It’s no secret that Hollywood loves to take ideas from novels and adapt them to film. It seems like more and more movies each year started as books, especially with the popularity of young adult fiction and box office successes like Twilight and The Hunger Games.
There are, of course, movies that end up being better than their source material. That’s not to say that the original novels are bad, but just that the movie was able to capture audiences in a way that the novel wasn’t able to. There’s hot debate about some of these too, with movies like The Shining having such strong support on both sides of the debate that it makes it hard to really say which is better, book or movie.
Still, here are 12 Movies Better Than The Books They're Based On.
12 Fight Club (1999)
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club was a hit as a book, launching his career, and the movie adaptation only helped to bring the story to a larger audience.
Though differing from Palahniuk’s novel in several places, the movie is regarded as a great adaptation. Even Palahniuk himself has gone on record as saying the movie is better than his book in many aspects, such as emphasizing the romance angle more, streamlining the plot, and working with more concrete imagery than the novel. If the writer of the source material thinks the movie is better, there might just be something to it.
11 Jaws (1975)
Inspired by some real life experiences with sharks, Peter Benchley set out to write a book about a great white shark terrorizing a small coastal town. What he wrote became Jaws. Benchley and the publisher would go back and forth on the book’s content, revising it several times, but after its eventual publishing, the movie rights were optioned almost immediately.
The film adaptation that Steven Spielberg would go on to make would become the highest grossing film of all time until a little film called Star Wars knocked it out of the top spot, and together the two movies originated the concept of the summer blockbuster.
In 2001, the film was even preserved in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
10 Silence of the Lambs (1991)
While Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs was certainly well received when it debuted and won a few awards for “Best Novel” in 1989, the film adaptation starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins was even better.
On top of making back its budget a dozen times over, Silence of the Lambs was only the third film to win all of the top five categories at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
On top of all that, it’s the the only movie widely considered to be horror film that’s won Best Picture.
9 Die Hard (1988)
Yes, Die Hard was actually based on a book. We know, it’s a little unexpected. Based on Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Last Forever, Die Hard was originally going to be a sequel to the 1968 film The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra. After several revisions, the movie was made into a standalone film and would eventually cast Bruce Willis as the lead.
While the film follows the book fairly closely, many relatively minor things, such as the age of the lead and location of the plot, are changed to make the movie work better as its own story. The film would go on to be considered one of the greatest action movies ever made, and it spawned four sequels.
8 Forrest Gump (1994)
One of the most iconic movies in the last couple decades and one of Tom Hanks’ best performances, Forrest Gump is truly a classic. While nearly everyone has quoted Forrest a time or two, fewer people have actually read the book that the film is adapted from.
Adapted from Winston Groom’s novel of the same name, Forrest Gump features a different sort of Forrest than we find in the novel. With a softer heart and less prone to profanity, the film’s Forrest would have unbelievable adventures throughout his life, experiencing and sometimes influencing history along the way.
The film would go on to win six Academy Awards, far overshadowing the source material.
7 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
Though it was loosely based on Peter George’s Red Alert, a thriller set against the backdrop of an impending nuclear holocaust, Dr. Strangelove would be a black comedy that dealt with the same subject matter, but in a very different way.
The titular Dr. Strangelove was a character completely absent in the novel, created specifically for the film and stealing the show in many scenes. Combining the creative forces of Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove would end up being one what is widely considered one of the best movies of the 20th century, and one of the best comedies of all time.
6 Misery (1990)
As with nearly any Stephen King book, the novel Misery was a well-received bestseller when it came out. Also, as with many of Stephen King’s book, Misery was optioned for film very quickly.
Following the story of the novel pretty closely, Misery would star James Caan as a famous writer and Kathy Bates as his psychotic number one fan who holds him captive. Bates’ turn as Annie Wilkes was so incredibly creepy, earning her an Oscar for Best Actress, marking Misery as the first Stephen King adaptation to earn an Oscar, and making the film a truly great adaptation.
5 Julie and Julia (2009)
Based both on Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France and Julie Powell’s memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, in which she attempts to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s famous Mastering The Art of French Cooking, this movie combined two distinct stories into a single film.
While Child didn’t particularly care for Powell’s attempt at cooking all the recipes in her book, Powell maintained her course and documented the process, eventually getting a book deal. The film adaptation synthesizes the two narratives into complementary stories as they play out alongside each other, separated by geography and several decades.
4 Gone Girl (2014)
Receiving great acclaim upon its release, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was the story of Amy and Nick, a married couple who have a dysfunctional relationship which comes to a head when Amy disappears and Nick is suspected as having murdered her.
It only took a couple years for the novel to be adapted into a film, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, which further explored the story and used the novel’s non-linear structure to great effect. The movie, as with the novel, garnered critical acclaim and awards, with many seeing it as even better than the original.
3 The Godfather (1972)
Though the novel sold extremely well, it’s the movie that’s the really known when it comes to the story of The Godfather.
Based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, The Godfather follows an Italian crime family lead by Don Vito Corleone. The movie is considered to be one of the high points of cinema, generally looked to as one of the best movies ever made, and one of the most influential.
Ranked second only to Citizen Kane by the American Film Institute, The Godfather is the very definition of a movie adaptation being better than the source material.
2 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Though a bit of a box office disappointment, The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, was critically acclaimed and received nominations for numerous awards.
In the years since its theatrical debut, the film has found success in the rental market, home release, and in syndication, more than making up for its disappointing initial box office returns. The Shawshank Redemption is generally regarded as one of the best movies of all time, making its way onto various American Film Institute lists, with even Stephen King citing it as one of his favorite adaptations of his works.
1 Pitch Perfect (2012)
Based loosely on Mickey Rapkin’s non-fiction book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Capella Glory, Pitch Perfect follows a female a cappella group as they compete for a national title.
Mixing comedy with musical performances, the film was a surprise hit at the box office, even performing well with male audiences. While the subject matter of the source material seems a bit dry, the film was anything but, alternating between giving the audience something to laugh about and something to tap their feet to.
The movie even had enough success to spawn a sequel, which went on to do even better at the box office than the original.
So, what do you think? Did we miss any movie adaptations of books that were better than the book itself?
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