Radio and stage plays
Orson Welles adapted and starred in Heart of Darkness in a CBS Radio broadcast on 6 November 1938 as part of his series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. In 1939 Welles adapted the story for his first film for RKO Pictures, writing a screenplay with John Houseman. It was intended to be entirely filmed as a POV from Marlow's eyes. Welles even filmed a short presentation film illustrating his intent. It has been reported as lost to history. The project was never realised; one reason given was the loss of European markets after the outbreak of war. Welles still hoped to produce the film when he presented another radio adaptation of the story as his first program as producer-star of the CBS radio series This Is My Best. Welles scholar Bret Wood called the broadcast of 13 March 1945, "the closest representation of the film Welles might have made, crippled, of course, by the absence of the story's visual elements (which were so meticulously designed) and the half-hour length of the broadcast.":95, 153–156,136–137
In 1991, Australian author and playwright Larry Buttrose wrote and staged a theatrical production of Kurtz (based on Heart of Darkness) with the Crossroads Theatre Company, Sydney. The play was announced to be broadcast as a radio play to Australian radio audiences in August 2011 by the Vision Australia Radio Network, and also by the RPH – Radio Print Handicapped Network across Australia.
In 2011, an operatic adaptation by composer Tarik O'Regan and librettist Tom Phillips was premiered at the Linbury Theatre of the Royal Opera House in London. A suite for orchestra and narrator was subsequently extrapolated from it.
In 2015, an adaption of Orson Welles' screenplay by Jamie Lloyd and Laurence Bowen was aired on BBC Radio 4. The production starred James McAvoy as Marlow.
Film and television
The CBS television anthology Playhouse 90 aired a 90-minute loose adaptation in 1958. This version, written by Stewart Stern, uses the encounter between Marlow (Roddy McDowall) and Kurtz (Boris Karloff) as its final act, and adds a backstory in which Marlow had been Kurtz's adopted son. The cast includes Inga Swenson and Eartha Kitt.
The most famous adaptation is Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 motion picture Apocalypse Now based on the screenplay by John Milius, which moves the story from the Congo to Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. In Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen plays Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a US Army Captain assigned to "terminate the command" of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. Marlon Brando played Kurtz, in one of his most famous roles. A production documentary of the film, titled Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, exposed some of the major difficulties which director Coppola faced in seeing the movie through to completion. The difficulties that Coppola and his crew faced mirrored some of the themes of the book.
On 13 March 1993 TNT aired a new version of the story directed by Nicolas Roeg, starring Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz.
The video game Far Cry 2, released on 21 October 2008, is a loose modernised adaptation of Heart of Darkness. The player assumes the role of a mercenary operating in Africa whose task it is to kill an arms dealer, the elusive "Jackal". The last area of the game is called 'The Heart of Darkness'.
The video game Spec Ops: The Line, released on 26 June 2012, is a direct modernised adaptation of Heart of Darkness. The player assumes the role of special-ops agent Martin Walker as he and his team search Dubai for survivors in the aftermath of catastrophic sandstorms that left the city without contact to the outside world. The character John Konrad, who replaces the character Kurtz, is a reference to the author of the novella.
Victoria II, a grand strategy game produced by Paradox Interactive, launched an expansion pack titled "Heart of Darkness" on 16 April 2013, which revamped the game's colonial system, and naval warfare.
The novel Hearts of Darkness, by Paul Lawrence, moves the events of the novel to England in 1666. Marlow's journey into the jungle is reimagined as the journey of the narrator, Harry Lytle, and his friend Davy Dowling out of London and towards Shyam, a plague-stricken town that has descended into cruelty and barbarism loosely modelled on real-life Eyam. While Marlow must return to civilisation with Kurtz, Lytle and Dowling are searching for the spy James Josselin. Like Kurtz, Josselin's reputation is immense, and the protagonists are well-acquainted with his accomplishments by the time they finally meet him.
Poet Yedda Morrison's 2012 book Darkness erases Conrad's novella, "whiting out" his text so that only images of the natural world remain.
James Reich's Mistah Kurtz! A Prelude to Heart of Darkness presents the early life of Kurtz, his appointment to his station in the Congo, and his messianic disintegration in a novel that dovetails with the conclusion of Conrad's novella. Reich's novel is premised upon the papers Kurtz leaves to Marlow at the end of Heart of Darkness.
In Josef Škvorecký's novel The Engineer of Human Souls Kurtz is seen as the epitome of exterminatory colonialism, and here and elsewhere Škvorecký emphasises the importance of Conrad's concern with Russian imperialism in Eastern Europe.
T. S. Eliot wrote "Mistah Kurtz—he dead" at the beginning of the poem The Hollow Men, quoting the "manager's boy" when he announced the death of Kurtz to the crew.