That is exremely rare, granted. There aren’t many movies which do justice to the book from which they are derived from, let alone bettering it. But we have had quite a few movies which managed to outdo their source material in many ways. Either their execution of the story was nicer or they just added their own theme to the plot which worked out better than the original one. Or in some cases, they explored greater dimensions, fleshed out the story, characters and so forth.
Some of them even cut out the uninteresting parts and made the plot compact, making easy for it to be digested without having to wade through tedious, dense prose.
Some did all of that.
Here is my list of top ten of them in no particular order…
1. The Shawshank Redemption: Rated the best movie at IMDB, The Shawshank Redemption was based on a novella by Stephen King: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Surprising, yes?
I read the novella by chance in an old paperback story-collection called Different Seasons. Considering the kind of stories King usually writes, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption came as quite a pleasant surprise. It left me high-spirited, but it was pretty boring as well.
And then I saw the movie some 4-5 years ago. It had none of those irritating lengthy descriptions of things which don’t matter and about which nobody cares about… except King, maybe. And it had Morgan Freeman as the narrator, which sealed the deal for me.
- Forrest Gump: Arguably Tom Hanks’ best performance yet. And so much better than that draggy book which had some truly awful narration. Admittedly, I watched the movie first but couldn’t spot a single thing which was better done in the book no matter how hard I tried. It is amazing how someone could transform that heap of garbage to such a lovely film.
Fight Club: Now, this book by Chuck Palahanuik was really good unlike the previous two. Good in a sick, twisted sort of way. But the movie was even better, somehow. I actually can’t explain why. Not even to myself. Perhaps the story was more suited for a movie than a novel?
4. Schindler’s List: I read the book “Schindler’s Ark” when I was young enough to read only fairy tales. It was a dark, depressing story but remarkably moving. But movie was better. More moving and, thankfully, retaining the dark tones of that incredible novel. Not to forget the fantastic cinematography and excellent portrayal of Oskar Schindler by Liam Neeson, of course.
5. The Silence of the Lambs: This movie bested the book by the same name just by the sheer quality of film-making. Also, being a little more blunt. A spine-tingling watch. The book is also recommended, though. Especially if you liked the movie.
6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy: I can almost hear outcries voiced by Tolkien-pedants. Guys, guys, guys! Relax! I know you want my head on a spike but to tell you the truth, I too was unsure about this decision of mine. But later on, after a bit of contemplation, I decided to go with Peter Jackson’s beautiful adaptations because of many reasons. Amazing cinematography, stunning battle sequences and fantastic score are just some of those. In this case, I read the book (that huge red religious tome) first. Not to say that I didn’t like, I surely did. But once again, the prose was too dense. Also, it had those annoyingly distracting poems popping up sporadically. On a different note, I like the children-oriented, playful and lightly funny Hobbit more than the Lord of the Rings. Yeah, I’m going to cover my ears now…
7. Jurassic Park: Second Steven Spielberg’s film in this list after Schindler’s List. Based on Michael Crichton’s book. The book was pretty good, I admit, but it was little more than a jumble of a multitude events pieced together to form a misshapen lump. It was thrilling, yes, scary, even. But fell far short of Spielberg’s mind-boggling adaptation. At a time when 3D animation was still in its infancy, Jurassic Park came and shattered all expectations with its stunningly designed 3D models and high-quality CGI dinosaurs. A truly terrifying depiction of the events which materialise when those monstrous reptiles of the bygone era are thrown abruptly in today’s world with the help of advanced genetic technologies. And above all, the devastating consequences of that audacity.
- Shutter Island: To be fair to Dennis Lehane, the author of Shutter Island, I knew what was coming at the end of the story as I began to read the book. So probably I couldn’t like it as much as I would have had I read it before watching the movie. As you well know, the magic of the story lies with the climax. Also, this book reminded me of Dan Brown in an uncomfortable sort of way…
9. The Pursuit of Happyness: Well, this film was based on a non-fiction book, a biography. I was never a fan of biographies. I didn’t even know who Chris Gardner was until I watched the movie and read his biography. Writing was strictly so-so, too. An inspirational rags-to-riches story, though, and brilliantly portrayed by Will Smith in the film.
- The Godfather: Yes, I liked the The Godfather movie more than Mario Puzo’s book. As is usually the case, the book explained things better to me, it was far more detailed; but I don’t think I would have been as attached to the story if they hadn’t made that marvel of a movie. It followed the novel very faithfully whilst embellishing the already great story – one of the many reasons I prefer it over the book. I know many people would disagree but, well, that is just my personal opinion.
Do you know of any more examples? Do comment below.