There’s nothing like reading a really good book. Ideally, it will have great characters, a well-crafted story, and plenty of twists and turns. But there have been many instances when a director has taken the source material and transformed it into something even better for the big screen. Sometimes, that rich text can be elevated and the visual translation can be even more successful than what inspired it. Let’s take a look at a list of movies that are arguably better than the books they are based on.
The Shawshank Redemption
You know you’ve done something right when you have turned a four-part novella into a Best Picture-nominated flick. Stephen King’s original tale is known as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
But Frank Darabont saw so much potential in this story and was able to give it the epic proportions it deserved. Not to mention the fact that Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins breathed so much life into the two main characters. It didn’t make much money, but Shawshank has aged like a fine wine.
Blade Runner is one of those movies that seems to have become more beloved the longer it’s been around. But casual moviegoers might not realize that the Ridley Scott Sci-Fi flick is adapted from a novel.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is the original inspiration for the 1982 movie starring Harrison Ford. Amazingly, the changes Scott made for the movie were not warmly welcomed by Dick. Prior to his passing though, the author admitted that the film was superior to his original work.
It’s amazing to think that The Godfather was originally a book. Mario Puzo’s 1969 mafia novel was a New York Times Bestseller for a year, introducing outsiders to the fictional Corleone family. But Francis Ford Coppola took the story to a whole new level.
Not only did actors like Marlon Brando and Al Pacino give the characters from the novel so much gravitas, but Coppola managed to trim the fat from the book, making the theatrical release a much tighter experience altogether.
Fifty Shades of Grey
This one is bound to cause the biggest debate out of all of these books that were turned into movies. Fifty Shades of Grey is a polarizing story at the best of times, due to its raunchy subject matter.
But when the movie was released, people flocked to the cinemas to see how these steamy passages would be brought to life. At least in the film though, viewers didn’t have to listen to the main character’s inner monologue.
The Silence of the Lambs
Any casual moviegoer over the last 30 years is probably familiar with the iconic character that is Hannibal Lecter. What makes The Silence of the Lambs such a terrifying story is that a lot of the brutal violence and sadistic tendencies of the ominous cannibal is simply hinted at, as opposed to being explicitly spoonfed (no pun intended).
According to fans, the original book felt very drawn out in parts and is a tedious reading experience. Obviously, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster elevated the story in a big way.
Upon first glance, you might assume that Mean Girls was just a run-of-the-mill, original teen comedy. What many don’t realize though is that it was adapted from the book Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip and Other Realities of Adolescence, by Rosalind Wiseman.
Tina Fey wasn’t phased by the incredibly long title and wrote her very first screenplay. The movie helped springboard careers for the likes of Rachel McAdams and Lindsey Lohan. The film’s definitely more focused than the book though.
Many have debated until this very day whether or not the movie Fight Club is actually better than the novel it was adapted from. Of course, David Fincher’s film starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt has had a huge impact on pop culture.
But those who have experienced both are torn, with something claiming that the book’s ending is better than the film’s. One telling detail is that Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the 1996 original, absolutely loved the film. Either way, there is a big twist.
Those sharp violin chords and the horrific scream from Marion Crane in the show are nothing short of iconic cinema. Alfred Hitchcock was truly the master of suspense and created an absolute gem of a horror movie in Psycho.
And yet, many people don’t realize that it was a book that inspired the motion picture about Norman Bates. Interestingly, Robert Block only wrote one line to describe the chilling murder in his 1959 novel. The movie definitely did this better and much more gruesome.
There is no denying that Christian Bale’s career entered another dimension when he landed the lead role in 2000’s American Psycho. It seems that viewers of the movie found the outrageous scenes a bit more palatable than how they were described in the original novel from 1991.
Some believe that the passages from the novel were way too graphic, forcing them to stop reading. And yet, the humor and wit from the novel were never missing from the movie.
The Princess Bride
It seems like the line uttered by Inigo Montoya is even more iconic than the actual movie The Princess Bride. What’s awesome about this example is that the person who wrote the original novel, William Goldman, also wrote the screenplay for the 1987 flick.
Probably the thing that makes the movie better than the novel is the romance between Wesley and Buttercup. One thing that remains in place though is the witty wordplay that was born out of the novel.
One key difference between the book Jaws and the movie of the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg, is about the tension surrounding the main characters. In the book, the crew gets to go home every evening and then deal with the shark the next day.
While in the movie, they spend the entire time on the boat. Despite this being made before the advent of CGI, Spielberg achieved the impossible, bringing the text to life through practical effects.
Anyone who is familiar with Roald Dahl’s work has probably read his classic book, Matilda. This story about a young girl with psychokinetic abilities captured the imaginations of millions of readers around the world. And yet, even more people are probably familiar with the film adaptation, which was directed by Danny Devito, of all people.
Just the colorful quality of the movie was enough for it to trump the book it was inspired by. Many will agree that the film’s Matilda, the character, was more likable than the book’s Matilda.
No Country for Old Men
When you are talking about a writer as good as Cormac McCarthy, it’s difficult to believe that any movie adaptation could be possibly better than his original work. And yet, the Coen brothers saw the dark tones lurking between the lines and breathed new life into this murky Western tale.
Of course, Javier Bardem’s chilling performance as Anton Chigurh is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Not to mention that the movie absolutely cleaned up at the Oscars.
It might not be his best movie – but Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is still a beautifully crafted homage to Blaxploitation movies from the ’70s. Heck, even Pam Grier wanted to honor the genre in which she made her name in the first place.
But still, it took a book to put this story into motion. Elmore Lenard wrote the story Rum Punch. In the book though, the main character is white, while Tarantino made her black and flipped the genre.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Characters like Randall McMurphy and Nurse Ratchett are etched into the minds of millions, for numerous reasons. But for most, it would have to be because of the iconic 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson. The book, which was written by Ken Kesey 13 years prior to the film’s release, was a powerful story.
And yet, the performances in the movie really captured the essence of being institutionalized inside a psychiatric facility. Also, it was only the second movie ever to win the big five Academy Awards.
Many who have watched the Sci-Fi movie Arrival and the short story that inspired it, “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, will agree that they are both great in their own rights.
With that said, there is a big fan base that would claim that Denis Villeneuve’s retelling just edges it in terms of quality and simply for visual reasons. After all, this film, starring Amy Adams, did very well at the Academy Awards.
If you grew up during the ’90s and didn’t see Jurassic Park, then what were you doing with your life? This classic adventure flick directed by Steven Spielberg showed the hypothetical reality of a theme park where dinosaurs are essentially brought back to life, with devastating consequences.
While the film doesn’t really deviate from the book much, many believe that certain scenes in the film built up much more tension than the passages in the book.
It seems like a truly epic girl power movie only comes around every once in a while, unfortunately. But when Pitch Perfect did arrive on the scene, it didn’t disappoint, by any stretch of the imagination.
This movie is based on the non-fiction book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory. While the book is interesting, for sure, the movie adds the musical element which really takes the story to a whole new level. Also, Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson are awesome in it.
The Lord of the Rings
Let’s face it – if it wasn’t for The Lord of the Rings, you wouldn’t have had other incredible fantasy sagas such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. It’s just a fact. And you need to owe a lot of thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic books for that.
Then Peter Jackson came along and decided, “you know what, I can make this story even better through the power of cinema.” Characters such as Frodo, Gollum, Legolas, and Aragorn became iconic in the world of Hollywood.
Terms of Endearment
Imagine being nominated for supporting actor for playing a character that wasn’t even in the book that inspired the movie! That’s exactly what Jack Nicholson did when he starred alongside Shirley MacLaine in 1983’s Terms of Endearment. A big book, Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry is charming, to say the very least.
But James L. Brooks came running out the gate with his directorial debut. A story revolving around cancer can get cheesy very quickly, but this movie managed to stay grounded.
Stand By Me
When you think of Stephen King, you’ll probably think of his horror classics like The Shining and It. But the legendary author is also famous for his poignant tales about coming of age and friendship. Take his novella “The Body,” for example.
This story ended up being adapted by Rob Reiner into the classic ’80s movie Stand By Me. While “The Body” is fine, for what it’s worth, Stand By Me is a must-see, with great performances from Corey Feldman, Will Wheaton, and the late River Phoenix.
The Devil Wears Prada
Who could ever forget Meryl Streep’s incredible performance in the classic The Devil’s Wear Prada? This in itself is enough of a reason as to why the 2006 film is better than the book that preceded it three years prior.
Sure, all the classic components are in place in the novel. However, Aline Brosh McKenna made the movie’s plot so much tighter. Not to mention a great early Emily Blunt performance. There’s no point in arguing about this one.
It’s difficult to compete with a movie about 1950s LA crime starring the likes of Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce. LA Confidential had it all, but it’s amazing to think that this 1997 thriller was adapted from a novel.
Amazingly, the book’s author, James Ellroy, proved to be one of the biggest fans of the movie. According to him, Curtis Hanson (the director) did an amazing job of “maintaining the overall dramatic thrust.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Don’t be confused – Bridget Jones’s Diary wasn’t an actual diary. It was a fictional novel by Helen Fielding back, written back in 1999 in the form of diary entries. What is genius about the movie though is that you don’t really feel the diary entry format as much, and the drama and comedy are given room to breathe.
Due to Renee Zellweger’s great performance as Bridget, sequels to the originals also followed. Also, Colin Firth’s Mark was much more interesting than the book version.
Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain certainly won a lot of awards upon its release. Her short story about two cowboys who became romantically involved was well received by many. However, there is no denying that Ang Lee’s 2005 retelling of the story gave the story a fantastic visualization.
He even won Best Director for it at the Academy Awards. But it was Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger’s performances that ended the argument that this movie is superior to the book.
There will never be another fictional character quite like Forrest Gump. In 1986, Winston Groom painted Gump as a big guy with a small mind who embarked on a truly epic life through 20th century America. In the film, Tom Hanks plays a smaller, more timid Gump, but undoubtedly a much more memorable version.
Robert Zemeckis’s Best Picture-winning film had it all – a great soundtrack, wonderful performances, and authenticity that harked back to some of the best and worst years of American history.
When you are dealing with subject matter as tragic as the Holocaust, it’s virtually impossible to make light of it. And yet, Taika Waititi managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat with his adaptation of the story Caging Skies – Jojo Rabbit, specifically!
While the original book is very bleak and doesn’t really give the reader much to chew on in terms of levity, the film Jojo Rabbit is funny and charming in large parts, and somehow works. It was even Academy-Award nominated.
All About Eve
Many don’t know that Hollywood classic All About Eve was actually based on Mary Orr’s short story “The Wisdom of Eve,” which first showed up in Cosmopolitan back in 1946.
While this little piece of fiction was OK at the time, the film adaptation catapulted the story into the public consciousness, and also won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Joseph L. Mankiewicz created an unforgettable film, starring the likes of Bettie Davis and Anne Baxter.
Children of Men
The premise of PD James’s The Children of Men is enough to leave one thinking all night long. Imagine a world where all women have become infertile and no baby has been born in decades.
What made the 2006 movie amazing though is that it amplified the dystopian qualities of the novel, creating a true sense of dread and jeopardy. Alfonso Cuaron gave the film stunning visuals and brought out a great lead performance in Clive Owen. James even claimed to be “so proud to be associated” with the film.
There is no denying that Nicholas Sparks has a knack for tragic love stories. His millions of sold copies of The Notebook are enough proof of that. But many would agree that the 2004 film adaptation starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams is even better than the novel.
All the topics of family drama, war, and love are brought to the forefront in Nick Cassavetes’ classic. Many thought that Rachel McAdams made the film version of the character much better.