Great movies from books
July 23, 2004 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Okay, we all know that in most cases, the book is better than movie that springs from it. But what movies turn out to be better than the book, in your opinion? Mine inside.

For me, I enjoyed LA Confidential, the movie, far more than LA Confidential, the book. I found most of the characters in the book to be largely unsympathetic and in most cases reprehensible. The movie altered the plot to shade most of the characters in lovely shades of gray, making it far more enjoyable to me as I could sympathize with the binds the characters were placed in.

I also feel that Tarantino adapted Rum Punch into Jackie Brown perfectly tailored for Pam Grier and Robert Forster's slow burn romance.

These are the most stellar examples that spring to my mind, and I'm interested in hearing what everyone else thinks because I'm looking for a few good movies and books for my upcoming train ride out to California.
posted by WolfDaddy to Media & Arts (63 answers total)
Fight Club
posted by pieoverdone at 5:25 PM on July 23, 2004

I get to punch the first person who says Blade Runner.

It's a rule.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:28 PM on July 23, 2004

Election is a decent book, but a fantastic movie.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is, in my opinion, an incredibly overrated book, but Jack Nicholson's performance makes the movie a more satisfying experience for me.

And of course, The Godfather.
posted by varmint at 5:32 PM on July 23, 2004

Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter is, if not better than the novel, pretty much a tie--it's one of the best adaptations I've ever seen. Same goes for Gods and Monsters. I thought Love and Death on Long Island improved slightly on the original (and John Hurt is outstanding).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:32 PM on July 23, 2004

The Shawshank Redemption wins that contest, hands down.
posted by vraxoin at 5:39 PM on July 23, 2004

Ooooo, respectfully, I hated the adaptation of the Sweet Hereafter. My favourite was the (original, obviously) Manchurian Candidate. Not that the book was bad, just that the movie is classic.
posted by loquax at 5:42 PM on July 23, 2004

Forrest Gump, Field of Dreams, and Dead Man Walking.
posted by PrinceValium at 5:50 PM on July 23, 2004

Dangerous Liaisons was much better on film. For one thing, the book it's based on is not technically a novel. It's a collection of letters. So there's very little action or real dialogue. Everything is just recounted after the fact, and the letters themselves are full of annoying "goodness my dear regina, the events of the past several days have simply made my head spin! how shall I begin to recount them to you?" nonsense.

The adapted screenplay is pure genius.
posted by scarabic at 5:52 PM on July 23, 2004

I can't agree on Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. That story was so f-ing amazing, and it made me laugh out loud repeatedly. The film is a good adaptation and hits all the key plot points, but it lost the humor element, and added nothing that wasn't already in the story. The story's title was better, even.
posted by scarabic at 5:54 PM on July 23, 2004

That Was Then...This Is Now
posted by willnot at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2004

Field of Dreams would be my pick. Sweet Smell of Success also. The French Connection, too. Adaptation was a hell of an adaption as well. I've yet to read the novel but Intimacy was excellent and definitely worth a watch. Buckaroo Banzai was great (though the book may have been written after, though the author denies it). The Long Goodbye was pretty cool, as is The Graduate and The Maltese Falcon. Morvern Callar's another and, let's see... Seabiscuit, Requiem for a Dream, The Pledge, Out of Sight, Talk Radio (from a play), hurlyburly (play), Glengarry GlenRoss and Oleanna (both plays), The Thin Red Line (threw the book across the room), They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Spider, 25th Hour, To Kill a Mockinbird, Carnal Knowledge (play), Breakfast at Tiffany's, Deliverance, Hud, Hombre, The Hustler, Color of Money (though very different from the book), Eyes Wide Shut, The Exorcist, In The Mood for Love (from a short story), Last Temptation of Christ, Brief Encounter (play), The Piano Teacher, Rashomon, Rosemary's Baby, Jaws, Waking the Dead, Mother Night, White Hunter Black Heart, To Have and Have Not, Marathon Man, Princess Bride, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

And this thread could probably lead to fights. I absolutely hated hated hated The Sweet Hereafter, Gods and Monsters, Love and Death on Long Island, The Shawshank Redemption, and Election (though I've never read any of the books). And though I love LA Confidential... better than the book? Not likely. :)
posted by dobbs at 6:00 PM on July 23, 2004

Oh, and I forgot the original version of The Vanishing (Spoorloos).
posted by dobbs at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2004

And the documentaries The Kid Stays in the Picture and The Prize.
posted by dobbs at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2004

The first film that comes to mind is Jaws. The movie was much better than the book, but then you are comparing Spielberg to Peter Benchley. Great filmmaker vs hack writer. "Nuff said.
posted by bawanaal at 6:11 PM on July 23, 2004

I think the adaptation of The Hours, which I enjoyed, is far better than Cunningham's novel, which I found... tedious.

I think the show and (especially) the film Cabaret are much, much better than Isherwood's uneven Berlin Stories.

With all due respect to Dr. Sagan and his contributions to popular astronomy, Contact is a better movie than book.

I realize it's not saying much, but Jurassic Park is at least watchable, where the Michael Chrichton film pitch... I mean, "novel"... is barely readable.
posted by JollyWanker at 6:16 PM on July 23, 2004

I feel a bit blasphemous here, because I would gladly have Elmore Leonard's babies, but "Out Of Sight" was better as a movie.

Dobbs - you da man! I don't agree with everything you said, (marathon man, princess bride and seabiscuit for starters) but your thoroughness is awe inspiring.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2004

I'm with dobbs for the most part, but Seabiscuit the book was far better than Seabiscuit the movie.
posted by jalexei at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2004

The Mothman Prophecies, a film I quite enjoyed, was based on John Keel's peculiar book of the same title. The film did a very nice job of presenting Keel's idea of "ultraterrestrials" without bogging down in all the odd, exasperating material that fills out the book.

(Interestingly, for the film, John Keel was split into two people: the protaganist John Klein, and the spooky researcher, Alex Leek. "Keel" spelled backwards, you see.)
posted by SPrintF at 6:27 PM on July 23, 2004

So I'm walking the dog and I think of (the original) Lord of the Flies, (the original) Of Mice and Men, Grapes or Wrath, Miami Blues, The Player, Shoot the Piano Player, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (play), Carrie ('cept for that last shot), (Cocteau's) Beauty and the Beast (from a fable), Philadelphia Story (play), Cement Garden, Gunga Din (from a poem), Taking of Pelham 123, The Swimmer (story), Short Cuts (stories), Petrified Forest (play), A Night to Remember, Twelve Angry Men and Inherit the Wind (plays), Rear Window (story), Hair & West Side Story (musicals), Henry & June, Guys and Dolls (story, then play), Silence of the Lambs, In Cold Blood (not better than the book but good), The Count of Monte Cristo (original), Goodfellas, East of Eden, Billy Liar & The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Get Shorty, The Last Picture Show, Lifeboat, Lolita (the remake, not the Kubrick), The Red Shoes (story), and Johnny Get Your Gun and The Ox Bow Incident (I haven't read the novels of the last two--good movies, though) and I pretty much agree with everything Jollywanker said.

*stepping away from the keyboard now*

Thanks for the props, CL.
posted by dobbs at 6:51 PM on July 23, 2004

Return of the King. Fight Club.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2004

The Discovery of heaven? (not on any particular quality of the movie but just because the book is annoying as hell. And it's always nice to have a movie with Stephen Fry in it. Also, having scantily clad cute blond guys doesn't hurt either.)
posted by fvw at 6:53 PM on July 23, 2004

Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness.

Return of the King

posted by Jairus at 6:54 PM on July 23, 2004

Dances with Wolves.
posted by headspace at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2004

The Shining.

In fact, most of King, because it's impossible to read King with all the typos, the complete lack of editing, and so on. He has an interesting formula and a good knack for characters, but damn does that man suck at writing.
posted by majick at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2004

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
posted by Coffeemate at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2004

Are these movies that were *better* than the books, dobbs? Or just very good movies that were based on books?

One other possible mention: Last Temptation of Christ. I know the book is very good, and there are legit criticisms of the film to be made. But the book always put me to sleep, and the movie really drew me in. If not for the movie, I would never have put any thought into Kazantzakis' subject matter.

As for the ROTK thing... come here, y6, I want to show you something. See this bucket of cocks?
posted by scarabic at 7:42 PM on July 23, 2004

With all due respect to Dr. Sagan and his contributions to popular astronomy, Contact is a better movie than book

I'll second that. I'd put most of that down to the greater focus of the movie; it doesn't wander off to talk about nuclear disarmament or legalized prostitution or the trials and travails of a woman in the science boy's-club the way that the book does.

Both of the film adaptations of Solaris are rather different from the book and from each other. I enjoyed both films rather more than the section of the book I managed to read before I got bored.

I don't know that it's better than the book, but The Hunt for Red October is minimally a very good adaptation of it, and losing the long bits of tech-wanking might push it into an actual improvement.

[just joking, i think]
Starship Troopers
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 PM on July 23, 2004

Field of Dreams? Field of Dreams?!?! There are no words. The book's not very well-written, but...

It's interesting to see the different opinions. The Shining was one of the worst movies I've ever seen, especially compared to the book (one of the few decent King books, imo); The Princess Bride is very different from book to movie and I like them both equally yet separately, and I've never read Gods and Monsters but adored the movie - to name a few. Oh, and Jurassic Park is a moderatly good read, probably the best Crichton, imo.

But generally I'm a book snob, so I can't think of anything where I thought the movie was actually better than the book.
posted by livii at 7:51 PM on July 23, 2004

Emma Thomson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility I found much more entertaining than what I thought was quite a medoicre book.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:08 PM on July 23, 2004

Are these movies that were *better* than the books, dobbs?

I find it really hard to compare a book and a movie unless one is not good. Most of the movies I listed are movies that I think are as good as they can be based on the books they came from. For instance, I love the book Lolita and I think the recent adaptation is as good a film as you're going to get out of that book. Is it better than the book? Probably not, but reading and watching are so different it seems weird to even compare them. The film is most certainly worth watching and goes a long way to capturing the book. (Compared to, say, the original adaptation, which blows as an adaptation though many people like it as a movie (I don't).)

It's like comparing lovers. Seems damn silly to do. If you enjoyed the company of the two in question, you can't compare them so why bother? But if one is absolutely terrible in bed, the comparison is very easy, right?

I think all of the movies I listed are definitely worth watching, and, for the most part, I enjoyed their source material (Thin Red Line is a huge exception; FoD is a slight exception). I own all of the movies in my first post except Field of Dreams, and a number from my other lengthy post.
posted by dobbs at 8:24 PM on July 23, 2004

Contact is a better movie than book

WHAT?! As Mr. Garrison sez, "...the alien was her goddamn father!!" I liked the diverse group of scientists going off on the jaunt rather than just Ellie.

However, the line "They should have sent a poet," from the movie, was awesome.

The miniseries adaptation of King's The Stand wasn't half bad, even if it did star Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe. Matt Frewer as the Trashcan Man was inspired casting, and anything with Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, not to mention Mr. Hand, gets my vote.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2004

WHAT?! As Mr. Garrison sez, "...the alien was her goddamn father!!"

I guess, if you have no imagination whatsoever. I mean, the alien pretty much admits that they got the entire encounter out of her head. They used her father's image because he was a person she would not be afraid of and would trust.

There is one serious plot flaw in that movie, though. *spoiler* The first Machine was destroyed during a test, no? But clearly they didn't bother to test the second one, because if they had, they would have known that it didn't seem to do anything, and the trip never would have happened because they would have been going over it again and again to figure out what they did wrong, and eventually given up. The plot necessitated that the second one never be tested, yet work perfectly, but not until after the first one is destroyed.

But the movie is at least watchable, while the book is very dry.
posted by kindall at 8:51 PM on July 23, 2004

Return of the King

Oh, no, no, no.

Return of the King was a decent movie, and a valiant effort that did an admirable job of immersing viewers in the world of the books. But it does not capture half of the depth of characterization the book does (and a film that did would be like 7 times as long), and it stumbled into drama that was sloppy, sentimental, maudlin.

Contact is a better movie than book

I really enjoyed the book, but I have to agree. The movie had a brilliant degree of focus that improved the story.
posted by weston at 8:52 PM on July 23, 2004

I'm starting to think that a lot of you people just don't like to read.
posted by graventy at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2004

Starship Troopers sucked as a book. Can we get more preachy? On the other hand, as a movie, it gives me co-ed showers. Game, set, match.
posted by graventy at 9:02 PM on July 23, 2004

Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy is an absolute improvement on the Arthur La Bern novel Goodbye Piccadilly Circus, Farewell Leicester Square. The plot is essentially the same, but the wit and humour of the film is infinitely superior to the book. And the book's ending is dark and gloomy (in an annoying way). The film extends the ending of the book out to resolve the story in a much more satisfying way (without selling out).

I'm in complete disagreement with you about L.A. Confidential, Wolfdaddy. I found Curtis Hanson's version to be a whitewashed version of Ellroy's dark vision of L.A. in the 50s. In the novel, when nice-guy Exley is presented with the opportunity to advance his career by doing something absolutely reprehensible, I was completely shocked. In the film he maintains his nice-guy persona pretty well throughout. Very disappointed.

I know I'm in the minority about the suckiness of L.A. Confidential
posted by filmgoerjuan at 9:24 PM on July 23, 2004

fgj, Exley in the flick did pretty much everything he swore to Dudley that wouldn't do as a cop. Beat a confession out of a suspect he knew to be guilty...okay, indimidated him into a confession, but he did connive to having the DA dangled out of a window to obtain a confession; shot a man in the back to prevent him from getting away from his just desserts; and ... well, I don't remember him planting evidence to ensure a conviction, so I'll have to watch the flick again. I didn't find Exley to be a nice guy at all, rather he was very opportunistic while trying to be a white hat. He just presented a nice guy persona. That's what I meant about the shades of gray in the movie, whereas most everyone in the book I found to be just inherently nasty.

They used her father's image because he was a person she would not be afraid of and would trust.

Which point is less cliched in the book with seven people meeting seven different aliens in seven different guises, with no one else having a parent as their alien's facade. The movie just played up the daddy issues Ellie had in the book, with nothing else to balance it out.

Also, no perfect circle buried deep within pi in the movie. Hmph.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:51 PM on July 23, 2004

Planet of the Apes, the Heston version. The original Pierre Boulle book sucks very hard indeed.

Starship Troopers was an idiotic movie that completely missed its intention as a parody of the original book. Parodies have to sparkle better than their subject, not be utterly without charm. I like the book, but god know that Heinlein is ripe for a good satire. If skewering military bombast was the aim, then Alexei Panshin should have been the scriptwriter, not that dutch hack director.
posted by bonehead at 9:52 PM on July 23, 2004

It's interesting to see the different opinions. The Shining was one of the worst movies I've ever seen, especially compared to the book (one of the few decent King books, imo); The Princess Bride is very different from book to movie and I like them both equally yet separately... - livii

livii, I have to disagree with you about the Princess Bride, unless you are talking about the original as opposed to the one the movie is based on, by what's his face. I thought the book was almost exactly the same as the movie, from the dialogue to the scenery.

As to the Shining, I might have to agree with you that the book was better, and that it was one of his better books, but the movie was equally fantastic, though spare. Many people don't do well with movies when there is no soundtrack. The Shining was filled with lots of empty moments that were made more empty by the lack of any kind of music.
posted by ashbury at 10:06 PM on July 23, 2004

K-PAX was a rather amateurish book but (and this is a minority opinion here) a great movie.
posted by abcde at 10:22 PM on July 23, 2004

TPB, book version (by Goldman) just has this very off-kilter sense to me that the movie doesn't quite capture, although I love it in its own way. The book takes the satire to a different level, not necessarily better or worse, just different.

I hate the Shining mostly because of what it did to the characters. In the novel the wife was a strong, take-charge woman who was built to match. In the movie they cast a stringy, wimpy, pop-eyed brunette who just wailed the whole time. I was incredibly, incredibly put out by what I felt was a complete misunderstanding of the book. I wonder how I would have felt if I hadn't read (and rather liked) the book first.

And Contact: the book is, truly, very poorly written, but there was stuff in there that blew me away (pretty much what Wolfdaddy said) and I thought a lot of that was lost in the movie. Again, I'm too critical when I like the original source material, though.
posted by livii at 10:34 PM on July 23, 2004

"The Mask" improved on the original comic. "The Crow," too.

Probably more days than not, I think "High Fidelity" improved on the book, but that's a close one.

"Silence of the Lambs" is close, but I'll go with the book.

"LA Confidential," the movie, omitted what I found to be one of the most interesting parts of the book: the growth in Ed. Then again, it also omitted a plot hole that detracted from the book. While it's a very good movie, and an especially impressive adaptation, I have to go with the book, here.

I like "The Maltese Falcon" better than the book.

For "The Princess Bride," I prefer the book (in part because the movie introduces a significant plot hole.) But that some of the movie is as good as the book is an impressive feat.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:39 PM on July 23, 2004

I liked High Fidelity better on the screen. It had the advantage of sound.

Reading the book however, cleared up my confusion when they are talking about the soundtrack to Evil Dead. In the book they are talking about Resevoir Dogs, which does indeed have a great soundtrack; not Evil Dead, which as far as I can tell does not have a soundtrack at all.
posted by Pockets at 10:39 PM on July 23, 2004

I feel like a total lame ass for this, but all the good ones were taken (though I hate the Gene Wilder Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: hate hate hate it, and as a kid, loved loved loved the book). Jurrassic Park / The Lost World. For obvious reasons.
posted by Quartermass at 10:47 PM on July 23, 2004

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys was a better movie than a book.
posted by drezdn at 11:38 PM on July 23, 2004

Master & Commander
Well, okay, I've tried to get through Master & Commander and not The Far Side Of The World yet, so this is based on...half a movie? Not even the movie but the general base? Whatever. The book? Boring. Because every single bit of seamanship has to be explained and identified and I swear to god, they were about to bring out a large piece of board covered with all the varieties of knots and go through Every. Single. One.

Ring (or Ringu, depending on how much romanization you're getting into)
The movie is scary and moody and fantastic. The book is misogynistic tripe with one man who hates his wife and daughter until they see the videotape, and another man who decides to confess to being a serial rapist just because he can.

posted by Katemonkey at 12:02 AM on July 24, 2004

Starship Troopers is a good movie, as long as take the view that the attack on Earth was not done by the bugs, but by the government, in order to get more people to sign up to the army and keep the fascist society going. Plus, you know, boobies.
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:19 AM on July 24, 2004

Plus, the fact that the heroes are all effectively tools of that fascistic government but are played as being chiselled standard movie hero types who never question the nature of their government throughout the film, the film very effectively questions the assumption within action films (and others) that the central characters are heroic and deserve the sympathy of the audience.

I bloody love it.
posted by biffa at 3:34 AM on July 24, 2004

...and I think we all agree that Dizz kicks ass. Too bad "Birds of Prey" was so inane, coz the idea of Dina Meyer as Batgirl/Oracle was just awesome.

Also? Doogie in jackboots.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:23 AM on July 24, 2004

Birds of Prey sucked so hard. I kept watching it in the hope that it would get good, but to no avail. Anyway, to stay on the topic: Fever Pitch. Can't stand the book (which is funny, as I love the rest of Hornby's stuff, must be a football thing), but I liked the film (which happened to be filmed at my school).
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:04 AM on July 24, 2004

Paper Moon.
posted by dobbs at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2004

Just to swell the better-than-the-book list, allow me to add: *all porno*

[I know there's good erotic literature out there, but has anyone ever seen any of it turned into a true porno? which was better?]
posted by scarabic at 1:20 PM on July 24, 2004

I guess I'd suggest Henry and June, on that note. The movie is a fantastic, very sensual adaptation. I'm still waiting for the film of Quiet Days in Clichy, though ;)
posted by scarabic at 1:22 PM on July 24, 2004

scarabic, I've been DYING for an adaption to be made of The Front Runner. That was some hot gay textporn (at least it was when I was 14) and a pretty good (well, melodramatic) story, too. In this day and age of Queer as Folk, I think it could be done and have an audience. Maybe only on cable, but still.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2004

The Power of One. Over a lot quicker than the book. Can't bloody stand Bryce Courtenay. Plus has funky african rhythms.
posted by Jimbob at 4:15 PM on July 24, 2004

scarabic, Quiet Days in Clichy has been made into a movie twice (70s and 90s). Claude Chabrol made the 90 version. It was terrible. I've never seen the first adaptation.
posted by dobbs at 4:42 PM on July 24, 2004

Having just seen the Bourne Supremacy, we wondered why the movie makers felt it necessary to kill off some of the main characters, who actually survived in the Ludlum series. A movie that was better than the book? Well, possibly 2001: A Space Odyssey which was written after the movie, to explain it, as it were.
posted by Lynsey at 9:37 PM on July 24, 2004

I second Seabiscuit.

And I thought the book, Girl with the Pearl Earring was just so-so, but I loved the movie.
posted by marsha56 at 10:52 PM on July 24, 2004

Since a few of the responses here have sent me sputtering angrily into my coffee, I'll return the favor: I liked the entire Lord of the Rings better on screen than on the page. There are many things about Tolkein that I love, but his prose isn't one of them--and his poetry's even worse. True, some of that prose made it into the dialogue on screen, but at least I could plug my ears and look at the scenery.
posted by Acetylene at 2:37 PM on July 25, 2004

livii, I have to disagree with you about the Princess Bride, unless you are talking about the original as opposed to the one the movie is based on, by what's his face.

There is no original; that's part of the joke. What's-his-face wrote both the book and the screenplay.
posted by bingo at 6:03 PM on July 25, 2004

Ooo, thank you, dobbs. I will keep an eye out for those. I imagine they would probably be terrible. The book is hardly great literature itself. But it is interesting as literary porn written for men.
posted by scarabic at 9:23 PM on July 25, 2004

2010: Odyssey Two. The movie does better than the book, I think, at playing up the cold war tensions, the Soviet and American astronauts who largely respect and admire each other, caught in the middle when their countries are on the brink of war. Also, the relationship between Dr. Chandra and HAL seems more touching in the movie (partly because, hopefully without giving anything away, Chandra reveals something to HAL in the movie that he doesn't in the book).
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2004

Hard Core Logo. You can then turn around and read the comic book based on the film based on the book of poetry.
posted by joeclark at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2004

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