Movies That Are Better Than The Book: A Top Ten List

Heresy.

Or not.

I am not such a literary snob that I can’t admit that, on occasion, a movie adaptation turns out better than the book. It happens more frequently than you might think and not just with awful books. For example, one would hope that the 50 Shades of Grey movie will be better than the book, because anything has to be better than that…

Of course, this does not explain the continued success of the Twilight, Robert Langdon, or Sookie Stackhouse series (poor novels, poor adaptations). For the record, I am more critical of the later Sookie novels and everything after True Blood season one.

standbyme
Stand By Me

As usual, in no particular order except number one really is number one.

10. The Trouble With Harry by Jack Trevor Story. I was hesitant to include this one because both the book and the movie are fantastic. Perhaps the movie only edges out the book by the tiniest of margins?

9. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I like the book, but love the movie. I’m renovating a house where one of the toilets closely resembled the worst toilet in Scotland – it was as traumatizing as you might expect…

8. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I don’t like this book, the characters are second only to Wuthering Heights on my most hated list, but the movie’s not half bad.

7. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. Every time someone tells me they read and thoroughly enjoyed The Last of the Mohicans my first thought is ‘liar’, followed closely by ‘pretentious’. It’s like when someone tells you they read David Foster Wallace for pleasure and clarity- they’re not to be trusted.

6. (Rita Hayworth and) The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Quite possibly the most overplayed movie in America. If you manage to avoid the continuous repetition of this film, it’s actually quite good.

5. Jaws by Peter Benchley. The movie thankfully distills the novel in the best possible way – no mafia, no infidelity, more shark.

4. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I consider High Fidelity, as a novel, to be cute. The movie, however, defined my teenage years in a way I can’t even describe. Roger Ebert says it well:

All I want to say is that “High Fidelity” has no deep significance, does not grow exercised over stupid plot points, savors the rhythms of these lives, sees how pop music is a soundtrack for everyone’s autobiography, introduces us to Rob and makes us hope that he finds happiness, and causes us to leave the theater quite unreasonably happy.

3. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. The novel is fine, but the movie is great. However, I did see Casino Royale recently ranked among the worst James Bond movies, so clearly there are those who would disagree. Thankfully, it did not rank higher than Die Another Day or The World is Not Enough. It should go without saying that those are the two worst Bond movies.

2. The Body by Stephen King (adapted into Stand by Me). In one of the best adapted short story collections of all time, Different Seasons by Stephen King produced Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Apt Pupil. My favorite: Stand by Me. It is a quintessential, nostalgic coming of age story set in the ’80’s. Plus Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell…

1. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Cormac McCarthy is truly one of the great modern American novelists. A reader wouldn’t know that from the lackluster No Country for Old Men. This means McCarthy got very lucky when the Coen brothers adapted the novel into a truly great movie. Next up, the still mysterious Blood Meridian.

Thoughts? Did I miss anything obvious?

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31 thoughts on “Movies That Are Better Than The Book: A Top Ten List”

    1. I’ve not read the basis for Sideways, though I’ll second the rest – particularly The Godfather, which benefited from the exclusion of the gynecological storyline.

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    1. I finally saw Skyfall recently, it initially seemed that I wasn’t meant to watch it. I went to the theater to see it in December, but the popcorn machine caught on fire and the theater had to be evacuated. After standing in the cold for 45 minutes they let everyone back in, only to have it happen again about 10 minutes later – then they shut down the theater for the day. I did at least get a refund.

      I eventually saw it in January. Sadly, my days off are very few and far between.

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  1. K-PAX. The book is clunky and the main character is a jerk. The movie streamlined everything and made the main character likeable

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  2. The only one on your list that I’ve seen AND read is Gone with the Wind, and I have to disagree. At least for me, the book was way better. I could actually (occasionally) sympathize with Scarlett in the book. In the movie all we get is what’s on the surface.

    Two of my own personal picks are The Princess Bride (I love them both for different reasons, but overall the movie wins out), and Stardust (which is not at all a faithful adaptation, but I’m not really big on Neil Gaiman, so for me it’s no contest).

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    1. I strongly considered The Princess Bride, but I omitted it because I already had one Rob Reiner movie.

      Gone With the Wind – in the end, I just can’t stand Scarlett O’Hara. The movie made her slightly more bearable, if only because it’s a shorter time frame I have to commit to tolerating her.

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  3. Hahahhaha #7 made me laugh so hard. I feel that way about a lot of high brow lit-fic. I haven’t seen No Country for Old Men the movie, but, well, it’s got to be better than the book. Because. Yeah.

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    1. The movie makes the novel look like it must be amazing, then you read it and it’s not. Total letdown.

      I’d add Finnegan’s Wake and anything by Pynchon. The latter I don’t think is bad, it’s just an undertaking to read anything of his -he always makes me feel very small.

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    1. High Fidelity could go either way. I think I saw the movie at the right time in my life and read the book at the wrong time (years apart).

      Now I want to make a soundtrack for my life.

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  4. I normally avoid book to movie adaptations. I have seen Shawshank and Stand By Me, although I haven’t read the stories. But I agree they are great films. My only contribution would be Cold Mountain, because boy howdy, did I ever hate that book. So the movie had nowhere to go but up!

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  5. Sometimes I think it depends on if you read the book first then see movie and/or vice versa. I loved the book No Country for Old Men. and the movie, too. SO… for combos when I read first, my best and better movie recommendation is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

    But you are SO right about the Last of the Mohicans. I couldn’t get past page 10 of the book. ( aha! an example of loved the movie, attempted the book and it didn’t work. )

    This is one of my favorite topics and will get lost in all my back posts and now realizing how many movies I need to see based on books. Maybe this afternoon I’ll finally get to Kiera Knightley’s AK.

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    1. I think No Country For Old Men was ruined for me because I read Blood Meridian first. McCarthy can be amazing, but nothing has surpassed Blood Meridian for me – I’ll be curious to see how it translates to film.

      And I hate when I can’t remember exactly what I said/thought – I’m thankful for gr/blogs and such.

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  6. Nerd alert:

    I have to disagree with you about the World is Not Enough – elevated from its status by the inclusion of Denise Richards as the nuclear physicist who struggles to pronounce nuclear. And the ghastly Christmas puns. Wonderful stuff.

    Besides, are you really going to say that it’s worse than Thunderball, Octopussy, View To A Kill (aka the one where Bond needs a zimmer frame), Tomorrow Never Dies, Quantum of Solace, MOONRAKER?!?

    I mean come on, Moonraker.

    Far as I’m aware, the Casino Royale everyone hates is the non Eon production from the late 60s with David Niven; it’s non canon and genuinely awful. People like Craig’s gritty reboot. There’s also Never Say Never Again, which likewise doesn’t count (from the 80s, I think it’s a vague remake of Thunderball but somehow contrives to be even worse. Connery, Connery why’d you go back – you should NEVER go back?).

    If it counted I think Never Say Never would be in with a shout.

    You are, of course, spot on about Die Another Day – in some cultures it’s a punishment for stealing. True story.

    __

    High Fidelity – one of the things I love about the film is they replace one of the girlfriend backstories altogether with ‘she didn’t really affect me or have any impact on my life,; I just did it to keep you out of my top 5.’

    Roger Ebert is always right.

    Things I think you should’ve mentioned:

    Leo Tolstoy’s Con Air – the film wisely pared the 1,500 page novel back to its bare bones and left the sanctimonious moral hand-wringing on the cutting room floor.

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    1. To clarify I’m the ‘nerd’ referred to above. Then again I’m male and British, so Bond is hard-wired into my DNA. Which explains how a franchise can remain healthy and profitable despite the low quality of even its best-loved films (You Only Live Twice). I mean it even survived Lazenby. That’s impressive

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      1. I wouldn’t have been offended if you were calling me a nerd, it’s probably true. Though I don’t think it’s fair that you, by default of being male and British, get Bond. What do Americans get? Friday the 13th? Star Wars?

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    2. You know someone was really proud to have thought up ‘Christmas only comes once a year’. It was not nearly as good as the space and snake jokes in Moonraker – so Moonraker wins. Never Say Never Again was made in the ’80’s and therefore cannot be held accountable for anything. It is actually the 2006 Casino Royale that the person considered one of the worst Bond films. Apparently it was boring, lacked Q (true enough), and had the worst poker scene in cinema history. Also, it was overly long, which I tend to agree with.

      Ebert is occasionally wrong. I remember being horrified at his glowing reviews of The X-Files: I Want To Believe. But (I believe) nothing can beat The X-Files seasons 1-4, so my opinion doesn’t count.

      High Fidelity. That movie had far too great an influence on my opinion of relationships in general. And it did nothing to help my love of lists. I always wanted there to be a movie where everyone loved books and worked in a bookstore/library. There could already be one, but I don’t know it. Currently the height of the genre is The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (or worse, You’ve Got Mail).

      Tolstoy’s estate should’ve filed a lawsuit preventing the publication of Con Air: A Novel.

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      1. Americans get to have Pearl Harbour. And the Mission: Impossible series.

        Any person who thought that Craig’s Casino Royale was one of the worst Bond films probably thinks You Only Live Twice is one of the best and is therefore objectively wrong, even if Roald Dahl did write the screenplay. “Ah Moneypenny, you forget I took a double first at Cambridge in Oriental Languages” and the transformation scene designed to make Bond look like a Japanese man (inspired Team America’s valmorification procedure no doubt).

        We are of course speaking in relative terms here, because it’s Bond, and only a couple of them might count as actually half decent films anyway. The ‘best’ one is clearly From Russia With Love even if it does fizzle out and end on a flat note. And it makes Bond out to be a massive priss “I should’ve known you were a wrong ‘un when you ordered red wine with the fish.”

        I’ve never had Christmas in Turkey before.

        PS: Bladerunner was made in the 80s and so was Aliens and Terminator. Not all bad in that decade…

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      2. Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise. Back in 8th grade, it was a big deal which celebrity you shared a birthday with. My friend shared a birthday with Britney Spears (the height of excitement) and I shared a birthday with Tom Cruise (less exciting). So maybe I am actually stuck with Mission: Impossible…

        The critic thinks Goldfinger is the best film, a positively shocking choice. From Russia with Love has my favorite villain and is the best book to movie adaptation (not that I’ve read them all).

        Alien is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen and Aliens remains the only sequel to ever best the original. I love the ’80’s, though I think you missed including Flashdance. My accountability comment had more to do with the fact that US elected the destroyer of humanity and hater of the single mother twice AND someone actually filmed Flowers in the Attic (not to mention Dirty Dancing was considered the height of romance).

        Is it time to unwrap your present? (That’s as bad typed as it is to hear it in the movie, impressive.)

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    1. Proving two things:

      First that list making is my favorite time drain, I just re-watched High Fidelity. Favorite part: If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me earlier. Followed closely by you don’t own Blond on Blond, don’t admit that to anyone. Next up: Less Than Zero.

      Second, I have the inability to let anyone else have the last word, I recognize it as both a sickness and a personal defect for which I apologize. I’ll stop now, I promise.

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  7. I thought Fight Club was LOADS better than the book (and the book was brilliant). Even the author, Chuck Palahniuk, thought it was an improvement on the novel: “Now that I see the movie, especially when I sat down with Jim Uhls and recorded a commentary track for the DVD, 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.”

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