Rooster Cogburn

Sorry Bookworms, These Movies Were Better Than the Books

You might want to turn the air conditioner on because you’re about to hear some hot takes. We all love books. Obviously. They’re a brain playground. You don’t need to hire actors or pay for special effects or put on 3D glasses. You can just turn a page and, boom, you’re in a brand new world.


But sometimes, very infrequently, the story a book tells is better suited for film. The key word there is infrequently. I’d challenge you to think of as many adaptations as you can where you preferred the movie to the book. Bet you can’t think of more than two or three! That said, here are mine…


1. True Grit (Charles Portis) vs. True Grit (the Coen brothers)


'True Grit' cover

Image Via Amazon


Portis’ novel may be the most enjoyable book ever written. It’s emotional, smart, creative, and extremely funny. And it’s a Western! From top to bottom, it’s total entertainment. It’s not too long either. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. And it is very welcome. Mattie Ross’ voice can’t be shook. Spend a day in her head, and that’s how you’ll see the world. Through the eyes of whip-smart Mattie as she recounts her plucky fourteen-year-old self. And Rooster Cogburn.


Why the movie is better…



It’s not that the book is bad. It’s one of my favorites. It’s just that the movie so precisely captures everything in Portis’ novel. Hailee Steinfeld is Mattie Ross. Jeff Bridges is Rooster Cogburn. The trial scene with Rooster is absolutely hilarious. The ending is heartbreaking, but also uplifting in just the right way. Certain scenes from the book that the Coens skip are replaced with precision, and the dramatic movement doesn’t suffer for their missing. The Coens get Portis’ already stunning novel so right that it comes to life in an extremely accurate way. True Grit is book adaptations done right.


2. Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) vs. Fight Club (David Fincher)


'Fight Club' cover

Image Via Amazon


If you say Palahniuk out loud, the last syllable sounds like “yuck.” That’s because he’s a writer who takes great pleasure in being absolutely repulsive. If you disagree, I submit his short story ‘Guts’ as evidence. Fight Club might not reach the same levels of horrific heaviness as ‘Guts,’ but it’s still a tough read. Some like his style. I don’t.


Why the movie is better…



Palahniuk’s book is very psychological, but it’s a tough one to visualize. It’s also tough to imagine how the characters sound, behave, exist, etc. Giving the book visuals makes the characters more entertaining to watch do their thing. Plus, it’s by far Brad Pitt’s best performance. Tyler Durden! Plus, Palahniuk himself prefers the movie. In fact, he prefers it so much that he’s actually a little embarrassed of the book. Speaking to DVD Talk, Palahniuk said:


Now that I see the movie, especially when I sat down with Jim Uhls and record a commentary track for the DVD, I was sort of embarrassed of the book, because the movie had streamlined the plot and made it so much more effective and made connections that I had never thought to make.


3. High Fidelity (Nick Hornby) vs. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears)


'High Fidelity' cover

Image Via Amazon


Hornby’s book is a warm-hearted romance that’s also legitimately funny. The thing is, the main character owns a record store and it’s a book. Books can’t put music in your head, as much as Hornby would like.


Why the movie is better…



John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jack Black. Two out of three of those names were in School of Rock, so High Fidelity is awesome by association. But, also, you can hear the music. And the music is cool. There’s a great dig against Belle & Sebastian (which is a hilarious band to hate on because they’re so profoundly inoffensive). The music is indispensable to telling this story, and director Stephen Frears did a great job curating a killer soundtrack.


4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) vs. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)


'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' cover

Image Via Amazon


Larsson’s book is harrowing and mysterious. It’s a classic page turner. The mystery keeps you hooked, but sometimes Larsson does get caught up in tangents. Some of the passages about Lisbeth’s backstory can get tedious, for example.


Why the movie is better…



Both are good, but, again, Fincher just understands something about adapting popular books. Fight Club, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. His deliberate moodiness, carefully composed shots, and grueling imagery add so much Larsson’s already memorable story. The mystery is riveting and Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander is insane. There’s also the world’s best use of an Enya song near the end. Actually, second best…



This list only has four pieces, by the way, because the books are almost always better. But you already knew that.


Feature Image Via Skydance Pictures