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?
There are two main reasons why books are better than movies: The first is time – book timelines and the physical length of time of a movie are both factors. The primary culprit, however, is your imagination. Let me explain these two things.
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. 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.
Why does this matter? Due to the limited time frames of your average movie, and due to our own limited attention span, the filmmaker literally doesn’t have enough time to put everything from the book into the movie. This will naturally make the book seem ‘better’. A book has got everything in it, the movie doesn’t.
TO PUT IT BLUNTLY, THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH ‘STUFF’ YOU CAN FIT IN A MOVIE
Books can span decades in great detail, movies can’t
Let’s look at the 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.
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, over a hundred years in fact. Often Tolkien will give great detail as to what each character is thinking, doing and saying, often delving into the history of why the character is doing that. 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. Hence, the books are better than the movies.
As you can’t include every event of the book in the movie the book will always feel like it’s better
Personal details are often missed in movies
People often complain that certain characters or events from a 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 in the book is missing, ergo the movie isn’t complete, which makes the book feel better.
it’s impossible for the director to know every personal resonance the book had for you
Books are better than movies because of your imagination
The primary culprit when it comes to understanding why books are better than movies is your imagination. When you read a book, mental images of the characters, how the characters sound, how the landscapes look and what the world is like is created by you, the reader.
How does your imagination work?
To understand this, let’s do a quick and fun experiment. See how you feel after reading the next couple of paragraphs from a book.
“Brian sat atop the wall he always sits on in the evening. It’s an old, crumbling and weathered wall; the kind of wall that has moss and the occasional small plant growing out of it.
At this place Brian has 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 passers-by receive a blank, unblinking stare…”
Okay, what are you imagining? Do you see an old crazy man sitting on a wall who people ignore? Do you see a younger man who is happy and trying to be chirpy to others? Do you see an armed guard ordering people along? There might be too little information at this stage, but already your mind is picturing something, which is largely based on your own experiences. Continue reading the story.
“As Brian sat, a new person approached, and once again he initiated communication. There was a pleading in Brian’s 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 towards Brian’s unwavering stare. As the stranger moved his hand closer to Brian he was greeted with a motionless body and gaze, as if he was ready to lash out in self defense. The man hesitated, seeming to question his own actions, but then continued and gently rested his hand on Brian’s head. He moved his hand back along Brian’s body and Brian arched his back up. With a smile, the stranger said, “Hang on old boy, I’ll find you some food”…”
Okay, so that story has a rather silly twist: Brian is a cat, and it’s not from a book, I made it up. But that’s not the point, there are still a lot of things you imagine in your head as you read: Who or what is Brian? Why are people ignoring him? What is Brian doing? What’s the wall like? The bricks? The plants/sounds/brightness/atmosphere? Everything!
Your imagination is creating the world and everything in it.
Books are utterly personal to you
As we just demonstrated with my Booker Prize winning short story, when you read something you are the person filling in the detail. You are the person making the world, and often it’s based around your own experiences. When you watch a movie the director is dictating what everything is like. For this reason it’s practically impossible for a movie to be as good as a book.
the author tells the story, but your imagination creates the world from your own experiences and interests
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 can’t create what your own mind can come up with.
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 reading more articles about it. Things like one big reason why mindfulness isn’t as good as you think, the meaning of “back to reality” and how to conquer it and the secret to getting and keeping good things in life might interest you.
Or you can have a look at dozens of other great mind and life hacks on my self development page. Happy reading! And watching.