Top 10 Book To Movie Adaptations

It’s an old cliche whenever a movie comes out based on a book: “The book was better”.

Well of course it was! The average reader can take over 15 hours to read a book. Think of all of the time involved in that, compared to a 2 hour movie. So many more character development can take place. Books can go at a slower pace. Plus most books have descriptive narration which easily set up each scene and continue the story. Most movies don’t have that luxury – they may use narration as a crutch at times, or as an integral part of the story – but they can’t rely on it throughout the movie.

Other movies will at times change the story or the ending – sometimes in small ways, or drastically. This can cause people to immediately turn on a movie due to that as often they make the changes “just because”, rather than because they think it makes more sense.

Despite that – there are a lot of movies that have came out adapted from a novel, that are just better. Sometimes it’s a case of they are a LOT better than the book – other times, they shine as both a movie AND a book – The Hunger Games would be a recent example of that.

I’ve read a lot of books that have been adapted to movies – to be honest, if I see a new movie coming out and I see the words “Based On The Book By ______” I will literally refuse to watch that movie until I’ve read the book.

Here is my list of the 10 great movies that I’ve personally seen, that I felt were better than the book:

#10: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

The story of this is interesting – as author Ken Kesey wrote it while working as an orderly at a mental health facility. It then became so much more due to the movie, and of course the performance by Jack Nicholson. To be it was a very ordinary book that took on new life when it was brought to the big screen.

#9: Silence of the Lambs

I actually liked the book better, in terms of plot. I think Thomas Harris did just a fantastic job, and I much preferred the Lecter in the book. That’s in terms of plot and story. But then you watch the movie and yeah – wow. Jodie Foster was great but Hopkins was on another level entirely. One of those movies where if the casting choices had been different, it would not be anywhere near this list.

#8: Forrest Gump

I could not finish this book. Yet I’ve watched the movie countless times and when it’s on TV while surfing channels, I stop surfing and immediately start watching. ‘Nuff Said.

#7: The Shining

I wasn’t born when this one came out, but I’ve been told about the controversy and I watched Room 237. It’s the type of movie that just makes The Shining better – reading it again, all you can picture is Jack Nicholson and he adds so much more to the novel due to that. A rare instance where the movie actually makes the book BETTER than it was.

#6: Jaws

The book was entirely character driven. The movie? Shark driven. Other than the name and the fact that it’s about a shark, the movie is almost completely different from the book. That’s not a good thing – it’s a GREAT thing.

#5: Fight Club

The first novel written by Chuck Palahniuk and you know when he wrote it he had no idea how massive it would become in pop culture. It’s the type of movie where despite the twist ending that you may have known about going in – the movie was able to execute it just that much better, or at least on par with the book.

#4: Trainspotting

I loved Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh when I originally read it – but I never thought it could be made into a movie. Boy, was I wrong. So much of the book was stripped out – but what was left was a fascinating and utterly fantastic movie. All of the character removal, character merging and then focus on other characters such as Begbie more were incredible decisions, and made for one of the best movies ever.

#3: The Runaway Jury

I’ve read every John Grisham novel there is, and watched every movie made from them so I HAD to include one of them on the list. This one makes it with ease. The most impressive thing about this is how different it is from the book – yet still remains true to the cause. For example, the book is about Big Tobacco, while the movie is about guns and gun control. Yet both stand to right as excellent, and I felt it just worked incredibly well.

#2: Stand By Me

Adapted from Stephen Kings short story The Body The Body is an amazing book, and just a wonderful coming of age story. But what they did with the movie – wow, just wow. I can probably quote that entire movie from start to finish it’s just so freaking epic.

#1: The Shawshank Redemption

The short story was part of Different Seasons by Stephen King. I remember reading that short story and being blown away. Now? I can barely read it. It’s not that it is bad – but it’s an epic story that I’ve found has been blown away by a movie that is just so much better. Everything about the movie is just handled so well. It’s also a great example of minor, but effective narration. With just a few words, Morgan Freeman is able to set the scene so well and it is integrated as part of the story.

Additional Note:

I should note that this is not a “Top 10” by the usual standard – I more wanted to highlight a few in particular, and note the differences in some. For example I mention Silence of the Lambs where it was the actors that made it – another example for that would be Misery, where Kathy Bates does the same job. The book itself was incredible, but her performance made me enjoy the movie that much more.

What are your favourite book to movie adaptations?

Book Series In Order » Top Lists » Top 10 Book To Movie Adaptations
  • Jayran

    The Princess Bride and Jumanji. The book, like the movie, is a satire twist on the fairy tale story (although, in a way, it’s actually much more closer to the original fairy tale stories told by the Grimm Brothers, for example–Snow White, Cinderella, etc. are much more grim (pun intended) than the Disneyfied/commercial versions have portrayed). But while Princess Bride the book takes its satire a little too heavily highhandedly, the movie adds a layer of humor that stops it from being too cynical.
    As for Jumanji, the book is a picture book, and a beautiful one at that, but what is impressive about the movie is how the picture book was developed into a much more complex and even more more interesting screenplay. (The same goes for The Polar Express, also a picture book.)

    • Great choices. I’ve never read the books for either of them but yeah after watching the movies, it’s hard to imagine the books being better. I’ll have to look up Jumanji though as that’s crazy they were able to get that movie from just a picture book.

  • Have to add The Martian by Andy Weir to my list. That was just incredible – both the book and the movie were terrific in their own way.

  • Chaserville2009

    To Kill A Mockingbird.

  • Ron Bates

    Personally, my favorite Grisham book made into a movie is “The Client.” There is just something about both versions that I find compelling. “The Runaway Jury” is a good one, don’t get me wrong, there. It’s just that I prefer “The Client.”

    Do agree with you on “The Shawshank Redemption”, though. Great movie and I liked the book, as well. One thing, though, my library had the book and it had “The Shawshank Redemption” as the title, not “Different Seasons” by King. Really not a fan of King, but, this one I liked. Many people have told me that I’m wrong about Redemption as being a King written book, but, I just tell them that it isn’t wrong just because it’s a different genre by King. He did write it. Most still don’t believe me. One very good friend, who devoured books, not only wouldn’t believe me he wouldn’t even read it because it was written by King. He hated all the King novels because of the “horror” genre.

  • michaelwaelter

    I think you’re not fully appreciating Jaws, the film, as a character driven piece.
    The casting of Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfus was serendipitous.
    The tension between their three CHARACTERS is what makes the movie great.
    Consider the scene when Quint tells the Indianapolis story or the scene when he meets Hooper or any exchange between those two characters.
    Or look at the scene when Hooper goes to dinner at Chief Brodie’s house.
    Sure, we miss the whole Hooper/Ellen Brody affair and some backstory but Character is still everything in this film.
    In fact, if you know the history of the film itself, Spielberg had so many technical problems with Bruce (the shark) he had to rely on those Quint/Hooper/Brody scenes to see the film to completion.

  • Marcus Jones

    I am in complete agreement about the Shawshank Redemption and in 100% disagreement about The Shining. I thought the movie wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t good, and it was not nearly as good as the book. I REALLY hated the casting. They were pretty much terrible one and all. Jack Nicholson only plays one character in all of his movies so he was a caricature of his own self in his role in The Shining.

  • JDebit67

    I’d like to offer up an oldie but a goodie: Christine (1983 Version). That ’58 Plymouth Fury was AWESOME!