12 Film and TV Adaptations That Are Better Than the Book

By Katy Thornton / October 26, 2020

It’s an unpopular opinion, but some film adaptations are just better than the book they’re based on. This doesn’t always mean that the book is bad – sometimes the visual effect in films can bring a great concept to life. While there’s an abundance of adaptations that don’t live up to their source material, here are a few that surpass it. 

1. The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King

ShawshankMany don’t realise The Shawshank Redemption is in fact based on a novella by Stephen King. Its real name is “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, and it is much shorter than the three hour film would lead you to believe. While the original is worth a read, particularly if you’re a Stephen King fan, the film took on a life of its own, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Truly one of the best film adaptations there is. 

2. Jaws, Peter Benchley 

jawsMost people are only familiar with the Stephen Spielberg adaptation, which is one of the most well known movies that exists, but it was actually based on a novel written in 1974 by Peter Benchley. A story like this just requires the visual element – seeing the great white shark coming at you in a film will always have a bigger impact than in a book. However, Benchley may have started the trend of scary shark stories, with there being three films in the Jaws series, and several others such as The Meg, The Shallows, and Deep Blue Sea

3. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

godfatherThe Godfather film series was based on the 1969 book by Mario Puzo. Although the book was successful in its own right, the series took on a life of its own. It is seen as one of the greatest films of all time, and the impact it’s had on cinema and gangster films is no joke. On Rotten Tomatoes, a film rating site, it comes in at an impressive and rare 98%. 

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

3899067453 414859d777 bFor all the rom-com lovers out there, this one’s for you. Although Bridget Jones would be nothing without Helen Fielding’s novels, the version Renee Zellwegger brings to the big screen is just perfection. These are cheesy and quintessentially British movies, but for anyone who loves this genre, they’re a must-see. 

5. Emma, Jane Austen

emmaJane Austen is a wonderfully witty writer, but unless you’re well versed in her style of writing, her humour can sometimes go misunderstood. If you haven’t found yourself able to enjoy an Austen novel, perhaps finding the language too old-fashioned, then you’ll love the movies. Emma, which hit cinemas in 2020, is a perfect example of a book bogged down by language but one that does have a funny little tale beneath it. 

6. The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks

the notebookThe most romantic movie of all time is based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, who has made a living out of writing such stories. However, the film, starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, far surpasses the novel. Had the film never existed, the book would have done just fine, but maybe it’s seeing Ally and Noah come to life that just makes the film so much better than the book. 

7. The Children of Men, P.D. James

film and tv adaptations The Children of Men was written by P.D. James, and she introduced a radical version of the world in her novel, but it somehow just translated better through film. This story, where men are infertile, and no child has been born for 18 years, shows the human race on the brink of collapse, until a new hope is discovered, and must be protected at all costs. 

8. Mean Girls, Rosalind Wiseman

5769151705 0f6dc9c391 bIt is shocking to think that Mean Girls is based on a book called Queen Bees and Wannabes, a guide on how to navigate high school. Tina Fey, an actress and comedian, took the book and using some personal experience, wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls, which became something of a cultural phenomenon. Even 16 years after its initial release, its popularity is unmatched. 

9. The Wolf Of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort

wolf of wallstreetBased on the autobiography of the same name by Jordan Belfort, this is the tale of a dodgy stock broker who fixes the system and participates in illegal activity in order to make himself and his colleagues richer. Although the book is great, the movie makes it a little easier to understand, and also better shows how ridiculous the whole scam was. Even though you condemn Jordan for his actions, you can’t deny the film is incredibly entertaining. 

10. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Shailene Woodley 2018 croppedThe series Big Little Lies seemed as though it was always destined to outshine its source material given the all-star cast. Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Alexander Skarsgård are just a few of the famous actors. Meryl Streep even joined the cast for Season Two. Although the book is good, the first series is great, and expands on many of the secrets from the book. 

You can watch Big Little Lies on HBO.

11. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

46407162754 8b488cb239 bThis is not the first adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. The first came out in 1990, five years after the publication of the novel, and it was a film. It is mostly forgotten about in place of the TV series, which is currently filming its fourth season. The book is fantastic in its own right, but amazing adaptations such as these is why they continue taking books to the big screen. 

You can watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Amazon Prime.

12. Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman

oitnbThis Netflix series is based off an autobiography by Piper Kerman, detailing her time spent in a federal women’s prison when a crime she committed ten years prior is discovered. The series quickly developed, focusing on more than just Piper, and was hugely successful for its seven seasons. One of the best tv adaptations to come from a book. 

You can watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

Leave in the comments what adaptations you think are better than their source material. Stay tuned for the follow up article with all the adaptations that are on par with the books.

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About the author

Katy Thornton

Katy is a Creative Writing graduate from UCD who freelance writes and is currently working on her debut novel.

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