Is the book always better than the movie?

I hear this so often. Books are always better than the movie. Even those movie adaptations which are absolutely great still pale in comparison to their book counterparts. But is this sentiment really true?

My answer (if you are absolutely too busy to read this post) is that yes, often books are better then the movie adaptations, but that does not mean that is a rule which can have “always” inserted into it. Opinions about books and movies are very subjective. I might love a book but hate the movie, but you might love the movie and hate the book. Of course, you could judge by consensus (if most people agree that a certain book is better than a movie, it probably is), indicating that maybe, by majority rule, a certain book is objectively better than the movie. But that doesn’t mean everyone will agree with that consensus. While in this post I am going to give a few examples of books and movies which illustrate my points, it does not mean everyone will agree with me, and instead simply that perhaps the majority agrees with me.

There are certainly some books which are far superior to their movie adaptations.

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Book Cover

One example which most have probably heard of, if not seen, is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I really enjoyed this first book, as did many others. Then there was a movie adaptation made of it in 2006, and let’s just say the reception was hardly positive. With a budget of $100 million, it made back only $250 million (for reference, the Lord of the Rings movies were made for $281 million and made $2.9 billion is the box office).

The movie strays far from the book, with little semblance to the novel’s characters even if the basics (boy finds dragon egg and bonds with it only to be caught in a dangerous world) is the same.

When it comes to Eragon, this is an example of the original claim: the book is better than the movie adaptation. So is the issue that filmmakers stray too far from the original product, thus upsetting fans of the book?

I’m not sure about that. Let’s look at another example.

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Book Cover

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was released in 1986. It tells the story of Sophie, a young hat maker who draws the ire of a witch, who then turns her into an old woman. She finds a home within the mysterious (and spoiled) Wizard Howl’s castle, which flies. In 2004, famous Studio Ghibli, headed by Hayao Miyazaki, made a Japanese animated adaptation.

Like Eragon, besides the main plot, there are drastic differences between the movie and book. So why did the movie Howl’s Moving Castle succeed so well, making $236 million to its budget of $24 million? It might have been the beautiful art, or the anti-war themes found in many of Miyazaki’s films. Whatever the case, just because a movie is different from its book does not mean its inherently bad.

The medium of novels and films rely on very different things. Novels are based on words and descriptions, films on visuals and sound. Although both need good characters and compelling plot to succeed, they are told in very different ways. Thus, it makes sense to change certain things for the different medium. And, in the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, I believe both the book and film are just as good as each other, just different.

In a similar but different case, let’s look at the first Harry Potter movie. Unlike Howl’s Moving Castle, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone) stuck very closely to the original book. And it was extremely successful. Other examples of movies which were just as good as their book counterparts are the 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the first Jurassic Park movie.

I think I have illustrated that movie adaptations can be just as good as the books they are based on, but can they be better? I think some can, though my example may be a bit controversial.

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Book Cover

Let me just say, The Princess Bride by William Goldman is not a bad book. In fact, I loved it when I read it! However, the general consensus of people who have read it versus people who have watched the 1987 movie is that the movie is better. The book is quite dense, centered around a fictional classic author Morgenstern and Goldman’s hunt to figure out more about the book he wrote, The Princess Bride. This book, Goldman claims, is merely the best parts of Morgenstern’s 1000 page book, which goes on and goes about the history of Florin.

In contrast, the movie centers around a grandfather reading the story to his grandson, and it works so much better as a narrative. In this case, I would argue that the movie is better than the book.

I think my main point is that a lot of people look at the worst cases of book to movie adaptations and then assume that all movie adaptations are thus inferior to their book counterparts I don’t believe that. Sure, some books are better than the movie, but some movies are better than books too.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you disagree with my examples, or have better ones of your own? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, thank you so much for reading, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Anne

16 thoughts on “Is the book always better than the movie?

  1. I agree with your post, and the comments of your followers. I know my family was terribly disappointed with Eragon the movie but absolutely adored every one of the Harry Potter and LOTR movies. Could it be the credibility of the author, their power, that drives the making of a good book-to-movie translation? The more street cred the author has, the more money would be put into making the movie, which shows in a truer end result.

    Of course, this doesn’t take into account that we all have our own mental versions of what a character looks like!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make some really good points. I will say, it seems like the better movie adaptations had the author highly involved (of course, LOTR is an exception, but Peter Jackson, the director, was a major fan of the original book, which is probably why he tried to stay true to the original). I know with Eragon the author sold his rights and didn’t have much say in the movie, which is probably why it turned out so bad. And you’re right that with books, we imagine descriptions very differently from other readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Strange coincidence, I have a post coming up about this topic! I think in 99% of cases the book is better but that the screen adaptations can enhance them, make them more relateable, modernise them etc. And there is a 1% of cases where the film actually improves on the book – not just as good as, but actually better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to read your post then on this topic! I do agree that books are often better then the movies. While I would argue that probably more than 1% are better than the books, I agree that if you are going on average, books are usually better.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel generally books are better than their movies, because a book can give detailed descriptions. Words impact me more than visuals! Plus a movie is restrained to a short time period, so they can’t do much in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true! One of the reasons I prefer books over movies in general because you can really dig deeper into characters, worlds, and plots, whereas with movies, they are restrained to 2 hours or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with all your examples (although I haven’t read The Princess Bride yet, so can’t really fairly judge that one). I think many of the Disney movies were better than the Hans Christian Andersen tales they were based upon. Some movie/books are just equally good in my opinion, like the Lord of the Rings. The books are beautifully told yet the movies have amazing graphics and the instrumentals add a whole new dimension to the story.

    Anyways, this is a great post, it’s an interesting topic to think about! (:

    Liked by 1 person

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