When the film is better than the book

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As a lover of books and one who likes to write them, I confidently attest that most books are better than their film version. Did you catch Keith & The Movies post about film adaptations of books?http://keithandthemovies.com/2014/01/29/km-commentary-the-movie-vs-the-book/  Check it out.

Every once in a while, not only does a film version match the depth, enjoyment, characterization, beauty, thrills and chills as the book, you could bypass the book and just watch the film. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings are two examples where the effects surpass my imagination and the script conveys the magic of the author.  Here are several of my favorite examples of films that are better than the book:

While the 1900 book by Baum is charming, the film version is unforgettable.

Michael Crichton’s book is outstanding. However, Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster is a perfect film which never gets old.

Harper Lee’s one hit wonder is the only novel she had to write. Frequently required across the states as a freshman text, Lee won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for it. BUT, no one could play the hero Atticus Finch better than Gregory Peck and the film stands on its own, superior to the book.

The thrilling trilogy by Thomas Harris beginning with Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, is one of the best sequels I can think of. When the film is made in 1991, the thrilling film surpassed the writing. Starling’s affair with Jack Crawford is absent in the film. I think it’s a good call.

Which is better the book or film of The Godfather? Hands down, the film.

What are some of your favorite film adaptations?

41 thoughts on “When the film is better than the book

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  1. You’ve already named quite a few of them in your piece, Cindy. I’ll nominate two others that were better than their source material: Three Days of the Condor, which came from James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor, and Children of Men, from P. D. James’ novel.

    I have a feeling my duo post partner may say the same for tomorrow’s book/film, but we’ll see 😉

  2. Cindy thank you so much for including me in such a great post. You actually mentioned the movies that immediately comes to mind “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

    Another adaptation that I absolutely adore is the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men”. It’s not that it’s necessarily better than the book, but it is so by the book. It’s amazing how close they stayed to the original material and still delivered an amazing cinematic experience. I love the book but I love the movie even better.

    1. Hi Keith! Oh, you picked a great one, there. No Country for Old Men–I think you have a case it’s better….Cormac McCarthy is a man’s man author. Did you like The Road? I liked All the Pretty Horses

      1. I was a big fan of the film. I still haven’t read the book though. And yes, I did like The Road. Some had problems with it but I thought it was very effective. Now that you mention it I never finished the book!

  3. Agreed on every comparison, especially To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel is far from bad, but the film is brilliant.

    I also think 2013’s Catching Fire is better than the book on which it’s based.

  4. Although I love the film adaptations of To Kill a Mockingbird, No Country for Old Men and The Day of the Jackal, I still wouldn’t say they’re better than their source material. Books and movies are very different mediums and for me something gets lost in translation more often than not.

    I once had an interesting discussion on this subject with a fellow blogger who’d studied film and he argued that film is not art, it’s work. It’s not the sole product of an absolute genius and their unending creativity and originality. More, it’s a collection of creative people (writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors and, most importantly, a lot of technicians) struggling to control their working environment as best they can to make everything work perfectly enough so that us consumers of entertainment can sit in a theatre and believe this story, documented before us in pictures and sounds, actually happened.

    I’m still not sure if he’s right, so I might sleep on this one. Thanks for a thought provoking post Cindy.

    1. Hi Paul! Wow! Great ideas. I believe in art. Think of Michelangelo and all his workers and all the politics and chaos behind the scenes when he made the Sistine Chapel. When you create art, you give birth to creative expression. It becomes it’s own entity while carrying along the inflences. Films adaptations shape and delete or choose to follow the written text. I personally prefer film adaptations to be as close as possible to the book, but I don’t mind at all if an adaptation turns into something dissimilar. I think all a film production need do is say “inspired by the book ….” to avoid controversy.

  5. I think the 90’s version of Sense and Sensibility is better than the book. The book is very good but about halfway through I was so annoyed with the way Marianne was whining about her love life I was ready to throw the book into the closet and call it quits. I eventually made it to the end but it was a bit of a struggle. The movie version from 1995 kept with the tone of Jane Austen but didn’t have many of the tempo issues of the novel. Fantastic post!! 🙂

    1. Hi there! Welcome. I LOVE the 90s version of Sense and Sensibility–I was so pleased Emma Thompson won the Oscar for Best Adaptation. It is a fantastic example. Another one I love is the Kiera Knightley film Pride and Prejudice It’s my comfort film. The soundtrack and story is utterly charming. Mr. Darcy. Sigh.

  6. I agree with most, the only one I would leave out would be Jurassic Park. Loved the book, especially it’s sequel (book, not movie), however I do think the movie was really good (original, not sequel).

    Another movie I would add to the list would be, The Princess Bride.

    Great post!

    1. Hi! So glad you came round. Ha Ha about Jurassic Park. I was waiting for someone to disagree. You might have a case there, but I think this is a film that had too many emotional memories for me and my kids–it’s made me biased. 🙂
      The Princess Bride is a great film–I haven’t read the book, but I will believe you 😉

  7. There are actually whole genres where the movies are ordinarily “better” than the books, the most obvious ones being Film Noir, Science Fiction and adaptations from Graphic Novels. Films Noir came from pulp fiction, and many sci-fi films are expanded adaptations from short stories.

    The Lord of the Rings movies are a perfect example where both the books and films are great, without being particularly faithful to each other. Hobbits are almost entirely different in personality between the books and the movies, and Jackson’s films elevate extremely minor characters and/or add ones from footnotes and appendices into the main plotline. He’s continuing this method in the new Hobbit trilogy.

    The hardest task is to make a viable film adaptation from a classic literary source that wasn’t written originally as a play. My favorites are David Lean’s two Dickens films, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Some of my favorites in other genres are the Coen Bros new version of True Grit, L.A. Confidential, Fight Club, the Swedish film of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Howard’s End, The Exorcist and Blade Runner.

    You might find a “worst adaptations” post fun to write also. I would nominate the film versions of The Shining, and Bonfire of the Vanities for that list!

    1. Well, Mikey, this obviously a subject that interests you! Glad you stopped by. Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish film version–the first one) was wonderful. All of your examples are fine ones. I never had a problem looking at a film adaptation from the book as an original art composition. What did you think of Sin City? I loved it but never read the pulp fiction. I love science fiction but don’t get what you mean that as a genre they are naturally better as films than the books. In this case, Dunewas better than the film. Bradbury stories have rarely been outdone on the screen. I think of I, Robot and loved the film as well as the book. Hmm. Interesting!

      1. I thought Sin City was great, and I expect it’s because the creator of the book, Frank Miller, co-directed it with Robert Rodriguez. Frank himself thought it was better.

        Sci-fi is one of the “poor relations” of literary genres. It doesn’t get the same critical respect as novels. What I meant was that when you expand and open up a short story to feature film length properly, it usually ends up better because it exceeds the limitations of the shorter form. The Thing (both versions), The Fly (80s version), and Minority Report are from short stories. The Time Machine (1959), The Invisible Man (1933), and Island of Lost Souls (30s) are all top notch films from HG Wells’ Victorian era novels. Other sci-fi novels that translated well include A Clockwork Orange, and (Ellison’s) A Boy and His Dog. Bradbury’s an interesting case. He was actually a fantasy writer, not sci-fi. His only sci-fi novel, Fahrenheit 451, did make a great movie though, as good as the book.

        Yeah…I’m a geek. 😀

        1. Okay, I think I get you now. Short stories do need expansion and that’s where the expression comes in. I was thinking about Something Wicked This Way Comes should be redone and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land needed more than a reference in Star Trek TV series. I loved Minority Report but did not know it was a short story. Another short story that was infinitly better on the screen was King’s The Green Mile. You raise lovely points. Awesome.

      1. Thank you … will check that out. I did like Pretty Horses and The Road. Old Men not so much. Just watched All is Lost. It’s as claustrophobic and hard to watch as Gravity. But I won’t be inclined to watch it again any time soon.

  8. I definitely agree on Lord of the Rings. I actually couldn’t even get through the books but I love the films. For me also Everything is Illuminated… which I know I’m going to get lynched for because the book is widely considered a masterpiece but it was way too post modern for me.

    1. I think you make an excellent choice! Everything is Illuminated was hard for me to read, too. So loud and not your typical narrative. The film is delighfully weird and the exceptional characters brought to life in a way I could appreciate more than the book. 🙂

  9. Awesome post Cindy! Well as a massive fan of Greg Peck, any post that mentions him will get a comment from moi 😉 “…no one could play the hero Atticus Finch better than Gregory Peck and the film stands on its own” Without having read the book, I’d have to concur! That’s one of the rare occasion where the actor totally *becomes* the character and one can’t tell the difference. His Oscar win was well-deserved. I also love LOTR and HP franchise, oh and Jurassic Park, so I tend to agree w/ you 😀

  10. Interesting topic.

    Another good example of this that I can think of is Kubrick’s film “Barry Lyndon,” which is much better than Thackeray’s book. In the book Barry narrates his own story, bragging about his exploits, denigrating others, shallow, and despicable. By changing the narration to third person, Kubrick made Barry a more sympathetic character, and the film more palatable. Add in good casting, costumes, and sets, and it’s one of my favorites.

    Sometimes I think the film version is neither better nor worse than the book, but perhaps makes the book more accessible by including gestures, expressions, lighting, etc. that enhance the story. A good example might be what the long-running Granada Television series, starring Jeremy Brett, did for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. You’d be missing out by ignoring Doyle’s original words and the Strand Magazine illustrations that accompanied them, but the TV series is great too.

    1. Hi, John, and thank you for your comments 🙂 You gave a great example of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. I haven’t read Thackeray, but think BL is a beautiful period film. The lighting, the composition–if you say it’s better than the book, I believe you.
      I think films or TV can be arresting and I like seeing the setting more than reading about it. Scripts, though, often do not convey the depth of a character’s heart or motivations. I love rhetorical devices and it’s hard to carry out imagery, metaphor or alliteration by watching a film. One of my favorite books is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. The narrator, the Indian Chief, pretends to be deaf and mute. In the book, we are in his mind and get his story. The imagery to represent other characters and to represent the state of his lucidity and effect McMurphy has on him is exceptional. The film version with Jack Nicholson, is highly regarded and deservedly so. But there’s no way it compares to the beauty of the book.

  11. Oh!! There are lot of film adaptations I love, whether the book is better or not.
    From Gone with the Wind (I haven’t read the book GWTW), to Rebecca, to A Clockwork Orange to The Reader to The Japanese Wife et al (Of course I love the books better for Rebecca, Clockwork Orange and Reader, The Japanese Wife is short story, in this case the film is just as good, or even better).
    But speaking specifically about movies that are better than the book. I’d say Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, the book bored me, and I was glad when I finished reading it, but I really enjoyed Howard Hawks’ film adaptation from 1944.

    1. Hi Nuwansen 🙂 I can’t disagree with any of your choices. Regarding Ernest, he is a hard read. I love his short stories more than his novels. For Whom the Bell Tolls is one I can finish and then the movie version with Gary Cooper was just as good. I haven’t seen the Hawks’ film adaptation of To Have and Have Not but will take your word for it !

      1. O! No, that’s not what I meant. I like Mr. Hemingway. Just not ‘To Have Have Not’. The first bit of the book was good, but then it just becomes bit of a bore. Besides it is suppose to be his worse book ever. I hardly remember it, I read it back in 2002.

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