Why People Prefer The Book to The Movie

It is usually inevitable that when a film based on a novel comes out… regardless of if people liked the film or not, the first phrase that will usually come out of our mouths is “I liked the book better” or some sort of variation of that statement.

So why is that? Are books just by their nature better than film? I personally refuse to believe that. It’s apple and oranges really. Two entirely different mediums. But still… I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that almost 90% of the time people will say they thought “the book” was better than “the movie”.

I have a couple of theories why this might be, and I offer them to you now for your commentary:


Usually our first experience with something establishes not only a “standard” in our heads, but more importantly it forms the basis for our familiarity with something as well. When we see a movie, and then later see a remake of that movie, we instantly compare the two in our heads. But we judge the remake not on it’s quality alone, but also on how well it maintained the spirit or essence of THE ORIGINAL. Because the original is what we know… it is the standard now… not only for quality, but for it’s own nature.

For this reason, sometimes even if a remake is actually a BETTER film that the original, most people will still grumble (me too) unless it properly met those standards of familiarity in our heads. The original came first, and thus never had to face such standards… it could just be judged on its own merits. Not so with remakes. Books are usually read first and thus judged only on their own merits when read… but the movie version has those extra standards to be measured against instead of just its own merits. That’s neither wrong nor right… it just is what it is.

This is a big one. You’ve got a 300, 500 or 700 page book filled with narrative, action, dialog, monologs and such giving depth and detail to almost every nuance that you can imagine. The average reader is then engaged with that book for days… soaking in the atmosphere, creating set visuals in their own minds, ascribing voices and faces to the characters and whatever they can’t imagine, the author has the time and pages to describe to them.

However, a movie is roughly needed to be broken down into a 120 page screenplay that you sink yourself into for 2 hours. MANY MANY things that were in the book (500 pages) has to be cut out or re-envisioned to fit in the alloted time frame. Plot devices have to be used to move things from point A to point B. Some things from the book are left unexplored, and sometimes what is used in the movie doesn’t quite match up to what the viewer/reader had envisioned in their head when they read the book.

It’s just math. A 120 screenplay can’t capture everything that was in a 500 or 800 page book, and thus those who have read the book can often feel let down by the movie.

Generally speaking (and I know there are exceptions to this rule), Only popular and high quality books get picked up by some studio and get made into a feature film. This stacks the deck a little bit. If every book (good or bad) got made into films, the we’d hear a lot more people favoring the movie version. However, when you start with a great book, and then combine that with the 2 other items already listed in points #1 and #2, then a movie version is almost doomed to lose out in the “which was better – book or movie” competition that the reader/viewer has going on in their minds.

So there you have it. My quick thoughts on why the vast majority of people who have read a book usually favor the page to the screen when a film version it comes out. There are obviously exceptions to all the rules listed above, but in general I’ve usually found these to be true.

Your thoughts?

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79 thoughts on “Why People Prefer The Book to The Movie

  1. I absolutely agree with #1 and #2.
    A movie never beats a book! But it doesn’t mean that the movie from the book is always bad, they just have a different taste, and I prefer the book best.

  2. I agree with all the listed above reasons but what people don’t understand is that their fav books being made have had to cut parst out either to keep the movie from being 4 hours or because the part is just way to complicated. For ex in the first Harry Potter, in the first book he had to go through 3 trials to get the stone and in the movie they only did one, the chess pieces. Also in New Moon with the dream scene, it took up too much time from the movie so the director cut it from the movie

  3. I’ve come up with the perfect way to avoid no 1: I read the book AFTER I see the movie. Because it’s true that the book is much richer in details, atmosphere, etc than the movie, I can enjoy the movie whilst watching it, and then compare it endlessly to the book as I’m reading it.

    Of course,if you’ve already read the book, don’t go and read it again just before you see the movie (Harry Potter fans do this all the time, which is why they get so ‘peeved’ when stuff is left out). I did the same thing with New Moon, and it worked perfectly… too perfect in fact, cos now I don’t want to read that book again…

    (NB: the only reason I read those books was because my at-the-time-13-yr-old-sister was, and it was my sisterly duty to ensure that they were appropriate for her to read; they weren’t of course, but I was too late as she’d already finished Breaking Dawn by then- and hated it :))

  4. Let’s put the fish on the dish here, my friends. I have a theory I call The Law of First Contact. I’ve observed that people seem to be hard-wired to have a preference for whichever “truth” they had exposure to first. If someone reads the book first, then the investment of time in creating their mental motion-picture “truth” will trump a second exposure to someone else’s motion-picture interpretation. By contrast, the preference for the movie versus the book happens if the movie is seen first because it’s “truth” was accepted first.

  5. Disagree with #1. My personal example is the Godfather. Saw Godfather I and II. Decided to read the book because those movies were great. Thought the book was better than the films. Based on reason #2. Depth and detail of the characters and the world. Learining how Sonny made his bones, how Sonny made a name for himself in the last Mafia war, how Vito Corleone took on Al Capone. I love all that stuff. Even if is a couple sentences or paragraph.

  6. i think that in books, its a whole different story than the movie, because you are let into the character’s head. you can see all the thought processes, reasoning, reactions, etc. with the books. but with the movies, the character can’t be like, “oh, that really made me mad. right now im considering poppin you one, or maybe i’ll just yell in your face. i wonder what’ll happen if i…..” and so on. there’s a big difference.

  7. I think you have it spot on. When reading a book you “see” it in your head, your imagine it and when the film comes out it can often destroy that image that you had, you there dismiss the film and say the book is better.

    But as you, they are two different mediums, it is nice that books get made info films and I am sure we all have tons of books that we think would make great movies, we just need to learn of the limitation of film.

  8. Also, (not sure if this has already been mentioned, but-) when people read a book, they’re going to imagine it differently than someone else reading it. Generally, this means they’ll always like what they see (hell, THEY imagined it). But when you’re watching a movie, you kinda just have to accept what’s put in front of you.

    Thought that might be an interesting way to look at it.

  9. Films are films. Books are books. Every single one of them are good (or bad) for its own reason. So basically when a film or book is bad it’s because the director or writer couldn’t make a good job!

    Why are there so many bad book’s adaptations? Basically because they are bad directors! (Understanding that the director has to approve EVERYTHING in the film starting with the screenplay!)

    So, why people prefer the book to the movie? Basically, because the book is better than the film. There is not much to do with how good the adaptation is but much more with how good the movie is!
    I guess the point with these films is watching them as films and not as adaptations.

    Can’t go without mentioned two good examples:
    Great adaptation of a superb book: The perfume
    Horrendous adaptation of another superb book: Love in the time of cholera
    You really don’t need to read any of these two books to know if the film is good or not, and that’s the point with “adaptations”: are they making good films?

    1. What about films that go further than the original story, like Minority Report, based on a short story. Same charaters, similar story and yet completely different. Both where great. And A.I. based on a short story called Summer toys Last All Year or something. It was a one page poem just about that was fleshed out into a feature length film. One mans junk is another man Treasure. Thats the point of free will, Its your Opinion.

  10. I see your points, and I half agree with them.

    Take me, f.eks. I’m half and half. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, but my apartment is one big home cinema. My thoughts about LotR is that the first film is good(as good as a three hour film about LotR can get, anyway), the two others are almost rubbish. Why? Action.

    In the attempt to reach out to a bigger audience, Jackson threw in lots of action sequences, even fights and action-related scenes that weren’t in the book. Now, why in pinkspattered blue hell would he do that when there is an extremely massive plotline to tell? And why would he make the actionscenes so lame? I mean, Legolas sliding down the stairs on a shield shooting arrows? What up with that? I agree that the movie should appeal to viewers who haven’t read the books, but this is a cheap way of doing it. Really, they had so many actionscenes that the fall of Saruman(an important and very interesting scene in the book) was downprioritized to last like half a minute. Thanks to this, and a few other things(like the spotlight-eye of Sauron searching for Frodo, and killing off the mouth of Sauron(and thus ignoring “nobody hurts a messenger”)), those two movies are dead to me.

    Harry Potter does the same mistake. What were they thinking? “Yeah, a couple of dementors showing up on the quidditchfield isn’t exciting enough, why not make them fly and have a thrilling chase?”. NO. That’s BAD. But again, the first one is good.

    I’m not saying I dont like action at all(LotR 1 has a perfect amount of it, that is *relevant* to the storyline), but movies such as those above aren’t supposed to be a movie that everybody likes; it’s for a rather specific group, like the books. If you take that away, you take away the magic of the books, and it becomes a dull semi-action/adventure movie.

    That said, there are many great adaptions from books out there, like those mentioned above. And there are also many movies that would translate horribly to books. My point is just that if you are to translate from one medium to another;

    1. Find a new an interesting spin to it, while still following the original medium. Otherwise it’s pointless and boring, you’d just make the same thing in another medium.

    2. If you are to ADAPT the original, you do *not* include something that doesn’t represent the mood in the original(f.ex. too much action). You can do that if you are BASING your movie/book on a book/movie, but adaption is something else. This includes not adding something irrelevant to the storyline just to attract bigger audience(yeah, as if that’ll ever happen… Suppose money is the keyword here).

    There’s a really fine line between the two, since they almost seem to contradict each other.

    Well, that’s all I had to say. Sorry ’bout the rant, folks^^

  11. Films make the imaginative detail of a novel’s text literal, and therefore simpler. Films must use the narrator’s voice sparingly, where a novel can be built on the narrator’s voice. Films often need to make choices about the inclusion or exclusion of plot and character details, to fit arbitrary limitations on length. Bad novels with clear, dramatic plot structures sometimes make excellent films (The original version ofThe Day of the Jackal is a good example, as are all the Tom Clancy novels), but in most cases, the qualities that make a novel excellent (the interior monologues; specific character perceptions, descriptive passages of interior or exterior landscapes) don’t translate well into the film medium. One possible solution: the ‘mini-series’ format rather than the 2-hour film. Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, made an excellent twelve-hour series.

  12. Great article. I agree with the rules, and I also think that most times, its an unfair comparison. The thing I always hate is when a movie takes an idea from the book and totally goes off in a different direction, like in I am Leged. That was a good book with a great story and good ending. Then, you take a movie made off the book and completely change the story. How could you really compare that to the book? I think, many times, the stories have liberties taken that exempt them from even comparing to the book.

  13. I agree with you totally.
    The first and second points are VERY true! If you listen to a song done by a cover artist, and then go and listen to the original, your not going to like the original as much, because instead of LISTENING to the song, you’ll be picking out the differences. Even if the original is a million times better, if the cover artist is ANY good, you’ll like that better. Because it has become what you think is normal.

    Number two is another good point. If you really liked the book, your going to want the movie to do it justice, and by that, you’ll want EVERYTHING in it. Leaving little sceans out will get you mad. The thing is, the directors are trying to please two types of people, the people who loved the books, and want the movie to be identical, and the people who are to lazy or don’t like reading. They are very different types and will want very different things. You have to try to please with both types, meaning your going to have to make sacrifices leaving out parts. Also they sometimes ADD things that wern’t in the books. Like in LOTR the romance between Aragon an Elrond was made more so, but in the books it wasn’t really there. Because they fiqured that is what the people will like to watch.

    You are totally right though, comparing a book to a movie isn’t really good because they are so different.

  14. First of all, I must say, interesting theories, most of which I would say are correct.

    Though I would disagree with one of the comments left here. Somebody on here said that people who’ve read the books just love to show off. Not true. There have been some movies made that are better than the books. I’d say that about Brokeback Mountain…short story, not very widely read, and yet look at the film. People who read the story have said that the film almost beat the book.

    And as for saying books and movies are two different media. Yes they are, but one of my professors (a literature prof) usually made us watch one film (based off a book) in each of our literature classes. He wanted us to “read” the movie. To look for certain themes that were repeated and figure out why they were there. Then he had us pick apart the movie like it was a book.

    It’s hard to make a movie out of a book, especially one that’s beloved by many. Lord of the Rings…big fan of the books and I loved the films. I’ve only now started to nitpick on them, but they still really haven’t lost their charm.

    Another movie that was better than the book…Last of the Mohecians. I ADORE that movie, read the book and decided the movie was better. Which I almost never do.

    It is hard for people who’ve read the books to try and rate the film on it’s own merits. And I’m trying to do that, even though it doesn’t always work. And it’s something a lot of people need to work on.

  15. I’ve gotten over the fact that movies aren’t gonna be faithful to the book. Man, I hate it when people complain about that, whereas I don’t care, anymore. I liked Eragon, even though they had a lot of the book cut out.

  16. I think that people “like the book better” because they project their own personality onto the telling of the story. When you read the dialog in a good book, it sounds wonderful, because the way you hear it in your head sounds exactly the way you want it.

    Then again, Dracula the movie is much better than the book.

  17. I will say however that the first two Potter movies were close to, though not exactly like the books. The third one got further away.

    Warner Brothers mustn’t have even read the fourth and fifth books.

    I agree that you have to cut some things when you whittle down a 500 page book, but if you can’t do it without changing the characters, the character of the story and outcomes, don’t bother.

    For example, the most unnecessary change I remember off the top of my head was in the first scene of the third movie. Wizarding law doesn’t allow any form of magic in the muggle world. In the book, Harry studied by flashlight. What purpose was served by having him break wizarding law and study by wand light? Should not that have brought even more questions when he was put on trial in book 5 for using underage magic in the muggle world?

    Other examples include the removal of Dobby, the downplay of Kreacher, removal of Mundungus Fletcher. All of whom play incredibly important parts later in the stories.

  18. I don’t necessarily think everybody sees the same movie. I do believe there is leeway for different interpretations in the movie format when it comes to character thought and motivation and even events that are referenced but never fully shown on screen. The leeway for a movie is less than it is in a book where your imagination has less constraints on what is happening “between the lines”.

    So many films are based on books even from years past. Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz. A pretty good point by whoever said that rarely do you hear anybody say the book version is better when the book is adapted from the movie. Although not a book, Buffy has transitioned from TV to a comic book series although I do not know if this is a case where the comic is better than the tv show having seen neither one.

    My best example of two complementary forms is actually the graphic novel Ghost World. I saw the movie first and was totally immersed in it and immediately bought the graphic novel which was equally great. It’s almost an alternate story of sorts, most of the same characters, same setting, same beginning but both the movie and the graphic novel diverge onto different paths story-wise which are both totally logically with respect to the characters.

  19. People don’t generally understand why a film can’t be exactly like the book upon which is was based. So, they make unfair comparisons between the two.
    Although it isn’t always easy to do, people have to be able to judge a film on its own merits. What makes a great film great aren’t the same things that make a novel great.

  20. Actually…its mostly (2) or it could be (3) as well. (1) is mostly applicable to purists lol. People form their own conception of a particular scene or character which affects how they look at a movie which is – so oft quoted – someone else’s vision.

    Books do not necessarily have an advantage, since movies = visual and audio impact that books lack, but human imagination is usually good at supplying the latter. I think literary tradition is richer than tv/films/radio or what have you – its like comparing a 10 course meal to fast food.

    But I also think that people can recognize a good adaptation when they see one, given the limitations.

  21. The reason everyone says books are better than the movies, is because they are so proud of themselves for reading the book and they want everyone to know. Somehow people feel like they’ve accomplished something by reading a book that was made into a movie. For twelve seconds, while they say “the book was better,” they feel like they are apart of the production. Because they discovered it.

    In reality, books are never better than the movies, because I didn’t have to read them.

    P.S. Two goats are eating the movie reels in the dumpster behind a theater. The first goat says to the second goat “Good huh?” The Second goat says “the book was better.”

  22. From the writer end of the whole thing, all I can say is we try. We do our best. The producer gets into many a fight with the writer who wants to write the book a certain way and then have the movie a certain. I’m a purist. I want my movie to be like the book as close as possible. I haven’t read enough of Harry Potter to really know but I do want to simply write my novel and let the editor deal with it later. I do not like movies that take special liberties. Everybody remembers the Dune issue (Frank Herbert)- the Lady Jessica had red hair in the book but came out blond in the movie. Huge detail people forget, is that the Bene Gesserit have red hair. I’ve read all of the Dune series excluding the newer books. No movies are going to come out of that any time soon.

  23. Great books cannot be made into great movies – period. Great literature is the work of one person and, more importantly, is experienced by one person. No two people ever read the same book, but everyone sees the same movie. Books that hold sway over you and mesmerize you become an internal part of you which means the movie is starting off with a great disadvantage. Some movies which have been better than (or as good as) the book are The Godfather. Mystic River, Gone With the Wind.

    Another thing, books are a bigger investment of our time. The good ones reach deeper and the poor ones piss you off more as well. Movies only take a couple of hours, it is easier to shrug off a bad movie. The good ones, ah….that’s another story.

  24. Not sure if this is normal, but I always end up reading the book after Ive seen the film.
    I watch the film then read that it came from a top selling book, so I read the book.

    I guess it’s bad as the movie taints the authors vision of what he wanted to put in your head when you read the book….

    I guess they compliment each over….

  25. I usually enjoy the book better…here’s how it went down (IMO) for Jurassic Park 1 and 2:

    Jurassic Park 1 : Book = SUCKS.
    Jurassic Park 1: Movie = AWESOME

    Jurassic Park 2: Book = AWESOME
    Jurassic Park 2: Movie = SUCKS

    I read both books before I even saw the movies (yeah, I wasn’t allowed to see the movie when I was a kid but for some reason my parents didn’t care what types of books I read).

  26. I am very flexible about condensing a book to film, even re-writing bits. Of all the Harry Potter movies, ‘Phoenix’ was my favorite because it was the first one to feel like a movie instead of a squashed up book. (And I’m a huge fan of the books). I actually like the film better than the book since everyone kind of had crap attitudes through the whole thing and I’ve never liked Luna.

    But I cannot forgive completely re-writing a plot, characters, or anything important in an attempt to reach a different audience. If the book is successful, it’s usually not because people are buying it in mass to burn. To me, it seems like adaptations have improved and are more faithful to the books. ‘Atonement’, for example, was the perfect visual companion to the book. Now, when I saw ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, I left the theater spitting glass and raging like a beast.

    Haters be damned, it’s a great book and the Tudor books are really interesting. I loved Anne because of her arrogance, ambition, and everything that brought her down in the book. In the movie, she’s a whimpering little pussy. She commands Henry in the book (until she gets her head chopped off), but Natalie Portman couldn’t go five minutes without weeping, “oh Henwy fwightens me.” In the book, Mary could hold her own, fought back against her ridiculously powerful family, and did it without beating us over the head with “i iz a liburated womans, but henwy also fwightens me!” And Henry had to be a total hunk instead of a monster of a man with too much power, which honest to God, I find a lot more engaging. (But anything with nekkid Eric Bana is somewhat good). What should have been an outstanding costume drama turned into a Lifetime movie of the week.

    There’s an awful lot of people and situations in the book that probably would have been cut, but you could have done it without rewriting everybody’s personalities. It’s almost like the studio was afraid of admitting there were fierce, intelligent women in existence who could bring them profit, so they had to pander to the bitches who are obsessed with ‘Twilight’ and furries and think “strong female lead” means, “Alyssa Milano as a mother who must rescue her children from the mob so she can go back to playing house.” WRONG. A correct answer would be Ripley, Leia, Wanda (the woman, not the fish), The Bride, Miranda, or several others who can do more than worry about if they’ll ever get a boyfriend or if the popular girls will ever like them. Boo fucking hoo.

    Wow. Sorry. Got a little carried away. Anyhoo, adaptations, hooray! Excessive re-writes, BOO.

  27. Weeel-thing is,like you said with,I believe point two,its that things creating the atmosphere of character depth as well as seting being either drasticaly shortened/cut/revised can change the mood the book gives out.It is possible,technicaly,to make the book into seperate movies,like they are planing with the final (I think) part of Harry Poter (but were sinking into sewer deep levels of fanboyish overly-popular-for-its-own-good book teritories,so lets NOT talk about HP here,for the sake of quality/posterity) but that could mean nothing “action packed” would happen in the first one and the people wouldnt go for it,nor for the second,if it could be made at all.

    Generaly,I consider adaptions to belong to two categories:

    1.Entierly diferent feel-when its made well,it can be very good, but when its too diferent from the original (aka:the polar oposite) then it can turn to literal sh*t-like “Tank Girl”

    2.Emulations-trying to fit the original with what you can,but doing so labourously and without inovation-not good.

    Problems with adaptions theese days are that they mostly (hollywood) are made for kidies-Garfield-witty sarcastic and not overly optimistic cat with a slightly devious personality gets turnd into a kid movie.Spiderman-well,lets just say some of the inovations realy felt forced and 3-wel,people know about that so……

    Basicly,these days we either have sequels or adaptions (and THEIR sequels)-while adaptions,as in modern golden age disney, were previously bent much more on creativity,theese days,its on bearing with either of the two points previously mentioned. We rarely see original stuff theese days-where they are making a 14th Land Before time direct-to-video movie and we get direct-to-video (aka:direct to the mental institution,where most of the creators evidently reside) on almost anything half sucessfull.I man,do I have to remind the general public of the somewhat older,but stil stingingly hurtfull UNNEEDED TRAVESTY that was Mulan II ?

  28. It’s not necessarily true that a film can’t communicate as much information as a book. It’s true for characterisation – without narrative, expositional dialogue or awkward soliloquies it’s hard to get across a character’s history, relationships or inner thoughts on film – but conversely scene-setting can get across pages of text in one decent shot, which can even be in the background. Dialogue is presumably a similar length for both media, since most people will read it at speaking pace and pauses on film will make up for descriptive text amongst the dialogue in the book. So a highly descriptive book (like Lord of the Rings or anything Steinbeck) would be easier to condense into a movie than something particularly wordy or full of action.

  29. I think LOTR is on to something when he says there are some examples it’s possible to enjoy as a film and a book, without saying one is better than the other. The Lord of The Rings books and films are a good example, as is “The Godfather.” I’ve enjoyed most Harry Potter films, as well as the books, without trying to compare them. Another from back a number of years was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Great movie, great book, but somewhat different.

    One final thought — another way back. Jaws. I’d read the novel and always thought the film was a lot better.

  30. I don’t think books are necessarily better than films, but when a book is adapted to film, the book is usually better. If the story was envisioned originally with language, you’re bound to lose something when you try to tell it visually, especially when you have cut out so much of the detail.

    That said, films have their strengths, too. Star Wars, for example, would suck as a book. Anything with a lot of spectacle and action works better on the big screen.

    As for bad books never being made into movies – that’s just not true. It happens all the time, and as recently as ‘The DaVinci Code’. If your book has sold well, Hollywood will come-a-knockin’.

  31. I guess it all started in grade school when teachers started saying it in order to get kids to read rather than watch movies and or television. I think it just kind of caught on from their. I bet the teachers union all got together and spread the message like wildfire nationwide.

    I am curious if I am correct even a little bit as to the origin of this saying and belief. A google search for “book is better than the movie” brings 21,700 results hehe.

    Nice Discussion!

  32. There is this one book that I F’N enjoyed reading for the 1/3rd of it. It was an X-Men novel (not graphic novel) that could give Age of Apocalypse a run for its money (I still haven’t read AOA yet, DAMMIT!).

    The novel is called, “X-Men: The Chaos Engine Trilogy”. Think ‘Lord of the Rings’, but instead of a One Ring, it is a small cube where three villains from the Marvel universe (Doom, Magneto, and Red Skull) can wish to turn our world into what they have dreamed of (namely, WORLD domination!). The writer (Steven A. Roman) made the story so well, it was like the greatest movie never made.

    I doubt if this would EVER be adapted, but if it does, it could challenge LoTR as the best movie trilogy (I do think LoTR is the best).

    Now, I found very interesting that (from looking at a review of) “The Towering Inferno: SE” was adapted by TWO books (the other from WB). The producer blend the two stories to make one big adaption film to rival “The Poseidon Adventure”.

    And lets not forget the Peter Jackson is focused on adapting “The Lovely Bones.” This should be another case of book vs. movie.

    Well, gotta go!

  33. Seven (Recent) Movies that were better than the Books they were based on (in no particular order)

    I agree with two mentioned above:
    1. Blade Runner
    2. Out of Sight

    King Stories often are better on film, but then some of them are so much worse…here are two which are waaay better than the story
    3. The Shining
    4. The Running Man
    (I’m still waiting for someone to make a movie out of THE LONG WALK)

    5.Tristram Shandy
    Perhaps this isn’t fair, most folks can’t get through the book…The Same probably applies to Barry Lyndon (althuogh I’ve not read the novel) or if they ever made a film version of Finnegan’s Wake.

    6. Trainspotting
    Hey I like the book, but the film was really popping, fun and tragic all at the same time, the book played it more straight and was worse for it.

    7. American Psycho
    The book gets positively grating at a certain point, the film is great from start to finish, even if it isn’t as extreme as the novel…

    All I have to say with the success of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fantasty novels to films, why isn’t someone out there making movie versions of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels. Tigana would make a knock out film. And the pair of novels Sailing to Sarantium & Lord of Emperors has enough material for a trilogy of films for a producer out there looknig to make fantasy genre films for adult audiences…

  34. holy fucking shit campea have you seen the picture of optimus prime in vehicle mode over at aint it cool news????

    i don’t know if i love it or hate it…..

    red and blue for sure but flames???

    love to know what you guys think….go check it as I am sure paramount will have the shit pulled down soon…

  35. There’s no denying that reading the book first colors your opinion of the movie adaptation that follows but I prefer movie adaptations that bring their own something to the table and enhances the book. So #2 doesn’t really hold water with me.

    Going back to Lord of the Rings – I love both the movies and the books but it would have been excruciatingly boring if Peter Jackson had decided to make a completely faithful adaptation.

    Same goes with The Da Vinci Code. That was a book I was looking forward to seeing made into a movie and that just went wrong.

    Books and movies are two different media. With books you can put them down and go back, re-read and get lost in the characters. With movies you’re being pulled in for the 1 and 1/2 odd hours that you’re watching it.

    I wonder which is better the second time around – reading the book again or watching the movie on DVD?

  36. Man, some really good opinions, i’m really enjoying reading all of them. (as usually I do)
    fsckr and Simon, hit the nail on the head as far as i’m conserned.
    Poppe, exactly what I wanted to say, a picture is 1000 words, so 24 frames per second 60 seconds per min 110 min per average film, I think my calc is right
    Basically I look at it this way, if I had the choice of spending my ENTERTAINMENT TIME watching a 2 hour movie or reading a godforsaken lengthy book i’d pick the movie. Why, because a book takes so freaking long to read, and I’m not the most creative person when it comes to visualization. Wrighters do what they do and that’s make a story. If they were good at art they’d be in the art buisness. Oh wait a minute (sarcasm), to make a movie they use artists, and they are the best at what they do. So keep the story and that’s all that maters to me. How could someone in a book, if they had made one first, possibly describe general grievous, bullet time from the matrix, the batmobile, jean gray ripping apart all kind of shit, terminator M taking on terminator F. Thank you to all you artists (I know i’m generalizing). Freaking amazing, keep the good shit rolling. (I want to add transformers some day)

    I wonder what it would be like if the showed movies in 2 minute segements for 4 weeks, that’s kind of what a book does to me, and I don’t like it.

  37. I agree 100% with all three.

    I think some people do see through these “rules”, but most apply them to their critical opinions.

    A few examples of movies I prefer more than their book counterparts:

    Jurassic Park – Read the book second.
    The Polar Express – Short story, expanded on the idea rather than cut it down.
    Minority Report – See The Polar Express.
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Worst Potter book, best Potter movie. (My opinion, of course :) This is because the Goblet of Fire book was convoluted, and could have BEEN only 120 pages. Therefore, it was easily adaptable into a movie.

  38. There is one case that I can think of where reading the book made the film better and that watching the movie made the book better.

    That is Lord of the Rings. Jackson’s treatment of the books to film process was so respectful and true to the spirit of the books it made later readings of LOTR much better, which made the movie even better in my mind. I’m not sure I can think of any other film that this is true for.

  39. I like to use comic books in this example. When you bring out a comic adaptation, fans will always perfer the comic to the film and just like that it applies for books. People who read the book fall in love with the story and characters etc. But when it goes up on screen they expect it to be just as good as book in almost every way. Some people will ripp the movie for the smallest of things because they fell in love with the book not the film.

  40. If I remember rightly Hitchcock had a theory that it’s easier to make a mediocre book into an excellent film than it is to make a great book into one. As you guys pointed out with The Da Vinci Code, sticking religiously to the book doesn’t do a film any favours. I agree that it basically depends on which version you experience first as to which one you prefer. Every story is better the first time round.

    My favourite book and film combo, where they’re both equally awesome and very different, is Trainspotting. The film has an energy from Boyle and that awesome cast that the book can never match, and Welsh’s book has more detail, covers more ground and is a lot more intimate because it’s as if these spastics are telling you everything in a personal conversation, complete with barely understandable accents and everything. Both versions make the most of their mediums.

    I suppose there’s Apocalypse Now as well.

  41. you know whats so funny? the fact that if books weren’t better than the movies, there wouldn’t be so many adaptations in film. ALOT of film especally good ones are based on books, short stories, events in time, hell, even theme park rides.

  42. If I have read the book I generally don’t enjoy the film as much because for me I feel like I am watching an edited version of the film…I feel the film is disjointed and that is far too rushed. But that is only because I know what is being left out…
    Books have the time to go deeper in characters backgrounds, motivations…their thoughts ….everything can be explained in a far more rich detail than you can in a film without filling the film with endless exposition.
    It isn’t always the case but generally that is how it works for me…..

    if I read a book after seeing the film I find myself really enjoying spotting the changes and normally it makes me like the film I have just seen even more….

  43. Nova: “respective of the book, yet brilliant on its own”:
    I also think “Hunt For Red October” strongly qualifies.

    As better than the book?
    Micheal Mann’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” (“Manhunter”) and of course, “Last Of The Mohicans”.

    When Mann did “The Keep”, based on the novel by F Paul Wilson. Also pretty much anything that Brett Leonard touches, specifically Dean Koontz’ s “Hideaway”.

    A movie can be good or bad, they can gut and rape a book. But the book will always be better because it remains the same unless the author revises it themselves.

  44. If I have read the book I generally don’t enjoy the film as much because for me I feel like I am watching an edited version of the film…I feel the film is disjointed and that is far too rushed. But that is only because I know what is being left out…
    Books have the time to go deeper in characters backgrounds, motivations…their thoughts ….everything can be explained in a far more rich detail than you can in a film without filling the film with endless exposition.
    It isn;t always the case but generally that is how it works for me…..

    if I read a book after seeing the film I find myself really enjoying spotting the changes and normally it makes me like the film I have just seen even more….

  45. More examples about how movies and books differ…

    John, you said you can’t compare a book to a movie because the screenplay is smaller than a book.

    But, there’s always exceptions. Usually when they have kids books or short stories, they have very little material.

    Brokeback mountain was a 40 page short story. Minority Report was only 30 pages. Zathura, Polar Express, Jumanji are around 20 pages.

  46. It is quite simple why books are superior. The imagination of an individual outstrips any external media. Plus internal experiences are perfectly geared to the individual’s personal sensibilites.

    Language is an inprecise medium and reading allows the individual to interpret the story to fit their view of the world.

  47. Hey ther Merovingian,

    i don’t think i assume that at all. To quote my article:

    “MANY MANY things that were in the book (500 pages) has to be cut out or re-envisioned to fit in the alloted time frame. Plot devices have to be used to move things from point A to point B. Some things from the book are left unexplored,”

    Yes… totally… things change in the adaptation… sometimes big things… sometimes little things.



  48. dear john,

    Now i’m not a novel reader at all, in fact, i barely read a single novel as a kid and to this day, do not read much. But what i ALWAYS hear about is how the movie is totally different from the novel it’s supposedly based on. OK, from what I hear the James Bond movies, Bourne movies, and probably a majority of movies are almost NOTHING like the books. Adaptation, the Nic Cage flick, is another example of strange translations. Translating a nonfiction book about orchids into a fictional movie. Do you think that movie had much of that book in it? In this article, I feel that you assume that most movies follow the books at least to an extent that would fit the medium.

    And like you’ve said before, the basic problem is that books are totally different mediums than movies. I don’t even get why people complain about a movie that fails to be faithful to a 600+page book. Or even a 300 page book. plus when you film something it is just not the same as when a book plays out in your mind. A movie goes at its own speed, whatever the rate is. But, a novel depends on the reader’s speed level and how much he or she comprehends the words. And novels generally are each different animals from each other. The novelist can decide if he wants more or less description, he can decide if he wants to tell you what characters look like or not, or even leave the characters undescribed. He might not even want to describe the backgrounds or the rooms the characters are in. But in a movie, both those things have to be shown. OK, I’ve lost whatever train of thought I had. so i’ll just end it here.

  49. I agree that the LotR is better in movie form than book form. Can we say “Long and boring” in reference tot hose books?

    Anyway, another exception I can think of is Fight Club, which ends much better in the movie version than the book.

  50. I think that another thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that when reading a book, we often form a sort of movie about it in our heads. Reading is considered by many to be a visual medium, not because it contains illustrations or pictures (well, most of the time, and exempting comics and the like), but because we build the visions in our head from the words.

    That’s why, when we envision a character in our heads, it doesn’t match with whomever’s cast as the lead role. Aside from the fact that they’re typically stars that were cast based on talent and their ability to draw a crowd (instead of how much they actually resemble a character), it just doesn’t feel right to us that Keanu Reeves is playing whomever, because they don’t fit the part, and they weren’t hired to fit the part.

    Taking the argument further, our minds will typically build the ‘best cast’ movie out of what we read, as it is, quite simply, tailored to ourselves. While we likely weren’t the original author of the book, we tailor the imagery that we create around what works for us. If there’s a villain, we craft him to be appropriately heinous as we perceive his acts to be. If he strikes a particularly evil chord with us, he is portrayed as particularly evil in our minds. So when he’s played in the movie by Mel Gibson, it’s hard for us to reconcile that.

  51. For me the best book to movie was The Godfather. Both are equally great, but that usually happens when the author writes or helps w/the screenplay. Layer Cake was another good one, w/the author adapting his own book to the screen.

    With Out Of Sight, the movie ending was way better than the book ending.

  52. “Better” is very subjective. Better at what? A book generaly does a more complete job of explaining story and character motivations, mainly because the film maker decided to ‘adapt’ (read:remove) critical parts out of the script.

    An example of both sides in the same movie is 2001. The end of 2001 is completely incomprehensible if you haven’t read the book. On the contrary, the beginning (a similarly complex narrative) was interpreted very well.

    Movies have to be looked at as a different thing than the books on which they are based. Just as the director can make creative decisions when adapting the script to film, the screenwriter makes creative (or uncreative) decisions when adapting the novel to screenplay. In either case, the decisions may not always be good ones, or make the story grow beyond the source.

    The real shame is when someone makes a decision NOT to read a book because they didn’t like the movie.

  53. There are some really great opinions here and I fully agree with all of them. For me, being as much a literary type as a film fan, I take it on a case by case basis because like nova said above, there are some (and his/her examples are excellent) that are better as movies and others as books. In general though, I would say that, of the adaptations that I’ve seen, the movies have been just as good if not better than the books. I’ll admit that if I catch wind of a movie based on the book and the story is sounds good, I’ll read the book first because, as mentioned by others, there’s so much more room to explore characters, setting, plot etc and, for the most part, I’m usually pretty happy with the outcome of the movie, after all, they are different mediums and one can’t expect the same satisfaction from both.

  54. If a picture says more then a 1000 words and a 90 min movie is comprised of 129600 pictures. Then you could say that the #2 point is way off. But of course if a book is mostly inner monologes…

    Best movie based on someones book -> Blade runner

  55. Let’s not forget when they take a perfect short story or book and completely embellish it to the point were it isn’t the original idea anymore and it becomes a monster onto itself. Like if they took the “Metamorphasis” and made him eat his town growing exponentially until…awful

  56. fsckr writes:

    “Same story, different ways to experience it.”

    Yes, and the fact that it’s the same story grants ample justification for comparison. People are entitled to a preference (and expected to have one at that). The fact that most tend to enjoy the book more than the film version of a story isn’t pseudo-literary BS or showing off at all.

    When someone tells me they like a book more than the film version of the same story, I tend to take more of an interest in reading the book. Generating interest in books gets more and more important with each passing year as most other forms of entertainment require a much shorter time investment. I fail to see how encouraging others to read is such a bad thing.

  57. Two cases where the movie was way better:
    “Misery” and “The Devil Wears Prada”.

    Where the book was waaaay better:
    “The Wizard of Oz” and “Queen of the Damned”.

    Where the movie is respective of the book, yet brilliant on its own:
    “Interview With the Vampire” and “Rising Sun”.

    I try to look at everything case-by-case, but book people mostly say the book was better (and we can ALL agree on “Davinci”), not unlike comic book fans and their film adaptations.

  58. Another reason may be that (in addition to some of the others mentioned), when you read a book, you impose your own view of what’s really going on in the book. What people look like, what scenes look like, how strong the bonds are between people, etc. based on the descriptions in the book. There’s often very great room for interpretation and you’re required to construct your own images, often colored by your own experiences.

    A movie is one person’s (ideally) interpretation and visualization. Since there are so many possibilities, the chance that that person’s interpretation and visualization will be equivalent to yours is virtually impossible.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also something going on around having invested so much time reading the book compared to watching the movie. It requires more work, effort, and time. It’s something you created. This is probably deeply buried in your brain and you may dismiss it as a factor, but it’s probably a factor :)

  59. I think alot of times ppl just say the book was better because they think its sounds more intellectual as opposed to somebody like me who hates to read and have no problems admitting ” I will wait for the movie to come out” .

    I tried reading a book once, it was a star wars book based on events after ROTJ, since I love Star Wars I thought I would get into it, I was WRONG!

  60. I agree with John’s points, but there’s one more thing I would add. One of the reasons people say a book is better than a movie based on that book is that the movie is an _adaption_, plain and simple.

    You can see this better when you think about books adapted from movies (i.e. movie novelizations). Very rarely will somebody say a book based on a movie is _better_ than the movie itself.

    I think that the fact that a story is originally crafted for a book (or a movie) often means that that story works best as a book (or a movie). I’m not saying that books can’t be adapted into good movies. Of course they can (and have been). Some books are perfect for adapting into movies. But many require a lot of revision and editing to flow well in cinematic form and that introduces a lot of variables, which in the hands of less talented filmmakers can often result in a subpar movie. Enough of these can jaundice viewers to the point that they say the book is better (or “probably” better) even when they haven’t read it.

  61. John,
    A very good article.
    I am tempted to agree with DarthMuppet’s comment, but I can’t help feeling that the enjoyment of first reading The Hobbit and LOTR (many years ago) was so sublime that it made seeing them adapted for the screen such an amazing experience. While watching the Fellowship, I can remember constantly thinking, how well Jackson had executed Tolkien’s vision. My joy at the movie was so enhanced by my childhood memories of reading the books that I find it impossible to say which was the better version – in the end, I think, they complement each other.

  62. I think the main reason is simply that the people who’ve read the book love to show off, plain and simple.

    “Ooooh look at me…I’m special, I’ve read the book and all of you haven’t.”

    Pseudo-literary BS. The two media are extremely different and comparing one to another is like comparing sex to masturbation. That is why people who’ve read the book will almost inevitably see the movie. Same story, different ways to experience it.

    1. It’s only considered “showing off” in the presence of dumbasses and those who can’t read. For the rest, see reasons #2 and 3, especially #2.

  63. I 100% agree that books are usually better, however i just finished reading The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum and i must say the Movie was better.

    Perhaps this is the exact reverse of what John is saying were i set the standard in my head after seeing the movie, and the book failed to live up to expectations.

  64. Yeah, most often… the books are better than whatever film is based on them.

    However, and I know I’m gonna’ get flamed for this, I actually prefer the film versions of The Lord of the Rings over the novels.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love The Lord of The Rings(and The Hobbit)! They were some of the first “real” books that I read as a child, and to this day they are still some of my favorites(although I’ll be the first to admit that Tolkien needed an editor like all get out). It’s just that I feel the films(extended versions, thank you very much) are the superior versions of this particular story…

    Anyway… Flame on….

    1. No flaming here. I agree. There were parts of the book that made me want to pound my head. I agree with the Tolkien needing an editor bit.

  65. This issue begins and ends with reason #2 period.

    You can’t do the original work justice by eliminating almost 3/4 of the detail, cant be done. Are Harry Potter movies good and fun? yes, are they anywhere near the books? nope, not by a long shot.

    The only exception to the rule would be genuine kids books, where the reverse happens, the original piece has to hold the attention of young minds and is generally short and can be fleshed out in a movie, with more detail.

    my 2 cents


    1. I will tell you why people for the most part prefer the book. But the only reason is because finishing a book makes people feel smart, especially for the 55-70% of non-readers out there. Think about it, say this out loud: “Well the book was just far (or vastly) superior to the film.”
      Did you say it? Doesn’t it make you feel like you cracked some subtle literary element? You don’t even need to read the book. Now you will have to sacrifice looking like an asshole but as long as everybody thinks you read the book and didn’t see the movie you will probably have won that fight. That’s is why. My theory on reading % is not factual and is shopping but i’ll bet I ain’t that far off.

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