The book isn’t better than the movie

The book isn’t better than the movie

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

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the book is better than the movie. Not always.

With very few exceptions, media is best enjoyed in the format in which it was originally conceived.

The book is better than the movie because the movie was derived from the book. The book, as the original form, is better. It’s more complete, more whole, more nuanced, more enjoyable.

If you’ve ever read a book derived from a movie, you get this. Even if the movie was wonderful, the book feels flat and empty in comparison. This isn’t done frequently for adults (thank goodness) but it happens with children’s books all the time. Try picking up any Charlie and Lola book, or the book version of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. They’re summaries, shells of the original. They’re the Cliffs Notes, and no one reads those just for fun.

Great movies are just that: great movies. Turned into books, they lose their greatness. (For a richer appreciation of what makes a great movie great, I highly recommend McKee’s Story, which immensely deepened my appreciation of the craft.)

Occasionally, a movie will be better than its book. Very occasionally. Only two spring immediately to mind:

room with a view

A Room with a View (1985)

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 young.

(Heads up: there’s some serious nudity, but as my high school teacher would say, it’s nudity with a European sensibility–completely natural, not at all sexual.)

julie julia

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.

photo credit

What movies can you think of that are better than the books? (Or, which films did you enjoy more than their literary counterparts?)

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  1. Sheila DelCharco says:

    The one that comes to mind is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I used to love the movie. Read the book and hated the ending. I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

  2. Rebecc Putna says:

    Remains of the Day is one of my very favorite books and movies. It’s hard to decide which is better. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are amazing in the film but the book is achingly beautiful on its own.

  3. Sara K. says:

    What about The Jane Austen Book Club? I haven’t read the book because I have heard it isn’t very good, but I love the movie!

    For this next one, I can’t say that the movies are better than the books, but I like them just as much. The Chronicles of Narnia. I think the books are wonderful, but I just love what they did with the movies (especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

  4. Dawn Reiss says:

    I missed this post when it was originally published, and I have to add my examples: The Pelican Brief and The Firm. Both movies are action packed, suspenseful fun with pretty people in them, and I can watch them over and over. But a single reading of both Grisham books was enough. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I just finished a suspense novel a la John Grisham and I’ve had him on my mind all week! Specifically, I want to WATCH (not read) The Pelican Brief again. Nobody ever talks about that movie now so it’s fun to see you mention it here, now.

  5. Raela says:

    Just found this post from your 4 year birthday post. I have to add that The Count of Monte Cristo movie is lovelier than the book. It pulls out all the best themes in the story and really gets across that justice vs. mercy question in as compelling a way as Les Mis.

  6. Joyce says:

    I LOVED Julie and Julia! Loved Loved Loved it. I will not read the book now. Thank you for saving me. And I WILL watch A Room with a View. Thanks!!! love your blog btw.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Ghost World. One word: Seymour. Steve Buscemi’s Seymour wasn’t in the book so they got it right in the movie.

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