In general, it’s a pretty safe bet that when a movie comes out based on a book, the original was better. However, that’s not always the case. It might be because the novel was bad, or because the director was amazing, but every now and then we see a film version that handily surpasses its origins, and these are 14 such examples.
14. Bourne Identity
Don’t get me wrong, the Bourne Identity is a good book. It’s a great spy novel, packed with plenty of action. However, when it went to the big screen, it was tightened up substantially, a subplot with Carlos the Jackal was removed, and it added a crucial theme: that Bourne could be guilty for all the things he was accused of. It added a slightly darker twist to the character, and one that was executed brilliantly, with Matt Damon playing remarkably against type. We do have to hate the movie a bit for one thing: it made shakeycam incredibly popular.
The Men in Black films were incredibly comedy-action combos, that were mega-blockbusters for a reason. There’s a third one in the works, with Jemaine Clement as a villain, which is possibly the greatest idea ever. The comics? Thoroughly, thoroughly disappointing. Banal, edgy for no reason, filled with violence, and without any of the charm or wit that filled the films. They languished in development hell before being picked up by Marvel, and it’s surprising they were ever turned into movies. But man, what an improvement.
12. The Shining
Stephen King famously hated The Shining when Kubrick’s adaptation when it hit the screens in 1980, which is fair enough, because Kubrick improved on the story immensely. In the novel, Jack is essentially an author self-insert, who never really does anything bad, and is redeemed by the end. The film version significantly builds on the character, creating a far more sinister creation. Since it’s Kubrick, the sheer density of content is phenomenal, with each scene have meaning, layer upon layer. If you watch the mini-series from 1997, you see just how banal a faithful adaption is, when compared to a work done by someone who really knows what they’re doing, and can add enough to make a good plot into a great one.
11. Wag the Dog/American Hero
The major change between Wag the Dog and its parent novel American Hero (apart from it being much, much funnier), is that they took the film a step away from the real world. The satirical novel is based directly on real people and events: George HW Bush is the president in question, and that the first Iraqi war was faked, which leads to it happening. The movie gets to have much more fun with the premise, partly due to the unnamed president, and the fact that Albania was chosen as the source of war. The film ended up not getting the respect it deserved, as it was a wonderfully crafted black comedy, and a biting critique of how the media handles war and politics.
10. The Prestige
I’m probably alone in thinking the Prestige was much better as a film than a novel, but I think there’s a number of reasons for that. Partly, it’s due to the cast. Every character in the film was perfect, and the actors were all seasoned vets, who made their experience clear in each scene. The novel tends more towards horror than the film, and is also bookended by a rather unnecessary literary device, which slows the whole thing down. The fact I disliked most about the book, was that Bordon’s trick was given away extremely early, where in the movie it was left till the last moment, in order to keep the suspense up. Plus, the additional horror bit at the end felt really tacked on. Honestly, I would have been much happier with both the film and the novel if they had managed to explain the final trick without resorting to introducing the impossible.
Robert Bloch’s Psycho formed the basis for what is arguably the most iconic thriller of all time. Bloch was a huge fan of the film, and for good reason, it tightened up a lot of the plot, and changed much of the focus. In the novel, Mary Crane (Marion in the film) had very little introduction, and was killed quickly. The movie focused much more on her, creating a far more alien, unsympathetic Norman Bates. The novel also dwelled on Bates’ alcoholism as a method for explaining switching personalities, plus was far more violent, yet lacked the iconic horror of the shower scene. It wasn’t a bad book, but the movie made it just that much better.
8. The Iron Giant/The Iron Man
The Ted Hughes novel was radically different to the film it spawned, with the giant arriving and destroying large parts of Britain, before befriending a boy, and defending Earth from a space dragon. Yes, a space dragon. The movie was directed by Brad Bird, the guy behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille, so you know it’s gold. If you haven’t seen the cartoon, you owe it to yourself to do so, because it’s an absolutely amazing movie, and a brilliant look at cold war paranoia that belies the the common assumption that cartoons are for kids. If the final action scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you’re a heartless excuse for a human being. You know Vin Diesel voiced the giant?
7. Forrest Gump
The novel of Forrest Gump was vastly different to the screenplay, creating a significantly different character than the one that took out so many Academy Awards. Book Gump is fatter, a savant with mathematics, doesn’t lose Jenny or his mother, and owns a monkey. The tragedy aspect of the film is played up considerably, with Jenny’s death from AIDs, and Lt. Dan’s role altered. The film also only covers the first half of the book, ignoring the further adventures of Forrest. Unfortunately, the writer of the novel got screwed over by the film. He was contracted to get 3% of the film’s profits, but due to dodgy Hollywood accounting, the company said the movie lost money â€” despite Tom Hanks getting $40 million by getting a cut of receipts rather than profit.
Another good book that just cannot compare to the quality of its film version. Jaws is such an iconic flick, that even though the book is still a tense action story, it just can’t hold a candle to the grandeur of Spielberg’s story. When you start dissecting the differences, you would think that the book had more going for it, with sub-plots tying the Mayor to the Mafia, Brody’s wife and Cooper having an affair, and a more fatalistic ending. The major issue that the book had, was that the characters were fare less likable than the film, Spielberg is even alleged to have said that he disliked them so much, that he was rooting for the shark.
5. Children of Men
The film version of Children of Men varied radically from the novel, but kept much of the same in terms of tone, with the belief of hope triumphing over hopelessness, and the oppressive government over the apathetic. There is also a strong usage of Christian imagery and themes in both versions, though it’s far more overt in P.D. James’ novel. However, the story itself is radically different. The immigrant camps which are such a major part of the film are nowhere to be found in the books, and the written version has the infertility’s blame rested on the men rather than the women, not to mention countless changes of characters and locations. It’s hard to imagine the story without the intense, single-shot action scenes that became its hallmark, or in fact without the importance of the journey to the characters, as there’s far less travelling in the book version. The creepiest difference? The movie Quietus is a suicide pill. In the book, it’s when they drown you.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Who Censored Roger Rabbit was a thoroughly, thoroughly mediocre novel. It bares only a passing resemblance to the film, which harvested it for the basic premise, character names, and that’s it. The novel is about comic strips rather than cartoons, is more or less contemporary rather than historical, is filled with stupid plot twists and red herrings, and has a completely out of nowhere ending. Hell, the titular character is dead for most of the story. The movie version just kept the characters, the name, and the humans interacting with cartoons, and from that crafted and amazing story with a villain designed to terrify children, and enough innuendo to cause Disney mountains of trouble.
3. Silence of the Lambs
This one’s very much a personal choice, as I think the novel had a huge amount going for it, but the movie just surpassed it in every way. Where the book had a tendency towards plodding and methodical storytelling, the film was suspenseful and gripping. A huge amount of the movie’s superiority over the book boils down to the actors, without Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, it wouldn’t be half as good as it was. When you’re adapting an already impressive work, who you get to play the characters make or break it, and the mental image we all have of Hannibal Lecter is inseparable from Hopkins. Without his mad genius, Lecter would have just been another boring onscreen psycho. Instead we have a killer who’s only onscreen for 20 minutes, yet has become anchored in the psyche of a generation.
2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
There was one major change between the book and screen version of this story, and that was loosing Chief Bromden as the narrator. While it did make the eventual end of the film seem a bit out of nowhere, it overall made the story far more approachable. Bromden’s perspective was so utterly entrenched in his own delusions and hallucinations that it often derailed the plot. Sure, it was great to peer into the mind of someone who was mentally disturbed, but it pulled away from the real story. When you think about it, Bromden was just about the only person in the entire asylum who was actually insane, and should have stayed there.
Man, I’m going to get a lot of flack for this one, I can just tell. The novel was a decent read, and obviously Puzo’s time as a reporter gave him a lot of insight into crime in New York, but it was…pulpy, for the lack of a better term. There just wasn’t much there, no real depth. Interesting, but aggressively straightforward. The first two Godfather films were both based on the book, and together make up what is arguably the greatest story in American cinema. It was one of the first films to portray gangsters as flawed, relatable, even good, rather than two-dimensional cutouts. So much of the movie has seeped into our consciousness that just about ever scene can be identified instantly, and has been parodied a million times. One of the greatest movies ever, and the book just can’t live up to that.