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Which is Better? The Book or the Movie?

Jack Reacher

It's the age old questionwhich is better: the book or the movie? Most readers usually say the book but why is that? Is it because the book came first? Is it because you spend two hours watching a movie, but days reading a book?

Reading can give you a deeper understanding of what’s going on by providing a detailed backstory and a character’s thoughts. As a result we, as readers, create our own picture of a character when we read a book. When a reader connects with a book on this level, it can be an intense experience where we feel like the character themselves instead of the tangential reader, simply soaking up a good story. This type of connection can lead to unrealistically high expectations when a story is adapted to a film—a much more visual, nuanced medium—where moviemakers will omit or combine events and characters, or make up something new, to edit the story to a manageable time.

As a consequence, we see countless articles and, these days, social media posts about how readers aren't satisfied. Fans of author Lee Child grappled with the idea of Tom Cruise as the 6ft. 5in. Jack Reacher. Fans of Harry Potter missed out on seeing the friendship between Sirius Black and Crookshanks in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because of time constraints. And sometimes moviemakers overlook or accept inaccuracies that can make the most persnickety reader dissatisfied. For example, readers have expressed disappointment over the English accents favored in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast live-action film as the story originally took place in France. Examples such as these sometimes reinforce the uncomfortable idea that our experiences in reading fiction are, in fact, fictional.

So what about movies that are nominated for an Oscar as best adapted screenplay? Do these films somehow defy the odds and stand on their own against the book that they are based on? Must they stay absolutely true to the inspiration they are based on or is good writing simply good writing? Tell us whether or not you've seen these films yet and if you think the movie lives up to the book.

This year’s Oscar nominees based on published books:

Arrival – Stories of Your Life and Others/ Chiang, Ted

Fences – Fences (included in the book Three Plays)/ Wilson, August

Hidden Figures – Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race/ Lee Shetterly, Margot

Lion – A Long Way Home: a Memoir/ Brierley, Saroo

Previous Oscar winners for best adapted screenplay:


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