Essential Seven Movies Better Than The Books That They Are Based On


On July 15th, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens nationwide. When it comes to the Harry Potter film adaptations, most hardcore Potter fans and casual readers alike agree on one simple fact: the books are better. Sure, the movies are fun and extremely well-cast, but many fans prefer to dive into the more detailed and epic books. Though we could probably make a strong case for the adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban, we’ll agree with this assessment. However, it got us thinking: Are there movies out there that surpass the original source material? The short answer is “yes,” there are, and here are the essential seven:

7. The Godfather

The Godfather

Based on The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Frances Ford Coppola’s epic crime drama is actually quite faithful to the original novel (Mario Puzo helped draft the screenplay), but Marlon Brando’s legendary performance etched the character of Don Corelone into our collective consciousness and launched an endless number of terrible imitations.

6. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

Based on Forrest Gump by Winston Groom
This film features so many iconic lines, such as the funny-once-but-now-it’s-annoying “Life is like a box of chocolates…” that we wouldn’t be surprised if most people read this article and exclaim, “Oh, that was a book first?” The movie adopts a more straightforward and earnest tone, making the premise work more effectively. With a strong performance by Tom Hanks and a killer soundtrack of 1960s folk and rock songs, the movie seems like something completely new and innovative.

5. Jurassic Park

Jurrasic Park

Based on Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Sure the book was a best seller, but Steven Spielberg’s ambitious adaptation streamlined many of the story’s elements and focused on a core group of interesting characters, led by Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill). Of course, ILM’s dinosaurs are the big stars here, storming through the muddy jungle and practically bursting through the screens into our laps. Sure, the breakthrough effects paved the way for more questionable CGI characters (we’re looking at you, Jar-Jar), but what is cooler than the T-Rex attack on a jeep full of screaming children? The movie retained many of the intriguing philosophical questions introduced in book, too, making this an intelligent but wildly entertaining adventure. This really is one of the last of the old school Spielberg blockbusters.

4. Stand By Me

Different Seasons, Stand By Me

Based on: “The Body,” from Different Seasons, by Stephen King
“The Body” is a wonderful piece of fiction; however, it gets bogged down by the inclusion of a short story written by the adult Gordie, a long coda about Ace Merrill, and a scene in which the boys get chased by a ball of lightning. Rob Reiner’s funny and warm adaptation shifts the focus from Chris Chambers to Gordie Lachance, the sensitive young writer played by Wil Wheaton, providing a more touching and dramatic tone. As a director, Reiner deserves much credit for getting such strong performances out of his four young leads, particularly the late, great River Phoenix. Ultimately, the film takes a memorable story of growing up and makes it relatable to audiences of all ages.

3. The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings

Based on: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
We may get some hate mail for this one. However, while Professor Tolkien meticulously created an amazing fantasy world and a universal story of good triumphing over pure evil, Peter Jackson’s film trilogy streamlined things a bit, focusing more on the characters. The films aren’t perfect, but they quicken the pace of the books by staging exciting battle sequences and cutting down on the number of walking and eating scenes.  More importantly, Jackson and his impeccable cast provide more insight into the hopes and fears of the lead characters, making us truly believe that they want their world to be a better place. Frodo lives!

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Different Seasons, Stand By Me

Based on: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” from Different Seasons, by Stephen King
Most movie adaptations of novels fail when they attempt to retain a narrator’s voice through extensive voiceovers. (This is probably the main reason that there has never been an adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye.) However, note that we said “most.” Director and screenwriter Frank Darabont not only tightens up the story (mainly by collapsing several wardens into one), but retains Red’s crisp narration. Oh, and having Morgan Freeman as your narrator certainly helps. Darabont wisely uses what works and tweaks what doesn’t. For instance, in the novella, the prisoners banter with each other while watching The Lost Weekend. In the film, they watch Gilda and cheer as Rita Hayworth tosses her hair back, which not only ties together many of the story’s key elements, but also makes two convicted felons seem very likable. “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” That’s damn straight!

1. The Thin Man


Based on: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
While it took Hollywood three tries to adapt Hammett’s other famous mystery novel, The Maltese Falcon, it only took one try to adapt and vastly improve The Thin Man. Hell, it only took director W. S. “Woody” Van Dyke twelve days to film the classy and carefree adventures of Nick and Nora Charles. This is the original Nick and Nora, not that Infinite Playlist crap! Hammett’s hard-boiled novel focuses more on the details of the murder case and does not fully explore its fun premise of a glamorous couple that solves the murder of an inventor just for the hell of it. With the dapper William Powell as Nick and the alluring and brilliant Myrna Loy as Nora, the film’s basic plan reads something like this: “Forget about the mystery! Let’s just watch these two people drink about a thousand martinis, goof around with their crazy wire-haired terrier, and have a grand old time sleuthing!” Powell and Loy have great chemistry, showing that a movie about a married couple doesn’t need to be about getting married or getting divorced to be infinitely fun.

The Essential Seven is a weekly list of seven items that we at believe needs to be identified. Want our opinion on a topic for a future list? Email Lando Da Pimp. Don’t agree with our list? Then leave a comment. We will promise not to laugh at your dumb opinion! 😉

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