Translating a sensational book to the big screen is a tricky task. While some movies live up to the incredible books they’re based on, others fall flat. But on rare occasions, the cinematic interpretations outshine the literature.
When the performances, script, set, direction, costumes, sound, and stars align perfectly, the movie adaptation of a novel can become an iconic work that captures the story even better than the book.
1. Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump, the novel by Winston Groom, is an excellent and fun read. However, the movie adaptation had a substantial cultural impact that the book did not. Tom Hanks brings the character and story to life. In this case, the movie makes the story more engaging and relevant.
2. The Graduate (1967)
The novel of the same title by Charles Webb doesn’t have the raw, uncomfortable feeling the movie delivers to viewers. While we can thank the film’s direction and cinematography, much of the credit goes to the actors who offered nuanced and realistic performances that are subtly compelling and powerful.
3. Arrival (2016)
Ted Chiang’s book details an incredible idea about how we might someday communicate with aliens. The novel Story of Your Life inspired the riveting film Arrival, and it’s likely the movie outshone the book simply because it offered a visual element that made the plot richer and more accessible to connect with.
4. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada book and film have some significant differences concerning the characters’ personalities, skewing the story's message. While both works have pros and cons, the iconic performances of Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and the rest of the cast make the movie more fiery and timeless.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
It’s hard to deny Leonardo DiCarpio’s talent in this movie. Jordan Belfort himself wrote the book, but DiCaprio created an enigmatic and colorful character that made the film one-of-a-kind. Along with the incredible cinematography, direction, costumes, and set, the movie simply leaves a stronger impression.
6. Coraline (2009)
Both the Coraline movie and film are dark and fantastical, but the main difference is Coraline’s demeanor. A few other elements are different, but many people cite Coraline’s feisty and fierce personality in the movie as the reason the film outshines the book, which features a quieter, more thoughtful girl.
7. I Am Legend (2007)
Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend simply doesn’t live up to the intensity of the 2007 movie. Fans of the book think the film was a travesty that completely mutilated the original story, but as a self-contained work, many feel the movie is more interesting and captivating.
8. Holes (2003)
Like most cinematic adaptations, the movie doesn’t match the book perfectly, but there are many similarities. Holes, the movie, trumps the book by the narrowest margin, primarily because of the lovable performances, bits of humor, and dramatic, happy ending.
9. Marley & Me (2008)
John Grogan’s novel Marley & Me takes place over 13 years, which is tough to squeeze into two hours. However, many people enjoy the Marley & Me movie more because it delivers a concise but comprehensive telling of the long friendship between a man and his dog as life and family evolve.
10. The Notebook (2004)
Nicholas Sparks is a master of the romantic, but Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams may have outromanced him in The Notebook movie. In the end, the film beautifully portrays Sparks’ heartfelt love story, but Gosling and McAdams are the ones who made us all fall in love with Noah and Allie.
11. The Last Song (2010)
The Last Song is another Nicholas Sparks novel that flourished on the big screen. Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, who began dating, eventually married, and sadly divorced in real life, had authentic chemistry on screen that isn’t as bold and palpable in the novel. The movie also skipped over some of the more tedious and confusing parts of the book.
12. Christmas With the Kranks (2004)
Not many people know that Christmas with the Kranks is based on a John Grisham novel, Skipping Christmas. The humorous Christmas movie is lighthearted and fun, while the book is more meaningful and heartwarming. Both are wonderful tales, but Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen make the movie hilariously lovable.
13. Mean Girls (2004)
While Tina Fey did write the Mean Girls script, the story is based on a Rosalind Wiseman book, Queen Bees and Wannabes. The book is meant to help parents understand teenage girl behavior and social cliques, which is why Fey used a survival book-style narrative. The movie is infinitely more clever and funnier, so there’s no competition here.
14. Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard is based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Many characters are different, the narrative is more omniscient, and the plot motivations are more dire in the novel. The movie uses the book as loose inspiration and delivers a more action-packed and thrilling experience.
15. 21 (2008)
The movie 21 is based on the novel Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mexrich. The book is considered non-fiction but has some fictitious details, as does the movie. Both are enthralling, but the movie offers more visual excitement and simplifies some of the more complicated aspects of the tale.
16. The Social Network (2010)
Ben Mezrich also wrote The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, which inspired The Social Network. The movie and book have similar messages and motivations, but the movie is more exciting and emotional, albeit less factual, rousing viewers and creating a memorable experience.
17. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Many fans of Kevin Kwan’s novel enjoyed the film adaptation, but they have some glaring differences. Most notably, the Crazy Rich Asians movie is primarily a rom-com, while Kwan’s book is more dynamic and diverse in its plot and narration. However, many people preferred the focused nature of the movie over the comprehensive and busy book.
18. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
One of Truman Capote’s most underrated works is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the film was immensely popular. Audrey Hepburn may be the reason the movie did so well, but the film has a more romantic and chaotic vibe compared to the book that people adored. While the novel is fabulous, the movie scratches an itch that the written story does not.
19. Psycho (1960)
Robert Bloch’s Psycho is not nearly as chilling or disturbing as Hitchcock’s film adaptation. While both works tell the unsettling story of Norman Bates and his mother, the movie version is significantly more sinister and creepy. In the end, no one delivers a jumpscare or makes your skin crawl as well as Hitchcock.
20. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Many love the book and the film, but overall, people tend to agree that the film was more thoughtful and clear. The novel has many excessive elements and plot points that they skipped in the film, making the complex and convoluted story easier to follow and enjoy in two and a half hours.
21. Julie & Julia (2009)
It’s easy to fall in love with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, but many people find it hard to like either character in the book. The novel is written in more casual blog form with snark and colloquialisms, which is clever and distinct but not an excellent narrative format. Simply put, the movie was more comfortable and engaging for viewers.
22. Practical Magic (1998)
The book series written by Alice Hoffman was sweet and enchanting but was entirely overshadowed by the beloved movie. Aside from the fact that Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman star in the film, people also prefer the movie’s charming style and brave yet compassionate characters.
23. Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
While some love the book because it’s more fleshed out, many feel the movie is better because of the extraordinary visual elements and powerful emotions. Ultimately, the film captures all the critical parts of the novel, condensing the delightful and eventually tragic story into a beautiful two hours that leaves viewers speechless.
24. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
Many debate whether the book or movie is better, mainly because the novel has a distinct and clever narrative technique that the movie omits. However, the book is almost exclusively a romance, while the film dives into more profound, existential themes while still being romantic. And now, we can also debate the execution of The Time Traveler’s Wife drama series!