August 26, 2004
There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books

Hanging out as I do among writers and avid readers, I often hear folks bemoaning that movies based upon books are never as good as the books upon which they are based.

Sounds quite obviously true, doesn’t it? I mean, how many good movies do you recall seeing that were based upon good books?

I can only think of a few.

  • The Godfather and The Godfather Part II -- both based upon the classic novel by Mario Puzo, which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Gone With the Wind -- I haven’t read the book, and I hated the movie, but it was an excellent movie, regardless. It just happened to be a celebration of racism and sexism and the obnoxious hatefest known as the “Old South” that I find reprehensible. Still, a fine, fine flick for what it is.
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Schindler’s List -- based upon a non-fiction book, but a book, nonetheless.
  • Psycho
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Lord of the Rings -- all three movies/books.
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Apocalypse Now -- based upon Conrad's Heart of Darkness
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Doctor Zhivago -- well, it’s considered a classic, anyway. The movie *and* the book.
  • A Clockwork Orange -- another excellent movie I hated which really captures the essence of the book upon which it is based, and which I also hated.
  • Jaws
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs -- and all those other Disney classics, like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc., etc., etc.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • M*A*S*H -- I read the book, and I found the movie more enjoyable than the book by a wide margin.
  • Catch-22 -- both movie and book were excellent.
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • The Manchurian Candidate -- I haven’t seen the remake; I’m referring to the first movie version.
  • Forrest Gump
  • Wuthering Heights -- not my cup of tea, but a classic, nonetheless
  • Frankenstein
  • Goodfellas
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The Shining
  • The Green Mile
  • Stand By Me
  • Blade Runner
  • The Princess Bride
  • All the President’s Men
  • The Exorcist
  • The Right Stuff

These are just a few of the movies listed on the AFI’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies and from the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 best movies of all time. “But yeah,” you say, “Well, er, but those are all classics.”

Indeed.

Here are a few others that leap into mind:

  • The first several James Bond movies -- I’ve read the books, and the movies are every bit as good. Later movies were not so much based upon the later books as they were based upon the evolving characters and situations, but still. The best of these was From Russia With Love, even though many people enjoy Goldfinger even more.
  • The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy
  • Jurassic Park -- I enjoyed the movie more than the book, but your mileage may vary. Both had their share of cheese, but damn fine entertainment, nonetheless.
  • All of Michael Crichton’s other books/movies -- ditto
  • Half of the movies based upon Stephen King stories are quite decent (the ones in the list above are, imho, excellent)
  • Starship Troopers -- Sure, it made a completely different point from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, but it was still fun.
  • Total Recall
  • Minority Report

But other than that, there aren’t any good movies based upon good books. Unless I’m missing a few. What do *you* think?

Posted by on August 26, 2004 02:10 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music

 Comments

What about the movies based on the "Bible", like Ben Hur, The passion of the Christ, etc.
Or dont you consider the "Bible" a book. It is non-fiction (I hope) but none the less a book.
By the way you missed the worse catagory for both book & movie. My nomeny(?) is "The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"

Posted by: Tony on August 30, 2004 9:20 AM

Hey Allan!

Not a bad list. I did read Gone With the Wind and the movie is pretty close to the book. Whether it is worthwhile is debatable. Doctor Zhivago captures the spirit of the novel, if not all the details and IS a classic. Even though I like Wuthering Heights the movie, it doesn't hold a candle to the book. Have yet to see a version that does. I agree about A Clockwork Orange. The original Frankenstein movie has little resemblance to the original book. Catch 22 was possibly the most overrated book and film of all time. Blecchh to both for me. One you did miss was Polanski's "Tess". Did the book some justice. The original "Time Machine" did justice to the novel as well. What about Shakespeare movies? Do they count or is that another category?

Posted by: Scott on August 30, 2004 12:40 PM

So I just have to say that the Bourne Identity movie had very few resemblances to the novel. For one, the main character was never an assassin and his real name isn't even Jason Bourne. The amnesia was correct, but for a different reason. And the girl he managed to get to help him wasn't such a ditz, but a smart college educated woman who worked as an economist for Canada. And there wasn't no laser pointer with the number of his account imbedded in his hip. How secret agenty is that? It was a microfiche in his lip. Sheesh.

It was a decent movie, but not one that could be too much related to the book. But then, I hated the movie.

Posted by: Ling on September 1, 2004 10:27 AM

Not to get persnickety but Ben Hur is one of my favorite movies and it is based on a book titled 'Ben Hur, a tale of the Christ' by Lew Wallace.

Posted by: Gary on September 7, 2004 8:43 AM

Okay, I'm a little behind on this, but I think you could add Ang Lee's movie of Sense and Sensibility to a list of good movies made from good books.

Posted by: Patrick Samphire on September 10, 2004 3:33 AM

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On Sep 10, Patrick Samphire said:
"Okay, I'm a little behind on this, but I thin..." on entry: There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books.

On Sep 7, Gary said:
"Not to get persnickety but Ben Hur is one of ..." on entry: There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books.

On Sep 1, Ling said:
"So I just have to say that the Bourne Identit..." on entry: There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books.

On Aug 30, Scott said:
"Hey Allan! Not a bad list. I did read Gon..." on entry: There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books.

On Aug 30, Tony said:
"What about the movies based on the "Bible", l..." on entry: There Are No Good Movies Based Upon Books.

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