Kenneth Branagh's claustrophobic, all-star mystery Murder on The Orient Express is scheduled to arrive in Cineworld on 3rd November and, if we’re going by the quality of the Agatha Christie novel it’s based on, we’re in for a thrilling ride.
Adapting a screenplay from a novel is no easy feat considering that films and literature are two completely different methods of storytelling. This is why some adaptations aren’t quite able to recapture the magic of their source material and why fans hold the books with such high regard.
However, there are films that have surpassed the quality of the original novels. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these five films that were better than the books they were based on.
5. Drive (2011)
This was the film that put director Nicholas Winding Refn on the international map and showed the world that star Ryan Gosling was more than just another Hollywood heartthrob.
Drive is an acclaimed cinematic masterpiece but you probably didn’t know that it’s adapted from a 2006 novel of the same name by James Sallis. The reason you were most likely unaware of this piece of trivia is because Sallis’ novel went under the radar with an underwhelming critical reception.
Sallis’ novel may not have been a literary masterpiece, but it was a fascinating character study nonetheless. Luckily for us, however, it caught the eye of film producer Adam Siegel who, along with Marc Platt, kickstarted a film adaptation written by Hossein Amini. Gosling was soon attached who was largely responsible for hiring Refn and the rest, as they say, is history.
4. Die Hard (1988)
Now widely regarded as a part of every cinephile’s Christmas tradition, Die Hard is the quintessential example of a timeless all-out action classic. Being the film that has both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in arguably their best roles, it might be surprising to learn that Die Hard was inspired by Roderick Thorp’s 1972 novel Nothing Lasts Forever.
While the novel’s set-up is largely the same, there are many subtle changes made for the film adaptation: the hero was originally called Joe Leland (which sounds more Twin Peaks than action hero); the besieged skyscraper belonged to an oil company; it was Leland’s daughter at the Christmas party; and the villain was called Anton “Little Tony” Gruber, which doesn’t sound as intimidating as Hans Gruber.
Moreover, the book had the added twist that Leland and Gruber’s rivalry traced back to WWII. Die Hard may have been based on Thorp’s novel, but we can all agree the movie completely overshadowed the novel that inspired it.
3. The Godfather (1972)
Hailed by many critics and scholars as one of, if not the, definitive example of modern American cinema, Francis Ford Coppola’s crime drama The Godfather is a welcome addition to this list.
Adapted from the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo, which introduced many of the mafioso terms we know today into the English language, the film adheres to its source material faithfully with the exception of adding a bleaker ending and omitting some character backstories (some of which were filmed but only added to later releases of the film).
There’s nothing wrong with Puzo’s novel (we’d say it’s great), but when the cinematic adaptation won three Oscars and spawned a sequel which won six, we need to give the point to the film. Furthermore, having Puzo co-write the screenplay with Coppola was a sure way to make this adaptation an offer we couldn’t refuse.
2. Forrest Gump (1994)
Based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump is the story of the titular character’s life; a simple but kindhearted man who leads an extraordinary life despite his low IQ.
Snagging six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis' film adapation of Forrest Gump is a heart-warming classic we recommend you see if you haven’t already. Usually, film adaptations aren’t able to squeeze in everything included in the book but, in the case of Gump, this was a good thing.
Many of Forrest’s adventures are included in the film from playing college football, serving in Vietnam, and entering a ping-pong championship but the book didn’t stop there. In the book, Forest went on to work for NASA, become a chess champion, and have a career as a professional wrestler.
These would’ve been a little too silly for the film’s (slightly) more serious tone, as scripted by Eric Roth. Moreover, the book doesn’t begin with Alan Silvestri's stunning Feather Theme, so that’s another point to the film.
1. The Shining (1980)
With IT having recently terrified audiences worldwide, it’s only fitting that we include what’s arguably the most celebrated Stephen King adaptation: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. We’re huge fans of King’s work but even King himself has admitted that he isn’t the greatest of wordsmiths.
Interestingly, however, Kubrick’s version differs massively from King’s 1977 novel on several key plot points. For example, both iconic phrases “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” and “Here’s Johnny” never featured in the novel. The endings, too, are entirely different. King famously loathed Kubrick’s film for not being faithful to his book and later produced his own mini-series adaptation.
It may not have been true to the novel, but Kubrick’s version of The Shining is what happens when a great story is adapted by a great filmmaker; every artistic decision was done to achieve a phenomenal film adaptation and that is what great adaptations should do.
Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.