Why Is The Book Always Better Than The Movie?

June 20, 2012

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It’s a common scene – you’ll come out of a movie and someone will say “It was OK, but I liked the book better.”  It’s far less common to hear someone say that they liked a movie better.  Why is this the case?  There are several reasons.


White House Front

Cost to use this house as the setting for your novel? FREE!

Writers can just make up shit with no regard to any sort of budget.  Want a fighter jet flying over a, erupting volcano and having the pilot eject before it crashes into the ocean?  Give a talented writer a thousand words or so, and she can set this scene and you’ll be able to visualize the scene in your mind.  Total cost to the writer?  $0.  It doesn’t matter if the main character lives in a weather-beaten shack or a huge mansion – the cost to use the home is the exact same to the writer.  

Additionally, the writer is actually offloading a big chunk of the work onto your brain.  She’s making use of your own imagination and prior knowledge.  You already know what a jet, volcano, and ocean look like.  There’s not need to spend time on the most basic descriptions. 

On the other hand, the movie is a visual (rather than abstract) presentation.  The director can’t simply describe the jet, the volcano, and the ocean.  He needs to actually procure the use of a jet, get footage of an erupting volcano, and find a way to fake a crash landing into an ocean.  This costs money.  In modern film making, an even bigger cost is special effects.  Effects that a novelist can describe with a few pages of well-crafted text can cost millions of dollars to bring to life on the screen.

In the end, the film maker is forced to make some concessions.  To bring every single detail to life could cost hundreds or millions – or even billions – of dollars.  At some point, a line has to be drawn in the sand.


When Tom Cruise was selected as the actor who would portray Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character in the upcoming film One Shot, many Reacher fans were aghast.  Reacher is a big guy – 6’5″ and 200+ pounds of pure muscle.  Tom Cruise is officially listed at 5’7″.  It seems to not be a great fit for the role.  Lee Child’s comment on the selection was that Reacher’s size was more of a metaphor than to be taken literally.  One can’t help but wonder if financial considerations came into play.

We’ve all seen movies where actors were a bad fit for a role – or simply had poor acting skills.  Again, a novelist offloads work to your brain when it comes to casting.  While every novelist will describe physical features of a character – some more than others – no author is going to describe every single aspect.  Much will be left to your imagination, and your can mold the characters to fit your preferences.  With a movie, you’re stuck with the bums who were cast for the roles.


Finally, the book has the element of surprise on its side.  While I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Hunger Games and even enjoyed the casting, I definitely wasn’t surprised at various twists and turns during the movie.  How could I be?  I had read the book, so I always knew when they were coming.  In fact, I used my knowledge of the plot to time my mid-movie pit stop (long movie + previews + large soda) so that I didn’t miss any good parts.  When I read the book, these plot twists were just that – surprises.

I’ve come to accept the fact that most movies are not going to be as good as the book – through no fault of the director.  If a movie is “almost as good” as a book, I consider it to be a pretty good movie.


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One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Martin Kelly
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:13:33

    It took a long time, but I think I have identified a movie that was better than the book. “I am Legend” was a much bettter movie than story. Part of this is because the story in the movies is only very loosly based on the original written work.


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