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The Biggest Differences Between The Snowpiercer Movie And TV Show Explained

When the TNT drama Snowpiercer premiered in 2020, fans expected it would be similar to the 2013 Bong Joon Ho film of the same name, even though showrunner Graeme Manson (known for his work on Orphan Black) said it would be "its own animal." Ho is the popular show's executive producer, so it seemed likely that he'd help create narrative and stylistic continuity. 

The movie and the TV show both take place in the dystopian aftermath of a climate experiment gone wrong. Several nations came together to release a coolant to fight global warming, but the test instead triggered an ice age and mass extinction. The survivors live on Snowpiercer, a massive train that perpetually circles the earth like a futuristic Noah's Ark for humans. The events of the movie and the show take place on board. 

Despite the shared basic premise, the movie and TV show are distinct. Here's a deep dive into some of the most significant differences between the two.

The TV series is a prequel

In the 2013 movie, the protagonist and leader of the "Tailies" (the ticketless second-class citizens who ride at the tail end of the train) is a man named Curtis. As he dreams of freedom, he realizes the guards who monitor the back of the train don't have bullets in their guns. Talking to his young sidekick, Edgar (Jamie Bell), he mentions a previous Tailie revolution, which he believes the guards used all their bullets to suppress. 

The TV series takes place seven years prior to the movie, so audiences could be watching the revolution Curtis was talking about. If that's the case, Curtis is a young man at the back of the train, watching Andre Layton lead an army of Tailies on a dangerous mission to the front. Layton's success implies that Curtis experienced the brief period of harmony on Snowpiercer before the return of Mr. Wilford, the ruthless owner of the manufacturing company that built the train. 

Titan Comics created an infographic to fully explain the timeline of the Snowpiercer universe, but for fans of the show, new details only fuel the intrigue.

Totally different heroes

Chris Evans stars as Curtis in the film. Though Curtis is dedicated to his mission and cares deeply for the people who have become his family, he isn't the clean-cut figure Evans plays in Captain America. Curtis has been living in the tail for 17 years, with little to no memory of life before Snowpiercer. Toward the end of the movie, he reveals a dark regret that explains why he's so desperate to overtake the train: In his younger days, Curtis was part of a gang of cannibals. Succumbing to the pressures of scarce resources and classist divisions on the train, he ate the weak, including infants. 

The leader on the TV show is Andre Layton, played by Hamilton's Daveed Diggs. Not only does he look completely different from the movie hero, but Layton has a vastly different moral code and backstory. He was a police detective in Chicago before boarding Snowpiercer. The knowledge and skills he honed in his former occupation help him accomplish his goal.

Mason could be a character combo

In both versions of Snowpiercer, there are hospitality workers who tend to the needs of the first-class passengers and act as spokespeople for Mr. Wilford. 

In the movie, Mr. Wilford's mouthpiece is a hospitality worker named Mason (Tilda Swinton). She is shrewd, uncompromising, and devoted to Mr. Wilford, but she's not an engineer.  

In the TV series, Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) is not only the lead hospitality worker but also the ingenious engineer controlling Snowpiercer. She commandeered the train from Mr. Wilford (abandoning her young daughter Alexandra in the process) and tricked the passengers by acting as if she was in constant communication with him. 

Melanie's lieutenant is the Wilford devotee Ruth Wardell (Alison Wright). She loves her job and her status, and is grateful to Mr. Wilford for the opportunities he's given her. Since one of her responsibilities is to communicate with the Tailies, she often waltzes to the back of the train in a large fur coat to deliver news and enforce orders. When it's revealed that Wilford isn't on the train and Layton has been given the reins, Ruth and Melanie form an alliance with him. 

The weird yucky food

In the movie, after the gang of cannibals turned the tail into chaos, the elites at the front of the train decide to feed the rear passengers protein bars. The black blocks of gel look disgusting; by the looks on the faces of the Tailies who eat them, they taste even worse. Still, since it's the only food they have, they consume the mysterious substance. As the Tailies march forward, they enter the train car where the protein bars are produced and discover that they're made of foul insects. This realization further emphasizes how little respect the front passengers have for the Tailies and fuels the revolutionaries' rage. 

On the prequel TV show, the Tailies don't eat the protein bars, but are rationed very little food and have even been reduced to eating rats.

The hero's sidekick

In both the Snowpiercer movie and TV show, the hero has a trusty sidekick. That's where the similarities end.

In the movie, Edgar is by Curtis' side as the revolution against the front begins. He's loyal to Curtis, who looks out for him. Curtis eventually reaches a crossroads and must choose between saving Edgar's life or proceeding on his journey. Curtis tragically watches Edgar die. We later learn that one of the babies Curtis was going to eat during his cannibal days was baby Edgar. 

Layton and his sidekick also have a complicated relationship. Bess Till (Mickey Sumner) is a brakeman assigned to escort Layton through the train while he investigates a murder. She grows to respect him, and he gradually warms to her loyalty. After the revolution to the front, Bess becomes Layton's right-hand man, and he promotes her to police detective.

Who is Gilliam?

In the movie, one standout character is a wise old man who has his own living quarters in the tail. Gilliam (John Hurt) is an advisor to Curtis and respected among the Tailies. He also seems to have some sort of relationship with the forces of the train, negotiating the rules and well-being of the Tailies. We later learn that Gilliam was a friend of Wilford's and designer of the train who has helped maintain order and control the population of Snowpiercer. Gilliam also has one arm and a wooden leg. When confessing to his former cannibalism, Curtis says it was Gilliam who stopped him from eating baby Edgar. He cut off his limbs and offered them as food to spare Edgar's life.

There is no equivalent character on the prequel TV show, but when Mr. Wilford returns to Snowpiercer at the start of season two, he fondly greets several passengers. One of them could be his old friend, Gilliam.

The grand design of the cars

In the 2013 movie, Snowpiercer was gritty and realistic. From the outside, it almost looked like a regular Amtrak train. The interior compartments were also fairly uniform. There were supply cars, a garden, an aquarium, living quarters, a classroom, and several club cars. 

The TV version of Snowpiercer is massive. At 1,001 cars long, it houses many of the same amenities as the movie version, but the train cars are wider and have higher ceilings. The club car has an upstairs and very elaborate stage, bar, and dance floor. Many of the first-class living quarters also have a second floor, with different bedrooms. TNT was so aware of the fan hype surrounding the design of the train cars that they started a contest so fans could design their own train cars and take a virtual tour of the Snowpiercer.

Love blossoms

In the movie, there's no mention of a former or current love interest for Curtis. Several characters on the TV show are romantically linked, though, offering audiences lots of juicy drama when tough decisions need to be made. 

The show's hero is involved with two women. Zarah (Sheila Vand) is Layton's ex-wife. She boarded Snowpiercer with him and lived in the tail for many years, but when given the opportunity to leave the horrible conditions, she took it. In Zarah's absence, Layton became close to Josie (Katie McGuiness). The two even act as foster parents to a boy named Miles (Jaylin Fletcher). Layton eventually reconnects with Zarah, sharing an intimate moment that has them now expecting a child. 

Melanie is romantically linked to Snowpiercer's main engineer, Bennett (Iddo Goldberg). He's the one person who knows all of Melanie's secrets, and worries when she decides to step into the subzero cold to fix the train. 

Bess is also romantically involved in the first season of the show. She's in a secret relationship with one of Melanie's closest confidants, Jinju Seong (Susan Park). She's a chef and one of the train's elite passengers. Bess must ultimately choose between Jinju and her friendship with Layton.

Mr. Wilford

Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean) is an enigma on the prequel TV show. His voice is present, but the audience rarely sees him. Once Mr. Wilford's mentee, the cunning Melanie Cavill learned everything about Snowpiercer from him and felt she could manage it better than him. She managed to steal the train and run it according to her plans for seven years. 

At the end of season one, another train appears on Snowpiercer's radar. The new train, which is called "Big Alice," attaches to Snowpiercer's tail. Mr. Wilford is aboard Big Alice; he's been trying to recapture Snowpiercer since it was stolen from him. Alex — the daughter Melanie left behind — is Big Alice's engineer. Wilford has raised Alex to despise her mother. In season two, Wilford, Layton, and Melanie are negotiating a harmonious coexistence. 

The Snowpiercer movie sheds light on how those negotiations ultimately went. In the movie, Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris, whom you've probably seen more recently in Westworld) has control of the train. Also, Mr. Wilford's manipulative cruelty, which TV audiences merely glimpse, is on full display in the movie.

Who keeps the train running?

The movie version of Snowpiercer doesn't reveal how the train runs until the end. When Curtis finally makes it to the front, he confronts Mr. Wilford. Mr. Wilford pulls back a floorboard to show Curtis kidnapped Tailie children working the train's machinery. Their heads are shaved and they look frail. Wilford explains that children are the only people small enough to fit in the compartment. The horrific discovery enrages Curtis, pushing him into his final battle with Mr. Wilford.

On the TV show, Bennett is the main engineer running the train. He helped build Snowpiercer and now mans its intricate control system. Being at the front of the train, Bennett knows how Melanie has deceived Snowpiercer's passengers. Bennett helps Melanie keep the secret of Mr. Wilford's presence because he cares deeply for her.  

The security expert

In the movie, a security expert named Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song, who also starred in Joon Ho's Parasite) becomes integral to Curtis' journey to the front of Snowpiercer. Minsoo is addicted to Kronole, an illegal drug ravaging Snowpiercer, and has been put in the "drawers" — effectively the train's prison cells — for his crimes. Curtis frees Minsoo to enlist his help in reaching the front of the train. Curtis gathers the green Kronole cubes and rations them out to Minsoo as a reward each time he opens the door to a train car. 

Minsoo isn't a character on the prequel TV show, but bypassing Snowpiercer's security systems is still important. To move throughout the train, passengers use an access chip implanted between their thumb and index finger. Everyone has this implant except the Tailies. As Layton plots his revolution, these access chips play a major part in his ability to gain control of the train. 

The train derails

In the movie, the train resembles a traditional locomotive, so the wear and tear of years of perpetual motion are visible. There are several instances when the passengers must pause to brace for impact as Snowpiercer plows through a mountain. The train shakes and rocks as it barely stays on the tracks. 

At the end of the movie, Minsoo tells Curtis he had his own reasons for coming to the front and for hoarding his Kronole rations. He knows the earth is warming and there's a chance for survival outside Snowpiercer, so he wants out. Minsoo uses the Kronole cubes to build a C-4 bomb. The explosion triggers an avalanche that topples Snowpiercer, sending its cars over the mountainside. When the train has finally stopped, Minsoo's daughter and a little boy step into the snow and miraculously do not freeze. They see a polar bear, a sign that life can exist outside Snowpiercer. 

On the TV show, Melanie is the first to discover the signs of a possible reversal of the ice age, and she makes it her mission to prove to Wilford and the rest of the passengers that there's hope for civilization. As the movie reveals, it took many years for others to realize this.