I’ve no lack of reviews to write, but the weather is so hot and stuffy I just want to go into revelry instead of entering “Deep Thoughts” mode. So this is the perfect time for a Listopia post with my list of the ten best movies which were BETTER than the book.

I don’t subscribe to the dogma that all books are always better than their adaptation. Sometimes a story and its characters just shine a brighter on screen. That being said, it was only after completing the list that I realize I always saw these movie before reading the books. There’s a clear pattern here.

(PS:  I don’t know about you, but Best Adapted Screenplay is my favorite Oscar category)

#1 Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk


By the time I read Fight Club I’d already read my favorite Palahniuks so ended up short of impressed. It was his first book and I guess he was still trying to get to grips with his style.

It was with this movie that Helena Bonham Carter played for the first time the wacky-women type that just stuck with her (e.g. Bellatrix Lestrange, the girl in the Sweeny Todd).

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: Pixies singing “Where is my mind” while the world is ending.

#2 Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

This movie deviated quite a bit from the book, but it’s still a great Miyazaki. I did have more fun with it than the book, which was nice but didn’t deliver the magic I got from Studio Ghibli’s amazing colors and scenarios.

I’m afraid I’d probably feel the same thing if I ever decided to read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, Ghibli’s latest adaptation.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: The climb up the Castle’s stairs.

#3 The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The book’s first part was so good that by itself it wouldn’t make this list, but the second (after Celie found Nettie’s letters) didn’t grab me enough.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: Shug returns to church.

#4 The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I can’t get tired of this movie and the first time I saw it I thought: what an amazing book this must be. Alas, the book and I didn’t hit it off, and I guiltily know it’s because I was expecting the story to be exactly as the adaptation. I had a hard time accepting that Maugham chose not to have Walter and Walter fall in love.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: Walter shows Kitty the watermill.

#5 The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Its movies like this that create perfect childhood memories. How could Ende compete with puppy-headed Luck Dragon? He replaced the pony-fantasy of every kid who saw him. I still think today that I might name a future son Bastian.

The book is interesting but a bit too long and moralistic. Also,  I suspect the translation doesn’t to justice to its elaborate twists and turns.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: Luck Dragon’s face & voice.

*Alex hums Limahl*

#6 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje


One of my favorite movies, which not even Ondaatje’s beautiful prose could dethrone.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: Kip shows Hana the frescos in an abandoned church.

#7 The Commitments by Roddy Doyle


The book was ok, but very short and didn’t allow as much characterization as the movie did. Still, it was the music that made the movie surpass the novel, big time. One of my favorite soundtracks.

Favorite not-in-the-book moments: “What are your influences?”

#8 Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

I gave up on the book half-way through it. It was a similar experience to The Painted Veil: the movie created expectation which the book didn’t live up to.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment:  Karen tells the story of the wandering Chinese.

#9 The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré

The movie had an emotional punch that Le Carré almost detached tone couldn’t match. I’m not a big fan of spy stories/thrillers, but the movie managed to be oh so much more than that. My girl-crush with Rachel Weisz started here.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: pregnant Tess walks around Nairobi. 

#10 The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The movie gives pace to Cooper’s slow burning narration (so dry, so dry…). Have you read Mark Twain’s essay criticizing Cooper? Is as hilarious as only a sharp review written by a smart person can be. A great example:

Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

Favorite not-in-the-book moment: “No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive… You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.” *sigh*

What are yours?

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