Can film adaptations improve upon books?

We’ve all heard and no doubt partaken in the old “books versus films” arguments, where the majority of us who read a lot tend to side with the notion that books are always better than the film. Or are they?

Well, okay, for the most part they are. I’m certainly not going to try and resist this, because I believe it myself (and today I bought the film of Catch-22, my favourite book…I am a little worried…). But, the question I pose in this post isΒ canΒ film interpretations improve upon books? Have you watched some films that are better than the books, or has this never happened for you – do you instead always prefer the book, no matter what.

To start this discussion, I will admit my thoughts on the matter. Almost always I prefer the book, but one exception to this is (don’t hate me) the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the novels too. But the films were just amazing, so good that I can’t imagine anybody would dare to remake them ever again. For me, these films took everything I loved about the story, and made it slightly better (while also cutting out some of the lengthy descriptions that could bog down the books from time to time).

So, what are your thoughts on this? Are there any film interpretations you prefer to their written counterparts? Or do you prefer books all the way?

76 thoughts on “Can film adaptations improve upon books?

  1. I liked the LOTR movies more than the books because I can visualize things more and the story was put in order. It was difficult to follow the books because Tolkien jumped back and forth in time and it was so hard to keep up with everyone and where they were, and my gosh…all the names! Jackson did stretch the story a bit – there was no Aragorn and Arwen love story in the books – but it added depth to the film. I wish I could say there were other films that I thought were better than the books. I’m sure if I think about it for a few days I might come up with one. πŸ™‚

    Great post! Enjoy your new movie. Catch 22 was an amazing novel.

    • There totally was the Aragorn/Arwen love story in the books, it just wasn’t part of the main plot. But otherwise, I agree. I still love the LotR books, but the movies did such a fabulous job of portraying everything that if I have a hankering for some LotR, I go for the movies. Especially if I’m sleepy. Because dear old Papa Tolkien got a little long-winded sometimes.

      • Ah, yes, it was in the book…in the Appendix. πŸ™‚ Not many people I’ve spoken to about the books read the appendix. I love the way you refer to him as Papa Tolkien. Very endearing. I’m waiting restlessly for The Hobbit. I’m interested to see how Jackson puts it all together.

        • I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with The Hobbit. Though I also need to *cough* read it maybe *cough*. Will have to do this soon I think.
          Knowing me I’m probably going to avoid watching Catch-22 out of fear for as long as I can. But I might not mind it, too. Only one way to find out… πŸ™‚

  2. The African Queen comes to mind. The movie, especially the ending, proved much better. The stinging tension which melts into toleration, and then into admiration and finally into love is much more poignant with Bogey and Hepburn showing us instead of Forester’s telling. The book’s ending, for me, was a horrible let down; whereas, the movie hit the spot.

  3. I always prefer books over film adaptations. However, despite this perception, I still watch most book-to-film adaptations whenever I find out there’s an upcoming release or something. Some film adaptations may disappoint me, but some actually did justice to the book. Two of the adaptations I can think of that did justice to the book are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as well as the recent The Hunger Games production.

    There are also times when I prefer to watch the adaptations first before deciding whether I should read the book or not. The Game of Thrones would be one of them. I’m already satisfied by just watching the series, and I’ve planned not to read the book.

    • Ahh, that’s interesting to know – although I am interested in book-to-film adaptations, there are some I don’t want to watch because I know they’ll ruin the book (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is such an example – I love this book, but the movie just looks terrible). I agree with you though on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, that was good as a film, and I have heard nothing but rave reviews of The Hunger Games film (though I am yet to see it, just waiting for it now to be released on DVD instead).
      I know what you mean with Game of Thrones…those books are so huge and there are so many of them, I can imagine watching the series would be enough. I have the first book but I haven’t read it, and to be honest, I don’t feel in any particular rush to do so at the moment..

    • I read the Game of Thrones books for the first time about 6 or 7 years ago, and honestly, I love the TV show (which is high praise coming from me because I’m such a stickler for details). I would recommend reading the books just because there is so much character back-story that you can learn to appreciate the characters in a whole new way. Just a suggestion, of course, and I’m glad you enjoy the show whether you read the books or not! πŸ™‚

      • Ahhh, that’s good to hear. I think I will read the books one day, but I have a few other books to get through first I think. I’ll see if I can read them before he finishes writing the last two books in the series. πŸ™‚

        • HA you may have a very good chance at that. Though to be honest, it might be better to read them all at once. It was rough waiting for the most recent, and I started reading them later than most people…the most recent was my least favorite of the series so far, but it was still good. I think the build up of waiting may have tarnished that for me.

          • Oh okay? Maybe I will wait then. I have at least 100 books on my shelves waiting to be read, let alone all the ones on my wishlist yet to be bought…so I have plenty to read in the meantime πŸ˜›

            • haha I know what you mean! I have a ton of books to read (either already purchased or borrowed) and still hundreds more listed on Goodreads that I want to read at some point in my life. Who knew keeping track of books to read could get so out of control?

  4. I would have to say that I completely agree that the Lord of the Rings movies are I’m fact
    So much better than the book. But I believe that this is a good thing! The director took the series and ran with it (to a good place!) and I want to personally see this more often.
    Another one I would have to say would be Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightly one). I didn’t really like the book much, but I absolutely loved loved loved that movie!

  5. I try to always keep them separate. Since I know the movie will be far different from the book, I like to enjoy them as either the book or the movie and try not to compare them. That way I usually end up loving both the book and the movie! If that makes sense. πŸ˜€

    • That makes total sense, and that’s a very good attitude to have, actually – I think we could all enjoy a lot of things more if we weren’t constantly comparing them to other things. πŸ™‚

  6. I try not to harp too much about Film vs Book too much, I try to view the movie as a reinterpretation. Since you mentioned LOTR, I have to say that I genuinely fearful of the upcoming movie, probably because it’s one of the first books I remember my mother telling me to read. However if it’s done as well as LOTR were then I should have no problems.

    • It seems to be the way a few people approach the debate, which is good to see! πŸ™‚ I think The Hobbit will be fantastic, judging from both how good LOTR was, but also the trailers so far. I’m pretty excited. But it is also nervewrecking when it’s a story you have adored for such a long time.

      • Most book to movie adaptations, like Harry Potter or Hunger Games, or even Game of Thrones, I am more lenient with, since as you mentioned I haven`t been in love with those for very long.

        • Yep, I know what you mean. It’s when you’ve grown up with something, your expectations become so high. A lot of my favourite books have been made into movies that are apparently awful, so I refuse to watch them, which is kind of sad in itself I guess.
          I have my hopes up for The Hobbit though. Hopefully it won’t disappoint you when it is released later this year!

  7. generally I find that if I make a comparison the book comes out the winner and so I do my best to regard the two things are separate entities. I agree with the Lord of the Rings thoughts and the same applies to the Harry Potter ones. I was however dreadfully disappointed with the things that I have seen made based on Terry Pratchetts discworld none have come up to scratch. I love the cinema but don’t get to go as often as I would like. I didn’t see the Dragon Tattoo film and would love to know if anyone did and how it compared.

    • I have heard that about the Harry Potter films too, but alas, I haven’t read the books or seen most of the films. I think Terry Pratchett has the same problem that Douglas Adams’ writing has – their writing is so quirky, the humour and the joy of reading it comes from their writing style just as much as the stories, and so it becomes impossible to replicate this in the form of films and television shows. You might be able to tell the story, but just not in the way they did.
      I haven’t seen the Dragon Tattoo films, but I have heard they compare quite well, although many say the original Swedish versions are better than the English one with Daniel Craig in it (though that one is supposedly still quite good).

  8. I have seen some movie adaptations that were almost as good as the books, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any that are better. Often, if I haven’t read a book before the movie comes out, I will watch the movie then read the book to see what was left out of the movie. That way, I’m not disappointed. πŸ™‚

    • Ah that is interesting – if a movie comes out and I haven’t read the book, I often avoid the movie until I have read the book. I did this with The Hunger Games, and I am also doing this with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to name but a couple. But sometimes it does lead to disappointment, I suppose. But I try and remain open minded about it, as much as I can. πŸ™‚

  9. I thought the film adaptation of ‘The Hours’ was far more enjoyable than the book, which I never could read through all the way. I think the visual storytelling was a more elegant and moving way to make the connections between all of the characters, and having to verbalise these things in the book only bogged the story down and made it overly sentimental. That, though, is the only film I can think of where the book wasn’t as good.

  10. Rhin mentioned the Hunger Games movie. For me it improved on the book by going the behind the scenes of the Games. By showing the decisions and actions of Snow, the Gamemakers, Haymitch, etc, it made the sudden rule changes and deus ex machina seem less arbitrary. A little context went a long way in disguising that wonderful plot device machine that was the Games.

    • Ahhh, interesting! I haven’t seen the film yet, but I was wondering if they’d reveal more of the behind-the-scenes stuff like you say, especially with regard to Haymitch, but also the Gamemakers. I will have to see that film as soon as it’s released on DVD…

  11. I think generally I enjoy a book as opposed to a movie adaptation. The films based on Tom Clancy’s books are prime examples of this. I like the comments on Hunger Games. I was disapointed with The Da Vinci Code movie. I’ve seen the movie and am about to read the book. It’s interesting people mentioning Game Of Thrones as I have thought for quite a while that a book would be made into a TV series better because it allows more time to grow the characters and build plots.

    • I have heard a lot of people say that about The Da Vinci Code movie (though, I have heard some people say that of the book too). I think Game of Thrones is one of those surprise hits, where it really does work better as a TV series, and luckily it has captured the attention of the masses enough for them to keep making it.
      The Hunger Games comparison has become an interesting one, as some people prefer the book and others the film. I really need to see the film so I can come to my own conclusion on this one, because I am unsure which one I will prefer.

  12. For most of my life, I was a firm believer that books are always better than the movies based on them. And then, a few years after seeing (and really enjoying) the movie “The Devil Wears Prada, I made the horrible decision to read the book. It’s just awful; there isn’t a single likable character, and I wasn’t a fan of the writing. “P.S. I Love You” is another one. The movie is a total guilty pleasure, but the book was horrible; the whole thing is written unrealistically, the writing was maddenly bad — the word “giggle” should not be used multiple times on a single page — and the ending (different from the movie) is facepalm inducing. So maybe it is that bad books can be made into good movies if they have an interesting premise, but when a book is really good, it’s easy to be disappointed by the movie if it doesn’t reach the high bar set by the book?

    • Ah, what an interesting take on the debate! I think you could be on to something there actually – if the books are bad, there is only one way for a film to go and it’s up! I can’t imagine the books for either of those movies you mention being particularly good. So I suppose sometimes directors actually salvage a good story from a rubbish book, though often when they do they don’t get the credit for it because the book ends up being largely unknown or disliked. But like you say, if the book is amazing and sets an impossibly high standard, it’s hard to be impressed (hence my concern about watching the Catch-22 film).
      And wow, the book had the word giggle several times on a single page? That is bad. Do these writers not have editors? Or even honest family and friends hahahaha? πŸ˜›

  13. I definitely agree with you that the LOTR films are just pure brilliance. They do complete justice to the books, maybe even more! And another book that comes to mind is P.S I Love You (already commented upon). I saw the movie first and then read the book. I loved the movie. When I started with the book, I did notice a lot of differences, but as I continued reading, I began liking the characters…. I’m sorry I disagree with Leah (who commented earlier) on this one, but I loved the book a lot, especially the characters (not all of them appear in the movie). I guess, sometimes, the book-to-film adaptation can turn out to be good, or even better than the book. And sometimes, worse! πŸ™‚

    • Glad to see you agree on the LOTR front. I haven’t seen or read P.S. I Love You to be able to comment on it properly, but it is interesting to see there is a difference of opinion on that one! But yes, you’re right, it can go both ways, the adaptation process… πŸ™‚

  14. I agree, the LOTR movies were amazing; I don’t know that I can choose between the book and the films! There was a mention of Pride and Prejudice. The film didn’t even compare to the book, however I have an ongoing love affair with the BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. It’s brilliant.

  15. I’m not an Austen fan either – funny that!
    I think the Green Mile film did the book justice! To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of my favourite books of all time and the film was good too – probably because Gregory Peck is such a classic actor. The 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre was also incredible (some other adaptations of that are terrible though.
    Worst film adaptations ever are Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, which ruined one of my all time favourite books, and One Day, which made what in my opinion is a pretty average book, into an awful movie.

    • Hmmm actually, some of the books-to-films you’re suggesting that were done quite well seem to have one thing in common – they’re classics, essentially! Which makes one wonder if that has something to do with it? I need to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird and should probably see the movie too, it sounds like.
      I have heard nothing but bad reviews of the Captain Corelli’s Mandolin film, so I refuse to watch it because it’s one of my all time favourite books too. And also I did not picture Corelli as Nicholas Cage, haha! I haven’t read One Day though it’s on my shelf waiting to be read, but I keep hearing mixed reviews of it (and didn’t even know there was a movie already). Will be curious to see what I think when I get around to reading it…

  16. Hello, just exploring your blog now – thanks for liking my post!

    I have to agree with you on the LOTR front. Personally (and this may be controversial) I prefer the film of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ to the book; I think I needed the visual horror thrust upon me, rather than imagined.

    • Hello, not a problem about the like – that book looks awesome! I had a bit more of a squiz at your blog just now and followed you – it’s an awesome blog (I was so tired yesterday I fell asleep moments later haha).
      I have heard the film of The Road is really good, actually! Yet another book and film I have neither read or seen….shame on me! I must get around to reading/seeing that one! πŸ™‚

  17. I think it depends on the adaption. Some are very loyal to the book and therefore I put them on par with the book, others are not as good whilst some are somewhere in between. It also depends on personal tastes and if you have read the book before the movie or seen the movie first, which can alter your perception.

    • I think that is a good point – I think a lot of people determine how good a film adaptation is based on how closely it follows the book, so if a film completely re-interprets a book, it tends to come up against much stiffer resistance (though if it is done well it can blow the book out of the water). But I agree, it is too hard to generalise the argument, I think.

  18. Generally speaking, I almost always choose the book over the movie. However, there are certain exceptions to that for me, such as Shakespeare. Now I’ll admit I haven’t read any on my own time, but I did read the plays required in school (and even performed in one of the plays in the drama club). I enjoy the movie versions because the language in the text can be tricky for me so it has always been easier for me to understand the story better by seeing it acted out. But let me clarify that I mean the movies that are actually the plays, not like the “modern day” re-makes such as 10 Things I Hate About You, (though I do actually enjoy that movie)!
    That doesn’t necessarily mean I like the movies better than the books, they just help me understand the story better, so sort of like a visual companion to the book, you know what I mean?

    • I’ll add one more thing: if the book is set in a fantasy world or there are ccreatures/people/things not of this world and straight out of the author’s imagination, I may like to see the movie versions just to get an understanding of what picture the author was trying to paint. However, interpretations can definitely vary!

      Great blog post by the way, some great discussion is happening!

      • Ahhh, interesting point about Shakespeare, and I’d have to agree. I haven’t read every Shakespeare play, but I’ve read somewhere between 15 and 20 of them (and have taught a few now too, which is odd haha), but they are better when performed on stage or screen – after all, they were written precisely to be performed, not read, so they should be better in that respect I think. I’m not a huge fan of the modern-day reinterpretations either – I think they’re clever, and the creative side of me likes them for their approach, but I still prefer the more traditional performances and retellings.
        I always find when fantasy stories are turned into films or television shows, it’s always interesting to see how they interpret those more imaginative, often magical and fantastical elements of the story! I guess it depends on if the author was involved in the process of adaptation or not.
        Thanks – it has proved rather successful this post, I love all the discussion it has generated. And I love that there has been quite a few differences of opinion, which is always good to see! πŸ™‚

        • Yes I agree with your point on whether the author was involved. If I hear that they are, I feel a bit more lenient in my criticism because the author kind of put their stamp of approval, you know?

          • Yep, absolutely. Which is why I felt so odd about the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie they made 10 odd years ago, because Douglas Adams was involved in the film’s production, but then died halfway through it being made. I swear you can see the parts of the film where he was there, and the parts he wasn’t, which is kind of sad really.

            • Aww that is sad. I’m currently in the middle of reading the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which is just all 5 books in one). And I’m in the middle of the second book. This would definitely be one movie where I would want to see that the author was involved! It’s so out of this world (excuse the pun).

              • Oh awesome, that’s the same book I have, the Ultimate one with all 5 books (I refuse to read or accept the existence of the 6th book..if it’s not written by Douglas Adams it doesn’t count).
                I agree, the story is really bizarre and quirky and so Douglas Adams when you read his other stuff and about him. I think the books are great because of how he writes it, and I don’t think that could ever translate perfectly to film, with or without him.
                I love the second book, the concept of the Restaurant itself is so clever. I think the third book is my favourite one though – some of the ideas in that one are just hilarious. Hope you’re enjoying the books, in all their absurdity.

                  • Yes, I love Zaphod Beeblebrox, such an awesome character. I love the names of some of the characters too, like Slartibartfast.
                    Adams is definitely inimitable, if nothing else. His Dirk Gently books were very entertaining as well. πŸ™‚

                    • Yes the characters are definitely memorable. The terms are funny too. very entertaining.

                      I may have to checkout the Dirk Gently books!

                    • Definitely check out the Dirk Gently books, but after you finish the HHGTTG series first. There’s only two of the Gently books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, though there was a third, unfinished one called The Salmon of Doubt (which he suggested just before he passed away that he had considered switching it to a Hitchhiker’s book).
                      It’s funny…I very rarely have my Douglas Adams books – out of all my books these are the ones I lend out to friends the most, they are always in demand it seems. They’re quite weathered as a result… πŸ˜›

  19. I’m going to have to agree with Leah about P.S. I Love you. I read the book because someone shoved it in my face and told me every girl should read it, but I swear – I could feel my IQ dropping. The film is a little better, but then again, that’s not saying much. I loved The Devil Wears Prada (the movie) because I’m a sucker for Meryl Streep movies – but when I saw the book, I knew it’d make me nauseous. I didn’t even try. Along the same lines, Atonement comes to mind. The book was TORTURE, I kept wanting to slap the younger sister (I don’t even remember her name, and I usually do) – so the movie was an improvement (you didn’t have to hear her think, and that reduced the agony a little).

    I’ve found that graphic novels and comics translate quite well onto film. It’s like they already are a marriage between books and movies, so when they make a film based on a graphic novel, it turns out pretty well. Of course, there will be loyalists who will scream bloody murder at the fact that there is going to be a movie made (I must admit – on occasion, I do too) but with the right director, scriptwriter and cast, comics/graphic novels have produced some amazing movies – like Nolan’s Batman series, Watchmen, The Avengers and Persepolis.

    • Ahh, I have heard differing things about P.S. I Love You and The Devil Wears Prada, but I had only heard good things about Atonement (both the book and film), so it’s interesting to hear a different opinion. I haven’t read any Ian McEwan, though I can take a guess at his writing style. He’s on the list of tbrs….one day. Hahhaa.
      I agree about graphic novels and comics translating well into film – especially this trend with the darker takes on these stories, like Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as you say. It really depends on the right director and cast, like you say. The Avengers could have been awful, but they managed to pull that one off really well (and nicely set it up for a sequel).

  20. While I generally think the books are better than the movies, particularly when the movie rewrites the book, I think Forrest Gump was much better as a movie. The movie and book seemed almost completely different to the point of not even seeming to be related.

  21. Pingback: 5 Books That Should Be Seen On The Big Screen

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