Last week, we looked at Films That Were Better As Books. Those were films where the original source material was better than the films that was produced. In today’s Top 10, we’re flipping that on its head – Looking at the times when the films were better than the books. A lot of people say you can’t beat a good novel, but we beg to differ, as we check out our Top 10 Films That Were Better Than The Books.
10) Jurassic Park
It’s not a big surprise that we had to be Jurassic Park in this list; it’s a much beloved film franchise which is often forgotten to have started life as a book… Which in turn started life as a screenplay, but let’s focus on what matters here. Jurassic Park was a 90’s book turned into a film, which in turn shone a much brighter light on the book. Already a bestseller, the film took what was great about the book and brought it to life.
The film was praised heavily for the use of visuals, which for the time were a massive technical marvel. The sequences were stunning, with a legitimate reason to love every moment. Honestly, the film comes across as less of a faithful retelling and more of a beautiful reimagining of the source material. The film was fairly accurate to the book, but ultimately, the film just ended up blowing the dinos out of the water.
9) Die Hard – Nothing Lasts Forever
Odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard of the book Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, unless you’re some kind of geek of course… hang on…
Die Hard may have changed a few details but it does rather faithfully reenact a lot of the major plot beats, dialogue, and action scenes, but what brings the book to life is Willis’ performance. Though he was a tragically long way down the casting lists to play the renamed protagonist (John McLane was originally Joseph Leland) he captured the panicked and desperate resolve of a man fighting a solo guerilla war against a gang of heavily armed terrorists.
Of course Hans Gruber (Anton “Little Tony The Red” Gruber, not sure which I prefer) played by Alan Rickman was the quintessential villain to counterpose him, calm, composed, always smartly dressed, never seen dead in a tank-top. The pair of them helped turn this action novel into a staple for any film lover.
8) Starship Troopers
Is anyone else watching the Extra Sci-Fi series on Youtube? Their delve into the glory days of pulp sci-fi began quite recently, and it lends no small amount of credence to those who suggest that Robert A. Heinlein’s original intent was to express support for the military. The work has been criticized for some narrow minded and prejudicial thinking, and perhaps that was the intent.
Or perhaps Heinlein had pictured something like the satirical mock-propaganda piece that made it to big-screen in 1997, thirty-eight years later. The film was something quite different for its time, not strictly obedient to a coherent narrative and peppered with exaggerated advertising for the military. One is a science fiction classic, the other – I’m willing to bet some of you only found out about it today.
I bet a lot of you are ready to fight me for this one, but Matilda, yes, Roald Dahl’s Matilda was better in film than in book.
Don’t get this twisted; the book is a masterpiece which all children should read or have read to them. However, the original book had quite a few glaring flaws, which the film helps to address. A great example of this is the character Hortensia, who goes from being a big bully, to just a big character. Her personality isn’t so cruel and they get rid of the visual of a giant wart being on the big girl’s nose.
Whilst Roald Dahl was an expert wordsmith, I’ve always felt he branded bad people with mean words. All the bad people were detailed to be “fat”; all the good people were detailed to be “slim” or “slender” or “beautiful”. The Matilda film breaks a lot of these conventions, also removing cruel detail such as having Matilda shove a parrot up a chimney, just to freak people out. The film took the good and polished it, whilst removing the ugly.
6) The Prestige
There is something very encouraging about a novel adaption that has the approval of the author. Apparently Christopher Priest was already something of a fan of Nolan’s work and enjoyed the screenplay and final product. A subplot that delved into spiritual themes was removed, and the framing narrative was replaced, but otherwise the film remained rather faithful to the 1995 novel.
Helped along by the incredible names in the leading roles, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, watching the pair engaged in subterfuge and espionage in pursuit of a greater and more spectacular show, a conflict that ends in a staggering amount of death for a pair of magicians. Priest himself apparently saw the film three times, that’s one hell of a recommendation.
5) The Shawshank Redemption
If you’ve never watched The Shawshank Redemption, it’s fair to say that you’ve been missing out. It’s one of those films that you may go back to watch a second or third time, as it’s just so well done. The performances of every character within The Shawshank Redemption is simply stunning; so much so, that Stephen King himself has gone on record to say he enjoys the film adaptation.
The Shawshank Redemption is about a man who is falsely convicted; but he uses his time in prison wisely. From being beaten up, to being the one calling the shots, Andy Dufresne learns about how to make his way through the long double life sentence he has to deal with. Befriending convicts and wardens alike, The Shawshank Redemption is incredibly acted, with small detail which far surpasses the novel.
4) The Thing
The John W. Campbell novella of 1938 is far better known by the title of John Carpenter’s adaption for screen, the first of his Apocalypse Trilogy. The themes of mistrust in a volatile situation were poignant in a between-war world, but perhaps moreso in the depths of the cold war, not to make a pun out of the Antarctic setting, but I just did! It’s horror with a message, and that makes it something worth celebrating.
However, Rob Bottin’s special effects work on the creature drove home its nightmarish and alien forms, often cited as the paragon of body horror and practical effects. The book bore the message and the narrative, but Carpenter and Bottin brought grotesque life to a distant work of literature, and cemented it into history.
3) A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess’ dark comedy was written in 1962, and put to screen a mere nine years later. I find it hard to believe that a studio these days would sink money into something so bizarre, so utterly esoteric, laden with fictional slang, and so filled with family unfriendly material. Burgess himself apparently dismissed the novel on artistic grounds, repulsing himself with his own content.
And yet the film, with its startling visuals, grotesquely contrasting comedy and violence, and led by notorious perfectionist Stanley Kubrick, themes of oppression, psychology, youth gang-culture, and morality are brought to the fore, and the humour becomes a horrifying element of something far darker. A farce was made into art. Burgess approved of Kubrick’s work but was critical of the final product, but it remains a classic of Kubrick’s back-catalogue.
Stop and think about this one – Psycho has to have one of the greatest moments in all of cinematography. The shrill, shrieking sound of the music, as the shower scene is playing is enough to send chills up your spine. But shrill noises and brutal scenes aside, the original Psycho book was well written, but until the film, it was relatively unknown by comparison.
The novel is well written, with some genuinely interesting depictions within… And there were uncanny similarities to the real-world to the killer of the time, Ed Gein. But when Alfred Hitchcock got ahold of the thriller title, well, it ended up becoming one of the most thrilling films ever released.
And, if nothing else, when you say Psycho, people will always remember that shrill, shrieking music during that shower scene.
1) The Godfather
In many ways, it feels wrong putting The Godfather here – and even more wrong having it at number one. However, how can you argue with the facts? The Godfather has always been considered a bestselling novel, but the film? The film is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. That isn’t through accident, it’s through adapting an already excellent novel into something that blows away the source material.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the novel isn’t worth reading. In fact, I’d say that if you’re looking for a great crime novel, then this is the one you must read. However, the film plays out so well due to a well thought out cast, along with an excellent script. The execution of lines is simply impeccable – and overall, it has earned its spot as one of the greatest movies ever released.
As such, we can’t argue with this one. It’s a masterpiece – And it exceeded expectations.
Not all books are written the same, so when push comes to shove and we finally get an on-screen adaptation, you can tell that you’re in for a treat. However, these are two more examples where we felt they deserved at least a mention – But we didn’t feel they could have made it to our list.
The Lord of the Rings
In a stark contrast to last week, we really wanted to say that not all of Tolkien’s writing was better than adaptations. With Amazon getting the licence for a crazy expensive Lord of the Rings series, you bet there’s still life in these fantasy greats – But this is where we fell down somewhat. We didn’t quite know if the Lord of the Rings films were actually better than the books, or at least on par. Hear me out…
The books were hugely popular, but the films for their time were massive. It didn’t matter if you were a fan of Tolkien, or if you had never heard of his works, the films were accessible. The film threw some fun detail into the film adaptation, as well as excluding some of the unnecessary extra “and then they walked” parts of the book/s. There’s no doubt the films piqued a lot of non-readers interests, too.
I’m stuck. The original Lord of the Rings books are near enough perfect…
… But for what they were, so were the films.
50 Shades Of Grey
No no, hang on, hear us out! There’s a reason we put this into honourable mentions, we’d certainly never disgrace the list with it, but it is fair to acknowledge improvement by omission. The book (and subsequent sequels) was not only an affront to those who enjoy a BDSM lifestyle, but to good literature. Bad characters, sloppy writing and sentence structure, plots that depart utterly from poor planning and border on the erratic.
The screenplay was at least approached by competent authors, and of course a lot of material will have had to be cut for time. Can we argue that less of a bad thing is an improvement? The watered down version may have spread some woeful misinformation about a healthy lifestyle enjoyed by innumerable consenting adults, but hopefully it drove many of them to go and research properly… and not read the books.
You there, put that book down and watch this awesome film with us. It might not be as verbose, but hey, at least we can watch this far superior 3-hour version of that 13-hour long novel. But perhaps you haven’t had enough reading? Perhaps you’d like to get more of a share in your reading list? Then, indulge us a bit, as you choose what you think the next Top 10 list we write about should be.
That’s a wrap! This page has been left intentionally full of awesome films, which outshone its original script – But what do you think of our choices? Do you think we picked the right films, or did we forget some classics? Did we get the order right, or did we muck it up completely? As ever, share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter.