Great books are always great books ‘ timelessly loved by generations. Inevitably, the bestsellers ‘ and sometimes the not so bestsellers ‘ are nearly always going to be recorded for the big screen. It is very common to hear the words ‘It was good, but the book was better’. However, sometimes the film can improve on what is a mediocre book ‘ either the Director’s vision is bigger than the author’s or the format lends itself better to the big screen than the small page. Here is a list of ten films that are considered better than the books they are based on.
1. Lord of the Rings
Tolkein’s fascinating fantasy world of Middle Earth is one of the best loved books of all time. Being much-loved doesn’t mean that it is a perfect book ‘ far from it. There are many side events through the books that are unnecessary to the overall plot. The final part, Return of the King, feels very much a list of battles. Peter Jackson’s superb movie trilogy surpassed everybody’s expectations and kept the essence of the books while discarding a lot of unnecessary content. A later Director’s Cut of each part followed, adding in some of the finer elements to the story.
2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The longest book in the Harry Potter series was also seemingly most people’s least favourite. Very little happens for much of the book compared to the action packed works that came before it and after it. JK Rowling was pregnant while writing it ‘ and it showed with character Hermione Grainger spending lots of time knitting. David Yates had an uphill struggle to turn its bloated text into an action packed movie, keeping the essence of the book while removing the non-events. There are complaints though that he cut out too much ‘ Phoenix was the longest book but the shortest movie.
Peter Benchley’s tale of a killer shark might otherwise have been an average thriller if it hadn’t been for the adaptation created by Steven Spielberg. The only real drawback in the book is the method by which they kill the shark: it is confusing and a little bizarre. There is also a lot of focus on the breakdown of Brody’s marriage in the book and his suspicions that his wife is having an affair with Matt Hooper which makes for an interesting ending with the boat trip. However, it was Spielberg’s vision and Williams’ music that made the film a cult classic.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
Stephen King is undoubtedly a prolific writer. Most adaptations of his novels either capture the theme and atmosphere perfectly (The Mist) or they miss the point completely (Needful Things). There are a handful of exceptions and this is one of them. The novella drags in places; Andy Dufresne is not a particularly well-drawn character in the book. Constant change of the Governor means that the book lacks the impact of the movie’s ending that was so perfectly delivered by Tim Robbins. Overall, many consider that the book lacks the emotion and satisfaction of the film.
Philosophy-heavy books rarely translate well onto the big screen so this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? did away with most of the religious ideology and philosophy while managing to keep the core essence of the book in trying to understand what it means to be human. In both cases, Rick Deckard is tracking down a number of Replicants in order to ‘retire’ them. The film translates some of the philosophy though, turning the struggle onto the Replicants and Deckard, rather than investigating it through animals.
6. The Shining
This is one of those examples that have divided people ‘ both are a masterpiece in their own right but in general terms, most people prefer the movie version for its visceral storytelling, gruesome violence and the terrifying portrayal of Nicholson’s slow descent into madness. The themes are similar in both versions, but the movie plays out more like a conventional horror whereas the book focuses far more on the hotel itself. In each case, the isolation and knowledge of the events that took place in the hotel are a bad influence on Torrance.
It is difficult to turn a great book into a great movie and inevitably the comparisons will nearly always turn against the film. However, if one man could turn a visceral book into a visceral movie, keep the relevant parts in while still adding something that goes beyond following a group of junkies, that man is Danny Boyle. What he added was an in-your-face message about consumerism and how even those people not addicted to heroin are addicted to something. It just seems that some addictions are more acceptable than others ‘ cars and compact disk players.
8. Forrest Gump
Few people realised at the time of release that the film was based on a book. The plots are very similar; a man with learning difficulties helped to create and shape history through a series of coincidences as he seeks to find his own destiny in the world. It was Best Picture at the Oscars, having gone up against The Shawshank Redemption, but the book on which it was based was never a bestseller and at times get bizarre and even sillier than some of the ideas presented in the film ‘ for example in the book Gump lives with cannibals for a time and flies into space with a monkey.
9. Interview with the Vampire
Anne Rice wrote about erotic vampires while it was still acceptable to do so and while it was still aimed at a mass market rather than strictly a female teenaged one. While production was ongoing, author Anne Rice panned the casting, the script and anything else she could think of ‘ including the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. Yet once it hit our screens she could not praise it enough. The theme of self-discovery was still there but Brad Pitt’s Louis was far less the whiny character he was in the book and Cruise turned in a fine performance as a far more troubled Lestat. The biggest revelation was Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia. The three of them made it a fine film.
10. V for Vendetta
The only graphic novel on our list, fans are divided on this one but there is a lot of agreement that the film is an improvement over the novel. Why? The critique of Thatcherism that was endemic in the original version was discarded as no longer relevant ‘ certainly not for its target 20 something audience. It was however, replaced with something more relevant in the 21st century ‘ totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism. V is a far more sympathetic character in the movie ‘ being a freedom fighter rather than the anarchist he was in Moore’s original work.
Books will always be ripe for conversion to celluloid in order to bring them to a far wider audience. In most cases, the film is never going to be as good as the book. But sometimes, just sometimes, the movie version improves and/or enhances the original text.