All Hunchback of Notre Dame movies

Below I’ve made a listing of all the changes made to Victor Hugo’s novel in these movie adaptations.

1923

Quasimodo – Lon Chaney

Esmeralda – Patsy Ruth Miller

Frollo – Brandon Hurst

1939

Quasimodo – Charles Laughton

Esmeralda – Maureen O’Hara

Frollo – Sir Cedric Hardwicke

1956

Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo

Esmeralda – Gina Lollobrigida

Frollo – Alain Cuny

1976

Quasimodo – Warren Clarke

Esmeralda – Michelle Newell

Frollo – Kenneth Haigh

1982

Quasimodo – Anthony Hopkins

Esmeralda – Lesley Ann Down

Frollo – Derek Jacobi

1996

Quasimodo – Tom Hulce

Esmeralda – Demi Moore

Frollo – Tony Jay

1997

Quasimodo – Mandy Patinkin

Esmeralda – Salma Hayek

Frollo – Richard Harris

1999

Quasimodo – Patrick Timsit (who also directed)

Esmeralda – Mélanie Thierry

Frollo – Richard Berry

Some generalizations first.

In most of these movies, Esmeralda is presumably born Romani, rather than a non-Romani Frenchwoman as in the novel. (“Gypsy” is the term used for Romani in the novel and most movies). Conversely, in most movies Quasimodo is presumed to be born non-Romani, while the novel implies that he was born to Romani. In the Disney film Quasimodo is explicitly a Romani; in the 1923 film Esmeralda is a Frenchwoman.  In the 1999 modern-day version she’s born Cuban, which is a stand-in for 15th-century Romani.

I consider “Hunchback” to have three iconic scenes: 

  • Esmeralda bringing Quasimodo water
  • “Sanctuary!”
  • Quasimodo pouring molten lead from Notre Dame’s towers onto the attackers below

Almost all of the movies listed here have these scenes. 1996 has no water scene, though Esmeralda does free Quasimodo, who has not been whipped but has been chained in public. 1999 does not have Quasimodo pouring lead on attackers, though he does throw heavy objects down on them.  The 1999 “sanctuary” sequence does have Quasimodo capturing Esmeralda and taking her to the cathedral, but she’s already free and is merely making a speech, and he is kidnapping her.

Both the 1939 and 1997 films repeat the false trope that the people of the 15th century believed the earth was flat. Hugo’s novel doesn’t have this trope.

The films generally don’t mention the printing press, and when they do, they never express Hugo’s concern that printing, despite its incomparable benefit to humanity, is killing off architecture; they instead depict the religious and political authorities as feeling their power to be threatened by the printing press.

In most movies, Clopin is merged with the Duke of Egypt, who in the novel is Esmeralda’s protector.

Why isn’t Esmeralda’s mother in any of the movies except 1923?  She is only very briefly in the 1999 modern-day version, weeping for the loss of her infant daughter.

(She’s in the 2016 Dingo Pictures animated version, but we shall not speak of that atrocity here.)

It’s because, surely, moviemakers don’t want to repeat the age-old calumny that Romani are baby-snatchers (a calumny that was also leveled not only against Jews but also, as I learned in this novel, against Muslims).  But the part of the story that involves kidnapping and switching of babies could be changed or dropped.  It’s a pity that the mother is left out of the story entirely. Her defense of Esmeralda from the hangman’s noose is every bit as heroic as Quasimodo’s defense of the cathedral.  It lasts just as long and she makes it a physical defense, with less to work with, only her body.

The chart below has the major, basic changes made to the Hugo’s novel. I haven’t gotten into subtler things like character development because that would surely take us into the next century.

I’m going to start with Quasimodo, because even though he’s not the central character of the novel, he’s the main character in all movie adaptations.

Quasimodo

1923Mortally wounded in a fight with Frollo, and dies in Notre Dame
1939Lives at the end.  Uses his rope in the rescue scene to swing like Tarzan.
1956 
1976His death is not seen, but it’s implied that he will be executed for killing Frollo; the ending from the book is left an open possibility
1982Takes a fatal fall from a tower while trying to escape the king’s men who are looking for Esmeralda
1996Lives at the end.  Doesn’t kill Frollo, spares him from falling off the cathedral.  Not deaf.  Not whipped.  Not commanded to kidnap Esmeralda.  Captured and pelted by vindictive commoners at the Feast of Fools, freed by Esmeralda.  Helps her escape her first sanctuary in the cathedral.  Saved by Esmeralda from hanging in the Court of Miracles.  Grows up inside Notre Dame, forbidden by Frollo ever to leave the cathedral.
1997Mortally wounded in a fight with Frollo, and dies in Notre Dame, underneath his favorite bell as in 1923 movie.  A scholar who can write, and he prints a tract against the king.  Uses his rope in the rescue scene to swing like Tarzan.  Is not involved in attempted kidnapping of Esmeralda, actually tries to stop it, but is framed for it.  Compels Frollo to confess his murder.
1999Lives at the end and wins Esmeralda’s love.  Kidnaps many women not just one; is a little dim so he thinks this is just part of a game.  Kidnaps Esmeralda twice and keeps her in the cathedral against her will.  Spends some time in jail for the first kidnapping.  Not deformed at birth but in early childhood.

Esmeralda

1923Lives at end
1939Lives at end
1956Killed by an arrow of the king’s men, not hanged; dances for Quasimodo after her rescue
1976Demands that Quasimodo kill Frollo, takes a sword from him rather than a knife
1982Lives at end.  Sees through Phoebus after initially falling in love with him, wants him only to testify in court.
1996Lives at end.  Not put on trial.  Threatened with burning not hanging.  Saves Phoebus from execution and drowning, and brings him to be tended by Quasimodo, in one of the three times she enters the cathedral.
1997Lives at end.  Framed for the murder of the king’s chief minister.  Escapes hanging twice.  Is not kidnapped by Quasimodo and tries to save him from the whipping.
1999Loves Quasimodo at end (after death of Phoebus).  Is arrested for stabbing of Phoebus but not put on trial for it, is bailed from jail by her governor father

Esmeralda’s mother (Sister Gudule)

1923Born a non-Romani, and a noblewoman; had given a necklace to the young Esmeralda and later recognizes her by it; is not reunited with her daughter
1939Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1956Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1976Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1982Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1996Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1997Not in story; no kidnapping or switching of babies
1999Unknown if reunited with daughter, fate unknown

Claude Frollo

1923Because of the code of morals in cinema known as the NAMPI Thirteen Points, he is not the archdeacon of Notre Dame but simply a bad man, and his name is changed here to Jehan Frollo.  He still commands Quasimodo.
1939Because of the Hays Code, he is not the archdeacon of Notre Dame but Paris’ Minister of Justice, and his name is changed here to Jehan Frollo.  He still commands Quasimodo.
1956Is one of the judges at Esmeralda’s trial, and briefly defends her; keeps hidden from Esmeralda’s sight in stabbing scene; seems to try to kill rather than rape her after discovering her in Notre Dame
1976 
1982Dies differently, staked to a wall; stabs Quasimodo non-lethally. Invites Esmeralda into cathedral near beginning, and when she flees to get away from him, he commands Quasimodo to kidnap her
1996Not the archdeacon of Notre Dame but Paris’ Minister of Justice.  Kills Quasimodo’s mother, tries to kill the infant Quasimodo and is forced by the (unnamed) archdeacon of Notre Dam to adopt him.  Is genocidal to the Romani and burns much of Paris to find Esmeralda.  Slips from the towers of Notre Dame by accident (though it’s implied that he’s standing on a living gargoyle) and falls into the molten lead released by Quasimodo.
1997An old man.  Has not left Notre Dame in a decade.  Kills a chief minister of the King rather than Phoebus.  Tries to stab Esmeralda at end.  Confesses his murder.  Is against all forms of printing, has tried to impound all presses.
1999Killed by Quasimodo, but goes willingly; not thrown off cathedral; chooses to die by his own murder chamber, which he has used to kill 22 women in El Paris.  It’s implied that Quasimodo is his pedophile victim.  First name is changed to Serge.

Jehan Frollo

1923This story still has two brothers named Claude and Jehan, but the name “Jehan” is given to the villain obsessed with Esmeralda.  “Claude Frollo” is the villain’s brother but is not a student as in the novel; he is instead an archdeacon of Notre Dame and a good man who helps Esmeralda and even goes with her to help the whipped Quasimodo.
1939This story still has two brothers named Claude and Jehan, but the name “Jehan” is given to the villain obsessed with Esmeralda.  “Claude Frollo” is the villain’s brother but is not a student as in the novel; he is instead the Archbishop of Paris and a good man who helps Esmeralda.
1956 
1976Killed by a soldier in the attack on Notre Dame
1982Not in story
1996Not in story
1997Not in story
1999Not in story

Pierre Gringoire

1923Rescued by Esmeralda in Court of Miracles but not married to her; a sidekick to Phoebus
1939Wins Esmeralda’s love at end.  Defends her at trial.  Writes a pamphlet that saves her and her people. 
1956Not involved in raid on Notre Dame, or in Esmeralda’s death
1976Doesn’t take Djali in the end
1982Wins Esmeralda’s love at end.  Joins and actually leads attack on Notre Dame.
1996Not in story
1997 
1999Wins Esmeralda’s love at end.  Calls for the people to educate themselves and rise up; leads a peaceful march on the king’s palace that saves Esmeralda from a second hanging attempt.
 Does not attempt to save Esmeralda at end.  Is married by Esmeralda in order to make him Cuban.

Captain Phoebus

1923Falls in love with Esmeralda.  Stabbed by Frollo at Notre Dame.
1939Not just wounded but killed by Frollo, in a public garden
1956 
1976 
1982Already married when pursuing Esmeralda
1996Falls in love with Esmeralda and wins her love in the end.  First to provide her with sanctuary inside Notre Dame.  Defies orders from Frollo, is then saved by Esmeralda.  Saves Quasimodo from a fatal fall.  Like Gringoire in novel, is saved from hanging in the Court of Miracles, but not by marriage.
1997Does not meet Esmeralda, is only a captain who leads a charge on Notre Dame
1999Killed by Frollo, who throws him from cathedral

Fleur-de-Lys

1923 
1939 
1956 
1976 
1982Not in story, except as Phoebus’ unnamed wife
1996Not in story
1997Not in story
1999Not in story; here, Phoebus is engaged to “Agnes,” who then discovers her true identity as Esmeralda and changes her appearance just enough so that the clueless Phoebus doesn’t recognize her; he believes he is choosing Esmeralda over Agnes

The Romani people

1923 
1939Require permits to live in France; this order is rescinded by the king
1956 
1976 
1982 
1996Under genocidal attack, and saved at the end.  The Court of Miracles is underground and a Romani home, and its location is secret. The Romani there are attacked and captured by Frollo.  Notre Dame is not attacked by them but by Frollo’s men.
1997ND is not attacked by them but by Captain Phoebus and his men (no misunderstanding by Quasimodo about what the attackers want), though they are seen later marching peacefully on the king’s palace and freeing Esmeralda at the gallows.
1999Cuban immigrants

Clopin Trouillefou

1923Dies in attack on Notre Dame
1939 
1956Dies in attack on Notre Dame
1976 
1982Dies in attack on Notre Dame; forces Esmeralda to dance and is implied to take her money
1996Not a beggar or Frenchman but a Romani puppeteer, storyteller and leader
1997 
1999A Cuban who personally arranges the swapping of Esmeralda and Quasimodo as kids; he kidnaps her and gives her to the parents of Quasimodo, who then gets left secretly in the home of Esmeralda’s mother, who in turn gives the boy away to Frollo.  Threatens to lead a raid on the cathedral but doesn’t do it.

King Louis XI

1923Not in story; the mob at Notre Dame are put down simply by Quasi and the guards of the watch
1939An enlightened and progressive king; the mob at Notre Dame are put down not by his orders but simply by Captain Phoebus’ men
1956 
1976 
1982Not in story ?
1996Not in story
1997Here the king is Louis XII, since the movie inexplicably is set in 1505 rather than 1483.  Persuaded by Frollo to ban all printing presses.
1999Here known as “the governor”; here also is Quasimodo’s natural father and Esmeralda’s foster father

Djali the goat

1923 
1939A black goat, named Aristotle
1956 
1976 
1982 
1996A billy goat
1997 
1999Not in story

Notre-Dame Cathedral

1923 
1939 
1956Its door is breached by the battering ram
1976 
1982 
1996 
1997Its south tower is still under construction.  And the king’s palace is located not at the other end of the island but directly across the city square from the cathedral.
1999Not in story; there is only the local cathedral, about 200 years old, in a town called El Paris.  Is surrounded by law enforcement and Cuban immigrants but is not raided or attacked.

Printing press

1923 
1939 
1956Not a theme
1976 
1982Not a theme
1996Not a theme
1997Forbidden by king, as is the possession of any book
1999Not a theme

Added characters (ie, not in novel)

1923 
1939 
1956 
1976 
1982A priest in Notre Dame, attendant or colleague to Frollo
1996Quasimodo’s Romani mother, killed while carrying her infant son to the steps of Notre Dame and trying to take refuge from a military attack led Claude Frollo; three living gargoyles
1997Minister Gauchére, a progressive-minded royal minister, killed by Frollo
1999Quasimodo’s natural mother (and as in Disney version, killed by Frollo)

Detailed reviews of all these movies can be found at The Hunchblog of Notre Dame. In my chart I could barely touch on such things as character but at the Hunchblog you can find that treated in-depth. For example Jessica, the creator of the site, writes of the 1923 film:

Quasimodo in this version is the closest to how he behaves in the book. Quasimodo doesn’t like the people of Paris and this version shows that in Quasimodo’s introductory scene as well as his connection to Notre Dame. You do get the feeling that this Quasimodo wouldn’t have saved Esmeralda if she hadn’t give him water, you get this Quasimodo may have not felt nothing which makes his loyalty to her more meaningful and it gives his character a bit of an arc.

However this Quasimodo acts more like a dog than a person. A scene that showcases this perfectly is right after Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda she pats him on the head. This Quasimodo doesn’t seem to be in love with Esmeralda he just seems to want to protect her. There doesn’t seem to the selfless love that is in the book and Laughton captured in the 1939 version.

2 thoughts on “All Hunchback of Notre Dame movies

  1. That’s an impressive list, Kevin. I had no idea there were that many versions of “Hunchback…” I think the Disney one was the only one I’ve seen, unfortunately. I’m going to have to check some of these out. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome Daniel, though I would like to steer you clear of 1976, unless you particularly want to see it. It belongs on the list for completion sake but I actively disliked it: low budget, gloomy, almost lifeless. The rest all have interesting things about them. My favorite might still be Charles Laughton in 1939!

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