Why the Book is Always Better than the Movie

It’s a well known rule that the book is always better than the movie. I mean, there’s definitely some exceptions, but it’s actually a pretty reliable rule. Why? What is it that makes the book so much better? I’ve got a few ideas that I want to throw out there.

Character Thoughts

A large portion of a book is character thoughts, emotions, and internal stuff. These things don’t translate very well to screen without doing a narration. And for most movie makers narration doesn’t fit well with their vision. (It killed in Clueless, though!) So in movies we don’t get to know the characters as well, and many of the deeper points are lost in translation. The 2005 Pride and Prejudice comes to mind, with entire minutes of Keira Knightly just staring thoughtfully into the camera, all of Elizabeth’s wit and sarcasm inaudible to the viewer.

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Length

Books are written for the long haul. While there are definitely some books that can be finished in one long sitting, authors can assume that readers are willing to read their book over the course of days or even weeks. Movie adaptations have to squeeze ALL OF THAT into a measly two hours. It makes them feel hurried and shallow, and often our favorite moments are the ones that don’t make the cut. Harry Potter fans are still sore over the loss of Peeves.

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Your imagination is more powerful than special effects

Don’t get me wrong, special effects are getting pretty dang good. In some cases (Jurassic World) I could never imagine something so terrifying myself. But often, especially with whimsical fantasy, unrealistic things look better in your mind. Unicorns, for example, always look stupid to me on film. Like, literally, it’s just a horse someone glued a horn onto. Just, no.

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Books Reflect YOU

When you’re reading a book you put yourself into the narrative. You interpret the characters and events, emphasizing the things and moments and feelings that most reflect your thoughts and feelings. You see it through the lens of your life and who you are as a person. It’s one of the reasons we connect so strongly with books, and also why our tastes vary so much. But when you watch a movie the actors and the director do all of that interpretation for you. It can be completely amazing to see when it’s done well, but with our most beloved books the interpretation of the movie makers is often different than our own. I think that keeps us connecting as well with it, but it can also change what we feel the heart of the narrative is, and that’s a big deal.

What do YOU think makes books better than movies? Let me know in the comments!

19 thoughts on “Why the Book is Always Better than the Movie

  1. Totally agree! The only exception I can think of is Killing Eve (which ok is a tv series) and is amazing but the books…not so much. Then again the tv series is so wildly different that it’s more like it was vaguely inspired by the books, so unsurprising.

    Also WTF can’t believe Peeves isn’t in the HP films! I never noticed!

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    1. There are actually quite a lot of movies that I like better than the book, but in almost every situation the book is either very short or (in my opinion) not very good. I also like movies like Stardust that are quite different from the books, and then I think they can be enjoyed easily without comparing them.

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  2. I totally agree with you! The details in books just cannot be recreated on screen, especially character thoughts (unless they want to do voice-overs all the time haha).

    But I think there are exceptions to the rule. I’ve always thought The 100 TV series is better than the books. The books feel shallow to me but the TV series really showcase the complex characters 😊

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are DEFINITELY several movies I like more than the books! I’ve heard that about The 100 before. I also prefer Stardust, which is quite different from the book, for much the same reason. It feels more developed and interesting.

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  3. One that I’d add to your excellent list is that the film versions often reflect the filmmaker’s philosophy and pet causes rather than the original author’s philosophy, themes, etc. Universal (or at least deep) themes can get replaced with sound-bite version of whatever the hot topic of the day happens to be so the director can check off their “woke” box.

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    1. DEFINITELY. I would also add that when you’re reading you add YOUR philosophy and pet causes to the book, which can make the film maker’s insertion of theirs extra maddening.

      As long as we’re on the subject, how do you feel about the LOTR movies?

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      1. I enjoyed them overall…they were about the best you could expect out of movie version. My biggest complaint is that I feel like almost all of the nobility was sucked out of the characters (often in favor of the “reluctant hero” trope ): Aragorn had to be forced or manipulated into assuming his kingship, Theoden’s went to Helms Deep to hide (rather than being forced there by the tides of battle), Faramir tried to take the ring to Minas Tirith to get Daddy’s approval, Sam left Frodo on the steps of Cirith Ungol… these are all very much against character as written by Tolkien which annoys me a lot more than dropped/changed plot points. And I could nitpick on, but I do actually like the movies well enough…just don’t ask about the abomination that is the Hobbit movies.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I wouldn’t dare speak of the trilogy that will not be named.

          I was always bothered by the character direction the movies went with Faramir too! He’s supposed to foil Boromir, not echo him. I rather liked the reluctant Theoden though, it seemed more in line with his experiences. You’re right, though, I never noticed how many of the heroes suddenly become reluctant! It’s a lot! Especially when you consider that Frodo and Bilbo already filled that trope.

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          1. I completely agree that Faramir was by far the worst character change. I think that reluctant Theoden only works if you think of the Rohirrim as being very similar to the people of Gondor. If you think of them as more of a Viking-like warrior code kind of civilization (which I think is what Tolkien was going for given that their language and poetry is basically Anglo-Saxon and Meduseld is basically Heorot) it’s more against character.

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          2. Well I know exactly nothing about viking warrior codes, so I would never have noticed! The thing I really liked about a reluctant Theoden, though, was how it gave Aragorn a chance to show what a great leader he is. In the books he’s obviously a great warrior, but he doesn’t have many moments of leading men other than the Paths of the Dead. But in the movie he really takes a leadership role at Helms Deep.

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  4. OMG, that Willy Wonka meme. Should start asking people that. 😂 You are completely correct about all this… and sometimes it’s difficult to believe, but the silver screen is waaaaaay too small for most book universes. TV does better, but it’s still not perfect. It’s difficult to capture on film what imagination makes infinite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like TV adaptations a lot of the time. They get more time to take things more deeply and get more details. I agree with what you said, imagination is infinite and nothing can REALLY reproduce that. But sometimes movies show me what I was unable to imagine, which can be really cool!

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  5. I agree with all of these points, particularly your point about the length of a movie. I’ve always found that a lot of the character building found in books is completely lost in a movie adaptation so you just end up with these really two dimensional characters.

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  6. Yeah internal character monologues are so awesome! And you miss out on a lot of those in film versions. And I so agree about imagination being way more powerful than special effects! and that’s such a fantastic point about books reflecting the reader! Awesome post!

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