10 Movies That Were Better Than The Books

Written by John DeVore

We’re well aware of the old canard “the book is better than the movie.” But, every once in a while, the movie wins.

Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to transforming bestselling novels and works of literature into popcorn movies. But on some rare occasions a movie comes along that improves on its source material. A clever screenwriter, an inspired director, and a pitch-perfect actor can interpret a book masterfully: streamlining stories, fleshing out characters, and cutting the fat.

10. Blade Runner (Director’s Cut)

Based on Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” Ridley Scott’s atmospheric, cyberpunk noir takes a cerebral sci-fi landmark and turns it into a violent, visceral dirge about what it means to be human.

9. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

Director Terry Gilliam gave Hunter S. Thompson’s surreal, drug-fueled stumble through Las Vegas what it needed: a little bit more of a narrative. The book reads like you’re in a haze, which is how it was written. Gilliam contextualizes the movie, placing it firmly during the death spasm of the hippie promise. His lead, Johnny Depp, becomes Hunter in an eerily satisfying performance that never feels like caricature.

8. The Shining

Stephen King famously trashed this Stanley Kubrick adaptation, but he shouldn’t have. Kubrick took a perfectly spooky ghost story and created a horror movie game changer. It’s an oft-copied, sinister, and hypnotic tale of one man’s descent into madness.

7. Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper’s 19th Century prose can be a slog for contemporary readers, but it didn’t stop Michael Mann from dusting it off and finding its pounding frontier heart. With the help of a superb cast, including a plausibly badass Daniel Day Lewis, this historical saga is the rare highbrow action film.

6. The Bridges of Madison County

This best-selling novel by Robert James Waller is a disciplined, if slim, tearjerker about an affair long dead. It seemed counterintuitive that Hollywood man’s man Clint Eastwood would take the Oprah’s Book of the Month Club Winner and with fellow icon Meryl Streep, transform it into a sweeping, bittersweet love letter to doomed romance.

5. The Godfather/The Godfather Part II

Mario Puzo wrote one of the great pulp gangster books of all time. Francis Ford Coppola made it into two movies as bleak, complex, and cathartic as a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not just a saga about the mafia, like the book. Instead, the movie is about the dark side of the American dream.

4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary sword-and-sorcery tome has moments of brilliance punctuated by hundreds of pages of songs, Elvish genealogy, and exhaustive geographical Middle Earth detail. In making his modern cinematic classic, Peter Jackson ignored such passages and focused on the story – a particularly human story about good, evil, and the power of friendship.

3. The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is one of crime fiction’s greatest gumshoes: a tough-talking private dick with a moral code, stuck in an amoral world. A great read, but when a legend like Humphrey Bogart shows up in the movie all bets are off. Not even the most sublime imagination could dream up such a righteous, world-weary hangdog.

2. Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk sly mediation on modern identity was transformed by director David Fincher into a testosterone fueled loony punk rock opera starring a brilliant Brad Pitt as an unhinged id and a slack-jawed Ed Norton as an everyman on the edge.

1. American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’s tongue-in-cheek thriller about a serial killer became instantly infamous for its shocking violence and gratuitous sex. Critics vilified the novel for depictions of unspeakable depravity. But the book’s main flaw was it’s sloppy ambiguity—is Patrick Bateman an actual madman or some feverish delusion? Director Mary Harron offered a solution in her smart, stylish, and chilling movie adaptation—she directly tells us who Patrick Bateman is, crafting an alternately terrifying and hilarious satire of machismo and impotence.

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24 thoughts on “10 Movies That Were Better Than The Books

  1. Catherine

    WHAT THE HELL? American Psycho the book is INFINITELY superior to the movie! What you call “sloppy ambiguity” is postmodernity as its finest; the question the author of this list poses is what makes the book chilling and memorable. The movie plays like nothing more than a cheapened, diluted facsimile of the book, with pieces chosen at random that hope to represent Ellis’s (and Bateman’s) eerie genius–but ultimately fail.

  2. Ufuk Kayserilioglu

    I agree with Catherine’s response completely. The film was nothing like the book which had a deep portrayal of Patrick Bateman as a person. The film was showing a superficial character (at best) that was more defined with the acts he performed rather than any internal or socialogical tensions.

  3. Bowie

    I’m gonna have to agree with the American Psycho thing, I liked the movie WAY more than the book and I read the book twice, it just rambled on at parts and the movie was much more entertaining. I still like the book, but I would much rather watch the movie.

    And by the way, you forgot “Gone With The Wind”

  4. Melissa

    I disagree. Fear & Loathing was a way better book. Reading the book first really helps you understand the movie better.

  5. Alex

    Fear and Loathing was better in print. I’m a movie guy too. Actually re-read the book then watched the movie right after and the book takes the cake

  6. Curly

    How could Fight Club be on this list? Not a chance! Chuck Palahniuk is one of the finest authors of our time. Every single one of his books is going to be made into a film or a series. The Lord Of The Rings?!?!? That is the most ridiculous thing I have EVER heard. Those books are three of the finest pieces of literature ever written. The movies were oscar worthy but they still don’t even come close! Everything else is pretty much on par. One of the movies that should have been on this list was Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust.” That book was pretty bad compared to the film. Thank you for not putting Harry Potter on here.

  7. Stixo

    I agree with many of the candidates on this list. I can see why LOTR is here, though I personally like the books better. But American Psycho? That movie has no place on this list. Only way that mediocre movie would be better than the book, is if you are illiterate.

  8. The Janitor

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  9. saturnsshadow

    What? The Lord of The Rings (book) was a lot better than the movies. I mean, while I liked the films, there is only so much you can put in a movie when the books you’re adapting from are quite large. I think the books are always better than their movie counterpart. You get the full story.

  10. Cynthia

    I’d like to add No. 11: The Joy Luck Club

    The book was uneven and confusing. Some characters were more fleshed out than others. The movie juxtaposed the mothers experiences from their daughters beautifully.

  11. Tombstoneblue

    Many of these comments were questionable, but I could see the point of all but American Psycho. That movie was genuinely awful, and just a kind of neat novelty if you've read the book. The movie cannot compare to the book at all for me. The ambiguity is a great aspect of Bret Easten Ellis's novels, and his characters are still so rich, kind of a feat especially considering the whole point of the novel is the character's (and the yuppie generation on a whole) shallowness.

  12. cyberpunk

    Forrest Gump should have been #1 on this list. But Tolkien is Sacrosanct in the home I grew up in and to suggest the movie (which was great) was better than the book is utter blasphemy. I also disagree with the opinion on the Shining. The book was way more scary. In the book, the Hotel itself had a character and palpable emotion. By contrast, the movie was all Nicholson psycho. The movie is one of my all-time favs, but it was certainly the abridged version of the story. 99.9999% of the time the book is better than the movie.

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