Top 10 Movies Better Than The Book

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As a general rule, movie adaptations of books are at worst horrible, and at best somewhere hovering above mediocre. It’s difficult to shoehorn a book’s numerous plot points, and beloved characters, into 90-120 minutes of running time. Heck, just look at the complaints about the inconsequential details left out of the various Harry Potter books.



Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. These are the top ten movies that are even better than the book.

10. LA Confidential

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No one writes Los Angeles quite like James Ellroy, who knows the tone required for high quality noir about as well as anyone since Raymond Chandler. But if you try diving into an Ellroy book without ever having read one before, you may be a bit thrown by his very unique voice and storytelling style. His LA Confidential tells the intertwining stories of three very different cops, after a brutal murder that may or may not have been drug-related, and it quickly gets a lot more complex than that. When the movie version was released, it saw instant critical success and, over the years, has gained traction as one of the finest films of the 1990s. It’s flawlessly acted, exceptionally paced and plotted, and ends with a thrilling climax at an abandoned motel between the good guys and the bad guys.

9. Stand By Me

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Normally when you think of Stephen King adaptations, you cringe and try to forget ever seeing stuff like The Langoliers or The Stand. Typically, King books that get turned into movies are cheesy made-for-TV schlock but, in the case of Stand By Me, based on the novella The Body, a terrific young cast was assembled to create one of the greatest coming-of-age movies ever filmed. The simple fact that they managed to assemble a group of child actors who weren’t just adequate, but really good – and yes, we’re including Corey Feldman here – is an incredible feat. The novella was well written, but nowhere near as memorable as the film.

8. Die Hard

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First things first: yes, Die Hard was actually based on a book. In fact, the now-iconic protagonist (named John Leland in the books) was not originally portrayed on screen by Bruce Willis, but instead by Frank Sinatra in 1968’s The Detective. Die Hard is based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, which in turn was written simply because Thorp had a dream about a guy being chased through a building by men with guns. Yes, that’s the entire inspiration for the book. The movie, on the other hand, is an incredible action film, and helped give birth to the modern action hero. It remains one of the greatest action films of all time.

7. Silence of the Lambs

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Thomas Harris’s novel The Silence of the Lambs was a wildly popular book that continued his series featuring Hannibal Lecter, and introduced Clarice Starling. It was later adapted into a movie (obviously) that helped turn Anthony Hopkins, who had struggled to gain any footing in Hollywood, into a legitimate box office star and won Best Picture. One of the key differences between the book and the movie are that the book spends a lot more time pondering the sexual relationship and chemistry between Starling and her boss, Jack Crawford. Like, a lot of time. Hardly a conversation takes place between Lecter and Starling in which he doesn’t bring up the bubbling sexual tension between the young girl and her boss.

That’s fine for a book when you’ve got hundreds of pages to fill, but was thankfully mostly removed in the movie, because someone realized it would get a little creepy if Hopkins kept reciting entire passages of dialogue relating to Starling’s sex life. The book is great, but the tightened pace and terrific performances gives the movie a slight edge.

6. The Shining

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Hey, look, another Stephen King book that was adapted into a movie! And hint: it won’t be the last one on this list. Who said King’s books can’t make good movies? Someone remind Hollywood of that so that we can finally get a Dark Tower adaptation.

Anyway, The Shining has become an all-time classic horror film. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson, it tells the story of a man’s slow descent into madness in an isolated and snowed-in hotel. It’s hard to imagine Jack Nicholson playing crazy, we know, but just go with it. Believe it or not, the movie and book are wildly different, and we believe Kubrick’s many changes only enhanced the story. The most stark change is probably the ending, of course, as the book has Jack temporarily regain his sanity in order to try to save his son, before being blown up by the hotel’s boiler. Meanwhile, the movie concludes with Jack chasing his kid through a hedge maze, never gaining respite from his madness, and ultimately freezing to death with a really freaking creepy look on his face.

5. Jaws

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Let’s get this out of the way first: Jaws managed to both create the summer event movie and launch the career of Steven Spielberg, while giving Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss arguably their most iconic roles in their very distinguished acting careers. It was based on a novel by Peter Benchley, which was also a great success but featured some very different elements than the book. For example, the shark doesn’t die via awesome one-liner and explosion like he does in the movie, but instead just sort of peters out after getting some harpoons stuck in him. Oh, and Hooper (the Dreyfuss character) nails Chief Brody’s wife in the book, which is completely unnecessary and was rightfully deleted for the film. Hooper, probably due to karma, bites the dust in the book, which we’re glad was changed for the movie as well, because Richard Dreyfuss was just so adorable back then, wasn’t he?

4. The Shawshank Redemption

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Originally titled Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this story was one of four novellas contained within the Stephen King book Different Seasons, along with The Body and Apt Pupil. The novella was well-written, and the movie followed basically the same plot but, as with Stand By Me, it was enhanced tremendously by being fully realized by an impeccable cast. The movie was not a particularly rousing success upon its release (in fact, it kind of bombed), but has gained incredible success and acclaim over the years. It was a Best Picture nominee, and it could be argued should have won, thanks largely to the tremendous central performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Actually, forget that “arguably” thing. Any movie featuring Morgan Freeman’s narration should win every award ever.

3. The Lord of the Rings

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If you want to go down to the comments and curse us out for including Lord of the Rings right now, go ahead. We’ll wait for you to get it out of your system.

…there, feel better now? Look, we love Lord of the Rings. There’s a reason it was collectively named the greatest book of the 20th century. And while The Two Towers is superior on the page than on the screen, it could be argued that Fellowship suffers from so many tangents (including the whole ordeal with Tom Bombadil, for instance), and Return of the King’s book form was more or less an afterthought, while the movie is one of the most epic pieces of cinema ever filmed. Return of the King, the book, was relatively short and uneventful, apart from the whole Mount Doom thing. And the people who complain about the extended ending sequence of the movie would probably go crazy over the scouring of the Shire which, while one of the most beloved sequences of the books, goes on for far too long and seems anticlimactic, after everything that’s come before it.

2. The Princess Bride

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Hey, so you know that book that Peter Falk reads to a young, adorable Fred Savage in The Princess Bride? Yeah, that was actually a real book. It was written by William Goldman, who would later go on to adapt the book into the movie of the same name. Goldman is a legendary Hollywood writer, so it should come as little surprise that he was able to so brilliantly translate his novel to the big screen. The Princess Bride is one of those rare films that managed to transcend the romantic comedy, thanks in large part to its quirky dialogue, fantastical elements, and legitimately rousing adventure. It should come as no surprise that sword fights work better on screen than on the page, after all.

1. Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump is a strange story about a simple man who finds himself in many bizarre situations throughout modern American history. But, while the movie maintained some of the odd quirkiness and unbelievable adventures of our titular hero, the book included many, many more, and they just got weirder and weirder as the plot progressed. The movie won Best Picture over another film on this list, Shawshank Redemption and, while it could be argued it wasn’t the actual best film of the year, it was certainly a milestone picture that deserved every bit of critical acclaim that it received upon its release.

And come on, Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise absolutely knocked this one out of the park in their respective roles. Of course, while we’re getting on the book about being too weird, it might have actually been cool to watch Forrest dealing with cannibals, or traveling to a far-off planet.

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79 Comments

  1. Disagree with Princess Bride-missing out on the Zoo of Death is a great gap in the movie. Fantastic movie, but the book still outdoes the movie.

  2. If you’ve never read Forrest Gump or it’s sequel…. DON’T. They are terrible and charmless and the movie was far better. The second book even goes out of its way to point out that you shouldn’t let anyone make a movie out of your biography because they’ll screw it up.

  3. I nominate Atonement. Loved the movie, so I thought I’d love the book, but no. I couldn’t even get through the first few chapters before I fell asleep.

  4. I read a LOT, but just couldn’t read Dr. zhivago, but loved the movie, don’t actually know anyone who managed to read the book, if anyone out there has managed the book, perhaps they could compare and post.

    • I did read the book (of course I also slogged through “Tropic Of Cancer” and “Winds Of War”) and I agree with Cat–The movie was better.

      • Dennis, Thanks for your comments, I have also tried tropic of cancer, gave up! Life’s too short. How was Winds of War? Is it worth even trying?

  5. Cat, actually “Winds Of War” is good reading. The mini series with Robert Mitchum was also good but in this case I would say the book was better. Wouk focuses on one family mostly during WW2 and their experiences but there’s also a lot of historical fact. Of course the sequel novel was “War and Rememberance”-I would recommend both. However, I would strongly recommend staying away from Michener’s “Chesapeake” and Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” unless you have a bad case of insomnia. Another book I thought much better than the move is “:From Here To Eternity”.

  6. Thanks, Dennis, I was intrigued enough to read a short section of Winds of War on Amazon, and have ordered the book! One of my favourite books and movies of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved the book and thought the film was excellent. I’d love to see a really good film made from Salem’s Lot by Steven king, I remember reading it years ago, in bed and was afraid to turn out the lights, but I was young and innocent then, perhaps it wouldn’t even give me a slight shiver now!

  7. Cat-I have to honestly admit that I’ve never read a Steven King novel. You’re right about “To Kill A Mocking Bird”–Both novel and movie were great. Harper Lee only lives about 130 miles south of me. Everytime I used to go through Monroeville I wanted to find her and talk with her but I didn’t have the guts because they said she was such a recluse. Now I hear she’s in very bad health. In fact I’m not even sure she’s still living although I believe she is. She was good friends with Capote I’ve heard. I’ve never read any of his stuff. Have you read “The Wayward Bus”? The movie was Ok but I believe the book was better. I very much enjoy commenting with you.

  8. Hi Dennis, I haven’t read The Wayward Bus, nor seen the movie, I’ve read quite a few of Steinbeck’s novels, my particular favourite is The Grapes of Wrath, harrowing but wonderful. Have you listened to Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, I loved it. I read Capote’s In Cold Blood a while back, I think I enjoyed it! How awesome that you live near Harper Lee, did you ever seriously think of trying to contact her? With my fabulous powers of deduction I have figured out that you live in the USA , I am in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but I have family in Virginia, and have visited your beautiful country often. what are you reading at the moment? I have just started an historical novel, Lionheart, about King Richard and the crusades in the Holy Lands in 1190s.

  9. Cat–I’m reading “Cause Of Death” by Patricia Cornwell. Have you read any of her novels? Her main character is Kaye Scarpetta. Kaye is a medical examiner who always gets involved in the murder investigations. It’s always a good read. I guess if I was forced to name my favorite novel it would be “The Young Lions” by Irwin Shaw. It was made into a movie (Brando played the German officer)–The movie was good but the book is better. I’ve read it 4 times over the years. Yes,I’ve heard that song by Springsteen–My favorite song by him is still “Darlington County” because it reminds me of my younger days with my buddies. I was always getting away and it would be one of them handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford-haha- Northern Ireland. I would love to go to Ireland. I’ve been in the Far East (US Navy) but never Europe. When I think of the people of Northern Ireland I think of courage.

    • I’ve read Patricia Cornwell novels over the years, but I must admit I got a bit tired of her latter books, when she was obsessed by the wolf man! I loved the movie The Young Lions, but have never read the book. The only books I have read a few times are Pride and Prejudice, and The Count of Monte Christo, I realise that Jane Austin might be a little too girly for you, but it is quite witty. Have you seen Mystic River and Shutter Island, or read the books by Dennis Lehane? Both are worth a look. I have a morbid fascination with crime and mystery novels, I particularly like Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, his are a bit more light hearted, but good for a grey, damp afternoon,(we get a lot of those here), and a good cup of coffee. I may be a little bit prejudiced as I have met these authors at various book signings, and found them to be very accessible and quite charming. by the way, I shall be going to a Springsteen show in July, and am looking forward to it very much. I envy your travels in the Far East, I would love to go there, maybe some day. We have had a difficult time here over the years, and a bit of escapism through books and to a lesser degree movies, (we didn’t always like to go out in the evenings) was very comforting, when you could lose yourself in a good story, and not think of the bullets and bombs going off outside!

  10. No I haven’t read any of Jane Austin’s books. I saw the movie Mystic River but not Shutter island. I haven’t read either book. I’ve always been obsessed with the old west and wish I had been born a hundred years before I was. I’ve read all of Louis L’Amour’s books. Many of his were made into movies.I’ve read “Lonesome Dove” (Larry McMurtry) twice and watched the movie at least 7 times.The book is great-The movie even better. Fiction,of course but a lot of realism (speech,clothing,attitudes,etc.). I tried my best to read “Finnigan’s Wake” long ago but it was too complicated for my simple brain. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he was trying to say.The first book (novel) I remember reading was Hans Brinker (Or the silver skates). My grandmother bought it for me when I was 7-years-old. I still have it. Have you read any of Ayn Rand’s books? I read a couple of hers and a lot of others down in the boiler room of my ship on long midnight watches.

  11. Even though I simply loved the Forrest Gump movie I can never agree it was better than the book. The book is just soooo much more than a movie, it offers hours of laughter and the adventures that Forrest has been involved in are so much more than shown in the movie. It’s just much funnier and much better than the movie. I would highly recommend reading it.

  12. C’mon Lord of the rings the films better than the books?
    if you only care about massive visual effects and huge battles probably but… Lord of the Rings is a lot more than the battles. you may like the rest or not but removing everything else was almost criminal and can only be justified because the books have enough material to make six full films instead of just three but they didn’t want to take the risk of trying to make six films and find themselves forced to leave the story unfinished for some stupid economical reason or any other silly thing.

    truth to be told there’s no way to show in a film (or a series of films) the richness of Tolkien’s LotR universe. let’s be sincere. the entire main plot is just a weak excuse to have somebody do a long travel over the entire land and show us all the little stories it contains. each character has his/her own story even if it’s not an important one in the big scheme of things but it’s still part of the LotR universe. even that happy crazy Tom Bombadil has his own story and reason to be.

  13. If I hear one more person tell me “The Shining” movie was better than the book, I might just have to mutilate Stanley Kubrick’s grave.
    “The Shining” was an entertaining film, don’t get me wrong. Each performance (save perhaps Shelly Duvall) was thuroughly enjoyable, and more importantly, scary.

    • But “The Shining” novel was a thurough and chilling metaphor about substance abuse, particularly Alcoholism, as well as being scary as hell.

      • Pedro Urrutia on

        The movie is deeper than the book, just watch the documentary Room 237. Alcoholism? Cute.

  14. Charles Campbell on

    I agree with L.A.Confidential being a better film than the book. Except for a handful of characters and incidencies the book has no bearing on the film. I read L.A.Confidential twice and I can tell you it is a chore. The film was great!