Books AREN’T Always Better Than Movies

Disclaimer: this post isn’t a bitter attempt to hate on best-selling novels. As a writer myself, I can only hope to be one eighth as successful as many of the books I criticize here. We all know success isn’t a reflection of quality in any capacity, and in here I’m focusing on their quality, or lack thereof. Though to be perfectly frank, if you feel personally insulted because I didn't like your favoritest book, I invite you to take the 3:10 train to Fuckoffville.

Nowadays when so many books are getting the film adaptation, we’re hearing the age-old mantra more often than we did before. “The book was better. The book is ALWAYS better than the movie”. This used to be truer before, when the books adapted were better than the books adapted are now.

This is generally said without giving the statement itself much thought—it’s said because it’s a consensus. Books are a more complex and complete narrative art-form, so there’s no possible way a movie, with a narrative that limits itself to visuals, could be superior. What kind of idiot would even try to argue such a simple paradigm?


I’m sorry, but this whole thing bothers me to no end.  The next bit I’m going to make some arguably unfair generalizations, because I know a lot of intelligent people who do this; but I’ve seen they’re the exception to the rule.

Introducing the Intellectuals of Today
My first problem stems from the fact that a lot of people seem to believe that if you read books, if you worship books, if you repeat how much books are the best thing ever ever, you are an apparent intellectual. This isn’t true for many reasons. Reading isn’t a fundamentally intellectual practice as so many people want to believe it is.

Listen, I like to call myself a reader but the fact is that I don’t read as much as I probably should, especially considering I’m also a writer. I aim for 20-25 books per year, and for the last three years I’ve managed to complete that goal (to be fair many of the books I read are super long fantasy and sci fi books). That being said, if I said that three quarters of the books I read every year were intellectually stimulating, I’d be generous.

I don’t read trash, either—I read pop adult fiction like Stephen King, George RR Martin, Robert Jordan, et al. The stuff most people read, and the stuff I like to write, with some classics thrown in-between (like for instance last year I read “Slaughterhouse Five”, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, “A Brief History of Time”). Again, most of these weren’t necessarily an intellectual practice beyond the act of reading itself.

I’m okay with admitting that my reading list isn’t the most sophisticated thing. But it’s still closer to being “sophisticated” than most people who keep repeating “I’m a reader so I’m better than you!” all over the internet. These are the guys who champion stuff like “The Hunger Games”, mediocrity like “The Fault in Our Stars” (I’m sorry, tumblr, but this is the most overrated goddamn book of all time) like valuable literature. Which brings me to my first point.

Most of the books being adapted aren’t that good anyway.
“The Hunger Games” is extremely popular. As is “Divergent”, “City of Bones”, “The Fault in our Stars”, and fuck it, I’ll just say it—“Twilight”. Many times, when these adaptations come out, it turns out the book is better, if only because the movie is so unbelievably bad (“City of Bones”), and not because the book was worth a velvet tissue used by a horny capuchin monkey to wipe its ass.

I'm super sure the book is significantly better, though.
You know what’s the most baffling thing for me about the people who champion all these young adult books as being superior to the movies? These books aren’t very literary at all—they read as wordier, slightly more insightful screenplays. There really isn’t a whole bunch of depth there at all.

The truth is that it’s easy for us to lose sight of the real quality of a book just because we loved it so much. I really loved “A Dance with Dragons” (which is obviously a million times more insightful and complex than any of the aforementioned books), but if I take a step back, I can see how terrible most of the plotting and pacing is. I definitely see the adaptation in “Game of Thrones”’ season five greatly improving upon it (and “A Feast for Crows” too). Yes, it will skip details about the story behind the Iron Islands, it will snip many characters’ arcs and by extension many characters themselves, and more. But here’s the thing: just because the adaptation doesn’t include certain details it doesn’t mean they’re integral to the story. In fact, many times it straight-up proves how useless they were in the original book. Which brings me to my next point.

The adaptations often make the book more focused.
…and focus is a good thing, especially in books from newcomer authors (90% of ultra-successful adaptations), when authors still aren’t very good at what they do. Take “The Hunger Games” for example. I didn’t like the books, but really like the movies (as much as I CAN like them, considering the source). How many people would say that the books are better? A lot, but why, exactly?

The movie doesn’t include, say, The Avoxes. Yeah, it doesn’t, and no one gave a shit. All that exclusion did was prove how the Avoxes were a shallow and unnecessary plot point in the book that doesn’t really represent anything that wasn’t already very well established (The Capitol’s cruelty, for example). In books like “The Hunger Games”, where so much space and time is wasted, it’s a good thing that a screenwriter cleans it up.

The movies fill all the boring filler (the first half of both books) with incredible visuals an author like Suzanne Collins couldn’t yet convey through her writing. It fills it with a great sense of humor and a very charming cast of actors that give life and personality to otherwise two-dimensional characters (I sincerely couldn’t care less about Snow and especially Caesar until I saw them so perfectly played on screen).

The thing is that many of these authors stumble upon a good, marketable idea, and write it as well as they can. Some of them are extremely talented from the get go, like JK Rowling. Others are bad writers with marketable ideas (Suzanne Collins) who learn as they go along, like every writer ever. I don’t think “The Hunger Games” is remotely well written in almost any aspect, but I don’t think Collins’ next book won’t be better. Though “Mockingjay” was a shitty joke I couldn’t finish (and it feels like a bit of a contractual obligation, as apparently “Allegiant” is), I’m sure she’s a better writer now than she was when she wrote “The Hunger Games”.

Here’s the interesting part:

Adapting screenwriters are often better, more experienced writers than the original authors.
Like I said before, most of those books adapted aren’t exactly complex literature, and the prose itself isn’t much more insightful than a screenplay would be.

"I'm the author of course you can't improve upon my art!"
Which is why many times, for them, writing an adaptation is more like re-writing a screenplay. They are working with a complete plot, characters, pacing, themes from the start, so their only job is improving upon that. This means cleaning up the useless filler bullshit, improving the dialogue, adding a sense of humor and in general improving the noobie authors’ poor first instincts.

Yeah, this doesn’t always pan out because sometimes the screenwriter isn’t very good, neither are the director or producers, and if the source material isn’t great to begin with, the whole production is screwed. Look at “City of Bones”. I’m sure the book is better because it can’t possibly be worse. I haven’t read it, but I’m very confident in my guess that the book is pretty bad too.

A lot of people immediately believe that there’s no way another writer knows what’s best for a story he didn’t write. How could Billy Ray know what’s better for “The Hunger Games” over Suzanne Collins, who fucking created the story?

Here’s the thing: writers rarely know what’s best for their own stories. Writing a full functional plot with fully functional characters is extremely complex work; it’s super easy to fuck up details. Every writer on Earth does this.

Moving on.

"Is this all sufficiently interesting? Cool, let's stop for 2 hours."
A great example about this is one I get in trouble with all the time: the sacred “Harry Potter” series.

I love the Harry Potter movies, and yes I do very much like the Harry Potter books (I didn’t read #4 though because fuck that). I think I can say that I love the movies better because, like with “The Hunger Games”, they fix many issues I had with the books. These are very well plotted, very complex books (for young adult), but many of the plot threads they have are very ill-advised, and people who didn’t read the books won’t even notice them.

Where in the movies is all that nonsense about Hermione’s quest to free House Elves? Where are all the extra classes, the hours-long exposition before book 3’s climax? Nowhere to be found, and that’s a good thing. Movie 3 is better than book 3 because goddamn Rowling ruined what could’ve been an intense fucking climax and didn’t really add anything through her three-chapter long total halt to explain to us the Continuous Adventures of Pangs, Prongs, Pugs and Whogivesafuck. Cuarón’s version skips all that, keeps the magnificent climax without missing a single beat and more importantly: without really losing any significant character development. Rowling had great ideas and wrote them well, but had the tendency to waste everyone’s time expanding them in unnecessary ways.

Yes, there is stuff missing from the movies that I really liked in the books (though as I type this I can’t think of any; I’ll edit when I remember), but the movies captured all the stuff that made Harry Potter so great and in some cases, improved upon them.

The character of Harry is better handled in the movies, mainly because in the movies Harry is the focus, whereas the books like to linger on secondary characters. One of my top favorite changes from the books, and something I’ve gotten into heated discussions with Potterheads about, is the climax of the sixth book/movie.

So Dumbledore is facing Malfoy at the top of the clocktower while Harry secretly listens to the whole thing. This is a defining moment for Harry’s character because he gets to witness the greatest betrayal he’s ever seen, and the death of his great mentor. In the book, this is intense because Harry is paralyzed so it’s a desperate moment.

In the movie, Harry isn’t paralyzed.

That is a brilliant choice!

That is a brilliant choice because the fact that Harry isn’t paralyzed speaks volumes of the strength of his character. In the book he’s a desperate child who would try to do something but doesn’t simply because he literaelly can’t. In the movie, he has to fucking endure the horror of seeing Dumbledore get betrayed and hold the whole thing in like Dumbledore asked him to—because he trusts him. It demonstrates strength, courage and trust—a massive step for the character that comes the moment his real father figure leaves him.

Someone—maybe Rowling?—said that Harry truly grew up when Hedwig died. That’s retarded; he grew up when Dumbledore died, not the stupid fucking bird.

Lion Heart, featuring Snape.
This is my favorite example, but there are loads others that prove how the creative team behind the Harry Potter movies really cared about the material, and often knew how to make it even better. Harry Potter is exceptional and I don’t think we’re likely to see a young adult series anywhere near as good and revolutionary for decades, or even longer. Still, it’s far from being perfect. You can be a huge fan of something and still be able to see its shortcomings. It’s not that hard.

So that’s the thing. If you’re the type of person who clings to the idea that “Books = Great and Reader = Smart”, you’re probably having some issues with your own intellect. It’s not true. It’s actually pretty easy to see how super serial readers are often dumb as a bag of hammers and people who never pick up a book and love movies have a working noggin. In fact, clinging to the idea that “Books are better than movies” like a dogma puts you closer to the “The world is 6,000 years old because Bible” than to being a critical thinker.

Sometimes it’s okay to admit something you love, which touched you and made you cry, isn’t as amazing as you think. Hell, how many people has “Twilight” touched to the point of tears and obsession? That doesn’t mean it’s a good book—it just reached the right people through the right ways. That’s a merit in itself, certainly, but not a testimony of quality.

“The Fault in Our Stars” sucks! Out!
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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  1. I was going to like... Write a super long opinion on some of the points, but I'm having difficulty explaining myself today and everything was just a mess and I don't think the message I wanted to bring forth was gonna be understood (glad I didn't follow the path of being a writer...), so I'll just say that yes... The whole "Hermione freeing house elves" shit is the best thing to never have made it into the movies. The movies and fanfiction are what made me like Hermione, I actually don't care for her in the books.