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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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?