlds that I wanted to make,” says writer Peter Harness, “is one that’s faithful to the tone and the spirit of the book, but which also feels contemporary, surprising and full of shocks: a collision of sci-fi, period drama and horror.” It’s due to air Christmas 2018.

Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds: The Musical Drama (Audible Original Drama, 2018)

Audible has corralled a top-tier cast for its brand-new adaptation of Jeff Wayne’s epic 1970s musical work and HG Wells’ original novel. Michael Sheen (The Queen), Taron Egerton (Kingsman), Adrian Edmondson (The Young Ones), Theo James (Divergent) and Anna-Marie Wayne (actor and daughter of the great Jeff Wayne) headline this dramatic and chilling dramatisation, which pays loving tribute to the original 70s record, while giving fans something thrillingly new.

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