Top 7 Movies That Were Better Than the Books


I have a feeling I’m going to get some serious disagreement on a few of these, and that’s fine with me. The reality is that sometimes movies are better than the books they are based on. The following seven are my choices:

The Silence of the Lambs (The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris)
I could never get into Harris’ writing. I tried and found myself completely uninterested. The movie, however, is amazing for reasons that have nothing to do with the book. Anthony Hopkins is so creepy in this it’s hard not to think of him as Hannibal whenever you see him elsewhere. The movie does so much for the horror/thriller than many other films have failed so miserably at for decades. The book, I’m afraid, never created the same feeling for me.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
I have nothing against Dickens, but if you’re going to try to recreate the old Brit’s fantastic Christmas story in a musical, puppet-laden, goody for the kids, then you have to use Muppets. This movie has always had a special place in my heart, and the book can never do that for me. Singing Muppets and a very scroogey Michael Caine make this one simply a classic. And yes, I know it’s ridiculous and corny. I don’t care.

The 13th Warrior (Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton)
There’s something about that book that is both fascinating and boring as hell. The audiobook didn’t help alleviate this either. But, Antonio Banderas and some adequate looking northmen make for an action-packed fantasy yarn. The book? It’s kind of like trying to read Lord of the Rings now that the movies have been made to glorious effect. Which brings us to…

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien)
Look, Tolkien was a genius. I’m not denying that and nobody should. He did something that nobody has ever successfully replicated and he deserves all the credit for it. But the man could not write an engaging paragraph to save his life. His prose is so utterly stilted and almost purple that trying to read Tolkien is like trying to have a calm conversation with someone while being melted in a vat of molten metal: it’s just damned painful. The movies? Gorgeous and brilliant in ways that defy logic. The films should have failed. Peter Jackson and the rest of his crew were taking on something that almost everyone agreed could not be filmed. And they did it. Not only adequately, but bloody well. They created a trilogy of classic films that took all the ugly fat out of Tolkien’s novels and thickened up forgotten plots to create an astonishing visual masterpiece. The movies are just so good. Like really good cake.

The Minority Report (The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick)
I’m a huge PKD fan. I love his novels, but his shorts, often, lack something. I think much of PKD’s brilliance is found in his longer works, so when filmmakers took The Minority Report and expanded it into a feature film, I was pleasantly surprised. The original story isn’t bad, but the movie is a fine example of excellent science fiction and Spielberg-ian flare.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
I’m probably going to catch hell for this one, but the recent adaptation of Douglas’ series is, in my opinion, far better than the books. I like Douglas, and he is quite funny, but the man had no concept of comedic timing. His jokes tend to run into each other endlessly until you forget what the hell he was talking about at the start. The movie, however, took all of that, and cut away until the visuals matched the words and most of the good jokes were still present. It was not a perfect movie, and I certainly have reservations about some of the cast, but, come on, at least the damned movie didn’t get lost in endless jokes without anything happening for ten pages!

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton)
Poor Michael Crichton. He’s not a bad writer, but sometimes the movie versions are simply better. In the case of Jurassic Park, the movie managed to trim the fat in much the same way as the adaptation of Douglas’ series did. The book isn’t bad at all, but the movie manages to keep a tighter pace and create a kind of terror that the books never could for me (the movie scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, by the way).

And there you have it! Send your hate mail to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. Or, just leave a very nasty comment on this page! Suggestions and opinions are welcome too. What movies did you see that were better than the book, and why?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

16 thoughts on “Top 7 Movies That Were Better Than the Books

  1. We'll just have to agree to disagree on the whole LOTR thing — I for one missed all the Tom Bombadill stuff, but I can see why they cut it. But MY GOD, the movie adaptation of HGTG lost much of the best humor of the book. The funniest parts were the animations narrated by Stephen Fry, and those were parts that were closest to the humor of the book. (Though I have to give the filmmakers props for the opening number, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.)

  2. I have to disagree. I have not found a movie better than the book. Silence of the Lambs, was as good as the book. The rest of the Hannibal Lector movies were almost as good as the books. I find books are so much better than the movies that I am always disappointed. Silence of the Lambs is the only movie I was never disappointed in. Fight Club was almost as good as the book. It would be a movie I would almost say that was improved upon with the movie. Certainly Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter gave that movie some oomph! But overall I have to say no other movies have made it bigger than the books in my mind.

  3. The 13th Warrior is one of my guilty pleasures 🙂 But its a very well made B movie, perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

    Here's a couple of more(IMO):
    Planet of the Apes. The book was interesting but nothing exceptional. The movie still holds up all these years later.(I'm talking about the 1968 version)

    Soylent Green. Based on "Make Room, Make Room" by Harry Harrison. Again, an interesting story (by one of the great SF writers) but the movie was prescient in a way few SF films are and resonates even more today.

    Colossus, the Forbin Project. The book was forgettable, but the film was tense, thought provoking and didn't end happily. On The Beach, is another one.

  4. I hafta disagree with your last two picks.
    Sure, you're right, Hitchhiker's did have some moments where the jokes took away from the story, but I honestly enjoyed it immensely. One of very few British authors whose books I can actually sit through (Pratchett being the only other I can think of off the top of my head). I found myself laughing more with that book than I did with the movie.

    And Jurassic Park… I donno if you really read the book, because I found the book to be about ten times better than the movie. Even though I had the general idea for how it was going to end while reading through it, I was still terrified. More so than I was with the movie. Over and over I found myself scared, almost too much to turn the page a lot of the time.

    But whatever. Your picks are your picks. I just know I'd have chosen differently.

  5. Mr. Fusspot: I just found parts of the first of Douglas' books incredibly difficult to get through because his jokes tend to overrun the story. I liked some of his jokes, but, as an example, the whole first chapter with Zaphod drove me nuts, because basically the chapter is about him stealing the ship…but it's ten times longer than it needs to be because he wants to turn every thought, motion, and object into a joke…it's too much in that instance. But I think the movie capture enough of the essence to make it worthwhile.

    I actually liked the book for Jurassic Park, but I think the movie functions better than the book does, primarily because the movie can do things with visuals that the book never could. I simply have a memory of seeing that movie for the first time and being bloody terrified. But this might be differences between us…movies are more likely to scare me…except Stephen King's Cell, which is probably the only book that scared me because it had "zombies" in it…zombies *shiver*

    seekerpat: I LOVE 13th Warrior. Nothing guilty about liking that movie. I don't even think it's a B movie if you really think on the story. It's kickass.

    Dang, I haven't read the books for your other suggestions…I agree that the Planet of the Apes movie still holds up…so much so that they tried to remake it a few years back to moderate success (personally I like the new one).

    Jodi: Generally I am of the same opinion about books. The movies typically disappoint or they get the job done, but mostly the former.

  6. Dr. Tundra: They made a lot of very logical choices in regards to omission in LOTR. They had to. You can't tell each book in a movie without it being too long for any reasonable person to sit through. Bombadill simply had to go…

    I think HGTG could have tried to incorporate more of the jokes, but you can't translate Douglas flat to the film at all. His jokes are too much and you always have to cut out the fat. I personally loved the Stephen Fry bits; they were a clever way to tell some of Douglas' more long-winded jokes :). And the opening number was awesome. My friend and I saw it in theaters together and were the only ones that actually got the movie…sadly…

  7. I am a disciple of DNA, and I have to disagree about the movie. Even though he helped write the script, the books are works of pure genius. I'll leave it at that.

  8. You missed The Bourne Identity. A terrible, terrible book and an awful mini-series but an action film so good that it redefined the genre.

    I tried to re-read it in light of the new films but it is such a 'product of its time' that it was even more awful, badly plotted, badly paced, just bad.

    The sequels too, were infinitely better than the books.

  9. It's interesting, while I can see where you are going in your arguments, I really find myself strongly disagreeing with the majority of your picks.

    My general opinion is that you really don't enjoy reading that much, that's the only justification I can discern for your picking movies over the originals by Adams, Tolkien and Crichton as well as others.

    More than anything this list makes me feel sorry for the decline of interest in excellent fiction, as younger generations drift to the TV, finding it more engaging than expert prose.

  10. Sean: Oh, hardly. If you were a regular reader of this blog you'd know that wasn't true. I actually liked Jurassic Park (the book), but the movie was better, in my opinion.

    And I'm hardly young. You're taking this whole post out of context. It's one post about some movies that were better than the books. There are loads of books that were damn better than the movies, but that's not what this list is about.

    Hell, I don't even get TV in my apartment anymore. I never converted to the digital format. I watch movies occasionally, but mostly I am on here, reading, or writing.

    I'll just assume you don't know much about my blog, because none of what you have said is really true of me.

  11. I actually liked the book Eaters of the Dead better then the 13th Warrior movie. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has more depth and isn't just action. Also, it's a much clearer reinterpretation of Beowulf.

    You might have had trouble with the beginning (like the first two or three chapters), because Crichton basically incorporated a historical document actually written by a Muslim envoy who made contact with Vikings with only slight modifications.


  12. I agree with you–I have found certain movies to be better than the books which preceded them. One that always springs to mind for me is Fried Green Tomatoes. I don't know why, but after seeing the movie, the book just put me right to sleep.

    I disagree with you about LOTR–in a way. I can definitely see how parts of the book are hard to get through. But I, for one, always found his prose style to be highly engaging precisely because it sets up a certain aura around the book. Tolkien was a student of olden-times literature, and that comes through in his writing. Although it seems foreign and slow to modern readers, if I allow myself to slip into it, I can appreciate the atmosphere it creates–an atmosphere I almost never find in modern lit.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

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