There’s a phrase that all film fans will hear countless times in their lives. It’s a comment that is equal parts annoying and infuriating. It usually goes a little something like this: “the book was better than the movie.” The worst part of it is, as much as we want to drive our fists into the mouths of the speaker for being such a know-it-all, they’re almost always right. There’s a couple of reasons why this is usually the case. One reason is that our imaginations are better able to play to our own personal interests than a random filmmaker can. The way we picture a particular scene has no limitations, no budget, no physics. Basically, our own imagination can do anything you can do better. There’s also a significant investment put into reading a book. We invest a lot of time, energy, concentration and imagination effort in reading a book. This second reason is starting to be realized and challenged with high-quality TV shows. A bad fifth season of a show you’ve invested one hundred hours into is never as bad as a bad first season. Catch my meaning?
But, like The Rock says, it doesn’t matter what your book says. We don’t care if you think the book is better. Hell, you don’t care that the book is better. You just want to prove to us that you’ve read the book before the movie came out. You thought this was a cool story way before Hollywood did. You’re a true hipster. But sometimes the shoe is on the other foot. Sometimes movie fans get the last laugh, and in those times, we rise out of our seats and shout, “Yes! This movie was better than the book!” Even better, sometimes films dramatically change elements of the book and it comes out better. These are the examples we want to look at. Let’s look at those moments where a movie changed something from the book and made it better, the more drastic the change, the better. Having said that, here are 15 times movies changed the story for the better.
15. Fight Club
Maybe you haven’t heard, but Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, liked David Fincher’s film version of Fight Club. He liked it so much that he’s said he wishes he did things closer to what the film did instead of what he did. He’s even used the word ’embarrassed’ to describe how he feels about his book in comparison. So what is different? Well, for starters, the relationship between Marla (Helena Bonham-Carter) and the narrator (Edward Norton) is better developed and has a happier ending than in the book. Palahniuk has also suggested that many of the connections the film made, such as the founding of fight club franchises around the city, were much better thought out than he imagined. Then there’s the ending. This one is a point of contention for many, but the film wraps up the story in a much neater package. The book’s ending, while bleak, is much more open-ended and lacks any finality.
The film versions (1976 and 2013) of Stephen King‘s novel Carrie, stayed fairly close to the novel in many ways. Obviously there has to be changes in the way that things are shown on screen compared to film. Some things just weren’t available to the filmmakers in the mid-70s, so they needed to be changed. There were several positive changes though. One was with Ms. Collins, the gym teacher, who was much more kind and loving toward Carrie in the film than she was in the novel. This helped show that not everyone in the two was an imbecile. The biggest change, which was also the best, was in how Carrie’s mother was killed. Instead of stopping her heart, which might have been somewhat anticlimactic on screen, Carrie telekinetically throws a bunch of knives at her. The mother then dies in a similar pose as Jesus on the crucifix, which is fitting considering her mother’s religious fanaticism and the idol in the closet that Carrie is forced to speak with when she’s being punished.
13. Planet of the Apes
There are quite a few changes between the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes, and the 1968 film of the same name, but there is one major change that makes a world of difference for the movie. In the novel, a story is read about three explorers who travel to a planet orbiting the star Betelgeuse. This planet, they find, is in control of Apes. Now this might seem minor, but the setting stays the same throughout. When the explorers return home on Earth, they find it to be in control of Apes too, a la the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes (2001). In the original film, however, the ending twist makes the story so much better. The entire time, the explorers (Charlton Heston) believe that they are on a different planet, but it turns out that they were on Earth the entire time. God damn you all to hell.
12. Blade Runner
Yes, comparing Blade Runner to the novel that it is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is pretty much a fool’s quest, but we’re going to do it anyways. It’s really no secret that Blade Runner is the better story, but Philip K. Dick’s novel gave the concept, and the concept is key. So who wins? Well, who knows? We do know, however, that the entire concept of whether or not Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Replicant is much more hashed out in the film. In the novel, though he does question this briefly, it’s more of a symbolic thought with no real weight behind it. For the film, many would argue that this is the main question, the main point of the film. Whatever answer you subscribe to, the fact that we question Deckard’s humanity is a major plus for the film.
11. First Blood
Perhaps deciding on whether the changes to the film First Blood, compared to the novel of the same name by David Morrell, are positive or negatives depends on how you feel about the main character getting his head shot off with a shotgun because that is how the novel ends, with John Rambo getting shot in the head with a shotgun. Bleak, to say the least. The ending was changed in the film to open up the possibility for sequels, but, really, the change was necessary. People rip up Hollywood endings all the time. No, not every movie needs a happy ending, but no movie needs a head explosion by shotgun either. Sylvester Stallone is also better than the Rambo in the novel because, well, it’s Sly Stallone.
10. The Notebook
Maybe if you’re a cynical person, you might enjoy the book ending of The Notebook compared to the movie of the same name, but people with hearts that believe in magic don’t. In the novel, which is much the same as the film, the different ending makes the world of difference. Instead of lying down together and dying in a mysterious but hopeful way, the novel just has these two old folks laying down together and “hoping” their love would take them away. What good is hope? We’re reading a fictional story here. If we wanted realism, we would turn on the evening news. Hope is no good. Damn, you hope. We want fantasy.
9. The Godfather
The Godfather is often used as the prototypical example of a film that is far better than the source material. This is true, but why? Well, that’s tough to answer. It certainly helps to have a cast as prominent as they had. They also eliminated many of the backstories and small subplots which tend to drag on in the book. There are some details given that feel so unnecessary and inconsequential that it boggles your mind why they were included in the novel in the first place. There’s also the ending, which is so much better in the film. Instead of just accepting Michael’s (Al Pacino) new lifestyle, as Kay (Diane Keaton) does in the book, the movie ends with Kay realizing who Michael has become/is becoming. His new power has turned him into something he swore he would never become. It works as a perfect parallel to the opening scene with those two characters at completely different stages in their lives.
In terms of plot points, there aren’t a whole lot of changes between the Richard Bloch novel, Psycho, and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name, but the changes that are made are drastic. The most important is how the film presents the characters to the audience. In the novel, we open with Norman Bates and the perspective changes back and forth between he and Mary Crane (changed to Marion in the film). In the film, however, we open and hold on Marion (Janet Leigh) for quite a while. This establishes her as the main character and makes it that much more of a shock when she is killed. There’s also the mother, Norma Bates, who has numerous conversations with Norman in the novel. In the movie, we only hear from her a few times, which makes her so much more of a mystery.
7. There Will Be Blood
There’s too many differences between the film There Will Be Blood and the novel that it was loosely based on, Oil! by Upton Sinclair, to even start listing things. As described by P.T. Anderson, Oil! was more of a stepping stone than a book that the film was based on, which might seem weird, and it is. The film only uses about the first 150 pages as inspiration and it changes most of the details. Perhaps the greatest change and most important change is that the main oilman, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the film, is not a hero, he’s a villain. In the book, the main oilman, James Ross, is a pretty likeable guy. There’s also the change of focus. In the novel, the focus is almost always on Ross’ son, while the movie focuses primarily on Daniel, the son is a side character. The change allows the movie to frontline the villainous power and greed of Plainview, which proved to be a courageous and successful decision for Anderson. Casting and focusing on the great Day-Lewis is never a bad decision, either.
6. Jurassic Park
There are plenty of differences between the film and the book versions of Jurassic Park, and most are quite positive changes that work in the film’s favor. The first change is in the mood. While the book has a scientific tone, clearly aimed at adults, Steven Spielberg‘s film adaptation, like almost all of his films, has a childish feeling to it. There are plenty of character differences as well. The main ones being that Ian Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is a horrible person in the book. In the movie, he’s actually quite sweet. Then there’s Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who dies in the end of the novel, something that Spielberg changed as soon as Goldblum was cast. The craziest change of all is in the ending. In the book, the entire island is napalmed and destroyed. Dark.
5. Children of Men
The film version of Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón changed quite a bit from P.D. James’ novel of the same name, and much of it was for the better. The primary change was moving the major theme from the religious and divine to the realm of the political. It is much more of a contemporary concept and works better for Hollywood audiences. Cuarón also changed the source of the infertility from the men to the women, which allowed for a Virgin Mary type of situation in the end. Cuarón also eliminated many of the explanations and backstories from the novel. This was done to add more mystery and intrigue into the story for the audiences, something that many films these days forget about.
As with almost every movie compared to the novel, we know the main character, the Driver, in the book Drive far better than we do in the movie, and surprisingly, this mystery works in the film’s favor. In the film version of Drive, we see the Driver as a robotic thing, a mechanical being attached to driving and the instructions he’s given. As the film progresses, the Driver becomes more and more human and his purpose for living, his drive, changes from driving to protecting his love. This is much more explicit of a change in the film than in the movie, since we hear the thoughts from the Driver’s own head in the novel. The less we know about the character’s motivations the better in this film.
3. Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump in the film Forrest Gump, is a far superior character than book Gump. Not only is the book Gump much more socially and physically capable, he’s also a bit of a jerk. Movie Forrest is sweet, kind, innocent, bumbling, clumsy, silly and lovable. He’s not nearly as physically gifted in the movie as he is in the book; if not for his determination and speed, he might not have done anything. The events are also dramatically different. While some people criticize some of the film’s plot points today as too nationalistic, the movie isn’t giving us a detailed description of events here. We’re simply seeing a snapshot of American history through the eyes of one of its silliest citizens. The truth might be something entirely different.
2. The Mist
The insanely dark and bleak ending to the movie The Mist, is entirely different than the Stephen King novella and a lot better. King himself has been quite vocal about how much he loves the Frank Darabont film ending, which is just a crazy thing to say, but he’s right. Both the film and the novella end with the army saving the day and clearing away the mist, there’s just one small and massive difference. In the novella, David hears that Hartford has set up a refuge, giving him incredible hope as he drives on. In the movie, David plans to kill everyone in the car rather than have them all eaten by monsters. But, after killing all of his companions, he runs out of bullets before he can kill himself. Consumed by grief, he exits the car and waits for a monster to come eat him, but guess what? The army comes instead. They were like five feet away when he killed his posse… Ugh. Tragic.
Jaws. So many changes. Such a great movie. Such a bad book. One of the things that Stephen Spielberg does so well is create lovable characters. What he did with Jaws was take completely despicable characters that no one likes and turned them into wonderful people. The worst of all was Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss in the film). Hooper, although he dies in the book, was having an affair with Chief Brody’s wife. Why? What’s more. The hunt for the shark wasn’t even the most important thing in the book. It was all about the boring characters and their lives. Jaws just works better as a summer blockbuster.
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