13 Books vs. Their Film Adaptations: Which is Better?
“Oh sure, the movie was good, but have you read the book?”
Often uttered by literary purists, this question can raise the hackles of film lovers.
And, to be honest, it kinda should.
Film is its own artistic medium, and truly masterful cinematic works deserve just as much respect and admiration as wonderful works of literature.
I’m a book lover, and nerd of the highest order, but even I can admit that, from time to time, the cinematic adaptation of a book does surpass the original canon in quality.
So let’s pit 13 books against their movie adaptations to see which win out in the war of the mediums?
Despite the fact that 600,000+ books hit the shelves each year, these oldies-but-goodies manage to stand the test of time. But are they better than the films that they inspired?
Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell was a lifelong writer, but the classic Gone with the Wind was the only novel she published during her lifetime.
Which, like, was probably because she didn’t have to publish anything else – she made so much money off of Gone with the Wind that she could just sit around drinking mint juleps all day #Goals #ExceptMartinisNotMintJuleps
In this lengthy work, Mitchell detailed the experience of a lifelong plantation inhabitant – and southern belle – during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed.
The characters and setting described in Mitchell’s work came to life on the big screen when the book was adapted into a now-classic film in 1939. This film, which became the first color picture to win an Academy Award was, like the book that inspired it, lengthy.
There are a number of plot points in the book that were not included in the film. These cuts didn’t hamper the effectiveness of the tale – but instead, strengthened it. Another clear advantage of the film were the sweeping visuals of the Civil War era south, the effectiveness of which, in the book version, depended entirely on readers’ imaginations.
Given these advantages, while both the book and the movie deserve to be considered classics in their own rights, the movie wins out in this one.
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo was written well over 150 years ago by Alexandre Dumas – who is, arguably, most famous for writing The Three Musketeers.
Central to the plot of this novel is the betrayal of Edmond Dantes and his subsequent attempts at getting revenge on those who did him wrong. Like many works of the mid-eighteen hundreds, this adventure tale contains complex plot points and, at times, excessively heavy description of relatively insignificant matters – like country settings or the choppiness of the seas.
While this novel has seen a number of adaptations, the best by far is the 2002 film starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce. In preparing this adaptation, the screenwriters took substantial liberties, veering significantly from the original source – often for the better. These modifications resulted in a decidedly spicier version of the original tale that includes a heart-wrenching plot twist that is entirely absent from the original work.
Though some may fervently argue that adaptations should be as true to the canon as possible, there are benefits to making changes to a plot to fit the sensibilities of modern audiences. In this instance, the screenwriters managed to make these modifications while still retaining the central themes and ideas of the text and, in doing so, produced a film that surpassed the original book.
The Historical Fiction
Though penned in contemporary times, these books – and their films – transport readers to a long-ago time, allowing them to walk in the cobbled shoes of those in another period of history.
Like Gone with the Wind, the novel Cold Mountain contains a sweeping tale set against the backdrop of the Civil War. This National Book Award winner, by Charles Frazier, focuses on a Confederate army deserter’s efforts to get back to the love he left behind and – also like Gone With the Wind – gives readers insights into the struggles women of the South faced as the fact that they were on the wrong side of history became more clear.
Unlike Gone with the Wind, however, Cold Mountain is authentically gritty and doesn’t pull any punches.
In fairness to Margaret Mitchell, readers of 1997 were likely a lot more open to grit than those she wrote for 61 years earlier.
While Jude Law and Nicole Kidman did an effective job of depicting these lovers separated by circumstance in the 2003 film adaptation of this book, the emotional strain these key characters experiences, and perilousness of the situation as a whole, just wasn’t quite communicated as effectively in the film, making the book the winner here.
The Girl with the Pearl Earring
Historical fiction isn’t usually my thing – unless, of course, that historical fiction is written by Tracy Chevalier. Her books are as good as her last name is hard to spell. I mean, I read an entire book about tapestry making by her (The Lady and the Unicorn) and I couldn’t put it down. Tapestry making…hardly steamy stuff.
Likely her best known work is The Girl with the Pearl Earring. This novel, inspired by the Johannes Vermeer painting of the same name, is set in 17th century Holland and imagines a relationship between Vermeer and a beautiful servant working in his home, who would end up being the muse featuring in the painting.
While this might sound dry (not as dry as tapestry production, certainly, but still…dry) Chevalier manages to create layers of conflict and longing that keep the readers’ attention and makes for a truly satisfying experience.
In 2004, this work was adapted into a film, starring Scarlett Johansen in the titular role and Colin Firth as Vermeer. While the film had strengths in its own right – the sets that beautifully captured 17th century Holland, for one – It simply (Oh, God, it hurts to write this about a Colin Firth movie) wasn’t as good as the book.
While I could believe Firth as a tortured and repressed artist – and I could kind of believe Scarlett Johansen as a naturally beautiful serving girl who became his muse – the emotional tension that made the novel so great simply wasn’t communicated as effectively in the film version of this historical fiction tale.
The Slice of Lifers
Some books are just about…well…life. These books and their movie adaptations give us a glimpse into the daily lives of characters and allow us to observe, learn, and enjoy.
Where the Heart Is
While Where the Heart Is was released in 1995, it was brought to the attention of many readers when it was chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection in 1998.
Though there is a lead character in this book – Novalee Nation, an impoverished 17-year-old who is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart in Oklahoma when she is 7 months pregnant – the book is truly about the citizens (specifically f the town in which the story takes place.
The novel follows Novalee as she has her baby – in a Walmart – finds a new home with a spunky and God-loving woman named Sister Husband and ultimately forms a relationship with the quiet and standoffish Forney.
In 2000, this story hit the big screen in a relatively star-studded adaption, featuring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack, Sally Field and James Frain. While, as with almost any film adaptation, the screenwriters trimmed down some of the extraneous details present in the book, this cinematic adaptation managed to capture much of the charm of the book itself.
There was one major difference between the film and the book that inspired it – the ending.
*Spoiler Alert* (but, seriously, we are talking about a movie that came out nearly 20 years ago, so you shouldn’t expect not to see spoilers)
At the end of the book, Novalee calls Forney, who is working at a bookstore in a different town, and confesses her feelings for him. He promises to return to her and her daughter, Americus.
Kinda weak…Kinda, blah.
The film, on the other hand, ends with Novalee and Forney’s wedding. And, as they have their first kiss, the camera pulls out and you can see that they are getting married in the Walmart where they met.
I know, cheesy, but cute cheesy.
And Certainly better than a phone call.
I read 376 pages and all I get is a fucking phone call? Please.
In this case, based on the ending and the ending alone – because the rest of it is pretty much equal – the movie is the clear winner.
Bridget Jones’ Diary
*Full disclosure* – I’m a huge Bridget Jones’ Diary fan.
Always have been. Always will be.
I like her just the way she is.
While I read books before I see their movie adaptations as a rule, this is one of those rare instances in which I experience the story in reverse as it was the 2001 film that inspired me to pick up Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel.
In fairness, I graduated high school in 2001…and turned 14 in 1996… so I wasn’t exactly in the age demographic for either
Fieldings’ book, written in diary entry style – a format that can be formulaic but, in this author’s hands, wasn’t – introduced us to bumbling Bridget. Bridget is an every woman, prone to embarrassing herself, chronically single, and “always a little bit fat”
Although I would argue with the accuracy of the last descriptor, as her weight fluctuated between 120 and 140 – and, quite frankly, I’d be happy to see any of those numbers on my scale.
Despite her faults, Fielding’s Bridget was an honest depiction that truly spoke to women readers.
In the film adaptation, the titular character was portrayed by Renee Zellweger – who famously gained weight for the part. The two men vying for her heart, Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver, were played by Colin Firth and Hugh Grant respectively.
Directed by Sharon McGuire, this film effectively captured the charm and emotion of the novel. Renee Zellweger, while not the logical choice because she is neither fat nor British, did do an effective job portraying Bridget. And Colin Firth…well…he’s Colin Firth, enough said.
Seriously would never kick him out of bed for eating crackers.
While I do love the film adaptation of this story, the original work had a way of speaking to women of a certain age who find themselves wanting love but struggling to find it in a more personal way than the movie ever could.
And, because of this, the book is the ultimate winner here.
The YA Bunch
The 2000s were a veritable renaissance for young adult work. With amazing emerging writers and an increased interest in the genre from readers of all ages, we have seen some sensational books – and stellar movie adaptations – in bookstores and theaters. Lucky us.
The Fault in Our Stars
This 2012 work about a young cancer survivor finding love made legions of girls love and hate author John Green in equal measure.
Seriously, John Green, why you gotta do me the way you do?
A wordsmith and masterfully storyteller, Green endears his readers to his protagonist, Hazel, and her support-group-peers/boyfriend, Gus, with witty dialogue, laugh-inducing exchanges, and a sure-to-elicit-tears ending.
Like, really, though… If you didn’t cry at the end of The Fault in Our Stars you are probably a cyborg. Maybe you should get that checked out.
Not surprisingly, this bestseller was adapted into a film in 2014, not too long after the novel weaseled its way into the hearts of readers.
And the ending, which was pretty much identical to the one Green had penned, was just as tear-inducing.
Only this time it was more embarrassing, because you were using a scratchy, butter-dotted napkin to wipe away your tears while sitting in a theater full of other crying viewers, not safely ensconced in your bedroom where all crying should really happen.
Like so many book vs. movie pairings on this list, this was a close one, but in the end the book does win out here.
While Woodley and Elgort’s Hazel and Gus were effective and endearing, the book allowed readers to more personally connect with the tale as they experience the events in their minds.
Because, after all, books belong to their readers.
The Hunger Games
Let me tell you, I was hungry for some good dystopian fiction when The Hunger Games came out (no pun intended), and this book definitely satiated me.
Katniss Everdeen served as a strong and admirable protagonist in this Suzanne Collins work, which explored the complexities of a futuristic society in which, as penance for their past “crimes”, citizens now have to send “randomly” selected children to compete in a death match known as “The Hunger Games.”
With rich characters, a strong message perfect for teens trying to align their moral compasses, and an insanely engaging premise, this novel – along with the rest of the books in the series – was beyond satisfying.
In 2013, Gary Ross brought Collin’s tale to the big screen, directing a film version that starred Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Also in the cast – a perfect-for-this-role Donald Sutherland (who is, like, probably creepy IRL because he really plays creepy so well).
I, like many fans of the original series, was not too thrilled when I first heard that Jennifer Lawrence was going to be playing Katniss. She was…well…too blonde for one thing.
But boy did she prove naysayers wrong.
She played the hell out of Katniss and, honestly, on her strength alone made this book vs. movie match a surprise toss-up.
If you went to school in America, you probably read Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
The protagonist of this dystopian work is Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who is preparing to find out what his job assignment will be. To his initial chagrin, he discovers that he isn’t destined to work in the fishery or the nurturing center or do anything normal that his friends will do – he is instead to be the receiver of memory, a job that he has never heard of but that, he comes to find, is tremendously important to ensuring the harmonious running of his structured community.
As Jonas undertakes his job training, he discovers truths about his community that make living as he has always lived an impossibility.
Despite the fact that this book came out in 1993, it didn’t see a cinema-released film adaptation until 2014 – much to the dismay of many 8th graders who were, as a result, forced to read the book instead of cheating with the film.
Well, 8th graders, if you’re reading let me warn you – you should still read the book.
While the underlying social architecture of the community in the film is pretty much the same as that in the book, there are major differences between this original work and its cinematic interpretation – including the fact that, in the film, Jonas is 16, not 12 as in the book.
The strength of this film adaptation was the Jeff Bridges’ performance as The Giver. He managed to capture the character I had envisioned in my head for years.
The weakness of this film adaptation was, well, pretty much everything else, making the book the clear winner here.
You shouldn’t read them – or watch them – when you’re home alone at night – but you probably do anyways. These are the thrillers that have you on the edge of your seat and fill you with so much eagerness to discover how – and if – it will all work out that putting the book down becomes all but impossible.
If you’ve read anything on this blog, you will know that I very much enjoyed Gone Girl. It surprised the hell out of me, in part because I didn’t know what it was about before I started reading it, and in part because it – like so few books – actually contained twists that I didn’t see coming.
So, probably needless to say, I was excited when I heard that they were making a film version of this book.
Then I heard that Ben Affleck had been pegged to star in it… and my excitement dissipated rapidly.
I thought, “Ben Affleck… Really?...I mean, he was good in Good Will Hunting, but he didn’t even play the hard role…He was the lovable fuck-up friend, not the genius.”
Really, he was kinda a poor man’s Matt Damon – Sorry, Ben, not that you’re reading this.
And yes, I know, by this point in time he had done Argo and The Town, but he had also done Gigli and Jersey Girl…and Bounce…and Armageddon…and Pearl Harbor, so it kind of balances out.
Anyways, I digress (like always).
Point is, I did not have confidence in him.
But I should have.
When I read the original book, Nick Dunne was kind of faceless to me. Ben Affleck added a depth and complexity to this character that I didn’t feel was really present in the literary treatment.
And let’s not even talk about Tyler Perry who was pitch-perfect in his turn as the hot-shot lawyer.
Really, I enjoyed everything in the movie just as much as – if not more than – I enjoyed the book.
Save the part where NPH meets his end, and that’s only because…well…it was hella bloody. Effective, but hella bloody.
So this one, also, is too close to call and lands as a toss-up.
The Girl on the Train
It was while I was on my quest to find a book as satisfying as Gone Girl that I read The Girl on the Train. And, surprise, I found it satisfying AF.
Really, it had a lot going for it.
It’s set in London – win
It has an unreliable narrator – win
And it features alcohol prominently – win*
*(okay, not really win, ‘cause it’s kind of a huge problem for the narrator, but anyways…)
At the start of this Paula Hawkins book, the main character wakes up after black-out drinking and finds that a woman – who she has been watching and envying from afar as she rides the train into the city each morning – is missing. Problem is, the protagonist remembers nothing – including whether she had anything to do with the disappearance.
Sounds intriguing, right? Bet your Aunt Fanny!
While the ending of this book wasn’t stellar, the author managed to keep the tension taut pretty much from start to finish, revealing just enough to keep you from getting frustrated, but not so much that you can fully piece the puzzle together.
I was anxious for the film adaptation, which was slated for release in 2016.
I got even more excited when I heard that it was to star Emily Blunt, who I felt would do exceptionally well in the lead role.
But my balloon burst when I discovered that the setting for the film would not be London, but instead New York City.
Well, shit. That’s disappointing.
Nevertheless, I saw the movie…in theaters…on opening day…while sipping on the wine juice box I had smuggled in my purse.
And, the verdict?
Nowhere near as good as the book.
While Emily Blunt did a wonderful job capturing the nuances of Paula Hawkins’ lead, there was something just too upsetting and, ultimately, frustrating about seeing this beyond pitiful woman stumble (like, literally stumble) through life.
These are the books that lots of people love to hate. Despite the scoffing of some, however, many people list these books among their favorites – but how do they stand up to their film adaptations?
I wasn’t going to read Twilight. I really wasn’t. I don’t love supernatural stuff, and the premise sounded…well…sketchy.
But then, for my first anniversary, my husband bought me New Moon.
Why, you may ask?
Yeah, I asked him that, too.
His answer – It’s thick, so it will take you a while to read. And it has a rose on it, which is romantic.
So, obviously, I wasn’t going to read the second book without reading the first. Hence, I read Twilight.
I am clearly easily swayed from my literary convictions.
What I found, upon reading, was that, while this Stephanie Meyers book wasn’t what I would call amazing, it certainly wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe. Sure, the idea that there are vampires and werewolves and all that is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow – and the writing wasn’t, like, wonderful – but it was generally enjoyable enough for me to recommend it to people who do like reading about such things.
And, like pretty much everyone who had read Twilight, I went to see the film version when it came out in 2008.
We got to see awkward Bella’s arrival in Forks, Edward’s skin shimmer in the sunlight, and even, eventually (in the second book/movie), Jacob’s transformation into a werewolf.
Despite all of this, something felt…missing.
Perhaps it’s the ridiculousness of actually seeing a “teen” boy's skin be less acne-splotched and more sparkly-like-a-diamond, or just the ultimate ridiculousness of the premise – which, somehow, seemed even more ridiculous on the big screen – but in this instance, the film wasn’t a match to the quality of the source work.
Fifty Shades of Grey
So yes, I bought Fifty Shades of Grey – I bought all three of the books, actually, because I was heading away on a cabin vaca and they seemed suitably mindless.
Even though, to buy them, I had to go up to the counter at Barnes and Noble and specifically ask for them. #OwnIt
But, everyone was talking about them, and I didn’t want to be left out. #FOMO
And…the book wasn’t great. Too much nipple clamp for my taste.
Really, for my taste, any amount of nipple clamp is too much. #JustSaying #TMI
Anyways, this book – about a beautiful young college student who falls for a standoffish billionaire who has a dark secret – was about as good as I expected it to be.
It is, after all, fan-fiction inspired by Twilight (which is fitting, because Twilight was essentially fan-fiction inspired by Pride and Prejudice).
But it’s important to consider the purpose of this book.
It was never touted as a book that would change how you view the world – or shed some light on social injustices – or give voice to a marginalized group (Unless we are going to consider dominants marginalized).
It was literally just supposed to be a sexy book for women to read and pass around to their friends…one that would make them think that they were missing something with their missionary-only sex life.
And that is what it was.
And so, you would think that given the fact that I thought the book was just…okay (extra okay with Merlot) that I wouldn’t rush out to see the 2015 movie, right?
I knew people would be talking about it, and I wanted to participate. #FOMOAgain
So I saw it.
And, surprisingly, I didn’t think it was all that horrible.
In fact, I found it to be an improvement on the book.
Even though I am not a fan of Dakota Johnson – in this movie or really any movie – I felt that there was palpable tension between the two leads in this film. Also, there seemed to be more depth of character in the film treatment than I found in the book.
Plus, while watching the movie, you weren't constantly distracted by the really quite terrible quality of the writing.
These factors combined made the movie more enjoyable than the book.
Because, you know, sometimes the movie can be better than the book.
But opinions may vary. So, what do you think? Do you agree with these verdicts? Disagree? Are there pairings I should have included but didn't? Tell me about it in the comments, below.