I Am Legend (2007) – WTF Happened to This Adaptation?

The new episode of the WTF Happened to This Adaptation video series looks at the 2007 adaptation of I Am Legend

The I Am Legend episode of WTF Happened to This Adaptation? was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian. Here is the text of Hatfield’s script:

I was able to cover my favorite movie of all time in the first episode with The Thing and now we are going to look at an adaptation, or 3, of my favorite story of all time. While you may not know the work of Richard Matheson by name, I guarantee you know the work and the artist from somewhere. He is one of the most successful writers both on screen and off of the 20th century and many of his works have been adapted multiple times over. Today’s movie, while having 2 adaptations already in the books, was in development hell for what felt like forever, but would eventually be a blockbuster that did better than anyone expected. Today we look at the 2007 adaptation I Am Legend (watch it HERE).

Grab your anti vampire kit and try not to get too lonely as we look at what happened to I Am Legend.


I Am Legend was the long in production horror/sci-fi/loneliness simulator that would eventually come out in 2007. One of the more famous iterations being worked on was an adaptation starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and being directed by Ridley Scott. The original script was written by Mark Protosevich after studio execs were impressed by his work on the Jennifer Lopez horror movie The Cell. Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, and Mel Gibson were all considered before the studio finally decided they wanted Arnold in the main role. Scott would replace Protosevich with two different screenwriters but eventually Warner Bros would reinstate him after they didn’t like where the project was going. The project as is would be effectively cancelled due to both budget concerns and the perceived failure of recent Arnold and Scott movies. One last attempt with Protosevich as writer was made when director Rob Bowman was brought in before eventually moving on to Reign of Fire.

It was resurrected again, this time with Arnold in a producer’s role with Will Smith and Michael Bay attached to star and direct. It moved around even more with Guillermo del Toro offered the job but eventually it went to Francis Lawrence. Lawrence had directed many a music video before helming dark superhero movie Constantine with Keanu Reeves and he would go on to direct other movies like Water for Elephants, 3 of the Hunger Games movies, and infamous Jennifer Lawrence flop Red Sparrow. The final script would be written by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman with a credit given to Protosevich for the previous work. Protosevich would go on to write the story for the first Thor movie as well as the screenplay for the Old Boy remake. Akiva won his Oscar for A Beautiful Mind but could write in any genre with credits like The Client as well as Batman Forever. He would go on to write adaptations for The 5th Wave, The Dark Tower, and one of the newer Transformers movies.

Will Smith and Alice Braga would be the main human actors for the movie. Smith, controversies and all, needs no introduction, and this may be the closest thing to horror he has done. Obvious other sci-fi movies like Independence Day; I, Robot, and the Men in Black movies have been very successful but this may be the darkest of his entries into the genre. Alice Braga is a highly regarded actress who also appeared in horror movies The Rite and Blindness with a main credit in Predators from 2010. The movie was released on December 14, 2007 to pretty good reviews and a gross of 585 million on its 150 million dollar budget.

I Am Legend WTF Happened to This Adaptation

The Book

While Richard Matheson is probably best known for todays work, his career spanned nearly 6 decades and his list of accomplishments and adaptations is, if you’ll forgive me, legendary. He was born in 1926 and lived all the way until 2013 with his stories still being adapted at the time of his death. I Am Legend alone has been adapted into 3 separate films with The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and I Am Legend. Other famous novel adaptations include Stir of Echoes, Legend of Hell House, and What Dreams May Come. He worked with Roger Corman in adapting Poe stories with Vincent Price, had many short stories turned into a twilight zone episode, and even wrote a couple films for the famed Hammer studios. He would give Steven Spielberg one of his earliest films with Duel and I’d be upset at myself if I didn’t mention his writing for Kolchak: The Night Stalker, specifically the two TV movies that lead into the show. While he had more genres than just horror, he is best known for his horror and science fiction.

I Am Legend as a work of fiction was received incredibly well. The writing, characterizations, and themes were all raved about while the depiction of vampires was new and fresh. His early writings were inspired by 1931’s Dracula so it’s no surprise he gave vampires a go. The story is incredibly influential even to this day and is cited by luminaries of horror like Stephen King and John Romero as inspirational in their work. The first movie was adapted in 1964 with Vincent Price leading as The Last Man on Earth with the script being co-written by Matheson himself. That iteration has become something of a cult classic and is relatively faithful to its source material. In fact, its vampires look more like the eventual slow-moving zombies of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead later that decade. The second adaptation is The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston as part of his science fiction trilogy along with Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes. Omega Man is very much of its time in 1971 but has a lot of good things to say and show on screen, even if it takes even more liberties with the source material than the first adaptation. I Am Legend, the movie not the book, is currently set to get a sequel staring Smith and Michael B. Jordan.

What is the same?

Both mediums follow Robert Neville who fears he is the last man on earth after a world wide catastrophe that was a slow build at first but then came crashing down fast. He lost his wife and daughter due to this event and has been dealing with the aftermath where most of the population has died and he is the last fully human survivor. By last fully human, I mean due to the vampire like creatures that exist in the world. Robert suffers from extreme depression and isolation while scavenging for supplies and also mapping where in the city the remaining vampires are staying. He is devastated by the death of a dog, who he fears would be his only companion, and experiments on the vampire like creatures. After three years, Neville finds a woman and tries to help her because he is immune to the virus that has spread across humanity. Depending on which ending you get, they are either the same thematically where Neville realizes he is the legend or Neville dies, but not both. The vampires aren’t necessarily traditional vampires in both mediums and they both do a great job with the feeling of loneliness and isolation.

What changed?

Let’s start with the little things first. The movie takes place in New York while the story takes place in Los Angeles. Robert Neville in the movie is a scientist that had a direct connection with the virus where in the book he decides to research what may have happened and the virus was only a part of the world ending, there was also a mass scale war and other issues that happened. In the movie, Robert’s wife and daughter die in a terrible helicopter accident where the novel has us watch the virus take them both and after he buries his wife, she comes back to the house. Timeline wise, the book was written in 1954 but the events take place in 1976 while there is only a 5-year difference between the 2007 release of the film and its 2012 setting.

With that out of the way, it’s time to look at some of the bigger changes. The first major one is how the vampires, or dark seekers as the movie calls them, are treated. The vampires in the book seem a lot like what stories tell us about them. They die in direct sunlight, will perish with a good stake through the heart, and are averse to garlic. They are pale in skin, drink blood, and are seemingly immune to the bullets from Neville’s gun. In reality, Neville finds out that it’s a bacterium that creates the appearance of being a vampire. The stake creates a large enough hole that the host is destroyed whereas his bullets are too small and weak, so the bacteria is able to close the wounds up again. He later determines that their fear of garlic and mirrors is due to a sort of hysterical blindness where they BELIEVE they are vampires. Finally, at some point there are two different groups discovered. A feral group that are the reanimated bodies of deceased people and then there is a more civilized group that can talk and function, almost live with the disease. He has a neighbor named Ben who calls out to him and taunts him at night.

I Am Legend WTF Happened to This Adaptation

The movie vampires are all more on the feral side even when the alpha is able to emote more in the director’s cut ending. There is never a mention of the word vampire and Neville’s bullets and guns work just fine in addition to sunlight. He is much more interested in finding a cure in the movie rather than just eradication but has killed many of them. The next major difference is how he interacts with other characters. The dog in the movie is named Samantha and has been his companion since the start of the pandemic. While it is undoubtedly the saddest part of the movie, hell, I’m a parent and I’m still more sad at the dog than his wife and kid, the book is devastating. He spends a good chunk of time trying to gain the dogs trust to take care of it and run tests. He is so lonely and then there is just a simple line about the dog being dead within a week. Its honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to read! The woman he meets is traveling with her son in the movie and she saves him after he goes suicidal post doggy death. She is good and just wants to help both her son and Neville. The woman in the book is actually a spy for the more civilized group of vampires, many of whom he has killed. She starts to have feelings for him even after admitting that he killed her husband and attempts to warn him of her group capturing him. At the end she assists in his death being much less gruesome than it could be.

Finally, there’s the ending. The ending of the book is one of the great endings ever put to paper where Neville looks out to see all the scared vampires and realizes that they aren’t the legends like he believes them to be but rather he is some mythical monster that has killed many of their ranks and he will end up as a legend long after he dies in a similar vein that vampires were to society. The movie misses this completely, well in the theatrical cut at least. The ending we saw in theaters shows Neville blowing himself up with a large group of the creatures after he gives his blood to the woman and her son to escape. In the directors cut, while not nearly as impactful as the book, Robert recognizes the fact that he has killed so many of theirs and apologizes to them. better, but not great.


I Am Legend the movie is a very entertaining and well-made adaptation of the book. My personal preference of the three is the Omega Man but that has to do with when I saw it as a kid. I Am Legend made a ton of money and is getting a somewhat late in the day sequel on the books so it’s hard to deny its fame. That being said, Matheson’s novel is one that everyone, writer or not, should read and appreciate. While the movie is objectively good, the novel is seen as one of the all-time greats, something the movie will never be known as. Set aside a day or two to read the book and watch the three movies. Let us know in the comments which is your favorite and keep those stakes handy, just in case.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Adaptation? can be seen below. To see the other shows we have to offer, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.