Open Questions

Open Questions: Books Into Movies, For Better Or Worse

Computer-aged Brad Pitt in 'Benjamin Button'

You Mustn't Read This: Linda didn't much like Benjamin Button, but there are those who argue the movie's still better than the book. photocredit hide caption

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The literati can't stand to hear it, but sometimes a movie is better than the book it's based on. Even when the book is pretty good: Jaws comes to mind. And, arguably, Forrest Gump.

This year theaters are teeming with movies based on books. And some reviewers who've had a look at both are saying that the movies are better.

Take The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The tale, about a man who ages in reverse, is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

"Having seen the movie and read the story," writes Fritz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle, "I'd say there's no comparison. As a book guy it pains me to admit it, but the movie is better. A lot better."

The film critic for the Montreal Gazette, meanwhile, avers that the movie Slumdog Millionaire is better than the Vikas Swarup book it's based on.

When it's the other way around, after the jump ...

Of course Hollywood takes plenty of great books and turns them into schlocky movies. Willing Davidson, writing in Slate, says Revolutionary Road, "is both the worst movie I saw this year and one of the best novels I've read."

So why do some books make for better movies than others?

"Books with fairly direct plots, strong characters, and clear themes" work best onscreen, says NPR film critic Bob Mondello.

But offhand, he couldn't think of any movies that were better than the books that inspired them. Can you? Gone With the Wind, perhaps? Catch-22? Brideshead Revisited?

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