I am a staunch believer that the book is going to be better than the movie. Nine out of ten times the book is better because YOU are partially in charge. You decide what the main character sounds like, and what the world looks like. You get to be the cinematographer, the casting director and the director all at the same time. You get to use that skill which came in so handy back when you were a kid – imagination. Movies do all of that for you, and sometimes in doing so they get it all wrong. The picture on the screen doesn’t come close to what you pictured in your head, and it makes you mad. That’s why I try to wait at least a year before I see a movie based on a book I have read or loved.
But of course there are exceptions. There are some films out there that are better than the material they were based on. Sometimes the book was horribly written, and nobody ever even thought of reading it until the movie came out. Some books just lend themselves to film. Some books have a great idea that could be fleshed out much better in a different media. There are plenty of reasons, but whatever the reason may be, here are the top 10 movies I think were better than the book. Please note that I only chose movies/books that I have actually read and seen.
- The Graduate – I bet you have never read this book. In fact, I bet some of you didn’t even realize that it was a book prior to the film that made Dustin Hoffman and Ann Bancroft Hollywood icons. The book is missing that feeling of being lost in America that the film managed to capture perfectly.
- Fight Club – I’m going to come right out and say it: I think Chuck Palahniuk is a one trick pony. His writing is full of clever tricks and cute little gimmicks that make a word lover such as myself want to smack him upside the head. While Fight Club is by far his best novel, it doesn’t hold a candle to the screen adaptation. I think even Chuck himself admitted the movie was better than his book. And hell, you can’t compete with a shirtless Brad Pitt.
- A Clockwork Orange – Anyone who has read this book will tell you it ain’t an easy read. Aside from the brutality and violence, you have to get used to a whole new language…almost. The characters speak in a “slang” that seems to be a hybrid of old english, cockney and made-up words. There was a complete glossary in the back of the edition I read. In a nutshell, it is a chore to read. Kubric takes the essence of the book and distils it down to its base qualities. Some people say the film is better because it’s easier to watch than the book is to read. I disagree. The “Singing in the Rain” scene alone is so horrific that I haven’t watched this movie in at least ten years.
- Lord of the Rings – I know, I know… blaspheme! Whatever. I tried and tried to read these books, but I was bored. I couldn’t get through even one of them including The Hobbit. But the movies – now that’s entertainment! Well, except for the walking talking trees… er, um, I mean Ents. LOTR nerds get really mad if you call them trees. I don’t care that the movies didn’t have Tom Bombadil or that they forgot some elf or another, the movies were fun and good. If you don’t agree with me, then that’s fine. Go write about it on your blog. I promise to read it.
- Rebecca (1940) – Most of us have read this book, right? Isn’t it required reading in some class? Probably not anymore. I don’t think America requires its youth to actually read anymore, but I digress. The book was good, but it wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film version is creepy, haunting, and chilling – all due to the master of suspense himself, Hitchcock. He cast the film perfectly, and let the mystery unfold little by little, so that by the end you are on the edge of your seat.
- The Valley of the Dolls – Don’t get me wrong, I love this book. LOVE IT. I have read it a few times and each time I smile. But I think I am smiling because I am picturing the movie. The movie reigns supreme because of the bad acting, the over acting, the theme song sung by Dione Warwick, and the fact that Sharon Tate plays a “struggling actress” forced into porn, and Patty Duke eats the scenery. Watching Patty Duke scream “I just gotta have my DOLLS!” is honest to goodness one of my favorite things in life. Here is one of my favorite scenes. You’re welcome.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s – This is the novela that made me decide to read the book before I see the movie. If you love the classic film as much as I do, then just don’t read the novella. It will ruin the movie for you because it… doesn’t end the same. That’s all I’ll say. I wish they had done the film more like the book, because it would have made for a better film, but they didn’t and I fell in love with the film before I fell in love with the book. The book IS great, but don’t expect what you get in the movie. You have been warned.
- Blade Runner – I am not a big reader of sci-fi. I like it enough, but it certainly isn’t my favorite. I like my science fiction to be more fiction than science if you get my drift. This a case where the novel and the movie are pretty different. The material “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is just that – material. The book gave a nice jumping off point and left out the whole sheep herding thing, thank god. I don’t think Harrison Ford would have been quite as cool if there were sheep involved. And Pris is one of the all time coolest, most badass female characters to ever hit the big screen.
- The Firm – Granted, John Grisham books are not really “great writing”. I get that. But the book is a solid beach read, and it is fun. But Sydney Pollack is a far better director than Grisham is a writer, and it shows. The movie is funny, exciting and actually manages to make Wilford Brimley into a bad guy. That is a tough thing to do. Oh, and Gene Hackman is in it, and Gene Hackman can do no wrong.
- The Right Stuff – I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and begged my mom and dad to take me to see it again as soon as the credits rolled. I loved everything about the film – the drama, the fan dance scene, the training sequence, and of course Ed Harris. I can’t NOT like a film with Ed Harris. A few years ago I picked up a used copy of the book, ready to fall in love all over again. I was sorely disappointed. I know I am in the minority here. I get it. But I just can’t get behind Tom Wolfe’s over use of exclamation marks and literary techniques. He’s a gifted writer, but I wasn’t drawn in to the story in its book form the way I was with the movie.