Movies as Good as the Book

You may know that we are big readers here at we heart this; and we certainly keep up with all things pop culture – movies, music, fashion, etc. So it may surprise you that one of the things I most hate to hear about a beloved novel is that someone is turning it into a movie. It’s not just because I fear they will rewrite the ending (who decided to make Less Than Zero a morality tale on the evils of drugs?) or horribly miscast a character (I never was won over by Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview with a Vampire) or just generally turning a fabulous read into a pretty blah movie (looking your way Running With Scissors).

Mostly, I hate that seeing a favorite novel on film messes with the mental pictures I’ve already created in my mind. When I really love a book, I have a vivid picture of its characters and their physical appearance and mannerisms as well as defined images of the setting, such as the style and layout of the home. I hate when a mediocre movie messes with those visions in my head. Even when I thoroughly dislike an adaptation of a novel I loved, the movie still colors my visions when I think of or reread the book.

Fortunately, there are some movies that are able to capture the real heart and soul of their written inspiration. The following are my (as always, completely biased and unscientific) Top 5 Movies That were as Good as the Book:

The English Patient – Quite possibly the most beautiful novel I’ve ever read; I also fell in love with the film version (9 Oscars don’t lie). The first time I read Michael Ondaatje’s novel, I would stop at the end of a page and go back to read it again – not because I needed clarification, just because it was the most lyrical and floating prose I had ever experienced. The movie is just as much a feast for the eyes, with sweeping landscapes and lush colors that capture this story of love and loss surrounding World War II. The best part is that the novel and film each center on different characters. So, you’ll feel as if you discovered something new by trying the other medium. (That means, “Hey you, read the book!”)

To Kill a Mockingbird – Here’s an example of a time the film version moved me to read the novel (thanks for nothing junior high). There’s a reason that both are considered classics (besides being a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and an Academy Award winning film.) Both tell an inspirational story of honor and justice while capturing a time and place (the post depression era of the American South) vividly for future generations. Watch the movie for Gregory Peck’s riveting portrayal of Atticus Finch, the Southern lawyer who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape. And if you need a new copy for your bookshelves, check out this beautiful paperback edition.

High Fidelity – This one broke all my rules. My thoughts at the time? They’re moving the location from London to Chicago? Choosing an American to play quintessential British guy, Rob? And what’s this about casting rock Lisa Bonet and that guy from Tenacious D? But, I was completely wrong with my misgivings, and this screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel rocks. Even with the huge changes to setting and characters, the film completely captures the cynical hilarity and earnest sweetness of the story, and is able to let the music seep into the film, almost as another character, just as in the book.

The Color Purple – A harrowing and incredibly emotional book about the brutality of life and man and how love gives humans the strength to carry on and (maybe even) stand up for themselves. Not for the feint of heart, but well worth the read, the story of Celie will stay with you forever. You know they succeeded in creating a just as profound and riveting movie as soon as your mind stops saying “Hey, there’s Oprah!” and you fall into the film and it’s characters entirely. PS Bring tissues.

Election – This novel perfectly captures the life and times of the students and teachers of a suburban New Jersey high school with a crisp, biting style I adore. High school angst, teenage sexuality and politics all come to a boil during the election of the school president. Read the book to marvel at how Tom Perrotta so clearly and descriptively tells a fast moving story with the briefest of sentences. Watch the movie, to see Reese Witherspoon’s spot on portrayal of the overly ambitious, hyper driven Tracy Flick – you’ll love and loathe her at the same time.

Bonus: the entire Harry Potter Series – Oh, how I love watching Rowling’s world of wizards, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Dementors and Voldemont come to life on the big screen. I worry for the future of Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe since they embody the characters of Hermione and Harry so well. And I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the final two books to finally hit the big screen.

So, what am I missing? Tell us which movie you love that was as good as the book it was based upon.

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Written by Tyna Werner

25 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Rebecca Z
    Rebecca Z

    High Fidelity was such a good adaptation! I saw the movie first, but I don’t think that changes anything.

    Another good one is Fight Club – like High Fidelity, it captures the voice and tone of the book very well. I think it also gets bonus points for being so visually interesting and for having Ed Norton in it.

  2. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    Tyna, I love this post, it just so beautifully written and so obviously written by a true literary connoisseur. But I CAN NOT believe you didn’t mention The Outsiders! This book/movie changed our life! Seriously, we became obsessive friends and 100 years later-we heart this!

  3. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    Aww, thanks Stef! You know, I thought about adding The Outsiders, but the truth is …it’s not that great of a movie..GASP! Now, hold on, I love it more than anything, but I’m not sure it stands with The English Patient and The Color Purple as a film masterpiece, you know? Please, don’t stop being my best friend!!

    wht readers – Check out our “About Page” for more Outsiders fun!

    Rebecca, nice choice with Fight Club, That one was in the back of mind as well, but, I haven’t read the novel! Time to add it to my list on amazon I guess.

  4. Profile photo of kate2004rock
    kate2004rock

    I thought A Walk to Remember was pretty faithful to the book…there are some allowances because the movie is set in modern day and the book is set in the 1950’s but that is just the only thing I can think of where the movie lives up to the book. The book is always better.

  5. Profile photo of Wednesday
    Wednesday

    Great Post!!!! It is so hard for a film to live up to a book, but those are great examples of it actually working!! One book that I thought was also amazing as a film was The Piano. Jane Campion directed and I thought the whole cast was amazing and did a great job of recreating the book which I also loved!!!

  6. Profile photo of Gayle Werner
    Gayle Werner

    What is the matter with ya’ll? GONE WITH THE WIND is the all time best book/movie. Followed closely by The Godfather.

    And Stef, I think T needs to see a doctor after that “not that great a movie” slur. If that’s how she feels, why did we have to watch it a zillion times?

  7. Profile photo of christy
    christy

    I just looked it up, “There Will Be Blood” is based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil! I really want to read that, it was an amazing movie!!

    Oh how I loved the Outsiders!! The book and film, I love that picture of you two with the book! so cute =)

    Stay gold!

  8. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    Say hello to my Mom, ladies! I should have known that it would be books that would compel her to comment! Ask her to forgive me for forgetting Gone With The Wind. I think there may have to be a part two of this topic.

    Katie – doh, I can’t believe I overlooked the Wizard of Oz!

  9. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    Ok, time to say “NO! Are you serious?!” I’ve never seen Gone with the Wind or the Godfather!

    Rebecca, you HAVE to read Running with Scissors! So good. I did not like the movie. Maybe I would have if I hadn’t read the book first…

    Oh, and while we’re speaking books, does anyone know what happened the movie version of Confederacy of Dunces that Will Farrell was supposed to do?

    PS) Hi T’s Mom!

  10. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    Especially, because it’s what Ponyboy is reading out loud to Johnny every day and night during their hide out at the church! Remember Tom Howell reading the battlefield scene? And Pony references it and loves GWtW in the book, too.

  11. Profile photo of Cori
    Cori

    My boyfriend has a theory on this: He says If the book is bad the movie will be good and if the book is good the movie will be bad…example All pride and prejudice movies were not too great but the book is amazing. However, the mini series was pretty good.

    Now me on the other hand, there is one book that was good and the movie made me cry, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. So good!

  12. Profile photo of suzan
    suzan

    A) Tyna- Yes, I do believe the Outsiders is a masterpiece on the scale of the Color Purple. They are just diff types of films. I think it’s a very Sosch thing of you to snub it from the post.
    B) Momma I’m so excited you are here and how funny that books bring you to us.
    C) Stef – I didn’t see GWTW until about 5 1/2 years ago. Came on two discs from Netfilx and my girlfreind and I accidently watched the 2nd disc first. The funny thing is, the movie works either way. My mom had a great laugh at the two of us with that one. Watch it, it is a great movie. Godfather, I can skip-I’ve never seen them and I don’t feel left out that I haven’t.
    D) Cori, I was thinking the notebook the whole time I was reading this post. That movie has a special place in my heart.
    E) Jen, they are making Time Travelers Wife into a movie, but I doubt it can be as amazing as the book.
    F) My additions for movies that stayed fairly true to the book, they may not be masterpieces but..
    The Shining-Jack Nicholson version not the crappy re-make.
    Willie Wonka and the Choc Factory – Gene Wilder although I guess the Tim Burton version was also spot on with what the you would imagine from the book.

  13. Profile photo of pansyburke
    pansyburke

    If you heart High Fidelity, you might also heart this: a Championship Vinyl T-shirt, “from” the fictional record store in Nick Hornby’s novel. You’ll find it at 10ap.com. All profits–including the author’s share–go to the National Association to Protect Children and Treehouse, a center for autistic children. Thanks!

  14. Profile photo of bacon
    bacon

    I agree with Katie- I thought A Walk to Remember as a movie lived up to the book. Besides that, I really don’t know, although I remember reading and watching The Color Purple in school and thinking it was done really well as well.

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