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10 Movies That Are Actually Better Than The Book

22 December 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Robbie Back


Often viewed as a kind of blasphemy, claiming that a film is “better than the book”, is bold to say the least. It is also a rare occurrence. Novels allow for rich world-building and detail that films simply can’t afford to spend time on. However films can convey imagery and unconventional plot structure in a far more fluent and cohesive manner.

There are always exceptions and anomalies that transcend format, but typically, the creator’s chosen medium is superior. For example, while Zack Snyder’s Watchmen 2009, a graphic novel that was once labelled “un-filmable”, is a visually stunning and thought provoking experience, it comes up wanting compared to Alan Moore’s original 12 issues of seminal character creation and moral ambiguity.

Consider the following: These films were all able to surpass the quality of their original source material and deliver an altogether more compelling, visceral and entertaining experience. In almost all of the following examples, character portrayal is the deciding factor, with some of the most iconic film characters in cinematic history, originating from novels.


10. The Graduate 1967 (Novel 1963)

The Graduate

Launching Dustin Hoffman into the late 60’s limelight, The Graduate tapped into the social confusion and unabashed sexual frankness of the time. Charles Webb’s book of aimlessness struck a chord with a generation.

The novel and film follow a young man arriving home from college, unable to pin down what he wants from life and from those around him. Slipping into an affair with a mildly predatory older woman, he spends the summer loving someone he doesn’t love, still pained by the indefinable hole in his heart. The reason for Mike Nichols’ film being superior is simply the portrayal of Ben Braddock.

The Graduate rests on this character, whose apathetic and frustrating exchanges are only made endearing due to his youthful ignorance. A charm that requires Hoffman’s understated expressions, and stuttered line delivery in the face of Mrs. Robinson’s naked body.

The book articulates Ben’s frustration, but doesn’t allow the reader to feel exempt from being frustrated with Ben. In the film, Ben is relatable, giving the audience someone they can invest in. The final iconic bus scene is made all the more exciting by the youthful desire in both Ben and Elaine’s eyes. The novel doesn’t convey this, rendering it a less compelling story.


9. Dr. Strangelove 1964 (Novel ‘Red Alert’ 1958)

“You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!” With a slightly convoluted journey from novel to screen adaptation, Dr. Strangelove benefits from having the author Peter George co-write the screenplay along with director Stanley Kubrick and satirist Terry Southern.

Red Alert features the same plot however the actual character of Dr. Strangelove is absent. The film is able to become fully realised with Kubrick’s direction as he transforms George’s topical tale of impending doom into a masterfully satirical black comedy.

The film features a career defining performance from Peter Sellers in three separate roles, including the titular character. Dr. Strangelove displays the effects of paranoia and propaganda in what is arguably the finest political satire film of all time. The film benefits from the coalition of creativity, which allows Red Alert to provide the foundations that Kubrick so expertly built upon.


8. Starship Troopers 1997 (Novel 1959)


It would be a ludicrous idea to dismiss the source material entirely when creating a screen adaptation. However, Paul Verhoeven’s hyper violent sci-fi action flick was able to deliver an experience the novel could not: pure entertainment.

The book isn’t a great deal of fun and has undertones of racism and fascism, so perhaps it is suitable that Verhoeven decided to parody militarism using ironic depictions of Western society whilst maintaining a tongue-in-cheek approach to storytelling. The cast look like they belong in Saved by the Bell and deliver perfectly hammed up performances. The film looks brilliant and is impossible not to love if you enjoy over-the-top action sci-fi.


7. High Fidelity 2000 (Novel 1995)

high fidelity

High Fidelity is a charming and authentic take on passion. Rob Gordon’s infinite knowledge on all things musical gives him no help navigating his personal relationships.

The book and the film share the same story and were both well received critically and commercially. The only differences with the film were the Chicago setting instead of London and the character’s name change from Rob Fleming to Rob Gordon.

The film prevails simply due to the performance from John Cusack, who effortlessly dances between pretentious snob and hopeless romantic. Nick Hornby, the author of High Fidelity, also enjoyed the film. He was thrilled with Cusack’s portrayal and said that at times it was as if Cusack was reading extracts from his novel.

In this case, the source and adaptation are closer to equals, rather than one being decidedly superior. However the dialogue, particularly within the record store, places the film slightly ahead. The top 5 compilation conversations are prophetic depictions of modern day conceited hipster culture, the accuracy of which, are enjoyably satisfying rather than irritating.


6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 1975 (Novel 1962)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’S Nest (1975)

In this case, the author did not appreciate the screen adaptation. Ken Kesey, who penned the successful novel, claimed he never even saw the award winning film. Kesey was involved in the early stages of production, but withdrew his involvement after multiple disagreements regarding narrative perspective and casting.

The film follows the point of view of McMurphy and his bad behaviour is toned down considerably compared with in the book. The book features Chief Bromden as the narrator and ‘hero’ of the story. This character is still important in Milos Forman’s adaptation, but plays a more peripheral role.

The book and film deal with the same themes and deliver the same messages regarding repressed human beings who struggle to meld within society’s boundaries. However the film’s ambiguous yet positive conclusion allows the whole story to feel rounded and worthwhile.

The novel is a great read, but lands in far bleaker territory. Jack Nicholson’s performance, which secured him an Oscar, also contributes to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s preservation as a cinematic masterpiece.



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  • D Train

    Deeply flawed article. Yes, Jaws is far better than the Benchley book but Cormac McCarthy’s prose trump even the Coens. Come on!
    Where’s The Godfather? That book was garbage. Populist fodder. The films far outshine the book.

    • Julio D’avila

      The Godfather is n. 5

  • Xanian

    Just the inclusion of No Country for Old Men is enough to invalidate this list. Not for no reason is that book called one of the best works by an author universally revered across the world.

    Agree about Silence of the Lambs, slightly iffy about Fight Club because the book is better paced IMO and definitely agree with D Train that the Godfather is a very bad piece of literature.

  • Carlos Felipe Soto Cortés

    i`d add Children of Men

  • shane scott-travis

    How can No Country For Old Men be on this list? McCarthy is perhaps America’s greatest living writer and while No Country may not be his best work (Blood Meridian probably is), it’s something altogether different from the Coen’s film. Yes their film is good, but the novel runs on a whole other level. It was wrong to put it on the list. Disappointing.

  • David Pollison

    I would add Edge of Tomorrow (Though the book had the awesome title of All You Need Is Kill), Blade Runner, Lifeforce and Razorback.

  • Max Goncharov

    Maybe before writing this article, author should read this books!
    To say that “Starship Troopers” has undertones of racism and fascism, could only who didn’t read the book, or didn’t understand it at all.

  • Aleksandar Šurbatović

    No Country for an Old Men is world’s literary classic and one of the most important American novels of it’s time. It is so huge that probably will stay alive for centuries. So, which book have you red?! Have you red the book at all?

  • Hanz Offman.

    Nice collection of comments here, I guess movie nerd + book nerd = smug gimps acting offended by a valid opinion.

  • Nikos Ikonomidis

    Nice list.I would include Inherent vice, An American friend and The Ghost writer.

  • Marco

    Under the skin (2013), book by Michel Faber (2004).

  • Daniel J

    No Country for Old Men the movie is better than the book, but not enough to warrant its inclusion….One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , the book, is a masterpiece and the film is NOT better.

  • Daniel J

    The Shining, The Green Mile, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, GoodFellas!

  • Gines Velazquez

    A Clockwork Orange for me…

  • MnkyLv

    Soylent Green

  • Vincenzo Politi

    The Age of Innocence: the novel, by Pulitzer-winner Edith Wharton, is a gem, but I think that Scorsese’s movie adds a very special depth to the story.

  • Gabriel Moragas

    What the hell? Starship Troopers has undertones of racism and fascism? The book doesn’t even talk about race! (except if you consider that the protagonist reveals himself to be filipino at the end, but that’s about it!).

  • Bogdan

    Master and Margarita (1994). Not to say that is better that the book, but certainly one of the best adaptations.

  • Terek Brajan

    High Fidelity, One Flew Over Coockoo’s Nest, The Godfather, No Country for Old Men…?! You must be joking….Don’t get me wrong, those are all great movies…..

  • Davide Capodaglio

    The presence of Nicholson alone makes every movie better than any book.

  • Ted Wolf

    I would add Christine