Book Adaptations: Sometimes The Movie Is Better

book adaptations

People can count on book lovers to remind them the book was better. The phrase can be found on t-shirts and other merchandise in your favorite bookish Etsy shops. When I overhear a discussion about the latest stream of upcoming book adaptations, the impulse to ask, “Have you read the book yet?” isn’t easy to ignore. To which you might receive the following response:


But as any reader knows, most adaptations simply lack the savory goodness of a book. When I read, the author and I create the world I envision in my mind together. I am immersed in the story, and I want to linger inside of it like a warm bath. So while I’ll make it clear that my loyalty lies with books, I love a good literary adaptation. Yes, a reader may live a thousand lives before they die, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have enough time to revisit their favorites.

The amount of movies and TV shows out there that originated from literary works is astounding. And the truth is, sometimes the book isn’t better.

The books that make it to the big screen got there because they inspired a director, not readers. We get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and vision, and for that, I’m grateful.

Below are a few adaptations that prove the book isn’t always better, just different.

Game of Thrones

Even book purists have admitted that while George R.R. Martin’s books are full of history, amazing characters, and epic plot lines, the HBO show is a better medium for telling this story. Season 5 is going far, far off the books, vastly changing the story lines of some characters and ditching some who appear later in the series.

SPOILER ALERT! In the show, Sansa returns to Winterfell around the same time she’s stuck wandering the Vale with her cousin in the books. In fact, in the book it is Jeyne Poole (a character we’ll never see in the show) who travels to Winterfell, not Sansa at all.

These changes make the show less “boring” for viewers by pushing the story forward at a quicker pace. With a lengthy cast list, viewers already have a lot of people to keep track of (they’re doing us a favor, really). Because characters from the book—even the ones who are cut—still serve as plot inspiration, book readers have come to appreciate the changes.

Stand By Me

This movie was an instant classic—four boys walk the railroad tracks in search of the body of a missing boy. The story was originally called “The Body,” written by Stephen King. It is not as well-known as, say, Carrie or The Shining, and the pace sets a different tone for readers.

The 1986 coming-of-age story has a timeless quality with some amazing performances. Incidentally, “The Body” was published in King’s anthology Different Seasons which also contained “The Shawshank Redemption” (another stellar adaptation).


Drive is based on the 2005 book of the same name written by James Sallis. The film takes advantage of the medium, letting meaningful looks and long silences do the talking instead of dialogue. Minor characters in the novel, like Shannon and Irene (Driver’s love interest), get larger roles. Their connection to the events that unfold add more depth to the plot.

Plus, there’s Ryan Gosling. Need I say more?

Mean Girls

Mean Girls was a staple of my teenage years. It demonstrates how cutthroat teenage girls can be to each other, while helping women laugh a bit. (Presumably, so they don’t cry instead remembering the mean girls in their own lives.) The movie is based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World, written by Rosalind Wiseman. Wiseman’s book helps parents understand their daughter’s friendships and conflict.

That’s right—there is no actual narrative to the book. It’s a nonfiction guide for parents, not Judy Blume. But in Tina Fey’s hands, the book transformed into comic genius (yes, I’m going that far).

“I want my pink shirt back!”

Interview with the Vampire

Sparkling vampires hadn’t yet taken over the world when Rice’s 1976 novel was published. While Rice published a series of popular sequels, Interview with the Vampire received mixed reviews. Many critics believed the book was nothing more than eroticism. When Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were cast as leads, Rice opposed the decision, but after seeing the finished product, she had a change of heart.

The Devil Wears Prada

Oh, I could watch this film forever. Meryl Streep delivers a powerful performance as Miranda Priestly (based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour). Her performance snagged her several award nominations, including a Golden Globe. The 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger did not receive as favorable reviews. Readers felt like Andrea Sachs was ungrateful for the opportunity she had been given at the fictitious magazine, Runway. And it’s tough to argue with them. Andrea does everything she can to remind her audience that while some girls dream of being Miranda’s assistant, she’s not one of them.

The movie made up for this with some top-notch performances from not only Streep but actresses Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt. It’s fun, entertaining, and Andrea’s life is as glamorous as it is grueling.

If you’re on the look out for more great book adaptations, the list goes on much (much) further. A few of my favorites are The Help, No Country For Old Men, The Shining, True Grit, The Princess Bride, Love & Friendship, Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Mist.

What are your favorite book adapations?


  1. ThePandaBard

    Fight Club is an interesting example that goes along these same lines. Chuck P. even said he liked the movie more than the book because the love thread, between the Narrator and Maria. I love both the movie and the book, but it is interesting that the author says he liked the movie more.

    Thank You For Smoking is another great book/adaptation. The movie goes in a completely different direction with the characters, though, but, despite the difference in story line, the characters are perfectly represented in film. Again, I like both the movie and the book in this case.

    Good adaptations can be great – even if they change the source material.

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