Whenever somebody tells me that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie, the first thing that comes to my mind is: You need to read more books. Actually, that’s not a fair assessment, because I would say that probably nine times out of 10, the book is better than the movie. So, I would change that statement to books are ALMOST always better than the movie. But, when you have movie adaptations like Jurassic Park or Jaws, where I would argue that the film has far overshadowed the source material, well, then we have a different story.
So, when does this rare, but possible, event happen when the movie is arguably superior to the novel? Well, I would say it’s when a movie adaptation is so beloved that it makes the general public forget that the book version even exists. Like, I don’t know how, but some people are always surprised when I tell them that The Shawshank Redemption is based off of a Stephen King short story. Or that there are actually three movies based on the Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend. So, here are six movies that are arguably better than the books they’re based on. How many of these movies have you read the novel versions of?
Jurassic Park (1993)
Based on the Michael Crichton book of the same name, Jurassic Park is one of the greatest films of the '90s. You know the story—a billionaire creates a dinosaur amusement park, and things go horribly awry. I know you’ve seen the original film, but you’ve also likely seen many of its sequels and revivals. You may have even watched the excellent Netflix series, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. But, have you read the original, 1990 novel?
If you haven’t, don’t bother. It’s not that the book is bad. It’s not. But it’s also not nearly as accessible as the movie that it spawned. What I love about Michael Crichton is that his books had all of these advanced, scientific storylines, but they were easily digestible. Jurassic Park, for whatever reason, is definitely one of his more scientific books, and the science often gets in the way of the exciting stuff. The Steven Spielberg movie highlights the characters a lot more than the book, making it superior in my mind. Plus, one KEY character dies in the novel who doesn’t die in the movie, so that’s something.
Based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, Jaws is one of the most celebrated horror movies of all time. It was up for Best Picture, and it made Steven Spielberg a household name. The film, which is essentially about three men hunting a killer shark, literally made people afraid to go in the water.
The novel, however, is notoriously not as good as the movie. The problem is that the book has WAY too much going on. Like, do you remember the part in the movie where the mayor is involved with the Mafia? No? You don’t remember that? What about when Brody’s wife has an affair? Wasn’t that part great in the movie? Wait, you don’t remember that, either? Oh, that’s right. It’s because it’s not in the movie! Wisely, a lot of the meandering subplots in the book were excised from the film version, making the movie the far superior product in many people’s minds.
Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club was critically disliked upon its release, but it's now seen as one of the best movies of the late ‘90s. The novel by Chuck Palahniuk is not bad at all. But, the film is legendary - though not always in a good way, as some men still find the violence “cool” when that was never really the point in the first place. The film is about a schlub who hates his job and forms an underground fight club with a guy who sells soap. Though, things aren’t what they seem.
I think the film version is superior mostly because of the performances by Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. The book actually feels kind of sparse on content in comparison, and the ending of the novel is extremely different from that of the film (Read: Not as good). Visually and viscerally speaking, though, Fight Club is one of David Fincher’s best films, and it gets the book’s points of consumerism, nihilism, and all the other ism’s (even homoeroticism) down pat, and even adds some extra flair to boot. You can still read the book, but, like...why?
The Godfather (1972)
Based on the legendary novel by Mario Puzo, The Godfather won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 45th Academy Awards. Not only that, but its sequel, The Godfather Part II also won Best Picture, making it the only sequel to ever do so. The story of a mafia family handing the reins from the patriarch to the reluctant son, The Godfather is epic from start to finish, and deserves all of the accolades that it’s received.
The book’s really good, too! Just not as good. Here’s the thing. The book might be too sprawling. So much so, that some of the stuff in the book actually makes its way into The Godfather Part II. I really do love the novel, but by essentially splitting it up into two separate films, the cinematic version gives it a lot more breathing room, which is appreciated.
The Shining (1980)
Okay, so here is my one controversial pick on this list, but I would argue that The Shining is a better movie than it is a novel. I may be biased since Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director, but I much prefer the film to Stephen King’s 1977 classic book. And yes, I know, even the novelist greatly disagrees with this assessment. The Shining is the story of a writer who takes his family to a remote hotel to cure his writer’s block, only to ultimately try to murder his wife and son. The Shining is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, which I don’t think anyone would disagree with.
The book is good, but it’s not as good. I think the main issue is that you are certain that ghosts are at play in the novel, while in the movie, you’re not entirely sure that Jack Torrance isn’t just losing it. Plus, I just love the hedge maze in the film, and I’m not a fan of the topiary in the book. Again, I know this is a controversial pick, but for me, The Shining is an amazing movie, and just an okay novel in comparison.
Ordinary People (1980)
I actually just finished reading the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest, and it inspired me to write this article. Ordinary People also won Best Picture, and it was the directorial debut of Robert Redford. It’s the story of a family that falls apart after the death of one son and the suicide attempt of another.
Look, this is the one book on this list where I would say that the movie isn’t necessarily BETTER, but the movie is so good, that I would say that you could either watch the film or read the book. The book is beautifully written, and it gets very deep into the characters’ thoughts and emotions. But there’s just something special about the film, most notably in Mary Tyler Moore’s frosty performance as the matriarch, that I just have to hand it to the movie version. Both are excellent, and I recommend you check the story out.
And, those are six movies that I think are better (or just as good as) the novel. What do you think? Out of the films listed here, which one is the most superior to the book version? Sound off in the poll below. And, for news on 2021 movies, or even 2022 movies, make sure to swing by here often.
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Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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