“The book is always better than the movie.” I guess this is a sentence most of us have read or heard at some point when it comes to book adaptations. But how do we define ‘better’? Why are books so often put on a pedestal and movies easily dismissed?

Personally, whenever I hear that a book I’ve read is being adapted as movie or TV series, I’m quite excited to finally see the story ‘come to life.’ I want to know how the visuals in my head compare to those on screen. And more often than not, the two versions are completely different. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Because every book adaptation is in a way an interpretation. And as such, it might differ completely from my take on the story, which in turn varies greatly from your take. The point I’m trying to make is that an adaptation is just one of many interpretations of a story. It isn’t the final interpretation. Your version is just as valid as that of the directors or even the author.

It’s also important to see that every medium has its advantages and disadvantages. In media theory, we speak of narrative affordances and limitations. One of the greatest affordances of a novel, for example, is its ability to give us insight into characters’ minds. We often perceive a story from a character’s perspective, we follow them around and get to know their thoughts. Because a book isn’t as limited in length, we can get detailed descriptions of settings, events and characters, which certainly makes it easier for us to connect to the story.

This is obviously the greatest disadvantage a movie has compared to a book as it’s quite limited in time. Directors have to select and cut scenes because no one would want to see a film that runs 10 hours (or more). I think very often when people say they liked the book better it’s cause the book is just much more detailed. Yet we shouldn’t forget that movies have the huge benefit of visualization and sound. They can depict visuals of characters and setting and literally give characters a voice. The meaning a book conveys verbally is often conveyed non-verbally in film, through visuals, film techniques like camera angles, editing, cuts or music and lighting.

Though there are movie adaptations that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Stephen King once said: “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” And I think I’ll leave it at that.

What do you think? Is the book always better than the movie? Let me know in the comment section below!

16 thoughts on “Book vs. Movie: In Defence of Book Adaptations

  1. I would answer that “sometimes” due to some books have mediocre endings and the film version will amend that. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The African Queen are a few examples.

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  2. Affordances and limitations are new terms to me, so thanks for teaching me something! I can’t say that film is always better or vice versa, but it is an interesting discussion. It’s been pointed out to me that bad books are unlikely to be considered for adaptation to film, whereas the resulting product of an adaptation may well vary in quality, so statistically, I suppose films are worse than the books they’re adapted from. Whether that fits with experience, I couldn’t say empirically.

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    1. You’re welcome 😉 You’re right, it’s mostly bestsellers that are adapted (which makes totally sense from a business standpoint). I guess that’s why many people consider the movie ‘worse’, they have too high expectations. Maybe it’d be better for filmmakers to adapt ‘bad’ books. That way, no one could argue that the book was better 😀

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  3. Interesting point of view. I tend to think that most times the book is better than the movie because often times the movie (I mostly read YA for reference) doesn’t give me enough time to attach myself to the characters so I’m less invested in what happens to them. It doesn’t always work that way. Need I mention Harry Potter! But lately i feel like that. Great post though! You can find mine
    if you’re interested.

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  4. I always think whichever you do first – book or movie – is the one you generally prefer, as you form a ‘relationship’ with the characters. e.g. Even though the Bourne trilogy is a good read in it’s own right, I couldn’t relate to the Bourne character or the storyline, as all I could picture was the film version. Trainspotting was a difficult film to book transition for me too.

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  5. Like most people, I tend to prefer the book to the movie. That being said, Little Women was flawless, and I loved how Greta Gerwig adapted it! Also, of course, The Hunger Games movies are incredible. I try to always read the book before the film, hence why I’m yet to watch IT, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption haha, there are so many King books I’m yet to get to! I also plan on reading The Godfather soon so I can finally watch the film! x

    Evie x | http://www.eviejayne.co.uk

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    1. Me too haha I always have to read the book first as otherwise all I can think about are the film visuals (I also can’t watch the trailer without having read the book)–thus the long list of movies I haven’t yet watched 😀

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  6. I try to separate the books from the movies because they are two different things. So many people hated the percy jackson movies they were so different from the books, but I still enjoyed them. For a movie I thought they were wonderful, much like for a book I thought they were wonderful. I know it can be hard when directors don’t do the movies justice but we also have to remember that copyright and stuff play a role too. The directors cannot copy the book word for word. Such a wonderful discussion ❤

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  7. Good post, Linda. I found your blog via The Orangutan Librarian.
    I hate sweeping statements like this, they’re never ALWAYS true. My reading tastes vary from my watching preferences so I rarely come across film or TV adaptations where I’ve actually read the book. It needs to be remembered that books contain lots of character inner dialogue. An actor can only take us so far. The director and producers will also play their part in what they want the audience to see, know and take away from the story. Therefore, I think King’s apples and oranges analogy sums it up perfectly.

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