The universally excepted wisdom is that books are always better than the movies that follow them. I reject that. It is not always the case. Here are my five favourite film adaptations of books (there are at least a couple more I can think of off the top of my head) — in no particular order — and all of them are better than their source material.


The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick) — I have a problem with Stephen King's writing. He rivets me in the first act, bores me in the second act, and loses me completely in the third and final act. He sets things up beautifully, creating dread and suspense, but he can't seem to sustain it, and his flounderings in the middle portions of his books always turn to silliness and a loss of horror for me in the climaxes.


What Kubrick does so well in his version of The Shining is to maintain that early terror throughout the movie. He matches the opening dread, but he never releases his grip on what is truly terrifying, and what is truly terrifying is Jack's descent into madness. We don't need King's topiary animals to become murderous for horror to be present. The simple madness of a man in isolation, lost in his mind, is far scarier than the extra supernatural bullshit that King piles on to Danny's telepathy. In the case of The Shining, Kubrick's cuts streamline the story and make it much, much better.  


Fight Club (dir. David Fincher) — I find that my reaction to Chuck Palahniuk's writing is similar to my reaction to Stephen King's. For  Palahniuk, though, it is more of a half and half proposition. I tend to love the beginnings of his books and hate the endings. I didn't hate anything in  Palahniuk 's Fight Club, though. It is his best book, the most fully realized. No question. For me, only Invisible Monsters comes close.


Despite the strength of Fight Club as a book, however, Fincher's vision for the film is vastly superior. The visual realization of the story, the fast cuts, the Easter egg clues dropped throughout to reveal of the identiy of Tyler Durden, the casting of Tyler and Marla and the narrator and Robert Paulsen, the scratchy film quality, the lighting, the tones, the manifestations of location, the fact that there is less on-screen violence that one actually remembers, the depth of theme, the politics of the piece, the placement of Tyler and Marla in a tower that is about to go down in flames, and that final shot of corporate towers collapsing a two full years before two towers collapsed in the real world, make Fight Club the best film of the last twenty years.


At best  Palahniuk 's book is very good, but Fincher's movie is great — and it will be remembered as such for years to come.


Jaws (dir. Steven Spielberg) — I doubt the book kept anyone out of the water. But Spielberg's movie did. That says it all. But if you need some more, Spielberg's movie cuts out the Mafia crap. Thanks for that, Steven.


M*A*S*H* (dir. Robert Altman) — The book by Richard Hooker achieves, at best, the level of okay. It's humourous and fun enough, but it is entirely forgettable. The fact that it is remembered at all is a result of Robert Altman's brilliant film adaptation and the T.V. Series that the movie spawned. 


Altman takes a minor propaganda piece for how "heroic" our frontline doctors are in war time, and turns Hooker's gentle conservatism on its ear, producing a scathing anti-War satire that goes far beyond its Vietnam-era criticism. Altman satirizes gender politics, sexual politics, the not yet begun war on drugs, alcoholism, religious fervour, neo-Imperialism, military hierarchy, and sport. And he delivers it all in the loose, free-wheeling style of his auteurship.


This movie is so good that it, rather than the book, should be considered the source material for the television series. It is an act of hyperreal replacement wherein the map replaces the landscape as the generative text, and I defy anyone — other than a member of the Hooker family — to make a case for otherwise.


The Prestige (dir. Christopher Nolan) — I can't be too specific about my reasons here without giving away key points of both manifestations of The Prestige, but suffice to say that Nolan's film uses all of film's visual strengths to tell a story of technology, magic/illusion and rivalry better than Priest can. And Nolan's change to the ending of the book is the wisest of many wise moves he makes. Christopher Priest's book is pretty good (maybe the best book of the five), but Nolan's movie is even better (though not as good as Fight Club). 


And there you have it: five movies that are better than their source material. I am sure everyone, whether they like to admit it or not, can think of at least one case of their own. 

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Published on April 12, 2012 10:04 • 135 views



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message 13: by Brad (new)

Brad Haven't read either, so I'll have to take your word for it, Nicole.


message 12: by Wrey (last edited Apr 16, 2012 11:59AM) (new)

Wrey Fuentes Yes, the film was very intriguing; hence, my deep disappointment with the lackluster telling as a book. Highsmith's original seemed under a sepia colored pall. The lack of any "pop" in the characters other than Tom Ripley made his motivations difficult to buy. Now, to play devil's advocate to my own feelings of the shortcomings of the novel, the subject of Tom Ripley's latent homosexuality was equally murky and just under the surface in the novel. It was more prevalent in the book, but less sensational than the "Look! It's Jude Law's wiener!!" of the movie. Part of me wonders of the drabness of the characters in the novel had to do with the difficulty in writing about this theme at the time the novel was written.

Oh, and just as an aside: The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first of a series of books by Highsmith centered on the character of Tom Ripley. The second novel, Ripley Under Ground was also made into a rather more obscure movie of the same name.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripley_U...

Traveller wrote: Whatever, even if you got the characters wrong, I think it was a brilliant film. Sadly I've not read the book, so I can't compare.



message 11: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Wrey wrote: "I would add The Talented Mr. Ripley to this list. The book paints Dickie Greenleaf and Meredith Logue as a most painfully dull and unenviable pair - other then Dickie's money of course - such that..."

Whatever, even if you got the characters wrong, I think it was a brilliant film. Sadly I've not read the book, so I can't compare.


message 10: by Wrey (new)

Wrey Fuentes Oops. I got the name wrong for the character I was trying to disparage. I meant the character of Marge Sherwood, not Meredith Logue. Just goes to show how much more impact the film had over me as compared to the book. :)

Brad wrote: "Godfather crossed my mind when I was doing my list, Traveller (great choice), but I am loving some of the others you guys are coming up with. Howard's End? I love both, but it is so long since I wa..."


message 9: by Brad (new)

Brad I've not read or seen either. Ever. I think I will go with seeing it, considering your opinion, Terry.


message 8: by Terry (new)

Terry I thought the movie version of The Man Who Would be King was better than the book.


message 7: by Brad (new)

Brad Godfather crossed my mind when I was doing my list, Traveller (great choice), but I am loving some of the others you guys are coming up with. Howard's End? I love both, but it is so long since I watched it or viewed it that I can't say definitively, Robert. But you'd bang on with The Talented Mr. Ripley, Wrey, despite the added character.


message 6: by Wrey (last edited Apr 16, 2012 08:00AM) (new)

Wrey Fuentes I would add The Talented Mr. Ripley to this list. The book paints Dickie Greenleaf and Meredith Logue as a most painfully dull and unenviable pair - other then Dickie's money of course - such that it becomes difficult to believe in the pathological longing Tom Ripley has to be them. The movie does a much better job of making them ethereally backlit, otherworldly and gilded as to precipitate the series of events that are meant to follow.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Howard's End.

It plays up humour that is barely traceable in the book, to great effect and makes the basic points of the book just as clearly.


message 4: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Yip, for me it was Stardust and The Godfather.


message 3: by Brad (new)

Brad I am not surprised to hear you say Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at all. I couldn't even finish the book, but the correct casting could definitely make a likable film.

And I'd thought of adding Gump myself. It's definitely on my alternate list. I definitely think the order of reading/viewing can have an impact, although I read three of the books on my list before watching them and still pick the movie over the book. Probably makes it tougher to pick the movie though.


message 2: by Jen (new)

Jen Oh and the two Forrest Gump books (Forrest Gump and Bubba & Co) were just not as good as the movie. But in that case, I had seen the movie before reading either book. Do you think the order in which you read/watch determines our perception of the quality of each version?


message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I found the movie better. The messy, confusing, awkward parts of the book were removed or weaved in to make more sense. A relationship between the mother and son actually existed in the movie, as it should have (or was just poorly implied in the book). The few additions to the movie that did not come from the book were very seamless and helpful. While I read the book first, seeing the movie almost gave me a sense of relief: "Oh, that's the story...that's really what should come away from this book." Sure the movie is tidier and many literature critics hate that about movies. But in this case, the book needed a serious once over to make it better.


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