Can a movie be better than the book it was based on?

Topic #190:

Can a movie be better than the book it was based on? What examples come to mind? Or is it sometimes just a matter of which version you see first, as that will define the story for you, regardless of which version was made first?

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  1. It can be, but I don’t think i”ve ever seen one that was better compared to what I’ve read. It’s very difficult to include all the details that the book contains.


  2. i dont think any movie is tangible enough to replace the visuals in your mind- the experience of reading and going through emotions,images in your mind is sometimes like a a world which you create..this feeling could never be replaced by anyone else,no matter how true or realistic it may be


  3. Few movies are better than the books they’re based on. But, to me, “Blade Runner” was better than the book it was based on,”Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The book was great as a book; the screenplay was different, but wonderful.

    I like to read the book before I see the movie. That way, I have an idea of the characters, etc., and when I see the movie, I get a better idea of the movie lives up to the book.

    Since books have to be cut for a screenplay, cherished scenes have to often be deleted.

    Thtree movies that to me lived up to the book are “Gone With the Wind,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I read all three before I saw the films. GWTW and LOTR are long books but the screenplays caught the important parts. “Mockingbird” was a shorter book, so less was cut, hardly anything if I remember correctly.

    Reading the book first is better.


  4. Let me think of all the books I’ve read that were turned into movies….hmm, not many, that’s because I didn’t want the movie – however well intentioned – to ruin the book. Eat, Pray, Love sucked in comparison with the book so that was a buzzkill. I will never see Atlas Shrugged for similar reasons. The Notebook wasn’t ruined for me simply because I never read the book. So my advice? Read the book or see the movie, but never both! It’s a fool’s errand.


  5. Movie = instant gratification. Book = A long intimate engagement. Its a different relationship. Generally, I do either one or the other. For science fiction I would watch the movie for its pyrotechnics. If I was stranded in the desert and I have nothing to do, I would pick the book and immerse myself in the story. It is more delicious.


  6. I generally believe that books are better than the movies they are based on, but not always. However, I can’t think of an example right now! That’s how rare it is that movies are better than the books. I did think the first Harry Potter movie was a faithful portrayal of the book – the characters and how Hogwarts looked, the dining room, the G. common room, etc. were just as I imagined them. Perhaps that was due to J.K. Rowling’s descriptions and her involvement in the movie productions. Guess it goes back to books being better!

    That said, though, I’m afraid that many people don’t take the time to read books anymore and so at least the movie can expose them to an interesting topic that may lead them to read a book, or 2 or 3….
    I’m especially sad by how many kids only know the movie version of children’s books, even Dr. Seuss! It is especially aggravating when the movie gets it all wrong and doesn’t follow the book, so the kids think they know the story, when they really don’t.


  7. Ben Hur
    Gone with the Wind
    Ivanhoe (O. Hussey)
    Taming of the Shrew (Burton and Taylor)
    And almost anything could be better than Atlas Shrugged, the book, which I thought I would die before I finished it, but I didn’t because I threw it away!

    Are you kidding?


    1. Love your humor! ha, ha. Rather than continuing to torture yourself, you just took control. I like that! Also love your choice of movies, although I’ve not seen Ivanhoe. I’m an old movies buff myself, way back to the black and whites. But I do love more contemporary ones as well.

      you made me laugh…thanks…hugmamma. 🙂


      1. Yes, that’s funny, hugmamma, you threw Atlas Shrugged away. I’ve read it several times. Rand’s writing flows beautifully. You should pick up another copy and try again. Maybe. Don’t die trying, though.

        I read part of Ben Hur, it was good, the language being so old written in a different time, I agree the movie was better. Ivanhoe I haven’t seen either, but now I’ll look out for it. I like Olivia Hussey in everything. I saw Taming of the Shrew in 9th grade, in the theater with my class, and all the boys hooted at Liz Taylor’s breasts.


  8. Here are a couple of examples of especially poor movie renditions of books that I’ve read: Pride and Prejudice, the version with Keira Knightley; Children of Men – this movie totally missed the point of the book and changed so much that the original story was nearly unrecognizable!
    I did like The Color Purple movie, but it left out a whole part of the book in which the main character goes into business making pants. I thought that was rather important to the development of her character.
    Maia, you may be right about Eat, Pray, Love – I rather liked the movie but I admit I never read the book. At the time, I actually chose NOT to read it, because I didn’t like the first few pages. However, I might read it now that I’ve seen the movie.
    Two movies are due to come out in August that are based on books I really like: Sarah’s Key and The Help. I will see them, but I know that I may be disappointed.
    Two examples of movies that I thought did a good job of adapting the book: The Kite Runner and (as I said before) the first Harry Potter movie – the first 2 actually. I liked all the HP movies but I don’t think I would have understood what was going on half the time if I hadn’t read the books. I had to mentally fill in a lot of information.


  9. Must confess to not reading much fiction. Prefer non-fiction myself, especially biographies. I hate to admit it, for fear of being totally annhilated, but I’ve not read the Harry Potter books or the Twilight Saga. Wish I had the staying power to get through all those words. I’m sure once I began, I’d press on…or maybe not. So in these instances, I was delighted with the films.

    Although I did think the Stephanie Meyers’ mega-hit movies were somewhat juvenile…for the teenagers. But I must agree with my 25-year-old-daughter that Pattinson and Lautner are eye candy. They probably kept all the women in the audience drooling…young and not so young, even a soon-to-be 62-year-old like me.

    Books are fabulous ways to escape reality; movies are as well. Just depends on what you like…and what you can stand, I guess.

    i like both…depending…hugmamma. 🙂


  10. The whole business of manipulating images, sound and motion to make movies is entirely diferent to the muscular scribblings required to construct a work of fiction.
    Creating a film requires a cast of thousands. Meanwhile the writer toils away in isolation. If he’s lucky he has an editor or a mentor. On occasion, a film can equal or even surpass a book – I’ve heard reports that the film ‘Never Let Me Go’ is exceptional.
    We’re fortunate in this modern age to have access to both, but can anything really beat sitting down with a book and stepping into another world? Simply by reading words printed on a page? That’s magic.


  11. A movie is rarely as good as the book it’s based on. Ofcourse, exceptions are always there, but rare. Usually a thousand pages are cramped up into 90 minutes, which do not capture the emotions, the detailed scenarios or the portrayal of characters. Even an exceptional director with exceptional actors rarely meet the challenge of portraying the characters as sketched in the book.


  12. Greg, my dad read The Godfather and he, too, was disappointed in the movie, esp James Caan as Sonny. He thought Caan as Sonny was terribly miscast. However, being that his good friend’s father was the Don of Long Island in the 40s, Dad had a different perspective! “It’s pretty much how it is,” said the son of the Don (later the Don, himself), when my dad asked him if The Godfather was bs or true.

    I’d like to be able to ask someone who was a slave or who ownned a plantation if Gone With the Wind is accurate or no.


  13. Ten years ago I would have said ‘absolutely not’ but, time has a way of allowing us to see the grey area. I realize that ‘better’ as the question suggests, is subjective. The book can be an excellent book but translate to a mediocre movie (Accidental Tourist). Again, opinion. But, if a book is beautifully written, a stream of consciousness visualization e.g. The English Patient, a movie – in an attempt to bring that visualization to the screen – can be better than the book if only that the story is made more comprehensible thereby accessible to more people. (Sales of the book shot up AFTER the movie). So, yes, a movie can be better than than the book. Literary fiction (character driven) can be (but not always) made into a good/better movie – with lots of time and money. Mainstream fiction (plot driven) can lend itself to better movie making without tremendous amounts of money. And, to add more ‘grey area’ to the mix today’s good fiction contains a bit of both; literary & mainstream fiction. Just my thoughts.


  14. Great comments; I like the different perspectives. When I read a book, the movie can be a disappointment, but if I put my ideas of the book aside as much as I can, I enjoy the movie more. When I saw “Lady Singes The Blues” years ago, I was disappointed in Diana Ross’s portrayal of Billie Holliday. Moreso, the way the film changed some basics: Holliday did turn tricks at the whorehouse, etc., but the movie, Holliday was adament about not turning tricks. That ruined the movie for me then, but later when I saw it on TV, I was able to separate the two and enjoy it more.

    With other books that I loved the movies, especially Lord of the Rings and Gone With the Wind, whatever the director did was right. It’s got to be a huge job to cute a long book, delete so much and still keep what counts. The characters in both these movies looked to me as I had envisioned them. Oddly, in the book, Frodo had brown eyes and Sam had brown hair. BUT, when I read the book, in my mind, Frodo had blue eyes and Sam had blondish hair. And that’s how they were portrayed in the movie. Why that is fascinates me. Did Tolkien write in such a way I saw blue eyes on Frodo? Did Peter Jackson pick up on that? How many other people saw these characters like this?