If I were to tell you that films aren’t always a completely unique script, you’d not be surprised. Book-to-film is quite common these days, where we see plenty of movies being made from literature that should have just stayed that way. Hey, sometimes the movies are actually alright, but we just have to accept the original prose was just better. So, as subjective as this list will be, these are our Top 10 Films That Were Better As Books.
As a warning for this list, when we say books, we are not discounting Graphic Novels, including Manga. You have been warned.
The original vampire novel, unlike these new-fangled sparkling vampires, is filled to the brim with absolutely juicy details. However, even though there’s a lot of detail and content within Bram Stoker’s horror classic, the film itself may be better remembered. When the visuals of Bela Lugosi as this charming vampire first hit the screens back in the 30’s, it was honestly a visual shock.
However, just because it’s a visual shock which really helped to shake cinema, doesn’t mean it’s actually as good as the book it was based off. There were several detail cuts, but the most important one is the cut of a whole epilogue, through fears of offending religious groups at the time. There is another known deletion, but this wasn’t quite as big an issue, but overall the film would have had a stronger impact if it were allowed to keep that last quote in.
9) I, Robot
Five years after the Matrix, Will Smith slipped into a long black leather coat to tell a cautionary tale of AI gone rogue, in this case taking the lead role in an Asimov story, one of the major inspirational authors behind the concept of the Matrix. Maybe regretting turning down the role of Neo, Mr. Smith? Instead of the neo-noir science fiction of Blade Runner that became eponymous with Asimov, we got a bright and showy cash-grab that shared the name only.
The film was not unpleasant, and features Shia LaBeouf at his best, as a minor character. Alan Tudyk truly was magnificent as the robotic servant Sonny, and yes, Smith delivered on his usual standard, before he really cut his stride and showed the world what he could do. Sadly though, slapping a name, a common theme and a few references on to a leading-man driven action flick simply aren’t good enough.
8) The Golden Compass
This one got a lot of hate. Slated for gouging out the anti-religious themes, and yet taking heat from religious groups for the themes of the source materials, five years in a developmental quagmire, changes of directors, and the end result massively disappointing fans of the books and film-goers alike, all hope for a proper interpretation of the literary legend were pretty solidly dashed.
Once again, flash proved poor substitute for substance, but in this case the style was over-inflated to fill a gap left by gutting Pullman’s Dark Materials of its major themes in order to appease the American audiences. Extra narrative was dragged in from the trilogy to pad the film, and in the end, no one was appeased.
I may have mentioned that I really liked the film, but in many ways I feel like leaving the ending of the book untouched could have opened the way for a trilogy centred on that warped world beyond the Shimmer, and explored the twisted themes of change, life, and death therein. Instead we had a rather hasty ending that left us with so many more questions that some have accused of pretension.
Personally I think both have qualities that should allow them to stand alone with deference to the common link between the two, but on all sides I hear “Oh, you must read the book!” Here we see another example of a film rushing to tell a story that the book took the time to savour, but in this case two entire books were clipped from a trilogy, and even the film we got was given far too short shrift.
6) The Lorax
This was a rather fun movie, however it was completely not what The Lorax was. Okay, sure, so The Lorax is at first glance a rather silly looking creature, but what a lot of people don’t realise is the significance this character had to Dr. Seuss. The author really had a disdain for anyone who would try to harm the environment purely for corporate greed; so The Lorax was effectively his way of venting at them.
The morale of the story is to not mess with nature to get richer; but rather to embrace nature and all that is human. Meanwhile, the film counterpart of The Lorax seems to miss this point entirely. Okay sure, the songs in The Lorax are amongst the best of the Dr. Seuss films, but considering this is his favourite book, to reduce this down to making the protagonist do this for the affection of a girl feels rather misplaced.
5) The Iliad – Troy (2004)
The epic poem by Homer that helps form the very backbone of mythology, the tale of the siege of Troy, and the feud between Agamemnon and the demigod Achilles, from whence we get the legendary Trojan Horse. The film, starring Brian Cox and Brad Pitt as the eponymous characters… well it was very… pretty?
But it was bland! Filled with an incredible cast and incredible set-pieces and spectacle, but it was emotionless, forgettable, stripping all characters of personality, ignoring the themes of pride and the toll it takes. Let’s not forget the essential changes made to a story as old as time, starting with projecting the Trojans as the good guys. A few updates might have been needed to modernise the ancient tale, for sure, but throwing in extra plotlines and screwing royally with timelines is far more than just translating from ancient greek.
4) Fullmetal Alchemist
The original manga was fantastic and indeed, the original TV series, then the later TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood were equally as fantastic. So far, we’re onto a winner, so I think it’s a surprise that we put this one in here. However, in 2017, a brand new addition to the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise was added – A live-action movie which went direct to Netflix. How could this go wrong?
Well, okay, let’s not be too hasty here. This wasn’t a good telling of the story at all… In fact, it was a pretty poor one. Most of the time, the lead star didn’t feel like Edward Elric, but rather someone excited to be in the role (which was actually nice to see). Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do better myself, but in all honesty, it’d have been nice seeing more authenticity in this series.
Plus that Chimera is so fluffy. I’m sorry we keep showing you Nina pictures.
3) Going Postal – Terry Pratchett
I love Terry Pratchett. So far the only feature length interpretations I can honestly say that I have enjoyed fully are the cartoons of Reaper Man and Wyrd Sisters. The live action films have been disappointing, and though I know most of the cast to be fans of Discworld, I frequently find the efforts of the Sky mini-series to be lacklustre, unnecessary story changes strung between readily quotable lines, all rushing through a story that depends upon so many small details.
I found Adorabelle Dearheart to be excessively emotional, especially when dressing-down to homogenous rubber-suit golems. I can forgive the obvious places where the budget suffered, they put on one hell of a show, but so many of the changes made were so… odd. Stanley inventing the stamp paper? The lad was raised by peas! In short, I find Pratchett’s humour translates better in video game format where the details can be better appreciated.
2) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Okay, let’s not beat about the bush with this one – On a personal level, I really enjoyed the film adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but not because of the graphic novels. Instead, I had to view this as more of a parody, as genuinely the film felt like it wasn’t being taken seriously. The actors didn’t seem all that interested, but most importantly of all – Sean Connery seemed to be having a great time.
It’s worth noting the actual story of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is genuinely fun, with a great cast. It feels more like the directors of the film just found something they thought could make them some money, so they said “yeah, the characters do stuff for reasons”. Nothing is fully explained, nor thought out, so it’s with that in mind we can’t rate this film highly, but man – Do they ever look like they’re having a good time?
Bring on the supposed sequel announced back in 2015!
1) The Hobbit
This one enters highly on my list of pure vitriol as, genuinely, I cannot fathom what happened here. Let me start by saying I was looking forward to this, but when I saw the first, it felt too long, then the second felt like it led me astray from the plot of the book and it was too long… Then the third just sorta fizzled out. Honestly, the source material used was just one relatively short book, suitable for children’s reading.
I’m not suggesting that the films were shot badly, as they were well made. However, when you contrast the book to the films, you begin to question a lot of decisions. The inclusion of characters who just didn’t belong? The inclusion of new characters for reasons unknown? The fact they turned such a small book into three long films? Surely, a film is supposed to condense the source material, not extend it.
Still, The Hobbit apparently did well enough in the cinema. So uh, I’m now waiting for a 200-part epic film series for all of The Silmarillion. Let’s throw Legolas in there, too.
Time for us to put down our remote controls for a while, as we’re fed up of the rubbish we’ve been fed. But it’s okay, we’ve still got the original books to keep us company. So if you’re a fan of good prose, check out these next two suggestions. They couldn’t make it into the main list, but hey, we absolutely had to mention them.
This one felt like an essential mention, not because the film was so much worse, but because it was a rare beauty in which the film was every bit as good as the book. Missing only some minor material underlining the main characters fear of water, but almost all of Gene Brewer’s seminal work made it to screen and in wonderful condition.
Kevin Spacey brought to life the alien Prot and his human counterpart Robert Porter, opposite the polite but thorough inquisition of Jeff Bridges’ Dr. Powell, and in a film so heavy in conversation it offered the two actors excellent chance to explore their strengths. Every bit of the ambiguous nature of Prot is captured, and his impact on the patients around him is explored superbly. Honourable mention at the end of a rather dishonourable list.
“HARRY! HARRY!” Dumbledore rushes down the young Harry Potter. “Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?!”
Dumbledore asked calmly.
Okay, so we’re being a little bit cruel here, as genuinely I think the Harry Potter films are amongst some of the best films ever released. No, seriously, they had a great idea of us actually following these kids through the films and yeah, they somehow managed it. But, as with everything, sometimes the films had to take liberties.
So, we kindly point you to the above video. Enjoy.
Okay, it’s time for us to stop watching this tripe and get back to reading our favourite source material. However, it’s not all bad news for films – There are some films out there that can completely outdo the books. Trust us. So uh, why not pick an option to read about next week? We may even do it all in interpretive dance, to prove that we can improve upon our original Top 10 writings.*
As ever, it’s time for us to close this final chapter in this week’s list. What did you think about some of our choices? Should we have stuck only to books, or did we do well to include source material from other places? Thanks for reading, don’t forget to drop a like for us (we like that), as well as a comment below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.
*Hah! I hope they fell for it! We couldn’t do an interpretive dance for a Top 10.