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Can A Terrible Book Make A Great Movie?

by Ria Misra

A great book doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie, but can a great movie come from a not-so-great book?

In response to this review of the newest addition to the Hunger Gamesmovie trilogy, commenter SmoothieKing asked a question: Can a book you didn’t enjoy be turned into a movie you do enjoy? Sure, said some commenters, in fact in some cases a book that didn’t speak to you may make a better on-screen prompt than a book that you loved



While I thoroughly disagree with your assessment of Mockingjay the book, the answer is, yes, a “bad” book can be made into a good movie (although it might be more accurate to say a mediocre or forgettable book). In fact, it’s probably easier to make a good movie out of a mediocre book than a great book, because among other things a) good actors can breathe life into characters that are pretty flat on the page, b) the filmmakers don’t feel as pressured to treat a mediocre pot-boiler as gospel compared to a much beloved classic, and c) in general, pulpier stories often rely on visceral things like action and exotic settings, and good directors, art departments, and SFX crews can really outdo the writer with these.

Some examples:

Almost no one remembers the book Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was based on.

The Godfather removes a whole fifth of the original novel (a terrible and pointless side story about Sonny’s mistress getting vaginal surgery) and moves a few flashbacks about young Vito Corleone to the second movie, where it’s paired with new material about Michael’s reign as patriarch of the Corleone family. This was all to the betterment of the film series. It helped that Mario Puzo was so willing to take a hatchet to his own novel when he co-wrote the screenplay.

Chuck Palahniuk thought the film version of Fight Club was actually better than his book in some ways.

King’s Ransom was just one of Ed McBain’s dozens of 87th Precinct police procedurals. Akira Kurosawa adapted it into the extremely well-received High and Low.

Casablanca was based on the “world’s worst play” but is now one of the most highly-regarded and beloved classics of Golden Age Hollywood.

What do you think? Are there books that you hated that became movies you loved? Or even just movies where you heartily prefer the onscreen characters with their written-word equivalents? Tell us about them — and what made them work — in the comments.

(via io9)

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