50 Movies That Are Better Than The Book
Passionate bookworms can be a protective bunch. Just behold their furious anger if a paperback-to-film adaptation's screenwriter changes even the slightest element of a beloved novel. And it's usually justified, since far too many Hollywood adaptations either abandon all of the source’s subtext or enhance the showier moments while forgetting about character developments. That’s why the staggering amounts of fans dedicated to the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series” are waiting with baited breath and sharpened knives for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, acclaimed director David Fincher’s much-ballyhooed repackaging of Larsson’s first “Millennium” entry (hitting theaters tomorrow, December 20).
Having sold 15 million copies in the United States alone, Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a pop culture phenomenon, so thankfully the impeccable Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) tackled the project with his signature, superlative talents. His first master-stroke was casting the relatively unknown Rooney Mara as the series’ iconic female badass, Lisbeth Salander, a troubled computer whiz who dresses like a Hot Topic regular and helps solve a 40-year-old murder mystery. In addition, Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs Of New York) retained the book’s graphically adult nature but also expanded upon characters’ complexities (namely Lisbeth) and sprinkled in sickly clever stylistic touches (the sounds of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” make a particularly grisly scene all the more disturbing).
Those 15 million owners of Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo can breathe easy: Not only is Fincher’s movie a worthy adaptation, it’s by all means the superior version, even better than the impressive 2009 Swedish film starring Noomi Rapace. Inspired by Fincher’s accomplishment, we’ve taken a look back at cinema’s history to salute The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s predecessors, a.k.a. 50 Movies That Are Better Than The Book.
50. Shutter Island (2010)
Based on: Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (2003)
49. Jackie Brown (1997)
Based on: Rum Punch, by Elmore Leonard (1992)
48. Drive (2011)
Based on: Drive, by James Sallis (2005)
47. Let Me In (2010)
Based on: Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
46. High And Low (1963)
Based on: King's Ransom, by Ed McBain (1959)
45. The Verdict (1982)
Based on: The Verdict, by Barry Reed (1980)
44. The Constant Gardener (2005)
Based on: The Constant Gardener, by John le Carré (2001)
43. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Based on: The Bourne Ultimatum, by Robert Ludlum (1990)
42. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Based on: The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford (1979)
41. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Based on: Gone Baby Gone, by Dennis Lehane (1998)
40. Angel Heart (1987)
Based on: Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg (1978)
39. The Innocents (1961)
Based on: The Turn Of The Screw, by Henry James (1898)
38. Forrest Gump (1994)
Based on: Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom (1986)
37. Island Of Lost Souls (1932)
Based on: The Island Of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells (1896)
36. The Princess Bride (1987)
Based on: The Prince Bride, by William Goldman (1973)
35. Wild At Heart (1990)
Based on: Wild At Heart, by Barry Gifford (1990)
34. Legends Of The Fall (1994)
Based on: Legends Of The Fall, by Jim Harrison (1979)
33. The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)
Based on: The Last Of The Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, Jr. (1826)
32. Atonement (2007)
Based on: Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)
31. Double Indemnity (1944)
Based on: Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain (1943)
30. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Based on: The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
29. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Based on: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
28. The English Patient (1996)
Based on: The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
27. Trainspotting (1996)
Based on: Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh (1993)
26. Manhunter (1982)
Based on: Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris (1981)
25. Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
Based on: Breakfast At Tiffany's, by Truman Capote (1958)
24. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Based on: No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (2005)
23. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Based on: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey (1962)
22. Cape Fear (1962)
Based on: Cape Fear, by John D. MacDonald (1957)
21. The Vanishing (1988)
Based on: The Golden Egg, by Tim Krabbe (1988)
20. The Prestige
Based on: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest (2006)
19. Rebecca (1940)
Based on: Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
18. Children Of Men (2006)
Based on: The Children Of Men, by P.D. James (1992)
17. The Haunting (1963)
Based on: The Haunting Of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)
16. Fight Club (1999)
Based on: Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
15. Jaws (1975)
Based on: Jaws, by Peter Benchley (1974)
14. Requim For A Dream (2000)
Based on: Requiem For A Dream, by Hubert Selby, Jr. (1978)
13. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Based on: L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy (1990)
12. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb (1964)
Based on: Red Alert, by Peter George (1958)
11. Blade Runner (1982)
Based on: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (1968)
10. Psycho (1960)
Based on: Psycho, by Robert Bloch (1959)
Chances are, most people who've read the late horror writer Robert Bloch's novel Psycho have done so after watching Alfred Hitchcock's genius-status 1960 film version. Which, if you think about it, isn't all that fair to Bloch; from the rule-breaking implications of its iconic “shower scene” (main characters can get killed 30 minutes into a movie?) to composer Bernard Herrmann's unforgettably eerie score, Hitch's Psycho is one of the greatest movies ever made, horror or not.
But revisiting Bloch's preceding work, it becomes apparent that even Hitchcock at his most average could have trumped the author's novel. An absorbing and quick read, Bloch's Psycho moves so fast that it's difficult to languish on any one moment; the bathroom murder, for instance, which is such a pivotal and delicately orchestrated sequence in Hitchcock's movie, is barely longer than a page.
Furthermore, Norman Bates, the story's central figure, is a pathetic, chubby little man in Bloch's text; as scripted by screenwriter Joseph Stefano's, actor Anthony Perkin's take on Norman is a disarmingly charming guy, before all hell breaks loose.
9. Gone With The Wind (1939)
Based on: Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Gone With The Wind is the ultimate Hollywood epic, the first of its massive kind and a sprawling masterwork that remains exemplary 70-plus years after its theatrical debut—Margaret Mitchell's 1936, 1,000-plus-page novel doesn't stand a chance against it. Which isn't to say that Mitchell's book is one that should be instantly dismissed; also huge in scope, Gone With The Wind the book is one of literature's great romances, following spoiled rich chick Scarlett O'Hara's efforts to handle unaccepted love and sudden poverty during the American Civil War.
Changing the film game forever, producer David O. Selznick and directors George Cukor and Sam Wood smashed building-sized piggy banks to make an extravaganza unlike anything that came before it. The filmmakers conceived a 220-minute dazzler full of lavish sets, impeccable period costumes, battle scenes, and first-rate acting—all in 1939, when Hollywood's resources were nowhere near today's endless options.
8. The Shining (1980)
Based on: The Shining, by Stephen King (1977)
No author wants to hear that a movie translation of their own hard, written work is the superior incarnation; Stephen King, however, would undoubtedly flip his lid at the inclusion of his haunted hotel opus The Shining here. But, unless you're the author himself, it's tough to argue against the merits of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece of cynical, unpleasant horror. Even on the fifth or sixth time you watch it, Kubrick's The Shining is liable to scare the viewer's pants off, after the urine stains settle.
In King's novel, the scares are vast and the scope is wide, yet there's an underlying sense of optimism—he wants Jack Torrance and his family to overcome the hotel's nightmarish powers. One can't say the same for Kubrick, though; his film is an exercise in chilling pessimism, draining out of all of King's book's hope and amplifying the downbeat terror. And it's incredibly unsettling, especially thanks to Jack Nicholson's unlikeable yet fascinating work as the sanity-losing Torrance.
An example of Kubrick's madcap approach: As the proverbial shit hits the fan, and the ghosts all come out to play, one apparition, wearing a bear suit, goes down on an elder, tuxedo-clad gentleman. Why? Who the hell knows, but it's that degree of lunacy that sets the two versions apart.
7. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Based on: Oil!, by Upton Sinclair (1927)
Greed, the reluctance to accept someone else's religious beliefs, father-and-son turmoil—Paul Thomas Anderson modern-day classic There Will Be Blood taps into universal themes that register deeply, whether you're living in the now or at the turn of the century like the film's characters. In an awe-inspiring performance, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a mesmerizing yet heartless son of a bitch named Daniel Plainview, a ravenous oilman who goes head-on against a young “prophet” (Paul Dano) in his pursuit of the almighty dollar. Anderson loosely based the film on Upton Sinclair's Oil!, mainly the relationship between Plainview and the bastard child he looks after as his own son. But Sinclair's timeless novel can't hold a scented oil candle to There Will Be Blood, which is so forbiddingly complex that each time you watch it discloses all-new, always invigorating and damning facets of Plainview's psyche.
6. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Based on: Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin (1967)
In terms of structure and narrative, there aren't many differences between Ira Levin's best-selling novel Rosemary's Baby and Roman Polanski's Academy Award-nominated film version. In adapting Levin's fast-paced, gripping text, about a pregnant woman who suspects her new NYC neighbors are Satanists out to take her unborn child, Polanski remained faithful to the source, so much so that you'd think there'd be little so surprise viewers who've read the first edition.
Just because he stuck to the initial script doesn't mean that Polanski played it safe, though. Heavily tapping into the novel's paranoiac spirit, Rosemary's Baby the movie overwhelms with its they're-out-to-get-me dread, achieved through wide-angled shots (in which possible villains lurk on the edges) and side characters' facial expressions. The film's freakiest sequence, a fever dream where star Mia Farrow may or may not be getting raped by Lucifer, only strengthens the movie's supremacy.
5. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Based on: Heart Of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1903)
This one's sure to piss off quite a few literary purists. Speaking ill upon Joseph Conrad's phenomenal Heart Of Darkness is risky business, but let us be clear: Conrad's harrowing look at mankind's inner savagery is a work of genius, and its central figure, the elusive demigod Kurtz, is endlessly fascinating. Apocalypse Now's advantages, though, are what it adds to Heart Of Darkness by modernizing Conrad's themes for a Vietnam-War-stricken culture.
Writer-director Francis Ford Coppola's decision to relocate Kurtz's horror show from the Congo to Vietnam and Cambodia for Apocalypse Now was a master's stroke, no doubt, but the film's biggest achievement, in terms of improving upon Conrad's story, is its overwhelming sense of madness. By the time Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) arrives at rogue Colonel Kurtz's (Marlon Brando) jungle kingdom, the film's startling violence (Laurence “Clean” Fishburne's death scene still knocks the wind out of us), lingering dread, and drug-trip visuals have already instilled macabre unrest in viewers.
Seeing Kurtz's tribal, brainwashed minions slaughtering cattle (real-life cows, mind you—Coppola wasn't playing around) and eventually worshipping at Willard's feet only emphasizes the point of Heart Of Darkness. Conrad's lofty messages about natural evil and the hopelessness of humanity aren't for the simple-minded, but, somehow, Coppola transferred them in pummeling degrees.
4. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Based on: The Silence Of The Lambs, by Thomas Harris (1988)
With his quartet of novels starring sophisticated cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, novelist Thomas Harris has cultivated one of fiction's greatest villains, as well one of pop culture's examples of a “hate to love him” character. In some circles, Harris' second paperback excursion into Lecter's mind, 1988's The Silence Of The Lambs, is considered his most superior work; in damn near every circle of film historians, however, director Jonathan Demme's Oscar-winning, 1991 big screen adaptation is regarded as one of the best flicks ever shot.
And, giving the film another look today, it's easy to understand why. As evidenced by the Academy's uncharacteristic acknowledgement of its horror-film distinction, The Silence Of The Lambs combines stellar acting with balls-to-the-wall gruesomeness. To Demme's credit, however, what's actually seen, in terms of grisliness, is far less than what's implied; more an exercise in taut suspense than a gore show, the filmmaker's embodiment of Harris' already savage novel is a tough one to shake.
3. The Godfather (1972)
Based on: The Godfather, by Mario Puzo (1969)
Many factors contribute to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather holding fort as one of cinema's all-time greatest films—for starters, there's the phenomenal acting, and elegant direction, and, yes, the litany of remarkable “hits” (i.e., memorably staged kills). But one element of Coppola's production that isn't as often cited is the shrewdness of his and novelist Mario Puzo's screenwriting phase. In Puzo's novel, the pacing is at clunky, diverting character arcs into longer-than-necessary slogs that prolong the Corleone family's key events (at one point, for instance, there's an extended passage in which Sonny's former mistress' vagina gets medically shrunken). For their script, Coppola and Puzo got rid of the pointless fluff.
There's a reason, however, why the technical book-to-film changes aren't readily discussed: The Godfather is one of the finest acted movies ever produced. When Vito Corleone says “I'll make him an offer he can't refuse” in the book, it's an important but not all that impactful line; as voiced with calculated menace by Marlon Brando in Coppola's film, it's quietly ferocious.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
Based on: The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971)
On the page, The Exorcist emphasizes the importance of “how” and “why.” In William Peter Blatty's terrific novel, the demonic possession of young Regan MacNeil is rationalized to no end, with characters ranging from priests to a fleshed-out and prominent detective searching for answers to explain the situation. And, with its rich characterization and intriguing, non-demon subplots, Blatty's novel is a great read.
Yet none of the book's imagery can compare to the don't-shit-your-pants scariness of director William Freidkin's bank-breaking 1973 movie, also written by Blatty. Cutting many of the book's subplots, Blatty narrowed the focus onto the priests' determination to rid little Regan of her satanic affliction, which led an abundance of disturbing possession sequences and taboo-crushing, WTF moments (such as a little girl declaring “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!”).
1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Based on: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (1962)
A brilliant dystopian vision, Anthony Burgess' unconventional novel A Clockwork Orange is a difficult one for casual readers to grasp; the delinquent, troublemaking characters, living in a futuristic, unrecognizable Britain, speak in a bizarre slang inspired by old English, Slavic diction, and made-up words (such as “droogies”). Modern editions of the book even come equipped with an extensive glossary.
Simply for making the material easier to digest, Stanley Kubrick's superlative adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is the preferred version, but the film's advantages exceed merely superficial, seeing-is-easier-than-reading reasons. Kubrick's film is truly unlike anything else, an otherworldly dark comedy that burrows into one's head with its horrific imagery (gang rape to the tune of “Singin' In The Rain,” for example), Malcolm McDowell's sinisterly charismatic performance, and composer Walter Carlos' deranged synthesizer score.
There's more explanatory narrative at the source for those interested (for 50 - 11). I tried to c/p it but it made the post too long when I put it through. And no one actually reads anything on here anyway so....