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Differences between the Beowulf film and the epic poem


The differences between the Beowulf film and the epic poem include changes in character relationships and plot details. The film adds a romantic subplot between Beowulf and Grendel's mother, which is absent in the poem. Additionally, the film portrays Beowulf as more flawed and human, whereas the poem depicts him as a near-perfect hero.

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What are the differences between the Beowulf movie and poem?

Unfortunately, you would be better off asking what similarities exist between the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and movies that have been made supposedly telling the same story.  Why?  Because the answer would be much shorter. 

If you're referring to the latest theatrical version released (that I know of, anyway), the animated version, a hero named Beowulf does kill Grendel.  That's pretty much where the similarities end.

As far as the differences, here are some of the main ones:

  • Beowulf is not Grendel's father.  In the poem, Grendel is born of the cursed descendants of Cain and in slime.
  • Grendel's mother does not look like Angelina Jolie.
  • Grendel's mother is not a shape shifter. 
  • Beowulf and Grendel's mother never have sex.  Grendel's mother is a monster the same as Grendel is. 

Unfortunately, movie makers have never made a movie even remotely resembling the epic poem.  The story in the poem has been liberally borrowed from numerous times.  The Thirteenth Warrior, for instance, focuses on a warrior journeying to a troubled spot to aid the locals.  But nothing thus far produced seems to even be an attempt to actually relate the story of Beowulf and Grendel. 

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What are the differences between the Beowulf movie and poem?

There have been many filmatic adaptations of the epic tale Beowulf. Here are the following adaptations of the epic:

  • Grendel, Grendel, Grendel (1981)
  • Beowulf (1999)
  • Beowulf and Grendel (2005)
  • Grendel (2007 made of television movie)
  • Beowulf (2007)
  • Beowulf: Prince of the Geats (2008)

Perhaps the most commonly used adaptation is the 2007 film featuring Angelina Jolie and produced by Robert Zemeckis. This film is very different from the epic tale.

In the 2007 filmatic adaptation, the idea of light and dark are swapped from that of the movie. Angelina Jolie, who portrays Grendel's mother, is depicted in golden light, much unlike the creature who lives in the hell-like lair in the original text. Beowulf, in the same way, is "altered." Beowulf is not the warrior for God as he is in the epic text. Instead, he commits covets Hrothgar's wife and is depicted as a dark character (as a "dark wolf" if I am not mistaken).

Next, the idea of Christian and Pagan ideology is different. In the text, Hrothgar celebrates God. He even built Heorot to celebrate God's power. In the film though, Hrothgar denounces Christianity. He states that he would rather stay Pagan as his ancestors were.

As for another adaptation, the 2005 version called Beowulf and Grendel, Grendel is not a monster. Instead, he is a child whose family has been murdered. Grendel is after revenge. In the text, Grendel is angry because he is in exile because of his ancestor's sin, not his own.

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What are some differences in the characters of Grendel, Beowulf, and Hrothgar in Beowulf the poem and the Beowulf movie?

Beowulf the poem and Beowulf the movie (the 2007 adaptation by Robert Zemeckis) differ greatly when it comes to the characterizations of Beowulf, Grendel, and Hrothgar. In a sense, the movie changes the characters so much that one would not recognize the characters in the epic itself.


In the poem, Beowulf is Christian, humble, and an eloquent speaker. He gives his victories over to God, praises God openly, and speaks as a leader should. He leads a chaste life, focusing upon being the best warrior and king he can be. Given his faith, Beowulf lives a life spent in the light of God.

In the movie, Beowulf is far from humble. He screams of his victory by announcing "I am Beowulf!," not giving the glory of the victory to God. This also shows his lack of humility. In the movie, Beowulf has two affairs--one with Hrothgar's wife (Wealtheow) and one with a servant of Wealtheow (after they have married). This does not speak of living a chaste life. Lastly, Beowulf is characterized as living in shadow (he is given the nickname the Dark Wolf by Grendel's mother). Grendel's mother is even shown a possessing light, while Beowulf is shadowed in darkness (a distinct twist of the poem's use of light and dark).


In both the movie and the poem, Grendel is portrayed as the villain. This said, the poem explains his current state as being linked to his exile from God's light. The movie, on the other hand, fails to show this fact. The poem shows Grendel's attack on Heorot as the result of Grendel's hatred for God. The movie depicts his attack as the result of an infected ear drum (which the people's singing hurts). While somewhat similar (given the singing acts as a trigger in both the poem and the movie), the Christian perspective is removed from the movie. 


In the poem, Hrothgar is a Christian. His praise of God is so great that he even builds Heorot to praise his lord. Hrothgar proves to be a very good king who follows the true Anglo-Saxon code.

In the movie, Hrothgar fails to come close to the character portrayed in the poem. In the movie, Hrothgar openly denounces God (stating that he and his kingdom will stay Pagan). Hrothgar is also portrayed as a drunk in the movie. He fails to be a good husband (leading his wife into the hands of Beowulf) and commits suicide.

The link below shows the movie version of Beowulf "introducing" himself to Grendel. Notice how he states that he is the "chief of the darkness" (contrasting the image of light he should possess according to the poem).

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What are the differences between the film version and epic poem of Beowulf?

I am assuming that you are referring to the 2007 release of Beowulf directed by Robert Zemeckis. Therefore, my answer will be based upon this production.

There are many differences between the Beowulf movie and the epic text.

1. The epic text is written from a Christian perspective. The importance of Christianity is seen throughout the text. First, Hrothgar builds Heorot because he wishes to give glory to God:

It came to his mind to order his men to build a hall, a master mead-house far mightier than any seen by the sons of earth, and therein would he bestow to young and old all that the Lord should give him, save people's land and the lives of men.

In the movie, Hrothgar and his Danes are Pagan. When Unferth comes to Hrothgar to see if the Danes should pray to the new Christian Lord Hrothgar says no.

Therefore, the ideology of Pagan and Christian are alternated.

2. In the epic text, Grendel attacks Heorot because he, a descendant of Cain, has been exiled into darkness. He could not wage war upon God himself so he, instead, waged war upon God's followers.

On the kin of Cain did the sovereign God avenge the
slaughter of Abel; Cain gained nothing from this feud and was driven far from the sight of men for that slaughter. From him awoke all those dire breeds: ogres, elves, and phantoms that warred with God a lengthy while.

In the movie, Grendel cannot stand the sound of music and singing which emanates from the walls of Heorot.

3. Beowulf, in the epic text, upholds true heroic values and acts accordingly. He stands by the code held up by the Anglo-Saxon culture. Therefore, all of his behaviors spoke to the fact that he was a true hero.

In the movie, Beowulf does not uphold all of the characteristics of a true hero. Instead, he lies about the fact that he killed Grendel's mother and he has an adulterous relationship with his queen's handmaid.

4. Lastly, the dragon which attacks the Geats and Beowulf is simply a new foe which Beowulf must face in order to fulfill his desire to die being a hero. It is best stated by Beowulf as to why a true hero must die as a result of a hero's battle:

“Do not lament, wise sire! It seems better that each man avenge his friends than to mourn them to no end. Each of us must await the end of his path in this world, and he who can, should achieve renown before death! That is the best memorial when life is past and a warrior's days are recounted.

In the movie, Beowulf dies murdering the dragon. While this is true in the text, the dragon's relationship to him is very different. In the movie, the dragon is Beowulf's son-- born as a result of his affair with Grendel's mother. Given the dragon symbolizes his failure, Beowulf feels that he must end the life of his son, the dragon.

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What are the differences between the film version and epic poem of Beowulf?

There are many differences in the movie, Beowulf, and the original poem.

For one, Hrothgar was not the father of Grendel.  There is never any mention of either Hrothgar or Beowulf ever being romantically involved or enticed to become the fathers of Grendel or the dragon which appear as the major threats in the poem.

Also, Grendel's mother is never described as covered in gold and looking like Angelina Jolie, either.  She and her son live in a horrid place, and they are both descended of Cain--the first murderer on earth.  This is an Anglo-Saxon piece of literature, so it is imperative that you understand that loyalty and valor are huge ideals of the society which are expected to be kept.  Murdering someone is bad enough, but to murder a member of your own family-- a brother-- is considered one of the greatest sins you could commit.  This is one reason given for the misery that Grendel and his mother suffer-- their ancestor Cain murdered his brother Abel.  For this crime, all the family is punished.

Hrothgar is not portrayed as a man who has many lovers aside from his wife.  For that matter, neither is Beowulf when he becomes King.  Both men are respected and considered honorable men who are faithful to their wives.  Perhaps this was not true for real-life Kings, but in the poem both men are portrayed as faithful and loyal--not only to their wives, but also to the men who have pledged their lives to these Kings.

Beowulf also does not stay in Hrothgar's town and marry his queen.  Once Beowulf has fulfilled his duty to Hrothgar (because the King had helped Beowulf's father in his time of need and Beowulf feels a sense of duty to come to Hrothgar's aide as a form of repayment) by killing both Grendel and Grendel's mother, Beowulf returns home where he lives to a ripe old age and becomes King himself.  It is here, rather than at Hrothgar's castle, that he fights the dragon creature.

The movie is enjoyable, but as with every film ever made of a great piece of literature, the directors take enormous leaps in creative license and ruin it for those of us who have actually read the original works.  Hope this helps!  Good Luck!

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