5 Films That Are Better Than the Books They Are Based On

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Every time Hollywood studios turn popular books into films, most fans of the books will always coin the term “The book is better”. I’m quite sure fans of The Hobbit and Jack Reacher books are already saying that. Most of the time they’re right, as an avid reader myself, I used that term many times after I saw a film based on a book that I read and liked. I believe some books just aren’t meant for the big screen, for example Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was an excellent novel but the film version was average at best. I think the story just fit better in the written form and just didn’t transfer well onto the big screen. Then there are Stephen King’s epic The Dark Tower books which Ron Howard is still trying to get off the ground. I’m a huge fan of the books but I just don’t know if it will translate well into films.

Once in a while though, Hollywood actually made films that ended up being better than its original source. Below are the films I thought were better than the book version.

 

5. The Hunt For Red October

HuntforRedOctober

This film was based on Tom Clancy’s popular book was one of the biggest hits of 1990. I have to confess that I saw the film version first before reading the novel, but usually I ended up loving the book more. But for this one I firmly believe the film version is superior. To me the book has too much going on with introduction to so many characters while the film only focuses on the hunt for the submarine, Red October. Also, with the excellent performances by Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Scott Glenn, Sam Neil and James Earl Jones and a tight direction by John McTiernan, it’s a great thriller.

4. Misery

Misery

Stephen King was one of my favorite writers growing up, I think I’ve read most of his novels, even the bad ones. So when it was announced that the film version of Misery was coming out, I decided to read the book before seeing the film. I thought it’s an excellent novel but I had second thought about seeing the film version. If you read the book then you know how gruesome it was. To my surprise when I finally saw the film, most of the gruesome stuff was never shown and I think that made the film much better than the book. Kathy Bates was perfectly cast as the crazy Annie and James Caan was excellent as the helpless Paul Sheldon. Rob Reiner decided to turn it into a psychological thriller instead of horror worked perfectly in my opinion. Yes he showed us the infamous leg smashing scene but in the book, Annie chopped off one of Paul’s legs with an axe, so yeah I did not want to see that on the screen.

3. Children of Men

ChildrenOfMen

Based on P.D. James’ 1992 novel The Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón did a wonderful job of capturing what James wrote on the pages and also injected his own interpretation to the story. The book start out kind of slow but once the plot kicked in, it’s very similar to the film version. Of course the film cut out a few things from the book, for example in the book, all young people was viewed as celebrities because of their youth and that old people were forced into committing suicide. I was hoping to see that get a mention in the film. But the main reason I thought the film version was better is because it didn’t have a clichéd Hollywood ending, while the book’s ending has this sort of high noon standoff shootout that I didn’t think fit the story whatsoever. I’m glad Cuaron changed it and made it into sort of open to interpretation as to what’s going to happen to that society.

2. No Country for Old Men

NoCountryForOldMen

I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and I’ve never thought that anyone could ever turn one of his books into a great film, let alone made it better than his written words. But that’s what happened here. The Coen Brothers’ film version is to me a near masterpiece, they were able to translate McCarthy’s beautiful written words into an almost flawless motion picture. The casting of Tommy Lee Jones as the old man who can’t seem to grasp the ever-changing violence in modern day society is pitch perfect. Then of course the performance by Javier Bardem as the unstoppable killer Anton Chigurh was pretty incredible. I can watch that scene where he picked on the clerk at a gas station over and over again. I went back and read the book again after seeing the film and I still believe the film’s better.

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a.k.a Blade Runner

BladeRunner

I’ve read a lot of Phillip K. Dick’s work and this book may have been his most straightforward story. In the film, Ridley Scott was able to expand some of the concepts in Dick’s book and made them even better in my opinion. I think one of the main reasons why I prefer the film version is because the book has too much religious theme for my liking. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; just that I’m not a religious person. Also, in the book the Replicants or robots that Deckard was hunting for didn’t have a personality, while in the film they acted and talked like humans. But the main reason why I prefer the film is because I believe it has a deeper meaning than the book. What I got out of the film was that we as human takes life for granted while these Replicants would do anything, including murder, to live longer. The tears in rain speech Roy gave to Deckard near the end sums up nicely of why he saved Deckard’s life, a beautiful scene.

[rtm note: Check out my related Blade Runner musings… What Does It Mean to Be Humans?
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– Post by Ted S.
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So those are some films I thought were better than their original source, do you have other films you’d like to add to the list? 

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59 thoughts on “5 Films That Are Better Than the Books They Are Based On

  1. The Dark Tower books will be VERY hard to translate into film. Especially the final one. I thought Misery was a decent book but yeah, the film is better thanks to Kathy Bates.

    Nice choices, I’d add the Shining as well.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks, yeah I don’t think The Dark Tower will translate well into films, there were too many weird stuff going on.

      You know I think I agree with you about The Shining.

  2. I still haven’t had the experience of seeing a book i’ve read turned into a movie(or tv series). Don’t know if i ever will

    Also i didn’t have a problem with the Road,but perhaps that’s because i didn’t read the book

    1. Ted S.

      If you ever decided to read The Road, you might change your mind about the film version. I didn’t think it was bad, it just didn’t work for me.

  3. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ted and company:

    Very good list!

    I think ‘The Hunt for Red October; would have been better with the inclusion of the Brits and their navy. When I cast the film in my head when reading Clancy’s novel. I had Daniel J. Travanti from Hill Street Blues pegged as Captain Mancuso. Though Scott Glenn did a decent enough job.

    ‘Misery’ is fun. Just to watch James Caan lie still for ninety minutes while Kathy Bates RAWKS!

    Honorable Mentions for the superior adaptation of Robert Stone’s ‘Dog Soldier’ into the flip side of ‘Forrset Gump’ with Karel Reisz’s ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ in 1978.

    And Dustin Hoffman’s wired too tightly ex-convict, Max Dembo in Edward Bunker’s ‘No Beast So Fierce’, which became Ulu Gossbard’s ‘Straight Time’ the same year.

    1. Ted S.

      Hi Jack, yeah it would’ve been cool if they included more characters from the book but I really like the fact that the film just focus on the hunt instead of the usual technical and political stuff Clancy likes to write about in his books.

      I’ve never read or seen Dog Soldiers yet but I heard good things about it.

  4. Very cool list. I do have to say that I think McCarthy’s “No Country” is on par with the film (and I’m a HUGE fan of that movie). I think because the Coen’s took so much from the book and stayed loyal to it is a key reason the film works.

    1. Ted S.

      A lot of mention of Jaws so far, unfortunately I’ve never the book version so no opinion from me. But I enjoyed the film.

  5. I can’t really argue with these picks, as they’re all good movies. I do wonder if it’s really fair to compare them, though. Especially in the case of Blade Runner, it’s taking a simpler story and expanding it to a more involved movie. Does that make it “better”? I think it’s just a different medium. Comparing the two forms from either direction seems really tricky. Even so, I enjoyed checking out the list.

  6. Great list…”Forrest Gump” is the one that came to my mind right away. While enjoyed the book, it gets a bit goofy with Forrest going into space, being in movies, and having a deep friendship with a monkey.

    1. Ted S.

      Another mention of Forrest Gump, maybe it’s a good thing I’ve never read the book. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the film either though. 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Totally agree with you there Terry, I never thought anyone could adapt Lord of The Rings into great films; what Jackson and company did was just amazing.

  7. Ted I agree with everything on that list. Bravo! Red October was heavy on the technical jargon which made it a fav of military insiders but a little tough on the average reader. If I remember correctly I believe Rutger Hauer improvised that tears in the rain scene.

    I’d also add to that list…

    Apocalypse Now (aka Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad)

    Full Metal Jacket (aka The The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford).

    The Shawshank Redemption (aka Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King).

    The Thin Red Line by James Jones. Malick’s best film in my book.

    The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks. Paraphrased from wiki: “Banks approved of Atom Egoyan’s adaptation while discussing the film with Egoyan in the DVD’s commentary track… saying that he admitted that this was one instance in which the film was better than the book.” Hollywood agreed as they nominated the small Canadian film for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Egoyan wove the Pied Piper of Hamelin tale into the film which gave the film its fairy tale like quality. Banks was so enamored of the script that both he and his daughter, Caerthan, played small parts in the film. Personally the film stayed with me for days after I saw it in the theater. Just a devastating movie. The Sweet Hereafter is one of my very favorite films so that is why I know all this stupid stuff about it. LOL.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Dave, yeah every time I start reading a Clancy’s novel, I’m not looking forward to reading all of the technical stuff he loves to include in his books. In The Sum of All Fears, he wrote in three chapters or so about how the nuclear bomb works, way too much information for me to comprehend.

      Yeah, Hauer improvised that tears in rain speech.

      Totally agree on Apocalypse Now, really enjoyed Conrad’s book but Coppola’s interpretation was better

      With the exception of casting Morgan Freeman as “Red”, Shawshank was def better than the book. Somehow I pictured Gene Hackman as Red when I read the book, but I thought Freeman did a wonderful job of playing an Irishman. 🙂

      I’ve never read the book that Thin Red Line was based on but I love the film, probably my top 5 fave films of all time.

      Never read or seen Sweet Hereafter, might have to check it out.

      1. Let me know if you ever get around to seeing The Sweet Hereafter. I’d be curious to know what you think as it’s one of my favorites. Sarah Polley sings about 4 or 5 songs in the film. Man she’s talented.

  8. Great post. Not sure about ‘The Hunt for Red October’, as the film appears to be as a tiresome as the book, though very good cast, for sure. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is definitely better than the book. And, it should go without saying that ‘Out of Africa’ is better than its book or memoir (still a book). ‘The English Patient’, ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’? possibly, but it would be a stretch…

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks db, I’ve never read any of the books you mentioned but enjoyed all of the films version, well not too much with The English Patient.

  9. I’ve put off seeing ‘No Country’ because I love Cormac McCarthy. After being unimpressed with the film version of ‘The Road,’ I was afraid no film version could ever beat one of his books, no matter how much I love the Coen Brothers! I’ll have to bump it up to the top of my “to watch” list now, though — I trust your judgement! 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Hi Lindsey, I think you’ll enjoy No Country for Old Men, I thought it’s one of the best films ever made. You’re right about The Road, it’s one of those books that just wouldn’t work as motion picture. I also love his other book that Hollywood’s been trying to get to the big screen, Blood Meridian. As much as I want to see the film version, not sure if it will work.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks T., I used to read books after seeing the film back in high school but as I’ve gotten older, I prefer reading the books first. I’m keeping my fingers cross that Ender’s Game will be a great film, loved the book.

  10. GaryLee828

    I didn’t read John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill” novel, but the film was excellent, and I am sure one of the better adaptations.

    1. Ted S.

      I vaguely remember A Time to Kill the novel but the film version was okay. I was hoping to see an adaptation of Grisham’s other novel, The Partner, which I thought was excellent and could be a great film.

  11. I’ve tried to read Red October twice now and I have lost interest both times! But I love the film, it’s probably my favourite action film (except maybe Die Hard). I completely agree with you there.

    1. Ted S.

      Ha ha yeah, Hunt for Red October book starts out a bit slow but once the plot kicks in, it was a good book. But yeah the film version was excellent.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah the book’s great but the constant abuse Annie inflicted on Paul was just too much for me, glad they tone it down in the film. And yes Bate’s performance was pretty great.

  12. Oh wow!! this is a contradiction of my post in 2011( http://bokunosekai.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/musing-on-book-and-movie-no-movie-is-greater-than-the-book/ )

    You have interesting view on each movie, Ted. unfortunately I haven’t read nor watched all the book/movies in your list. I have watched Misery but haven’t read the book yet. So, I can’t vouch for that too. So far, no movie is better than the book for me….and I don’t when that sentence will change (for me)

    I am not sure the other books are my kind of read but I am interested in seeing the movie.

    1. Ted S.

      Hey Novroz, it wasn’t easy coming up with this list since most films that were based on good novels tends to suck.

      I read your article there and I pretty much agree with most of the ones on your list. If I remember correctly, The Lost World’s script was written before Michael Cricton finished his book, the studio bought the rights to the book way before he started writing it. So yeah the film version was much weaker and a lot different from its source.

      1. The rumour I heard was different. It said the book was written because of Spielberg’s request and when the book was done, Spielberg had his own idea how to turn the movie. I heard it ages ago…probably not true tho

        1. Ted S.

          Oh yeah, I heard that rumor too. But Cricton said in an interview, before he died, that Universal wanted to write the script right away after the rights were purchased and he told them to go ahead and do it.

  13. Great list! I think there are few films based on King’s work that are better than books – Kings’s novels are great but the interpretation of them on screen can be legendary – like with De Palma’s Carrie. I think The Road was a fine movie but it was really boring, on the other hand there is no way to make that story into something with fast pace as its mostly just walking and then more walking. But I thought it was very well made movie, the novel is better, but the film was good.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Sati, I totally forgot about Carrie, the film version was definitely better.

      It’s hard to adapt The Road, I think the story just fits better in the written form. Like you said it’s just about father and son walking and talking.

  14. Really interesting list here, Ted. Can’t say I have read any of these, but I have been meaning to pick up No Country for Old Men. Speaking of McCarthy, I’m waiting for the film adaptation of Blood Meridian. It sounds like James Franco’s planned adaptation fell through… wonder if it’ll ever get made.

    1. Ted S.

      You should definitely give No Country for Old Men a read, a great book and even greater film. As for Blood Meridian, Ridley Scott tried to bring it to the big screen around 2008 but he wanted to make it ultra violent just like the book and it surely will get an NC-17 rating. So of course the studio didn’t want to do that, especially when he asking for a budget of around $80 – $100mil.

      Franco actually shot a scene from the book and submitted to producer Scott Rudin, who currently owns the rights to the book, but Rudin said it was unsolicited and didn’t even bother to discuss it with Franco. I’m glad nothing ever materializes because I don’t think Franco has the talent or experience to tackle the book. At one point The Coen Bros. talked about adapting it but they decided to do True Grit instead, I hope they’ll reconsider and get Blood Meridian to the big screen.

  15. Totally agree about The Hunt for Red October and No Country for Old Men, great films adapted from two good books. Proofs that you can always improve on the original work if done tastefully and in a reverent manner.

    1. Ted S.

      Exactly, if the filmmakers are talented and passionate about the book then result could be as good or better than its source.

  16. Very nice list Ted. I (shamefully) haven’t read the books to the first three but each of those film’s are real favourites of mine. Especially Blade Runner. I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick but never that novel. In all honesty, I never felt the need to as the film is just so perfect.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Mark, yeah I love Blade Runner too, it’s on my top 5 favorite films of all time. And I don’t think you need to read the book but if you’re curious then you can always look it up on Wikipedia. 🙂

      1. I class Blade Runner in my top 5 as well Ted. I’ve done a bit of digging on the book and actually bought it years ago but decided I had too many other books to get through. I eventually passed on it and read Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik” instead. Marvellous novel.

  17. Excellent list! I haven’t read all of the books (I think 3 of the 5) but I’m in total agreement on those 3. Hunt for Red October might be the best example IMO. Good stuff!

  18. ilovethatfilm

    And Fight Club! I haven’t read Children of Men but so much of what I loved was the cinematography so I reckon that’s a great choice!

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