Before we begin, allow me to make an admission. I’m usually that annoying girl in the theater vehemently exclaiming throughout the movie things like, “This didn’t happen in the book,” not so silently judging every minute adjustment made as I tick off my imaginary checklist in my head. It is true that often times movie adaptations fail to achieve the compelling storytelling and emotional connection that makes the book special. However, sometimes we get so caught up in our nitpicking, we forget to allow ourselves to enjoy a well made movie that usually has the honorable intentions of bringing our favorite stories to life. To celebrate the rare instances where Hollywood gets it right, I bring you 11 movies that are better than the books. Keep in mind, just because a movie is on this list doesn’t mean it’s the truest depiction of its source material or that the movie deserved an Oscar and the book is shoddy writing (I’ll say so if this rings true). With that said, here we go.
11) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Movie 2012/Book 2008)
I know I know, I’m putting my credibility on the line from the very start. Just stay with me for a minute before throwing me to both the literary and theatrical wolves (and not the Taylor Lautner kind). To reiterate my above statement, each item on this list doesn’t have to be an award-winning piece of work, it just has to be superior to its literary counterpart, and in this case it’s truth. Although I can’t make many positive remarks about young adult books that promote a love (read obsession) that trumps all other aspects in life (like school, family, friends, and anything other than a sparkling vampire), I will say that the first three installments in the series are literary masterpieces compared to Breaking Dawn. The book fails at providing a satisfying ending to the story with the introduction of alternating points of view and a lackluster ending. Breaking Dawn Part 2 manages a cohesive plot throughout and gives fans the climactic battle they spent years waiting for, even if it’s only in a psychic vision.
10) No Country For Old Men: (Movie 2007/ Book 2005)
Anyone who’s read the novel and watched the film might consider this an odd choice. Both are brilliantly realized, taut thrillers, and the film adaptation remains exceedingly faithful to its source material. The reason it makes it this list is accessibility. Cormac McCarthy is one of the most revered authors of his generation and with good reason. However, his prose style, while deceptively simple and straight forward can be difficult for some readers to digest. McCarthy writes in sparse simple sentences, uses very little punctuation, and never uses quotation marks. It can be frustrating for some readers, which is a shame because his stories are tightly focused and often hauntingly beautiful. The film adaption has the benefit of being able to convey the inevitable dread and distorted beauty of McCarthy’s novel without the atypical prose style.
9) Doctor Zhivago: (Movie 1965/Book 1957)
Boris Pasternak’s novel is an intricate web of intersecting story lines, all coinciding at one point or another with the story of Doctor Yuri Zhivago. In true Russian style, each character has several names, almost demanding the creation of a cheat sheet to prevent becoming hopelessly lost. In order to truly say that you’ve read the whole novel, you must also wade through Yuri’s poetry, which is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. The film improves upon the novel by making it more accessible, particularly to Western audiences. It makes sense of the confusing names, simplifies the intricate plot, ramps up the romance and softens the political commentary (without neutering it), and allows you to imagine the poetry without actually having to read it.
8) The Firm: (Movie 1993/Book 1991)
Several of John Grisham’s legal thrillers have been plucked from the literary universe and adapted into high grossing feature films. Although complaints have been made regarding the movie’s lengthy run time (154 minutes), The Firm makes efficient use of every minute in order to preserve the most riveting aspects of the story. The most severe liberties that were taken when translating book to film were meant to create more visual action and maintain the integrity of the main character, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise). Mitch rises through the ashes of The Firm without getting his hands dirty, which created a more clean cut, every man hero audiences were more likely to root for (especially in the 90s).
7) Jaws: (Movie 1975/Book 1974)
The release of Jaws was a benchmark in cinematic history. Steven Spielberg brought one of movie’s greatest villains to life, giving one of our worst nightmares very real, very sharp teeth. This adaptation cuts straight to the literal chase, removing all of the subplots and other fluff that doesn’t directly involve the hunt for our bloodthirsty bad guy. The addition of John Williams’ legendary musical talents supplements the shark’s entrances with a Hitchcockian suspense element that incites fear and dread every time you hear those bass notes. Although the book is a great read, there’s something to be said about the impact the sight of one shark can have on years of family vacations.
6) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: (Movie 2005/Book 2000)
I’m a die hard Harry Potter fan, and will boast on the greatness of J. K. Rowling and her series that’s really as much about friendship and growing up as it is about wizards and magic. I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, anxiously awaiting the release of the next chapter in their lives. I put this movie on this list not because I think the story is told better on screen than it is on the pages, but because it’s done especially well in this instance. Goblet of Fire is a turning point in this series, and Mike Newel translates that perfectly on screen. Harry Potter’s tale takes an abrupt turn into darker, more adult themes from here to the end of the series. We get a first major character death and our first look at one of the most iconic, hated villains both in books and in film. Fans of the books couldn’t possibly be disappointed by the impact of seeing Voldemort brought to life on screen.
5) Mystic River (Movie 2003/Book 2001)
The fast paced, twisted novels penned by Dennis Lehane have been successfully brought to the big screen several times (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island) and with good reason. He’s a compelling storyteller, and his works make for gritty, gripping films, the standout of the bunch being Mystic River. Three childhood friends who grew apart over time are brought back together in the light of a murder investigation. This book is dark, but the movie is darker. The combination of Clint Eastwood’s direction and the superior acting of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins (who both received Oscars for their respective roles as Jimmy Markum and Dave Boyle) manage to keep you on the edge of your seat trying to keep up. This is one of those movies you can’t tear yourself away from even though it’s almost painful to watch the spiral of these intriguing and damaged characters.
4) Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Movie 2003/Books 1954 & 1955)
The adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy ignited the fantasy genre as we know it today. And also you can’t deny the greatness of the source material, as far as an onscreen translation goes, Peter Jackson knocks it out of the park. People read books to be transported to another place and time, and when I watch these movies, I feel like I’m inserted directly into their world. Jackson manages to shuffle the timeline, remove some of the dry back story, and add some engaging dialogue to enhance this tale for the big screen. And all those epic battles you read about in the books and imagined what they’d be like to see? They’re all in this movie, and they knock it out of the park.
3) The Help (Movie 2011/Book 2009)
This one almost didn’t make it in, because the source material holds a very special place in my heart. It’s an engaging, endearing, beautiful and sad story, and I was skeptical and a bit angry when they announced a movie was being made. But when I exited the theater, I was thrilled to see how perfectly cast and well executed this adaptation was. Emma Stone nails Skeeter’s awkward enthusiasm and growing awareness of the state of the town she lives in, and Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer deserved each award they received for their performances. The movie does gloss over some of the dire nature of the racism expanded upon on the book, but it maintains the critical aspects of the situation without sacrificing the otherwise lighthearted elements of the story. After all, who didn’t cheer when they got to watch Minnie feed Hilly Holbrook and hear her say, “Eat my shit”?
2) Jurassic Park (Movie 1993/Book 1990)
Humans and their scientific meddling are no match for Mother Nature. Crichton’s book is, due largely to the fascination of its subject matter, one of those that once the spine is cracked, it must be finished. However, due to Crichton’s overwhelming and monotonous scientific and philosophical ramblings, it can be a chore forcing yourself to turn the page if you’re like me and just really want T-Rex. Spielberg masterfully draws the viewer in from the start with the anticipation of the the appearance of these dinosaurs, especially the aforementioned big bad. And we were not disappointed. There’s really no contest between reading about these dinosaurs and seeing them on the big screen. Add in some solid performances and a cohesive plot, and you have yourself a badass movie. In a time of cinematic history before movie buffs were spoiled with over-the-top computer graphics, Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life.
1) The Shining (Movie 1980/Book 1977)
Some of you novel enthusiasts are probably wishing you could throw your favorite book at me as you read this, since Stanley Kubrick veers so far and takes several artistic liberties in his adaptation of this beloved Stephen King novel. Before I start let met just say, they’re both fantastic. There’s no disputing the greatness of this book, but sometimes it’s okay to make adjustments to transform a compelling and terrifying novel into an equally compelling and terrifying film. The movie, which doesn’t paint a pleasant picture of Jack Torrance’s past, certainly doesn’t delve into the depths of his character flaws as thoroughly as the novel. This, to me, actually intensifies the horror of the Overlook Hotel, because the sinister impact on Jack is evident much earlier in the story. Kubrick attributes the evolution of Jack’s deterioration directly to the evil on that mountain in Colorado, without the influence of his already-tainted past. Although many fans of the book (along with the author himself) are dissatisfied with this portrayal of Jack Torrance, I think it enhances the film by simplifying his character, which was a smart decision due to the time constraints imposed by a movie format.