The book is always better than the movie. Except when it isn’t. From Mario Puzo’s The Godfather to Larry McMurty’s Terms of Endearment, sometimes classic novels are turned into just as memorable films. The following list of 10 books that were made into great movies include bestselling novels, Academy Award-winning films and works of art that have stood the test of time. So the question is – which is better? The book or the movie. You be the judge.
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
One of the top three films of all-time according to the American Film Institute, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather introduced American audiences to Italian criminal terms like Cosa Nostra and Omerta for the first time. But The Godfather wasn’t a breakout hit until Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation three years later. The classic novel covers the backstory of Vito Corleone and outlines the fictional Corleone mafia family in New York City. Copolla’s classic, starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan won three Oscars and established a new genre of film.
Holes – Louis Sachar
Academy Award-nominated actress Sigourney Weaver signed on for the film adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel Holes because it was one of her daughter’s favorite books. The story of Stanley Yelnats who digs holes in the hot sun each day at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center in the sunburned wasteland of Texas. When Stanley (played by a young Shia LaBeouf in the film) discovers that the warden (played by Weaver) is seeking something specific in the desert, the plot thickens. The book won numerous awards and continues to be a bestseller, while the movie opened to critical acclaim in 2003, grossing $67 million in total.
The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
A romantic’s favorite (the book and the film), The Notebook is the story of a poor young man who falls in love with a wealthy young woman who’s family disapproves of her suitor’s background. The Southern-fried tale of love-lost-and-found-again revolves around time-honored romantic dilemma: will beautiful Allison Nelson (played by Rachel McAdams in the film) stay with Mr. Respectability (to whom she happens to be engaged), or will she choose Noah (played by Ryan Gosling), the romantic she left so many years ago? The 2004 film grossed more than $115 million worldwide and helped catapult McAdams and Gosling into the Hollywood stratosphere.
Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption – Stephen King
Two of Stephen King’s best-loved film adaptations come from very un-Stephen-King-like short stories contained in the collection Different Seasons. The Body (later adapted to Stand By Me) and The Shawshank Redemption (adapted from Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption) are film classics, shown regularly on television and quoted from endlessly by film buffs, more than living up to the literary source material. Forty-one King novels and stories have been adapted for the silver screen, including countless short films and TV miniseries, but Stand By Me and The Shawkshank Redemption are two that have stood the test of time.
A Beautiful Mind – Sylvia Nasar
The compelling true tale of mathematical genius John Nash and his descent into madness made for a great read when Sylvia Nasar’s book was released in 1998. The film of the same name starring Russell Crowe came out in 2001 and was as much of a hit, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Jennifer Connelly. The drama of the mystery of the human mind, whether played out on the page or on the big screen, resonated with fans of literature and film making this one of the more successful movies from a book of all time.
Terms of Endearment – Larry McMurtry
Famous novelist Larry McMurtry created two unforgettable characters in his classic novel Terms of Endearment – Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma – winning over fans of the novel well before Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger stepped into the roles of Aurora and Emma. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora (MacLaine) adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma’s hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer. The film adaptation also starred Jack Nicholson as Garrett Breedlove, Danny DeVito as Vernon Dahlart, Jeff Daniels as Flap Horton and John Lithgow as Sam Burns. The film captured five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actress for MacLaine and remains a classic tearjerker decades after its original release.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Rarely has a book’s tone translated so well to the big screen as in Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road. The bleak tale of a father and son traveling to the coast in postapocalyptic America, McCarthy’s prose was painted wide and grey on celluloid. Though the film wasn’t a critical hit, the skill with which McCarthy’s words were translated to film made both experiences – the read or the 111-minute runtime – a desolate and moving experience.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel is an epic work tracing the intersection of four damaged lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II. The nurse Hana, the thief Caravaggio, the Indian sapper Kip and the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, who is a riddle to his companions. The film was a critical hit, sweeping the Academy Awards with nine Oscars including Best Picture, and grossed more than $231 million worldwide. The film established Ralph Fiennes as a bonifide romantic lead and was a breakout role for Naveen Andrews.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
The unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest brought Nurse Ratched, Randle Patrick McMurphy and Chief Bromden to the world. Originally published in 1962, the classic novel was adapted into a movie more than a decade later starring Jack Nicholson as the rebellious McMurphy – a role that would help define him as one of the most promising actors of the 1970s. Cuckoo’s Nest earned five Academy Awards include a Best Actor accolade for Nicholson and Best Picture. A classic of American literature and film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will be enjoyed in any form.
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
Who would have thought that the story of four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a club know as the Joy Luck Club, playing mahjong for money while telling stories and feasting, would create such a lasting tale? Amy Tan’s novel turned romantic film classic was written in 1989 and adapted for the screen four years later. The novel was a bestseller and the film grossed $33 million worldwide.
What are your thoughts? Can you think of other great movies from books? Leave your comments below and add to our list.