I’m sure you’ve uttered the phrase, “The book was way better than the movie” after seeing a film based on a book. I know I’ve said it before; in fact, I’ve said it so many times, I don’t even bother saying it anymore.
Why are books, 99% of the time, always better than the movie they’re based on?
I’m sure if we conducted a poll, the vast majority of people would agree. They might say: “The movie was good, but I think the book was better.” Or, “They changed this in the movie.” Or, “So much more happened in the book.”
There are two main reasons why books are better than their movie counterparts: time and your imagination.
Books are better than movies because of limited time
When you read a book, you might take a day, a week, a month, two months or several months to finish it. You read at your own pace and in your own time. You can read at lunch or while you have a break during the day or evening. You can’t do that with a movie. If you see a movie at the cinema, you need to sit there for 2 to 3 hours without a pause button.
To put it bluntly, there’s only so long you can sit and watch a movie
Let’s take an example of an epic book and an epic movie, or rather a series of movies. Let’s look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This is a trilogy of books that sprouted a trilogy of movies directed by Peter Jackson.
I’ve read The Lord of the Rings a couple of times, and it’s a long read. I’ve watched all the movies several times, and while they cop a bit of criticism I still enjoyed them.
If you’ve never read them I can give you some context as to why the movies will never be better than the books: The timeline of the trilogy spans decades. Often Tolkien will give great detail as to what each character is thinking, doing and saying. How can you do this in a movie? How can you represent every event, thought and happening in a 3-hour movie? You can’t. Things will get left out, and this will upset some people.
As you can’t include every event of the book in the movie the book will always feel like it’s better
Details are often missed in movies
People often complain that certain characters or events from the book aren’t in the movie. This upsets them because that missing part might have had a special resonance with them. If it’s not there, it feels like something that personally connects them with the book is missing, ergo the movie isn’t complete, which makes the book feel better.
you can’t please everyone with the movie, as things are always left out
Books are better than movies because of your imagination
The primary culprit when it comes to assessing why books are better than movies is your imagination. When you read a book, mental images of the characters, how the characters sound, the landscapes and everything in the book is created by you, the reader, with the assistance of the author.
Let’s try a quick experiment. Read this short passage:
“Brian sat atop the wall he always sits on in the evening. It’s an old, crumbling and weathered wall; the kind that has moss and the occasional small plant growing on it, having been swept up there by the wind or deposited by a passing bird.
It’s a place he’s rested evening after evening, darting his eyes at passers by and occasionally talking to them, but largely his attempts go unanswered. In return for their rude actions the passersby receive a blank, unblinking stare.
As Brian sat, a new target approached, and once again he initiated communication. There was a pleading in his voice this time, the type of tone that pricks your ears and drags you out of your daydreams and commands attention. The person stopped, smiled and looked at Brian. Then he slowly reached out with his hand, Brian’s stare was unwavering. The stranger moved his hand closer to Brian’s head and was greeted with a motionless body and gaze. The man hesitated, seeming to question his own actions, but then continued to reach out and gently rest his hand on Brian’s head. He moved his hand back along Brian’s furry body. With a smile, the stranger said, “Hang on old boy, I’ll find you some food”…”
Okay, so that’s not going to win any literary awards and it’s a rather silly twist: Brian is a cat. But there are still a lot of things you make up in your head as you read. The wall might be conjured from your own experience or memory of a similar wall. What bricks did it have? What colour? How big? The types of plants growing in it and indeed the birds that were involved will be different. Even if I’d described them they’d still be different from person to person.
And what of Brian himself? I think initially it might have invoked an image of someone you know with the same name. Oy maybe you thought of an older person, perhaps an old and weathered man similar to the wall. Perhaps he’s a loner, or an outcast, considering no one really talks to him. Perhaps he’s a little bit unstable or menacing because of his ‘unblinking stare’ and ability to be distracted so quickly. You may empathise with how Brian might be feeling, using your personal experience as a reference point, particularly if you’ve ever been in a similar situation. What did the man look like? When you found out it’s a cat, what did the cat look like?
the author tells the story, but your imagination creates the world in which that story is set
Tolkien could spend thousands of words describing the epic scenery the fellowship were walking through. The level of detail is astounding from the peaks of the mountains to the drips of water from the leaves. Literally pages and pages of it. It’s a wonderland for your imagination, and a movie just won’t create what your own mind can come up with, most of the time anyway.
This is why books are better than movies
Our mind and imagination are powerful, and each person will have a slightly different image in their head of all the different aspects of the book. When a filmmaker creates a film, they’re doing it with their idea of what it should look like and how it should sound. Ultimately this means that 99% of the time, a movie will never be as good as the book, because the book is your world, while the movie is someone else’s.
your own mind is why books are better than movies
As our mind is such a fascinating thing, you might be interested in these posts: One big reason why mindfulness isn’t as good as you think and the meaning of “back to reality” and how to conquer it. Also, have a look at dozens of other great mind and life hacks on my self development page.