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The book was better.




I have the sentence above on a T-shirt, and every time I wear it, it elicits comments, but probably not what you’d suspect…

There’s no trademark or anything else. Just those words.

And people stop me to ask, “You’re talking about *insert movie name* aren’t you?” The most frequent guesses are Harry Potter and Twilight. (I bought my daughter the same shirt, and she answers yes if you guess Harry Potter.)

What is it about books and movies that this becomes a universal thought? How many movies can you name that were better than the book?

These are my theories on why the book is better:

1. Reader Expectation. I think this is the number one reason. Some of you reading this may be too young of whippersnappers to remember when the Harry Potter movies were cast. (Because, you know, Harry is all grown up and starring naked in plays, and Neville turned out to be the hot one–who’d have guessed? Me. I did.) When Harry Potter was cast, I can remember utter outrage at one of their casting choices from everyone I knew. Hermione. Her teeth weren’t prominent enough, and her hair wasn’t as awful and unruly as it should be. She was just plain too cute. How dare they? The readers had grown to love Hermione with her perceived flaws and they didn’t want her Hollywood ungangly…they wanted her to look like they’d pictured her. Exactly like they’d pictured her–because, you know, that’s possible. Readers flesh in a visual of everything and then expect the movie to follow suit.

Readers also don’t want to lose anything from their favorite book and they sometimes want the movie to be a duplicate, not a replacement. It’s their FAVORITE book. Why must Hollywood mess with it if they can’t get it right? But of course they should get right not just that reader’s “right version in their head” but every reader’s right version. It’s a tall order.ย Many movies are presunk on this point because readers begin by thinking, “I hate that they’re making this movie–they’ll ruin the book. Ruin it! They shouldn’t touch it! Sacrilege!” (While I kid…I’ve felt this way…and wanted to hug a book to my chest, snarling.)

2. Lost in translation. Not every book is very adaptable. In Ender’s Game, the kids were naked the whole time. (I’m glad they changed that for the movie, by the way.) But there are other aspects to things being lost in translation like the scope of the book is too huge. Trying to condense a seven hundred page book down to a two hour movie is nigh-on impossible. Not that I want any book to be cut into multiple money-grabbing sections. *side-eyes several major productions lately* But cramming in everything can’t happen. Events are condensed or changed. Characters are cut entirely.

Sometimes making the movie from the book would cost a fortune, and they’re just not willing to sink the budget into it. Books can be too big and grand to make the jump to a visual bite of plot and characters. Things are lost–which leads back to number one. How dare they?

Another aspect to this one is that inner dialogue mostly gets tossed aside–and reading emotion is not always the same as reading their thoughts. In some ways, if done right, the book and movie can feel like companion pieces in this…but it’s rarely done to accommodate this so that you feel like you know what the actor/actress is thinking at any given time. Elements like internal conflict are often lost in translation. Books make us feel and sometimes movies just make us watch things happen.

3. The author gets shivved by a screenwriter/producer/or director. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I was so relieved when I saw that Suzanne Collins was handling the film adaptation of The Hunger Games. I hate to see the vision of the author lost in the attempt to make the book something it’s not. This could be due to a loss in translation, but, also, I think those in charge of a movie often want to leave their mark on it too…and the author gets shivved. Suddenly, there are too many cooks in the kitchen and the creator of the plot gets relegated to a “based on a book by” role. Intentional or unintentional–the author’s concepts are scrapped–which is what was bought in the first place, and what audiences expect–and we’re back to point one and two…and incorporating three:

Readers expect films made of their favorite books to capture the full vision of the author as they, the readers, have imagined it.

Every other reason I can think of falls into one of these three categories and fits into the above, but tell me if you think there are other reasons book-to-film adaptations fail.



1. Princess Bride-The obvious choice. You were probably thinking of it too.

2. How to Train Your Dragon-This book was written for an audience of 7-11 year old boys. I just kept shaking my head at some of the jokes that had my son rolling on the floor. Also, the movie was very, very, very loosely based.

3. The Little Mermaid-Nothing against Hans Christian Andersen, but having the mermaid princess end up in a lovely sea foam (not the color–actual sea foam) is a bit of a downer.

4. Hunger Games-Doh, I’m going to get hate-mail, but I liked the movie better because we didn’t climb inside Katniss’s head–which I’m sure is why some people hated it.

5. I Am Legend-Okay, I’m plausibly going to get hate on that too, but I liked both endings of the movie better than the book’s. *dons flame-retardant gear*



1. Holes-Dang, that was an incredible adaptation. *slow claps* Great book too, though.

2. Ella Enchanted-The book and movie are very different, and I like both of them. I thought the movie captured the quirkiness. (My sister felt the opposite–she felt like it ruined the book forever and ever, and she cursed their children’s children.)

3. Curious George-The cartoon was fun and adorable and perfect.

4. Beauty and the Beast-I know, Disney makes it all so sweet and so on, but having read both I thought this was well done. (I’m noticing a trend in my list… Hmm.)

5. Ender’s Game-Also, I’m sure, not universal agreement on this, but I think they did a good job with the adaptation.

*There have been quite a few classic adaptations including Shakespeare plays that I thought were equal too.*



1. Avalon High-This was a made-for-TV movie and…OY. I wanted to hug Meg Cabot and let her borrow my woobie after I saw this one. They actually changed the ending–like completely–like totally.

2. The Cat in the Hat-Shouldn’t have been done. End of story. Actually, Seuss should get an exempt card on adaptations. Leave that poor man alone.

3. The Haunting from the Haunting of Hill House-I thought the movie was interesting and campy until I read the book and then I felt very “how dare they?”

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban-That was a travesty. My favorite book in the series turned into my least favorite movie in the series. And that werewolf? Honey, please. That wasn’t at all what a werewolf is supposed to look like. ๐Ÿ˜‰

5. Eragon-My kids refuse to acknowledge the movie of this even exists.


What’s your list? Fess up or flame me.

12 Responses so far.

  1. Jaime (Spider-Jaime) says:

    I think the movie of “Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy” was better than the book. The book was great, don’t get me wrong. But the characters in the movie were so much more likable than in the book. By the end of the series no one likes Trillion anymore. I wished they had at least made “Restauraunt at the end of the universe” They could have don’t a great job with that cast. Plus the movie had the song “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish.” That by itself would have put it over the top. Don’t believe me?!? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojydNb3Lrrs

    Where the Red Fern Grows was the very first movie I saw made from a book I had read. I was so excited and while I was watching it I was like “This is AWFUL! Why did they ruin the book?!?” I was nine at the time and I still remember how truly terrible it was.

    I agree with all yours except Ella Enchanted. Terrible movie, Wonderful Book. But maybe I was the sister you were referring to.

    • You were the sister I was referring to. ๐Ÿ˜€

      I’m not sure on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I did like the movie and it definitely did right by the book, but BETTER…I don’t know. Equal–yes. Better–I don’t know. But it’s been a while since I read or watched it. I might have felt differently right after watching the movie. It’s been a while.

      The whale part did make me snort laugh, though. I remember that.

  2. The book I think of right off the bat for “The movie was better” is JULIE AND JULIA. I’m the type of person who, if I see a movie and find it was based on a book, will move mountains until I’ve found and read the book as well. So, I got JULIE AND JULIA from the library, and …

    I don’t think I even made it to the middle of the book. The movie was engaging and I liked the way the script wove the two stories—Julia Child’s personal journey from wife to renowned French chef and cookbook author; and the story’s author, Julie’s, journey of self-discovery through making everything in Julia’s book—into parallel plots. It was warm, funny, and thought-provoking all at the same time.

    The book? Pure chick-lit. And I mean that in the most pejorative way possible.

    I can understand from a cinematic point-of-view why some stories need to be changed: books and movies are two mediums that have different requirements for successful storytelling. Usually I can see the movie as a separate interpretation of the story, although usually I also end up liking the book better.

    THE CAT IN THE HAT, though? I’m with you 100% Wendy. The movie should never have been made.

    • I think seeing the two interpretations for their own merits allows you to enjoy a whole lot more of what is out there. The limitations to both mediums shouldn’t narrow you down to either/or…but it often seems to.

      The various reincarnations lately of Sherlock Holmes are a good example. If you evaluate them simply for their duplication of the books’ contents, then they fail all around. If you judge them on their own successes and see them as a reimaginings, then there’s a lot of brilliance there–just as much as was found in the original source.

  3. Jami Gold says:

    Totally agree with you on Princess Bride. I *love* the movie (through countless re-watching), and I bought the book and…have never felt the urge to read it again. :/

    With ones like Harry Potter and Hunger Games, I like both for different reasons. Although as you said, HP#3 is…off. While the director did some interesting things, it seemed like he tried to make it too much HIS movie and not an HP movie.

    • That’s exactly what HP #3 felt like to me. Changing the landscape outside of Hogwarts was really a poor decision in my opinion–like he was attempting to reboot the franchise, and the whole thing got a bit of a Tim Burton slant to it…which didn’t match the others.

  4. Book and movie are different media – different strengths, different demands for pacing. Years ago I had a chance to hear Phillipa Boyens explain how they’d adapted The Lord Of The Rings. And yes, it needed change. The pacings for the book weren’t going to work in a movie. I always thought the first Harry Potter movie, which directly matched the book, was terrible for that reason. The risk, as you say, is that people who’ve read the book – and got a specific emotional charge out of it – will miss that trigger if it’s been adapted differently in the movie.

    That said, there are a few books deliberately written with movie pacing – I am sure the author had a movie in mind when writing them. All of the ‘airport paperback’ variety. Hunt For Red October is one of them. So’s The Da Vinci Code (‘The Of Vinci Code’, if you translate the Da). Personally I thought they were terrible, both as books and movies, but that’s not to deny the clever way they were structured.

    • That’s interesting you’d mention books written with movie pacing because my husband and I have been noticing more and more movies with portions of video game pacing. The latest Hobbit installments have scenes where you’d swear they’re ripping off Donkey Kong levels, and I know there is bank in video games. So, this is the new media string…from book to movie to video game. I wonder how long before writers are encouraged to consider the video game industry when writing their books. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’ll just have to put our princesses out of reach other than access on ramps with barrels constantly falling.

      • Absolutely true – and, similarly, all I could think of in the second Hobbit movie was the video game they’re bound to generate out of it. Ouch! It didn’t work for me as a movie…and as for what Jackson did to the book? Sigh. I spotted part of the outdoor set when flying out of Wellington mid-2013 and couldn’t help noticing the vast expanse of green-screen behind it, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the travesty that emerged. CGI has its place, but not at the expense of everything else.

  5. Maria says:

    Another one to add to the Movie is Better list – The Neverending Story.
    That book was so painful I couldn’t finish it.

    And on the lines of “different but still awesome” I’d say V for Vendetta. The movie may have the same bare bones of the graphic novel, but it’s so different it almost feels like a different story. That being said, I *loved* the movie, and I think it is awesome in its own right.

  6. I didn’t even know the Princess Bride was a book until after I had watched it like a dozen times. I just finish listening to Cary Elwes book about the making of the movie. Now I have an even better appreciation for the movie. I highly recommend it.

    The book that I would add to equal to: The Shining by Stephen King. Jack Nicolson did such a great job with that part.

    Movie that was worse than the book: Misery once again by Stephen King. Nothing against Kathy Bates, who I love, there were corners cut in the making of the movie. The book just creeped me out and even King lists Annie Wilkes as his scariest human villain.

    Great post.

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