Is the Book Really Better Than the Movie?
Posted by Patrick on February 22, 2013 Source: Goodreads
Half of this year’s ten Best Picture nominees are based on books: Lincoln (adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals), Life of Pi (from Yann Martel’s novel), Silver Linings Playbook (from Matthew Quick’s book), Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, by way of Broadway), and Argo (based on both Antonio J. Mendez’s autobiography The Master of Disguise and Joshuah Bearman’s article from Wired). But the jump from page to screen isn’t always so successful. Too many times we leave the theater sighing and saying, “The book was better.” Of course, the opposite is sometimes true. Occasionally a story is so well adapted that it will outshine the original source material. Ever hear of the 1979 thriller Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp? It spawned the movie Die Hard, which has gone on to become one of the most memorable movie franchises of the last 30 years. “Yippee-ki-yay!” indeed.
Here’s the big question: Is the book really better than the movie? In our search for an answer, we looked at more than 300 books and the movies made from them to determine whether the adaptations generally received better or worse reviews than their counterparts. For the books, we used our average rating (found on every book page on Goodreads). For the movies, we used the Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating.
In general, people liked the books in our sample set better than the movies, giving the books an average rating of 3.94 stars while rating the movies just 3.59. This makes sense, though, as one would imagine that relatively few unpopular books get adapted into movies.
By analyzing the movies to see which ones had higher ratings than the book they were based on and ordering them by the size of the difference in ratings, we were able to calculate exactly which adaptations were significantly better on the screen. The results are somewhat surprising:
Two of the top 10 adaptations from our list are nominated for Best Picture this year— the movie version of Life of Pi outpaced its book source material by a considerable margin and Argo trails only The Social Network for highest ratings discrepancy. Even though only one of the adaptations on our list won Best Picture (despite eight of the ten being nominated), we’re betting on Argo to beat the odds and take home the big award.
And then there are the adaptations that maybe should’ve stayed on the page. When it comes to book-based movies that have disappointed us, the lesson seems to be “Do not mess with our childhood memories!” Either that or “Do not mess with Dr. Seuss!” Children’s movies dominate the list of worst adaptations.
Do you have a favorite book-to-movie adaptation? How about one you’d rather forget ever happened? And who do you think will take home Oscar gold?