Goodreads Blog

Is the Book Really Better Than the Movie?

Posted by Patrick on February 22, 2013 175283

Half of this year's ten Best Picture nominees are based on books: Lincoln (adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals), Life of Pi (from Yann Martel's novel), Silver Linings Playbook (from Matthew Quick's book), Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, by way of Broadway), and Argo (based on both Antonio J. Mendez's autobiography The Master of Disguise and Joshuah Bearman's article from Wired). But the jump from page to screen isn't always so successful. Too many times we leave the theater sighing and saying, "The book was better." Of course, the opposite is sometimes true. Occasionally a story is so well adapted that it will outshine the original source material. Ever hear of the 1979 thriller Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp? It spawned the movie Die Hard, which has gone on to become one of the most memorable movie franchises of the last 30 years. "Yippee-ki-yay!" indeed.

Here's the big question: Is the book really better than the movie? In our search for an answer, we looked at more than 300 books and the movies made from them to determine whether the adaptations generally received better or worse reviews than their counterparts. For the books, we used our average rating (found on every book page on Goodreads). For the movies, we used the Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating.

In general, people liked the books in our sample set better than the movies, giving the books an average rating of 3.94 stars while rating the movies just 3.59. This makes sense, though, as one would imagine that relatively few unpopular books get adapted into movies.

By analyzing the movies to see which ones had higher ratings than the book they were based on and ordering them by the size of the difference in ratings, we were able to calculate exactly which adaptations were significantly better on the screen. The results are somewhat surprising:



Two of the top 10 adaptations from our list are nominated for Best Picture this year— the movie version of Life of Pi outpaced its book source material by a considerable margin and Argo trails only The Social Network for highest ratings discrepancy. Even though only one of the adaptations on our list won Best Picture (despite eight of the ten being nominated), we're betting on Argo to beat the odds and take home the big award.

And then there are the adaptations that maybe should've stayed on the page. When it comes to book-based movies that have disappointed us, the lesson seems to be "Do not mess with our childhood memories!" Either that or "Do not mess with Dr. Seuss!" Children's movies dominate the list of worst adaptations.



Do you have a favorite book-to-movie adaptation? How about one you'd rather forget ever happened? And who do you think will take home Oscar gold?
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 101) (101 new)


message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa IMO, one of the few movies that is as good (or better) than the great book it was based on is The Godfather. Life of Pi may also qualify. In both cases, loved the book, loved the movie. I also really loved both the book and movie versiond of The English Patient, although many of my friends thought the movie was better than the book.


message 2: by Juliette (new)

Juliette The only better movies in my opinon are Shawshank Redemption and Mystic River. No other movie ever impressed me more than the book.


message 3: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Both John Carter of Mars (Burroughs) and Phantom of the Opera (Leroux) should have been left as books. True art in their written forms.


message 4: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Gone With The Wind. I don't feel the movie suffered at all. At times when I pull the book out again and again, Vivian Leigh's sassiness, strength, and vulnerability always comes to mind.

To Kill a MockingBird is another I loved. I'm not sure the film captured everything the book did, but had its own gentility and humanity about it that resonated on its own.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Except everything in the film version of Argo never happened!


message 6: by Avenger (new)

Avenger of Death In very rare occasions I leave the theater thinking that the movie was better than the book, and I actually can recall a single one time right now.

But I do remember other occasions in which both the movie and the book are equally good and outstanding in their own media. For me, that's what happened with "A Clockwork Orange" or "True Grit" Coens version, for example. That would be a tie.

But, as implied earlier, movies based on books I have already read are most of the time a disappointment.


message 7: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Seyb I tend to have the reaction to where if I don't like the book then I tend to like the movie adaptation. If I like the book, well the movie doesn't stand a chance.


message 8: by Anna (new)

Anna Tatelman It pains me to say this, as I love Cecelia Ahern, but P.S. I Love You was a far better film than book.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was another one that should have just remained on the page.


message 9: by Braeburn (new)

Braeburn Cider House Rules is a much better movie than novel; John Irving, who adapted his novel for the screen, tightened the story into a film masterpiece


message 10: by Molly (new)

Molly Movies: Saw Twilight and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Twilight really does bring the book to life. And Benjamin Button was a great movie.

Books: I've seen 7 out of the ten and yes, the book was better than the movie every time. The Hitchhiker's Guide, a lot of people pick on, but the movie did have the lighthearted fun of the book. It just wasn't as fantastic. That book is great.


message 11: by Molly (new)

Molly Brittany wrote: "I tend to have the reaction to where if I don't like the book then I tend to like the movie adaptation. If I like the book, well the movie doesn't stand a chance."

I definitely agree! Great point. Although, I haven't seen anything about the Lord of the Rings. I liked the books and the movies in that instance.


message 12: by Scott (new)

Scott The only books I can think of that are surpassed by their film versions are Barry Lyndon, The Player, Shrek, The Invisible Man (Whale), and The Devil-Doll (based on A. Merritt's Burn Witch Burn). I would probably say The Shining if I had read The Shining, because I hated the only King novel I've read (The Regulators). A few films are as good, such as The Night of the Hunter, but I was surprised how good Davis Grubb's novel is. The film is close, but the novel has some great moments that are missing, and the writing is superb.


message 13: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Bellin I find movies so different from books it's impossible to say which is better. I love Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies--as movies. But I love Tolkien's books--as books. The books are certainly better books than the movies, but the movies are better movies than the books.


message 14: by Scott (new)

Scott Sandra wrote: "Both John Carter of Mars (Burroughs) and Phantom of the Opera (Leroux) should have been left as books. True art in their written forms."

I read The Phantom of the Opera in the original French, and the 1925 film seemed the closest, except for the ending with the torch-bearing villagers, but I don't think Leroux's ending would work too well in a silent film.


message 15: by Emily (new)

Emily I think The Hours book and movie are equally fantastic.


message 16: by Michael (new)

Michael Comparing forms can be problematic, yet in a few cases the movie can be better than the book.
I blogged about it a few years ago:
http://thebadandthebeautiful.net/?p=5


message 17: by Yehia (new)

Yehia Shehata How about Sin City? I know it's not a book, but I felt that the movie was a better medium than the graphic novel in that case.


message 18: by Angel (new)

Angel I found the movie version of Field of Dreams much more coherent than the book. It seems the screenwriter(s) whittled it down to its essence. It's the only movie I've ever thought was better than its source.


message 19: by John (new)

John Marshall I would contest the Life of Pi film being superior to the book. The book probably has a more tepid reception because at the time, a lot of people didn't understand it. The book, however, is terribly lavish in its narration, optimistic in its outlook, and quite a lot of the film's best moments owe themselves to the book.

Though the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being called complete arse next to the book seems fair to me. I just wish 2009's Alice in Wonderland from the same director was also on that list.


message 20: by Taryn (new)

Taryn Ella Enchanted. Book is fantastic, movie is ok is it's own way, but is a HORRIBLE book-to-movie adaptation. They pretty much just took the character names and wrote an entirely new story. Not cool.


message 21: by Dawn (new)

Dawn I have always preferred the movie version of Gone With the Wind to the book. Seen and/or read both several times and my opinion on that has never changed.


message 22: by Jan (new)

Jan Bustrak Julie and Julia the movie took the cream from the book. The movie exceeded the book and left the dross behind.


message 23: by Annette (new)

Annette The very best example of a better movie than book is Jaws. The book reads like a novelization, in my opinion: those who read it after seeing the movie are probably surprised to find out the book came first.


message 24: by Rosy (new)

Rosy 'LESS THAN ZERO'by Bret Easton Ellis ...the movie was much better in my opinion....saw the movie first and liked it a lot... read the book and was very disappointed...


message 25: by J.J. (last edited Feb 22, 2013 08:58AM) (new)

J.J. Murphy Fight Club. Movie was better, funnier, more intricate, had more depth, than the book.

It's funny that no one has mentioned The Help. Can't comment, didn't see it.


message 26: by Scott (last edited Feb 22, 2013 09:07AM) (new)

Scott The Wizard of Oz (1939), good as it may be in itself, is horrible, sexist, and shallow as a book-to-film translation, but there are far worse examples, such as the 1925 Wizard of Oz film, as well as various cartoons, which make it look quite good by comparison.


message 27: by Vickie (new)

Vickie Joshua wrote: "I find movies so different from books it's impossible to say which is better. I love Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies--as movies. But I love Tolkien's books--as books. The books are cert..."

I get that, Joshua, & I agree, especially about those particular movies & books


message 28: by Tony (new)

Tony Rutherford The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham. I saw this incredible movie first, then read the book. I am not knocking the author, but the movie is way better. It is also on my top movie list of all time, as well as being my favorite Bill Murray film.


message 29: by Sumbeela (new)

Sumbeela weighing in...I think there have been plenty of movies made from books and such is a norm that many a times you wish either you had skipped the movie or passed over the book… but “Out of Africa” has acquired the unique distinction of being both an excellent read and has gone on to be translated into an equally mesmerizing movie. It is always a pleasure either to read or watch it.


message 30: by Carole (new)

Carole I thought they did an excellent job with the Time Traveler's Wife. It could have been very confusing. The book was confusing to me at first, until I took a few notes.


message 31: by Vickie (new)

Vickie Scott Andrew wrote: "The only books I can think of that are surpassed by their film versions are Barry Lyndon, The Player, Shrek, The Invisible Man (Whale), and The Devil-Doll (based on A. Merritt's Burn Witch Burn). ..."

Scott Andrew wrote: "The only books I can think of that are surpassed by their film versions are Barry Lyndon, The Player, Shrek, The Invisible Man (Whale), and The Devil-Doll (based on A. Merritt's Burn Witch Burn). ..."

Ah, the Shining was a good book (only book EVER to give me nightmares). King's early works were quite good but went downhill in the 80s with a few exceptions


message 32: by Beth (new)

Beth Kathy wrote: "Gone With The Wind. I don't feel the movie suffered at all. At times when I pull the book out again and again, Vivian Leigh's sassiness, strength, and vulnerability always comes to mind.

To Kill a..."


I read that Margaret Mitchell was disappointed in the movie.


message 33: by Tori (last edited Feb 22, 2013 09:20AM) (new)

Tori Bryant J.J. wrote: "Fight Club. Movie was better, funnier, more intricate, had more depth, than the book.

It's funny that no one has mentioned The Help. Can't comment, didn't see it."


In response to Fight Club, I find that the movie and the book are good companions in this case. If you just read the book you feel a bit lost I guess - because it is lacking in the depth you mentioned. But if you just watch the movie, the way things are done/said doesn't make as much sense as in the book. (The sort of choppy unexplained way the book is doesn't make sense for a movie, unless you've read the book).


message 34: by Tori (new)

Tori Bryant Stardust. I love that movie, the book was okay. Neil Gaiman is GREAT, but Robert DeNiro and Clair Danes are outstanding in the movie.


message 35: by Lois (new)

Lois Lisa wrote: "IMO, one of the few movies that is as good (or better) than the great book it was based on is The Godfather. Life of Pi may also qualify. In both cases, loved the book, loved the movie. I also real..."

I agree Lisa, I loved the book and thought the film was tremendous, plus it had music!


message 36: by Lois (new)

Lois Beth wrote: "Kathy wrote: "Gone With The Wind. I don't feel the movie suffered at all. At times when I pull the book out again and again, Vivian Leigh's sassiness, strength, and vulnerability always comes to mi..."

I thought the actors were just as I had imagined them in the book.


message 37: by Tori (new)

Tori Bryant John wrote: "I would contest the Life of Pi film being superior to the book. The book probably has a more tepid reception because at the time, a lot of people didn't understand it. The book, however, is terribl..."

In response to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - yes, that movie doesn't hold a candle to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, BUT the newer version more closely follows Roald Dahl's story line.


message 38: by Maryposa (new)

Maryposa I felt like The Hunger Games movie really outshone an already great book. The film version easily overcomes the weaknesses of a first-person narrative, which can be incredibly limiting.


message 39: by Lois (new)

Lois A book to TV great was 'Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy' by John le Carré and starring Alec Guinness and a host of other wonderful actors; the film version starring Gary Oldman was dreadful, dull, dull, dull, no excitement as it was obvious from the first time we saw him who the spy was, wooden acting... oh I could go on! The book is wonderful, and so is the TV version... the film, nil points!


message 40: by Katie (new)

Katie Tucker I have always liked the 1995 movie version of "Sense and Sensibility" better than the book. The book is good, but it does drag on a bit at times, and the performances in the movie are so well done. That's another job well done by Ang Lee!


message 41: by Ronnie (new)

Ronnie I'd add "Jaws." While Benchley's novel is decent, Speilberg's vision for it made for one of the best movies ever.


message 42: by Michelle (new)

Michelle A Time to Kill by John Grisham. The movie surpassed the book.


message 43: by Richard (new)

Richard Brokeback Mountain sprouted an epic movie from a pretty bare bones short story.


message 44: by Jeanette (jema) (new)

Jeanette (jema) The film Cabaret is a whole lot better then the short story it is based on by Isherwood.
Also Mansfield Parkas a book is quite dreadful where the film is so much better.


message 45: by Dave (new)

Dave this is ridiculous. Very rarely if ever has a movie come even close to being as good as the book, classics like The Godfather included. It would take a really bad book and a great movie adaptation-- the first that comes to mind is Pahluniak's 'Fight Club'. The book was surprisingly simplistic, making it great material for a movie. Most of what comes out of Hollywood is simplistic dumbed down for the masses.


message 46: by Roxy (new)

Roxy The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a fantastic adaptation. My Sister's Keeper on the other hand...


message 47: by Maryposa (new)

Maryposa Katie wrote: "I have always liked the 1995 movie version of "Sense and Sensibility" better than the book. The book is good, but it does drag on a bit at times, and the performances in the movie are so well done...."

I quite agree. It is an excellent film.


message 48: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy The best example I usually give of the film being better than the book is "Field of Dreams," based on the novel "Shoeless Joe."


message 49: by Maryposa (new)

Maryposa Roxy wrote: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a fantastic adaptation. My Sister's Keeper on the other hand..."

Yes, but Perks of Being a Wallflower was not only adapted, but also directed by the author. It's easy to keep the vision of the original text when you're the one who wrote it.


message 50: by Eric (new)

Eric The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, Let Me In, and The Shawshank Redemption are standouts in a good way. Starship Troopers, The Lord of the Rings, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the bad way. Though I do have to disagree with Master and Commander being on the list of worst adaptations - it was different, but still enjoyable.


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