10-List: Ten Movies That Were Better Than the Book

Here’s why this was a difficult 10-List to compile.

While I’ve watched a lot of movies that were based upon novels, novellas, or short stories, I seldom think that the movies are better than the source material. For instance, a lot of people claim that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was better than the Stephen King novel. I happen to disagree. I believe Kubrick’s movie is visually stunning and iconic, and I loved Jack Nicholson as the crazy alcoholic writer. But the novel is better and has the superior ending.

It would be easy—too easy, perhaps—to create a 10-List of movies that weren’t better than the stories they were based upon.

Here’s a version of that list right now, off the top of my head: The Firm, The Silence of the Lambs, The Cat in the Hat, Rosemary’s Baby, Dune, Uncharted (the source material was a video game series, but still applies), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Dark Tower, I Am Legend, and I, Robot.

And that’s just for starters. If I wanted to take the time to revel in mediocrity and putrid filmmaking, I could write a 100-List on this topic.

Another reason this particular list was a tough one is that I haven’t read the stories that a lot of movies were based upon. Or, conversely, I’ve read the book but never watched the movie. That seriously reduces the number of films for me to choose from.

Here’s another 10-List I could have compiled—10 Books Turned into Movies that I’ve Never Read: Gone With the Wind, The Giver, Schindler’s List, The Lovely Bones, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Coraline, The Golden Compass, and Fight Club. I’ve watched the movies based on only three of these and couldn’t tell you if they are better than the books. I’m going with the odds and betting that they’re not.

I did notice one odd pattern that emerged while I determined the ten movies for my list. I easily came up with eight movies based upon Stephen King’s work that I thought were better than the source material. I consider myself a Stephen King fan, I should add. Two of these, Cujo and The Mist, were primarily because the movies had better endings than the novel and novella they were adapted from. I decided to limit myself to only two movie choices, however, to prevent this from becoming a Stephen King dominated list.

Now that I’ve qualified my responses, let’s get on with the list. I invite you to tell me about your own selections in the comments.

10-List: Ten Movies That Were Better Than The Book

In no particular order—-


Carrie was Stephen King’s first published novel, way back in 1974. It is what’s known as an epistolary novel, which means the narrative is organized as a collection of letters or reports. There’s no single POV character or even an omniscient narrator. It’s an okay novel, though not as good as the ones which followed it. The movie I’m referring to is the 1976 release, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. I know there is at least one more recent adaptation. I haven’t watched it, and I probably won’t.

The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I wasn’t surprised to see it on this list. Frank Darabont adapted Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Haywoth and Shawshank Redemption,” published in King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons , for this 1994 movie. I liked the novella, too, but Darabont really turned it into something extra special.

Wonder Boys

The Michael Chabon novel is great, too. But it has a section in the middle that flags a bit. The movie, starring Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire and Frances McDormand (among many others), was an eye-opening experience for me the first time I watched it about twenty years ago. The story kept my interest because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next for most of the running time of the movie. Plus, it proceeds at a measured, deliberate pace and doesn’t flag in the middle.

The Lord of the Rings

This may be a controversial pick. I will read J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive novel (call it three novels, if you prefer: that doesn’t offend my nerdish sensibilities) every decade or so. I enjoy the immersive experience. But I’ve decided that the Peter Jackson trilogy of movies is more accessible and, of course, visually stunning. The actors in the movies are indelibly printed in my mind as the characters from the story. Of course, I also believe that the books need to be read to give the movies more depth and scope. They are companion pieces.

A Time to Kill

I read the John Grisham novel after reading his much better one, The Firm (not a good movie for this one). The book was a tough read for me, and I didn’t care for it much. The movie, with Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson, was visceral and moving. The trial scene brought me to tears the first time I watched it in a darkened theater. It has a power on film that Grisham didn’t quite capture for me.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack Nicholson. Louise Fletcher. Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, before Taxi. The Ken Kesey novel is interesting and worth reading. The movie’s better.

The Ten Commandments

Who’s being sacrilegious? Go ahead. Read the Moses story in the book of Genesis and tell me it’s better than the Cecile B. DeMille Technicolor epic. It’s most assuredly not.

The Godfather

The Mario Puzo novel is great. The Francis Ford Coppola directed movie (perhaps movies is more accurate, with The Godfather Part II) is better. Some subplots are excised entirely and are not missed.

The Exorcist

The William Peter Blatty novel is a must-read for all horror fans. However, it drags a bit in the middle and reads more like a detective story than an horror story for a large portion of the novel before the exorcism. The movie is more streamlined and horror focused.

The Wizard of Oz

Now, I know there will be people who disagree with me on this one. I might even disagree with myself at times, because I think the movie would be better without all the singing and I’d rather watch the movie while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. However, I’ve read the book and I’ve watched the movie. I prefer the movie.

Feel free to disagree with me on any of these. I appreciate opposing viewpoints and am striving to keep an open mind. I’d also love to hear some of your choices in this category.


10 thoughts on “10-List: Ten Movies That Were Better Than the Book

  1. My challenge is I’m not a big reader. In a lot of cases, I have never read the source material for films. A list of Stephen King’s…I think that would be really interesting as some people swear by his novels (plenty of backstory and exposition), others feel the movies were better (more condensed, shorter, more accessible), and of course most people would likely have a “split vote.” These are all solid movies, that much is for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Criticizing anything by King is like throwing a live grenade into a room. Stand By Me almost made this list, also, because although I love the King story “The Body” it was based upon, it’s Rob Reiner’s movie that sticks with me.

      Liked by 2 people

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