Hollywood studios love books, if not always the words, the stories and characters inside of them that screenwriters can thwart and adapt to fit a more conservative studio product. However, many of the biggest pinnacles of blockbuster cinema came when a popular read of the time received the big-screen treatment – think Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, Harry Potter. The buzz behind who got the role of Scarlett O’Hara in 1939 was just as enormous as finding out which star would play Lisbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen more than 70 years later.
As long as books continue to inspire blockbuster material, as well as Oscar bait, good source material will remain a major factor in the world of cinema. In the last weeks of 2013, some of the most anticipated films come from beloved books: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Book Thief and The Wolf of Wall Street, to name a few.
Of course, there is the popular axiom that “the book is always better than the movie.” There are many reasons for this: a great book can immerse you for many nights of reading, while a film has just a couple of hours to fill your time with the same story and characters. The novel or book is the primary work of one person with a small crew of helping hands, like editors. With a film, there are many more cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, making it likelier for certain aspects – from the acting to the accuracy of the set design – to not live up to readers’ expectations. Most of all, novels that come with a first-person perspective often give screenwriters a challenge, since the writer must bring the idiosyncratic thoughts and feelings of the character to life through a visual medium.
With book adaptations, though, there is always that debate of how much a film should change or cut from its source. If a director or screenwriter decides to change a crucial plot or character detail, they risk the fan base’s fury. Meanwhile, if they adhere too close to the text, they risk alienating casual moviegoers (Watchmen, anyone?).
Now, this Top 10 list is not in a ranked order, and is only a personal sampling. The film adaptations I write about are those that have been adapted from texts that I have also read, and I am justified to compare the works. You may pipe in and say that some of the most beloved films of all time – The Godfather, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Graduate – come from acclaimed novels and surpass the author’s original work. However, since I have not read the books those films are based on, I cannot compare the book to the movie.
So, without further ado, here are 9 film adaptations that are better than the book.