Movies that are better than the book

"The book is always better than the movie..."
I hear that all the time but it's simply not true. Let me offer some examples of the exception to the apparent rule.

1. Forrest Gump (1994) - This is my favorite example of a movie that's so much better than the book. The movie was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won 6 of them including Best Film, Director and Actor.

The book... is terrible.

Remember that scene in the movie when Forrest is blasted into space with a violent male chimp referred to as "Sue" who causes them to crash land back to earth in the jungles of New Guinea and are only kept from being eaten by cannibals because Forrest is able to beat the tribal chief, (who was educated at an Ivy league school in America), at chess and subsequently the loss of any game will mean that Forrest and the chimp will be devoured? No, you don't remember that? Oh, wait. That wasn't in the movie... That was the book!

Need I say more.

2. Last of the Mohicans (1992) - I know the James Fenimore Cooper book is considered an 18th century "classic" but the prose is dense and overly detailed, and the plot moves forward at a glacial pace. Also, there is no romance and the characters are too stoic and uninteresting.

The film, on the other hand, is a sumptuous Michael Mann production, with great action, memorable characters and a plot that is more engaging - especially with the romance.

3. Mary Poppins (1964) - The music, sets, matte paintings and fun characters bring the best parts of the beloved books to life. I know I am going to get in trouble with some people by including this title on my list but I have to tell you... The book is weird.

I guess the first two thirds are fine enough but then, the flavors of paganism at her birthday celebration, and the fact that she really isn't all that nice and it's a rather darker story, well... it loses the magic for me.

The movie is subversive, like the book, but with a much happier outlook on the possibilities within the human heart. The movie celebrates love over inflexible order and that there is good to be found in the world. I think the movie will long outlast the book it was inspired from.

4. Swiss Family Robinson (1960) - Some of the readers of the original book by Johann David Wyss may be aware that there are various versions in English depending on the translation. One version has the girl Fritz "rescues" (Emily/Jenny Montrose) already doing very well for herself when she is found. She even has a pet cormorant she trained for fishing. She comes into the story at the end and isn't important to the plot. In the original German version she doesn't appear at all.

In the Disney movie they really brought the good ideas from the book to life and discarded the "flotsam." I know not everyone likes the young actors (especially Francis) but I really like the world they created for the film and the family dynamic which is much easier for me to relate to than the 1812 version from the book.

5. Zathura (2005) - Let's be clear that author/illustrator, Chris Van Allsburg, is awesome! But the movie took his amazing ideas and artwork and really expanded it into something much more than the original book. The relationships (father/son and brother to brother) are explored in a surprisingly rich way considering that Zathura is, at its core, an action movie.

6. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) - Yes, I know this was a children's book but the movie really took the entertainment value of the story to great new heights. Fantastic and clever writing with great gags and real heart, this film also packs some incredible voice work and a unique visual style that makes it stand out from other animated fare.

7. The Man from Snowy River (1982) - This one is actually based on a poem. The film is very well crafted, and develops the characters mentioned by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson in his writings. But though the poem describes, what ends up being, the final scenes of the movie with small hints to a back story, the film explores how and why the "man from Snowy River" came to be where the climatic events took place. To their credit, the screenwriter used some key elements from the poem for the final ride which celebrates some great moments from the source material.

So why is it so hard to imagine a movie better than a book. True, a book has a virtually unlimited amount of space to tell a story whereas a movie usually must stay around two hours. But a movie employs the creative talents of hundreds of artists and crafts people to bring a story to life and a book has just one (not to overlook the talents of a good editor).

Some movies are just as good as the books (Princess Bride or Holes) but they just happen to be in a different medium. Let's let movies be movies and books be books - judging each on their own merits.


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