10 Films That Are Better Than The Books

As Gone Girl hits cinemas, we look at the adaptations that went one better

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With Gone Girl, David Fincher has taken a hugely popular novel and transformed it into a brooding, dark thriller quickly earning plaudits in its own right. 

Fincher, of course, has prior, with his hugely successful adaptations of Fight Club, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and even The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button surpassing their source material (while The Social Network and Zodiac were both great adaptations of non-fiction books).

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But which other directors have succeeded in going one better than the book they were paid to take to the big screen? We take a look at the classics films that are, in reversal of the usual order of thing, unarguably better than the books.

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1 | Fight Club (1999)

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The film that put David Fincher on the map and kicked off endless diet and ab routines, Fight Club seemed to encapsulate the feelings of a whole generation of young men in slave to their Ikea catalogues.

Unlike Chuck Palahniuk’s debut novel, the film was a relative failure upon release, but thanks to everyone breaking the first rule of Fight Club, its popularity was slowly established via word of mouth.

Palahniuk’s novel remains incredibly popular, but a re-reading after seeing the film seems like the book was little more than the rough source notes for Fincher, as Palahniuk’s trademark stripped-back prose hardly does justice to the ultra-stylised visual treat the big screen adaptation became, as Palahniuk himself observed, “I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective.


2 | LA Confidential (1997)

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Curtis Hanson’s 1997 Californian noir is another film that garnered praise from the author of its source material, with James Ellroy calling the film “a work of art”. Working from Ellroy’s 496-page paperback, Hanson and writer Brian Helgeland stripped away any chapters that weren’t directly linked to the film’s three protagonists to stream-line the plot.

The film also features a much more "Hollywood" ending than the book, using the novel’s prologue as the basis for a final shoot-out between the good cops (played by Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe) and Ellroy’s most notable literary creation, the corrupt Lieutenant Dudley Smith. A fitting end to a modern crime epic.


3 | Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s dystopian epic beats Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel on name alone. There was never any way Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? was going to fit across a cinema marquee. In fact, the term “blade runner” is never used in the novel, which focuses on a Harrison Ford lookalike hunting down murderous rogue droids.

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The overly-complex novel places these events after a fictional World War Terminus, which has caused radiation poisoning and killed off the majority of the Earth’s wildlife, so much so that owning an animal is a status symbol. Ridley Scott wisely dispensed a sub-plot in which Harrison Ford’s character mourned the death of his own pet sheep.


4 | The Shining (1980)

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Stephen King’s third book of an estimated 568* remains arguably his biggest hit, with a sequel released last year. Based on King’s real-life struggles with alcoholism, the novel formed the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed 1980 film, with Jack Nicholson in the lead as troubled writer Jack Torrance.

Kubrick famously disregarded King’s screenplay, and even showed the Torrance’s red Volkswagen crushed by the side of the road after a car accident, in a two fingered salute to King’s novel. The director also thankfully decided to do away with the book’s moving hedge animals and replaced Jack’s door-breaking mallet with the now infamous axe scene.

*85 books, 55 of which are novels

5 | The Godfather (1972)

Francis Ford Coppola’s American crime epic needs no introduction. The benchmark for an entire genre of films, the Academy Award winning screenplay was adapted by Coppola and Mario Puzo from Puzo’s book of the same name.

Surprisingly, for a film just short of the three-hour mark, not all of the source material was adapted, with Vito Corleone’s early life saved for the sequel and a subplot in which Vito Corleone rigs the Academy Awards in favour of his godson actor Johnny Fontane getting axed.

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With the film garnering such acclaim, it was always inevitable that the over-written source material would never be quite as well respected, with The New York Times’ Dick Schaap writing in the paper’s original review of the book, “Allow for a touch of corniness here. Allow for a bit of overdramatisation there. Allow for an almost total absence of humor. Still Puzo has written a solid story that you can read without discomfort at one long sitting. Pick a night with nothing good on television, and you'll come out far ahead.


6 | Children Of Men (2006)

It is above all the look of Children of Men that stirs apprehension in the heart. Is this what we are all headed for?“ Roger Ebert asked in his review of Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian classic. From Clive Owen’s dour-faced performance, to a subdued, drained, colour scheme to that 12-minute tracking shot through war-torn streets, everything about Cuarón’s Children Of Men is vividly memorable.

P.D James’ 1992 novel, on the other hand, is a different animal all together. Clive Owen’s character Theo Faron is an Oxford don, and the story is largely told through his diary excerpts. There’s an obvious religious allegory to the novel, with meetings taking places in abandoned churches and a suicide cult that drown themselves in once-quaint seaside towns. The novel also ends with a shootout between Faron and his powerful cousin, with Theo poised to become Warden of England, and the new child the country’s saviour.

We’ll take the haunting final scenes of Clive Owen floating out to sea any day.

7 | Gone Girl (2014)

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The literary snobs among us were skeptical when Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel took over tube rides and had people whose reading habits normaly extended as far as free newspapers hassling you to pick up your own copy of the book. However, Flynn’s novel, while not about to bother Cormac McCarthy, ended up selling shedloads and received generally favourable reviews.

David Fincher, long known for turning anything and everything into cinematic gold, has spun a good novel (and Flynn-penned script) into one of the year’s best films. As popular as the novel may be, it can’t match Fincher’s vision, complete with the on-point casting of Affleck and Pike as the troubled couple, Neil Patrick Harris in a creepy supporting role and the haunting soundtrack courtesy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

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Oh, and the damp squib of an ending has been appropriately re-jigged on the big screen.


8 | You Only Live Twice (1967)

It’s not the best Bond film, but Connery’s fifth outing as 007 marked the beginning of the absurdist humour that would characterise Roger Moore’s run as the world’s top spy. From the Roald Dahl-penned script to Bond’s Japanese transformation and Blofeld’s volcano lair, You Only Live Twice rightly earned its place as a classic of the Bond cannon.

The film’s source material, Ian Fleming’s posthumous 1964 novel, received mixed reviews. The novel finds 007 mourning the death of his wife, and beginning to drink heavily when he’s given one last chance to redeem himself by investigating a suicide hot-spot or “Garden of Death” in a Japanese castle. There follows a lengthily interlude in which Bond learns about diving for pearls while living with a Japanese fishing family. He then fights Blofeld (who spends his time dressed in Samurai armour – obviously) and kills him before suffering a head injury, losing his memory and settling down to life as a fisherman.

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Worst of all, Bond’s codename is changed to 7777. Shocking.


9 | Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Based on the satirical novel by Christopher Buckley, this is a rare example of a film that delivers on the source material and then some.

Released in 1994, the novel’s plot focuses on tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, who forms part of the M.O.D (Merchants Of Death), a group also made up of lobbyists for alcohol and firearms. Tasked with getting cigarettes back into films, Nick (played by Aaron Eckhart in the film) heads to LA where he soon falls prey to a sinister plot to kidnap him, then kill him by covering him in nicotine patches.

The film succeeds in excelling the already great source material by downplaying the kidnapping aspect and adding extra heart by making more of Nick’s relationship with his son. Roger Ebert – a man who knew a classic when he saw it – wrote “Here is a satire both savage and elegant, a dagger instead of a shotgun.” Thankfully, early plans for Mel Gibson to star as Nick were quickly quashed, otherwise we may have got the shotgun too.


10 | Out Of Sight (1998)

Elmore Leonard may have brought us the source material for the likes of Out Of Sight, Jackie Brown and the excellent but underrated FX series Justified, but his work never quite gained those literary credentials enjoyed by a number of contemporary crime writers (including Dennis Lehane and James Ellroy).

As a novel, Out Of Sight – the story of a US Marshal falling for an escaped bank robber - is entertaining if flimsy. As a feature film, the story forms one of Steven Soderbergh’s most memorable moments, with George Clooney reminding us all why he was a huge movie star after the recent embarrassment of Batman & Robin. It’s a stylish, slick thriller that also featured Jennifer Lopez at her best and went on to receive two Academy Award nominations.


Any we've missed?


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