8 movies that are better than their books.

8 movies that are better than their books.

I’m a devoted booklover. After seeing a movie based on a book, I nearly always say, “the book was better.”

Occasionally, a great movie will rival the book its based on. When this happens, it’s silly to talk about which medium was better, or worse. They’re simply different, as books and movies should be. (See: The Princess Bride, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption.)

Sometimes, the movie doesn’t remotely resemble the book. I love when a savvy screenwriter takes the source material in an entirely unexpected direction, like when Tina Fey turned Queen Bees and Wannabes into Mean Girls, or Michael Lewis’s nonfiction hit became the Brad Pitt movie Moneyball.

And most rarely, a screenwriter will take lackluster (or in the case of Forster, pretty darn good) and make it infinitely better than the book it was based on. It’s true: the book is usually better than the movie. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
room with a view

1. A Room with a View

E.M. Forster’s classic becomes an absolutely gorgeous film, complete with soaring arias and Italian vistas. I’ve loved this film since I was a kid. (Heads up: there’s some serious nudity, but as my high school teacher would say, it’s nudity with a European sensibility—naked boys jumping in a lake, not at all sexual.)

julie julia

2. Julie & Julia

Nora Ephron turned a ho-hum book into a delightful movie. The film version hums because Meryl Streep brings Julia to life: Amy Adams portrays a much sweeter spirit than the author’s, and the mediocre parts are gone. Ephron also relies extensively on Julia Childs’s memoirs to bring more Julia into the film version.

about a boy

3. About a Boy

Nick Hornby’s source novel is quite good. But in the film we get Hugh Grant at his most charming, and that is a force to be reckoned with.

The Painted Veil

4. The Painted Veil

This period drama starring Naomi Watts and Ed Norton is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel. When her husband discovers she’s having an affair, he demands that she come with him to the Chinese interior where he is needed to deal with a cholera epidemic. It’s a good book, but a better movie.


5. Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

Okay, it’s not a movie yet—but it’s going to be. Gregory Maguire’s 1995 book retold The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the witches. The story begins before Dorothy arrives in Oz, and continues until after she’s returned home to Kansas. The question everyone is asking now: can the movie be as good as the musical? 

Fight Club

6. Fight Club

The movie version of Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel starring Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter pushes the romance angle and completely changes the ending. After seeing the movie, Palahniuk himself said, “I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make.”


7. Stardust

The 2007 movie starring Claire Danes and Charlie Cox is largely faithful to Gaiman’s novel, no doubt in part because Gaiman himself helped write the screenplay. The film pushes the romance/adventure angle, and is noteworthy for its superb performances and spirit of fun. The novel emphasizes the magical world, and is a little more reserved with its resolutions.


8. The Devil Wears Prada

David Frankel, Meryl Streep, and Anne Hathaway turned the forgettable (albeit juicy) novel into an enjoyable and witty skewering of New York City’s fashion scene. Author Lauren Weisberger makes a cameo as the twins’ nanny. Don’t miss the first three minutes!

What would you argue with? What would you add to the list?

8 movies that are better than the books they're based on

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    • Jenny OH says:

      I feel like it’s hard to even compare the film and book versions; they share so little that when I saw the movie after reading the book, I wasn’t completely if it was actually based on the book or just happened to share the title!

  1. Andrea says:

    I preferred the movie A Walk to Remember to the book by Nicholas Sparks. I saw the movie first and wanted to read the book because in my experience, the book had always better. This was the first time for me that it went the other way.

    • Deborah Larson says:

      Same is true of The Notebook by Sparks. Love the movie, the writing in the novel is just too sparse. Don’t feel the emotional fire in the novel that’s present in the movie.

    • Deborah Larson says:

      My comment disappeared…I added the The Notebook by Sparks is also better in film version.
      Sparks writing is too sparse, lacks the emotional fire that the movie portrays so well. Love the movie, the book was just meh.

  2. Molly says:

    I have to say “The Firm” and “Last of the Mohicans” only because I saw both of these movies and loved them before I read the books. I was actually so mad that LotM movie did not match the book that I quite reading it.

  3. Katie says:

    Totally agree with Julie & Julia and Fight Club. I’d add The Book Thief to this list. I got so frustrated with the book, but the movie was very good!

  4. Marla says:

    The Silence of the Lambs did an excellent job of streamlining the book to turn it into the amazingly scary movie it became!

  5. Claire says:

    A Walk to Remember is most definitely a better movie than book! Reading the comments, this seams to be a trend for Nicholas Sparks’ books…

  6. Carol R says:

    I preferred the whole Hunger Games trilogy movies over the books. The books were laborious to get through but the movies were fantastic!

    • Deborah Larson says:

      Great movie, but the constant use of adding tag lines to dialogue was a bit annoying.
      ‘Blah, blah, blah, Darcy.’ ‘No, blah, blah, blah, Dex.’
      ‘Ethan, stop. Ethan…Ethan!’ ‘Rachel…do you hear yourself, Rachel?’ ‘No, Ethan. Dex loves me not Darcy, Ethan.’ 😉

  7. Sally says:

    Not sure if it counts as a movie, but I prefer the BBC mini series version of Wives and Daughters to Gaskel’s novel. I love all of her books but the movie brought it to life so much better than me reading it did.

    • Deborah Larson says:

      Yes, definitely! Bridges and The Notebook were going to be my two suggestions and they’ve already been listed. Reading minds think alike. 🙂

  8. Rebekah says:

    So this will not be a popular opinion. But as much as I love Jane Austen I generally prefer the movies. Especially Pride and Prejudice, if she lived today she would be an excellent screenwriter.

  9. Karen M Cox says:

    North and South BBC miniseries (the book is by Elizabeth Gaskell- not the Civil War miniseries with Patrick Swayze 😉 ) and I agree about Last of the Mohicans. I ‘kinda’ read it for high school English, but then saw the movie and liked it better.

  10. Kelly Q. Prunty says:

    The Help.
    Loved the movie adaptation, but felt the book was written in a overly-simplistic, almost juvenile tone.

  11. I almost didn’t watch Julie and Julia because I thought the book one of the worst books ever written. It had such a delightful premise but I returned it to the library after reading two chapters. I enjoyed the movie, though.

    I’m glad I watched 84 Charing Cross Road before reading the book and its’ sequel. It helped visualize the book better.

  12. Kel says:

    The Princess Diaries was the first movie that I encountered that I thought was far better than the book. Partially because of the acting/casting, but primarily because the movie corrected some weaknesses in the plot very effectively. “Diary” style books are very hard to get right, and that’s one where I don’t think it was quite there. But the movie is wonderful. (The sequel though… no.)

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