“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” – John Le Carré
A lot of writers sell the rights to their books to producers who seem to have nothing but the best intentions for their works. Unfortunately, most often than not, the end result is nothing but disappointing.
Indeed, on rare occasions, the opposite is true: the adaptation improves greatly the source material. Here are 10 movies that are better than the book they were based upon.
Jaws is a 1974 novel by American writer Peter Benchley. It tells the story of a great white shark that preys upon a small resort town and the voyage of three men trying to kill it.
A year later, Steven Spielberg adapted the book into what is now considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, a proper blockbuster, and the highest grossing movie of all time until 1977, when Star Wars came along.
Steven Spielberg. Again. His 1993 adaption of Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel has developed into one of the most successful movie franchises in history. While the book is a bit on the boring side with a lot of emphasis being put on scientific theories, the movie’s action and special effects make for a much, much more exciting experience.
Alfred Hitchcock’s genius turned Robert Bloch’s modest suspense novel into a masterpiece, while ensuring that the source material remains in print to this day.
Anthony Perkins is phenomenal as Norman Bates: damaged beyond repair in the most tragic of ways, his humanity but a faint echo, while Bloch’s novel paints the character as an unlikable, short, pudgy, balding, drunken creep. As for the film’s celebrated shower murder, Bloch dispatches the victim with one sentence.
This one is a bit tricky, considering that author (William Goldman) wrote the screenplay himself. Also, the book is quite good, the film version takes advantage of a visual medium to provide us with unforgettable action scenes, magnificent scenery, and imaginative situations.
Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes is a satirical social allegory about a journalist and a professor who stumble upon an intelligent ape culture while traveling to the star Betelgeuse. Though the idea is fascinating, there are some less enjoyable parts that slow down the narrative.
The film adaptation, however… it’s one of the most groundbreaking movies ever made, not only retaining Boulle’s unique concept but also adding momentum to the story. Bonus: the movie’s plot twist, conceived by co-writer Rod Serling, which doesn’t appear in the novel.
The Godfather is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies of all time. The novel it was adapted from, written by Mario Puzo, is in no means bad, but the movie outshines it, thanks in large part to the brilliant performances of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. The movie adaptation won too many awards to even count, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Picture.
The 1995 American fantasy adventure film directed by Joe Johnston and staring Robin Williams is an adaptation of the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Not a great deal of people know about the book though…
8. Forrest Gump
Based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, the movie was released in 1994, earned quite a lot of money at the box office, received a number of prestigious awards… even the soundtrack became a bestseller.
9. Die Hard
Even though it closely follows the plot of Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the movie adds a welcome dose of humor and personality to the standard cop-vs-terrorists story. The movie abandons the book’s distracting flashbacks, concentrating instead on upping the suspense at every turn. Most importantly, the novel’s main villain is a colorless stiff, while the movie’s sinister mastermind virtually steals the show.
10. The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks’ style may give some readers diabetes, but the adaptation of his first published novel, The Notebook, is the kind of old-fashioned, unabashedly romantic melodrama that can make even the most cynical viewer shed a tear or two. Despite some excessive sentimentalism, and several eye-rolling plot twists, the movie’s charismatic cast (and the chemistry between them) transforms the source material into something of a guilty pleasure.
Honorable Mention: Fight Club
Don’t get me wrong. I personally love the novel. I am a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing. But… he said it himself in a interview, “Now that I see the movie[…] 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.”
Also, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter being as bad ass as is possible in the universe that we currently live in. So, yeah, Fight Club.
But also, if you haven’t, do read the book. It’s by no means bad. No, no, no.