Ten movies that were better than the book

“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” – John Le Carré

A lot of writers sell the rights to their books to producers who seem to have nothing but the best intentions for their works. Unfortunately, most often than not, the end result is nothing but disappointing.

Indeed, on rare occasions, the opposite is true: the adaptation improves greatly the source material. Here are 10 movies that are better than the book they were based upon.

1. Jaws

Jaws is a 1974 novel by American writer Peter Benchley. It tells the story of a great white shark that preys upon a small resort town and the voyage of three men trying to kill it.

A year later, Steven Spielberg adapted the book into what is now considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, a proper blockbuster, and the highest grossing movie of all time until 1977, when Star Wars came along.

2. Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg. Again. His 1993 adaption of Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel has developed into one of the most successful movie franchises in history. While the book is a bit on the boring side with a lot of emphasis being put on scientific theories, the movie’s action and special effects make for a much, much more exciting experience.

3.Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock’s genius turned Robert Bloch’s modest suspense novel into a masterpiece, while ensuring that the source material remains in print to this day.

Anthony Perkins is phenomenal as Norman Bates: damaged beyond repair in the most tragic of ways, his humanity but a faint echo, while Bloch’s novel paints the character as an unlikable, short, pudgy, balding, drunken creep. As for the film’s celebrated shower murder, Bloch dispatches the victim with one sentence.

4. The Princess Bride

This one is a bit tricky, considering that author (William Goldman) wrote the screenplay himself. Also, the book is quite good, the film version takes advantage of a visual medium to provide us with unforgettable action scenes, magnificent scenery, and imaginative situations.

Oh, well…

5. Planet of the Apes

Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes is a satirical social allegory about a journalist and a professor who stumble upon an intelligent ape culture while traveling to the star Betelgeuse. Though the idea is fascinating, there are some less enjoyable parts that slow down the narrative.

The film adaptation, however… it’s one of the most groundbreaking movies ever made, not only retaining Boulle’s unique concept but also adding momentum to the story. Bonus: the movie’s plot twist, conceived by co-writer Rod Serling, which doesn’t appear in the novel.

6. The Godfather

The Godfather is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies of all time. The novel it was adapted from, written by Mario Puzo, is in no means bad, but the movie outshines it, thanks in large part to the brilliant performances of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. The movie adaptation won too many awards to even count, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Picture.

7. Jumanji

The 1995 American fantasy adventure film directed by Joe Johnston and staring Robin Williams is an adaptation of the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Not a great deal of people know about the book though…

8. Forrest Gump

Based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, the movie was released in 1994, earned quite a lot of money at the box office, received a number of prestigious awards… even the soundtrack became a bestseller.

9. Die Hard

Even though it closely follows the plot of Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the movie adds a welcome dose of humor and personality to the standard cop-vs-terrorists story. The movie abandons the book’s distracting flashbacks, concentrating instead on upping the suspense at every turn. Most importantly, the novel’s main villain is a colorless stiff, while the movie’s sinister mastermind virtually steals the show.

10. The Notebook

Nicholas Sparks’ style may give some readers diabetes, but the adaptation of his first published novel, The Notebook, is the kind of old-fashioned, unabashedly romantic melodrama that can make even the most cynical viewer shed a tear or two. Despite some excessive sentimentalism, and several eye-rolling plot twists, the movie’s charismatic cast (and the chemistry between them) transforms the source material into something of a guilty pleasure.

Honorable Mention: Fight Club

Don’t get me wrong. I personally love the novel. I am a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing. But… he said it himself in a interview, “Now that I see the movie[…] I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make.”

Also, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter being as bad ass as is possible in the universe that we currently live in. So, yeah, Fight Club.

But also, if you haven’t, do read the book. It’s by no means bad. No, no, no.

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15 thoughts on “Ten movies that were better than the book

  1. Good day, sir. I came here expecting to find something to argue with, but I failed. The three offerings for which I have both seen the movie and read the book are Jaws, Jurassic Park, and The Godfather, and I have to agree with you on all counts. The Blimpster’s hypothesis? The first two are action-heavy and visceral in terms of their “monsters;” it’s hard for a lot of people to visualize a shark in great detail, let alone a dinosaur, so a medium that shows them to you in all their terrifying detail has every opportunity to dazzle.. especially when it’s Spielberg doing the dazzling! As to The Godfather, I found the book to be a gabby wordfest rivaling Dickens in its verbosity. Most of the time I felt like I could have been reading a textbook. The movie cranked up the “sinister” to great effect.

    At least, that’s what I think. Can’t speak on the rest, as my experience is with one or the other, or neither, but this was a makes-you-think article that I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for posting.

  2. I would also add Midnight Cowboy to this list. The James Leo Herlihy novel has an offbeat, underground feel, but the movie is so much more exceptional. And two thirds of the novel takes place in Texas, almost all of which was eliminated for the movie so it could focus on the final New York part.
    Bernard Malamud’s The Natural is a fine novel, but the movie has a magic all its own (probably because they changed the ending).

  3. Agree with you 100 percent on Forrest Gump. The book had no where near the charm the movie had. Here’s another, a so called classic to add to your list. The book is Ben-Hur. The movie is awesome. The book is almost unreadable. If it weren’t for the movie, I wouldn’t have cared one bit if Billy the Kidd has shot Wallace prior to his finishing it.

  4. I’d probably disagree on the Princess Bride – some of the opinion comes on if one has read the book first, or saw the movie first. Certainly books and film present to different senses, and although the bandwidth of film is quite large for visual and emotional, paper has it’s own bandwidth for thought and imagination.

    Have you read the Ender’s Game ? You may find that interesting.

  5. Spielberg is certainly the master of visual entertainment, which I did not receive from the book, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nor the visceral explosions I expected in my gut.
    And I was very disappointed while dining with Winston Groom on a few occasions in both Memphis and Atlanta during ’85, early ’86; sharing with him my childhood and military days. I had told him I’d one day write my chronicles, but instead found the stories within his 1987 novel.
    I do not hate the man for this, as almost everyone plagiarizes someone sooner or later.
    As always Cristian, excellent post, excellent choices.

  6. I’m not convinced, I may have to challenge The Princess Bride. The book is fantastic, written in a way to blend a fictional autobiography right into the book – a stroke of genius. Sure, the movie was good, but it was made to be read. Another honorable mention should be The Prestige. The book was horrific in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s adaptation.

    Another one you could consider is the book Camille and it’s adaptation Moulin Rouge. I’m not sure I would say the movie is better, but it is an interesting move from the book to a musical.

  7. Gosh! In the silly opinion of this tiny corner of Your peanut gallery; I agree! But I have to say You are listing a few of my favorite movies whose books I never read. And I DID read Jumanji to my son….but don’t remember the book but LOVED the movie. So there You have it!!!! And You are a blogging God! Seriously! I can barely keep up but You are such a quality-content consistent presence You absolutely blow my mind!!! Okay. Off to try and catch up! Thank You and Cheers!!!

  8. I would add One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ve read the book and had no idea what was going on for the first 50 pages. The film was unforgettable.

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