Literary Adaptations: Good, Bad, and Uglyby Tin_ear | created - 12 Jul 2013 | updated - 07 Jun 2015 | Public
Somebody once observed that movies adapted from Stephen King books are almost always better than the books themselves. Now that I've read a King novel it got me thinking. Please comment or suggest some others if you can think of any noteworthy paper-to-celluloid classics I missed.
- Instant Watch Options
- Movies or TV
- IMDb Rating
- In Theaters
- On TV
- Release Year
1. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
PG | 122 min | Drama
Disturbed Blanche DuBois moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her.
Votes: 85,399 | Gross: $8.00M
Better than the book. I cheat, this is really based on a play, but you get the idea. Stanley Kowalski & Blanche DuBois are now synonymous with Brando & Vivien Leigh, Elia Kazan trumping what was one of the hallmark dramas of the Twentieth Century when he brought it to the big screen.
2. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Not Rated | 106 min | Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery
A doomed female hitchhiker pulls Mike Hammer into a deadly whirlpool of intrigue, revolving around a mysterious "great whatsit."
Better than the book. Robert Aldrich and his screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides turn Mickey Spillane's right-wing Mike Hammer series into a left-leaning semi-parody, in what turned out to be one of the last -- and best -- of the original noirs of the golden era. I always liked how the film fully embraced the outrageousness of the genre, and wasn't afraid to provide us a hero who is largely a slimy, unsympathetic yet magnetic goon. A man with as many definable vices as virtues, who even the cops are openly contemptuous of. An accurate, unglamorous depiction of a professional bedroom snooper that Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett were too up their own ass to really delve with much honesty.
3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
PG | 161 min | Adventure, Drama, War
After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
Votes: 167,769 | Gross: $44.91M
Better than the book. It's the fine touches that allow a movie to surpass its source material. As fine a literary work as Pierre Boulle's novel was, the story inherently works better in a visual medium.
4. The Third Man (1949)
Not Rated | 93 min | Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.
Votes: 128,252 | Gross: $0.45M
Better than the book. However, there's a caveat. Graham Greene wrote the story only as an exercise to help him better craft the screenplay. The story was only published as an afterthought, in essence a kind of novelization or outline. There's the possibility Greene may have created a much better piece of literature if he'd intended it solely in that medium and taken more time and detail. The Holly Martins character (originally a Brit named Rollo) is much more fleshed out in the novella. In a reversal of the cliché in which sad books receive happy endings he also notably gets the girl in the end, part of his pathetic yet irresistible charm the film omits completely. Harry Lime's toxic charisma is explained further as well. But it's hard to imagine The Third Man without that zither, Dutch angles, and cuckoo speech.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
G | 149 min | Adventure, Sci-Fi
Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest.
Votes: 485,726 | Gross: $56.95M
Better than the book. Arthur C. Clark's The Sentinel is merely good, 2001 is great. The 1968 existentialist space epic proved that films could artistically transcend literary beginnings. The opposing trend, novelization, it must be reiterated, still remains a joke. The unusual part is that Clark has several better short stories that still remain unadapted to this day.
6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
R | 136 min | Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi
In the future, a sadistic gang leader is imprisoned and volunteers for a conduct-aversion experiment, but it doesn't go as planned.
Better than the book. A tough call, but much like Bridge on the River Kwai, this tale is begging for a bold visual expression, and Stanley Kubrick is never one to disappoint in that department. Wendy Carlos's musical score the sort of touch that heightens the elements of a script.
7. A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
117 min | Drama, History, Romance
During the turbulent days of the French Revolution, Frenchwoman Lucie Manette falls in love with Englishman Charles Darnay who's hiding his true identity and purpose.
Better than the book. The fact I liked this film and could not muster more than twenty pages of the book at very least highlights the book's failings. Charles Dickens was for all his acclaim seemingly allergic to editing or fluid pacing.
8. Re-Animator (1985)
Unrated | 105 min | Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.
Votes: 45,294 | Gross: $2.02M
Better than the book. This 1985 horror-shocker-comedy is flawed but head-and-shoulders above most of the franchised horror films of the decade and the pedestrian H.P. Lovecraft serial it originates. The film is less emphatic on the Herbert West character's philosophical motivations and paranoia than the short story, which provide the title role badly needed depth. The original story crucially links West's quest to disprove the 'myth' of the soul with his apparent lack or disavowal of his own. However the film version is much more fun.
9. Blade Runner (1982)
R | 117 min | Sci-Fi, Thriller
A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator.
Votes: 560,022 | Gross: $27.00M
Better than the book. Nobody would disagree that Philip K. Dick was anything but a deranged, self-indulgent writer. That is very much his charm and the source of his writing ability. Many searching out the source novel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, will be amused at just how restrained and conventional the film is in comparison. And though some of Dick's plot devices and twists, such as the New Age religion 'Mercerism' and the parallel police department (which seem to both merit and belong to a separate novel entirely) were wisely jettisoned from the film script, one does appreciate the film's themes immensely more after reading the novel. I'd go as far as to suggest it is essential reading for any Blade Runner or sci-fi fan.
10. Carrie (1976)
R | 98 min | Horror
Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
Votes: 139,634 | Gross: $33.80M
Better than the book. The '76 Brian de Palma film is both more economical and scary than the Stephen King novel. The '74 book notably having an anti-climactic, clinical feel that reduces Carrie's superpowers to 'Mitochlorians.' Though King's incredible twist on the New England witch mythology -- in this case a self-mortifying puritan-witch among hedonistic persecutors -- is worth reading for fans of the movie. Also, without the book, it's easy to lose the obvious subtext of the story, King's slightly pedantic endorsement of sex education. Because nobody should ever be ashamed of their 'dirty pillows.'
11. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Unrated | 170 min | Adventure, Drama, History
During the Spanish Civil War, an American allied with the Republicans finds romance during a desperate mission to blow up a strategically important bridge.
Votes: 6,917 | Gross: $17.80M
Equal to the book. In many ways the perfect adaptation of a novel. Gary Cooper was basically the perfect encapsulation of Ernest Hemingway's prototypical protagonists. It's hard for me to imagine the strong, silent Cooper ever uttering more than six words in a single sentence in his entire life. Luckily Hemingway was renown for short choppy dialogue.
12. Malcolm X (1992)
PG-13 | 202 min | Biography, Drama, History
Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
Votes: 70,141 | Gross: $48.17M
Equal to the book. The acting and direction is top shelf, though the cheesy, uplifting ending does seem to gloss over the fact that most of Malcolm X's adult life was admittedly wasted in self-destructive hustling, in a deluded state of bitter compensation in the form of hatred not moral empowerment. (Despite the brilliantly provocative though slightly ironic marketing campaign, the titular hero found only liberation as 'Malcolm X' but truer enlightenment as Malik al-Shabazz.) The critical climax of his biography, written by Alex Haley, is the revelation that he has been led astray and now betrayed by his false idol which he helped build up. A truth that only came to fruition in the months before his assassination.
13. The Remains of the Day (1993)
PG | 134 min | Drama, Romance
A butler who sacrificed body and soul to service in the years leading up to World War II realizes too late how misguided his loyalty was to his lordly employer.
Votes: 50,967 | Gross: $22.95M
Equal to the book.
14. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Not Rated | 112 min | Drama, Sci-Fi
In an oppressive future, a fireman whose duty is to destroy all books begins to question his task.
Equal to the book. Francois Truffaut was known for his adaptations of literature and historical figures. The French director/writer had an interesting relationship with the medium considering he chose the unconventional route of composing his own autobiography in the form of the Antoine Doinel series. Hidden among the themes of his movies also feature many deeply personal narratives which he often repeated: unrequited love, loathing of the divisive power of politics, childhood abandonment, a love of art, etc.
15. Serpico (1973)
R | 130 min | Biography, Crime, Drama
An honest New York cop named Frank Serpico blows the whistle on rampant corruption in the force only to have his comrades turn against him.
Votes: 89,128 | Gross: $29.80M
Equal to the book.
16. Manhunter (1986)
R | 120 min | Crime, Horror, Mystery
Former FBI profiler Will Graham returns to service to pursue a deranged serial murderer named "the Tooth Fairy" by the media.
Votes: 54,986 | Gross: $8.62M
Equal to the book. Hannibal Lector's cell is so sterile and sparkling white, you can practically smell the bleach and prison soap. The movie was so good it convinced me to read the book.
17. Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962)
TV-PG | 28 min | Short, Adventure, Drama
In 1862, during the American Civil War, a Southern civilian is about to be hanged for attempting to sabotage a railway bridge. When the execution takes place from the bridge, the rope breaks and he begins his escape toward home.
Equal to the book. Premiered at Cannes, and later featured as the only externally produced episode of The Twilight Zone in the show's history.
18. The Day of the Jackal (1973)
PG | 143 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller
A professional assassin codenamed "Jackal" plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France.
Votes: 31,992 | Gross: $16.06M
Equal to the book.
19. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Not Rated | 129 min | Drama, History
A poor Midwest family is forced off their land. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression.
Equal to the book.
20. The Go-Between (1971)
GP | 116 min | Drama, Romance
A tale of torrid and forbidden love between a couple in the English countryside.
Equal to the book.
21. The Road (I) (2009)
R | 111 min | Adventure, Drama
In a dangerous post-apocalyptic world, an ailing father defends his son as they slowly travel to the sea.
Votes: 194,335 | Gross: $0.06M
Equal to the book. Harrowing and one-dimensional, the film like its book, is still an interesting and realist look at humanity when society breaks down. That is to say when we inevitably begin to start raping and eating each other. Though when you have wandering bands of gypsy-cannibals with catamites in tow in a desolate hellscape you don't really need a second dimension.
22. Apocalypse Now (1979)
R | 147 min | Drama, War
During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.
Votes: 501,053 | Gross: $83.47M
Equal to the book. For all intents and purposes a re-imagining of Joseph Conrad's classic Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius transport the African colonial theme to American misadventures in Vietnam to better suit their purposes. While Apocalypse Now and its re-edit A.P. Redux barely resemble the novella with its over-stuffed script, the film does it justice. A core story that alternately may be read either depicting the fragility, illusions, or hypocrisy of 'civilization.' Experts still can't form any consensus whether Conrad's story is a conscientious expose or racist slur. The film's many disasters & Coppola's megalomania and near-breakdown making the movie adds to the experience and perhaps critical to contributing to the overall air of authenticity, a callous but truthful observation considering the film's primary emotional inspirations, pride and anguish.
23. My Gun Is Quick (1957)
Approved | 90 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery
A private detective helps a prostitute being assaulted, and notices that she is wearing a very unique ring. She is later found murdered and there is no trace of the ring, which turns out to... See full summary »
Equal to the book. Which isn't saying much.
24. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Passed | 98 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde.
Equal to book. The screenwriters don't follow Robert Louis Stevenson's source work very faithfully, but the results are adequate enough. Hyde's lust for life transfers to the screen better than a straight adaptation of the book, which has some structural flaws. The film addresses the Victorian repression Stevenson was hinting at better than the novella, featuring female characters which are notably absent from Stevenson's rather dry mystery/psychological treatise. The film stayed loyal to the book in one respect, Fredric March's makeup person opting for a hairy, simian Hyde. A tad bit silly looking in retrospect.
25. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Passed | 113 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
Dr. Jekyll allows his dark side to run wild when he drinks a potion that turns him into the evil Mr. Hyde.
Equal to book. Critics will say that the Victor Fleming - Spencer Tracy version is inferior to the original sound picture starring Fredric March, but the two horror flicks are too close to call in my book, not surprising as they were based on the same script. And they are both decent, if reworked, variations of an equally above average novella. Perhaps wishing to avoid imitating the well-received 1931 movie, Fleming chose to dispense with the Lombrosian physiognomy of March's fangs, unibrow, wide nose, protruding brow, and afro, and just gave his star some wacky eyebrows.
26. The Tell-Tale Heart (I) (1953)
Passed | 8 min | Animation, Short, Crime
A madman tells his tale of murder, and how a strange beating sound haunted him afterward.
Equal to the book. A minimalist retelling worthy of E.A. Poe.
27. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Unrated | 89 min | Horror
A European prince terrorizes the local peasantry while using his castle as a refuge against the "Red Death" plague that stalks the land.
Equal to the book. Perhaps Poe's greatest allegory, this Roger Corman adaptation is easily the best Poe-Corman-Price collaboration. Vague and morbid as written, Masque is as much a warning against the hubris of wealth and power as a warning against peace of mind in general. In 'Darkness and Decay' we all find our revels soon to end. Equality and justice are inevitable but remorseless.
28. The Swimmer (1968)
Approved | 95 min | Drama
A man spends a summer day swimming as many pools as he can all over a quiet suburban town.
Equal to the book. Behold the pathos of the man who is his own myth.
29. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
PG | 129 min | Adventure
Two British former soldiers decide to set themselves up as kings in Kafiristan, a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander the Great.
Equal to the book. There is something terribly appropriate to the fact John Huston was forced to wait twenty years to get this film made, after which Britain had finally divested itself of all its rebellious colonies, long after being able to manage or morally justify them. An extra poignancy added to Rudyard Kipling's racist yet magnificent cautionary tale of hubris and illusions of 'divine rights.' In such the noblest principles and purest ambitions are spoiled by the basest human wants and desires.
30. Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
R | 104 min | Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
A man named Billy Pilgrim tells the story of how he became unstuck in time and was abducted by aliens.
Equal to the book. Though I have to admit largely unnecessary; a century from now everyone will still know the book but who will remember this? The film is interesting in that in many ways it highlights some of the problems of the book, most obviously, the story doesn't consist of any coherent meaning, message, or plot as much as it does one or two very basic themes congealed in a sardonically designed and intentionally random and over-the-top plot arc. Those unhappy with the underwhelming 'hero,' illogical time-traveling rules, fatalism, fatuous relativism/pacifism, and bad history (the most accurate estimate of the Dresden Bombing has been estimated at one/sixth of the film's inflated 135,000) will be just as dissatisfied with the film as the Kurt Vonnegut novel. Those who expect the same personal, philosophical, gonzo sci-fi, contrarian-absurdist comedy the book presented, will not be let down. Faithful as it is, non-literal humor and satire inherently work better on paper; the talent of any writer is activating the creative, emotional, or criticial portion of your mind in the correct proportion and sequence. Reminicient of the adaptation of Catch-22, there is some intangible quality of the novel lost on celluloid.
31. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
R | 100 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery
An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office.
Votes: 83,616 | Gross: $10.73M
Equal to the book. A close comparison between the film and play (both scripted by David Mamet) reveals few differences with exception of Moss' age, Levene's backstory, and most notably the inclusion of the 'Coffee is for Closers' speech delivered by the alpha-est male to ever grace the screen, Alec Baldwin. Both emphasize the ethical free-for-all that depict the sales staff as hunters stalking a herd for weakness. The Darwinian 'contest' is more evident in the film, perhaps to further stress the hyper-masculinity of this world, which seems to pit the salesmen not just against the universe, but also the bureaucracy of the system and against their fellow salesmen.
32. Billy Budd (1962)
Approved | 123 min | Adventure, Drama, War
Billy is an innocent, naive seaman in the British Navy in 1797. When the ship's sadistic master-at-arms is murdered, Billy is accused and tried.
Equal to the book. Any time you turn pages into screen-time the challenge becomes avoiding spelling out the crux of a novel or short story's moral dilemma or general thesis. A novel can provide more clarity but at the cost of becoming diatribes or exposition on top of exposition. The film Billy Budd avoids the pitfalls of the novella's unwieldy prose but at the expense of the sense of mystery and impenetrability surrounding the three central characters. So too the filmmakers dispense with Melville's crucial emphasis on Englishness: Claggart representing a fraudulent or perverted identity in the novel (alluded to as possibly foreign), while Vere and Budd are examples of men who are respectively overwhelmed/trapped or the very epitome of the ideal British man. However the film retains a mostly ambiguous approach to its characters, Claggart-Vere-Budd not so much representing shades of good vs evil but concepts of fate, law, and freedom. Vere's proposition that you must choose between protocol and 'freedom,' itself the matter of debate. The truth of the matter, and all truth if there is such a thing, ordained to die with the eyewitnesses. Melville's insinuation, intact, that if you want to know a man seek to know man -- read a history book not a newspaper.
33. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Not Rated | 136 min | Drama, War
A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.
Votes: 50,445 | Gross: $3.27M
Equal to the book.
34. House of Usher (1960)
Not Rated | 79 min | Drama, Horror
Upon entering his fiancée's family mansion, a man discovers a savage family curse and fears that his future brother-in-law has entombed his bride-to-be prematurely.
Equal to the book. Sparse and morbid as Edgar Allan Poe's short story, this film elaborates very nicely thanks to Richard Matheson's script treatment. However, the film suffers from Roger Corman's ultra-efficient (i.e. flat and predictable) direction.
35. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
Not Rated | 112 min | Drama, Thriller
British agent Alec Leamas refuses to come in from the Cold War during the 1960s, choosing to face another mission, which may prove to be his final one.
Equal to the book. Widely regarded as the best spy-fiction ever written, Martin Ritt's film is no less impressive. Faithful, the movie is effective in its depiction of John Le Carré's nihilistic tale of useful idiots, and battle royal-esque, secret state trials where the accused, witnesses, and prosecutors are indistinguishable. The film is perfectly casted, the caracters blending in well with its dingy scenery.
36. The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
Approved | 114 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance
Writer Harry Street reflects on his life as he lies dying from an infection while on safari in the shadow of Mount Kilamanjaro.
Votes: 3,965 | Gross: $18.05M
Worse than the book. Hemingway's novels were destined for the big screen, his short stories are another matter. Which might suggest just how perfect his shorter works were.
37. The Dead (1987)
PG | 83 min | Drama
Gabriel Conroy and wife Greta attend an early January dinner with friends at the home of his spinster aunts, an evening which results in an epiphany for both of them.
Votes: 6,071 | Gross: $4.37M
Worse than the book. Based on one of James Joyce's Dubliners' short stories, this is perhaps a good example of how a short story can fail to translate to feature length.
38. The Great Gatsby (1974)
PG | 144 min | Drama, Romance
A Midwesterner becomes fascinated with his nouveau riche neighbor, who obsesses over his lost love.
Worse than the book. But in all fairness, The Great Gatsby is considered one of the greatest books of all time. The film though well-acted and solidly directed, is still little else but a lifeless re-imagining.
39. The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Not Rated | 124 min | Drama, War
When a U.S. Naval captain shows signs of mental instability that jeopardizes the ship, the first officer relieves him of command and faces court martial for mutiny.
Votes: 21,425 | Gross: $21.75M
Worse than the book. Missing some of the nuance and backstory of the novel, it is regardless a worthy film on its own merits. Bogart's 'Yellow-stain' character is perhaps one of his most underrated outings.
40. Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Approved | 80 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery
In the sixteenth century, Francis Barnard travels to Spain to clarify the strange circumstances of his sister's death after she had married the son of a cruel Spanish Inquisitor.
Votes: 10,197 | Gross: $2.00M
Worse than the book. Screenwriter Richard Matheson chose to forego the original plot of the story for a very generic-looking scary castle and eccentric aristocrat, presumably wanting to render it as stereotypically gothic as possible. Gone are Poe's most ingenious flourishes: his use of the pendulum as a metaphor for time, the faceless, unknowable inquisitors so habituated to senseless torture they longer even bother extracting sentences (representing order without law), the moment of clarity brought on by rush of adrenaline from imminent death, the narrow escapes as one graduates from one pitfall to the next, etc. Absent is the condemnation of the cruelty of ancient superstition, vanquished by the dawn of the scientific, 'enlightened age.' With it also a winking acknowledgement of the quality of that 'salvation'; in the original story the crimes and moral facade of the Spanish Inquisition is only ended by Napoleon's equally morally corrupted, bloody regime (the 'sleep of reason' does indeed summon monsters, but the hangover is no treat either). This squanders a great source story, P & P being the closest Poe would ever get to optimism or humor.
41. Catch-22 (1970)
R | 122 min | Comedy, Drama, War
A man is trying desperately to be certified insane during World War II, so he can stop flying missions.
Votes: 18,558 | Gross: $24.91M
Worse than the book. Pretty much an impossible task to match the surreal, black humor, and tragic-comedic tone of the Joseph Heller original.
42. The Last Tycoon (1976)
PG | 123 min | Drama, Romance
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is brought to life in this story of a movie producer slowly working himself to death.
Votes: 6,852 | Gross: $1.82M
Worse than the book. Elia Kazan, undeniably at the lagging end of his career, and screenwriter Harold Pinter quite frankly didn't have much to work with. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel had potential, the unfinished story and stand-offish lead don't exactly sparkle on screen. In a way the film might actually expose the flimsiness of the original story. The central romance is insubstantial, the title character's workaholism played more as a quirk than his fatal flaw. Robert De Niro plays the role unusually reserved, upstaged by an effortlessly versatile Jack Nicholson cameo in the last fifteen minutes of the film as a character I can't even remember from the book. I have a suspicion that the real 'boy wonder' Monroe Stahr would probably have passed on this.
43. Red Dragon (2002)
R | 124 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller
A retired F.B.I. Agent with psychological gifts, is assigned to help track down "The Tooth Fairy", a mysterious serial killer. Aiding him, is imprisoned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.
Votes: 218,664 | Gross: $93.15M
Worse than the book. A fairly true adaptation, the film's geriatric Hannibal Lector is not nearly as effective as Manhunter's cagy enigma. Red Dragon's Hannibal came with Anthony Hopkins' pre-packaged menace, Manhunter's Hannibal had to produce its own unique creepiness. I also find Edward Norton a less than convincing Will Graham, possibly because William Petersen nailed the role so well the first time around.
44. The Trial (1962)
Not Rated | 119 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller
An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.
Worse than the book. Not even Orson Welles could pull off Franz Kafka. Whereas Welles pushed every project to completion without care of quality control (in either the script or production department) through sheer force of will and confidence, Kafka abandoned projects out of doubt or crippling perfectionism (or premature death). In light of his track record of incomplete novels and fragmentary, seedlike micro-stories doomed to permanent dormancy, even Kafka couldn't always pull off Kafka.
45. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
R | 113 min | Drama, Sci-Fi
In a totalitarian future society, a man, whose daily work is re-writing history, tries to rebel by falling in love.
Votes: 55,319 | Gross: $8.40M
Worse than the book. Before it was a film -- or an irritatingly overused stock sci-fi plot or carelessly misapplied buzzword -- Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning stressing the importance of democratic principles and the value of an individual in a world that increasingly only needs masses. Watching the film, you'd think the plot is centered around an exaggerated if vaguely socialist/fascistic state that for some reason forbids love. 1984 (the movie) is both more entertaining and inferior to Nineteen Eighty-Four (the novel) for the same reason: the book is more thorough and intellectually demanding. Without basic historical knowledge of the Soviet Union or Marxism before 1950 the book is rambling prose and lecturing, without knowledge of Communism after 1950 it is sapped of its full wisdom and prescience in light of the malnourished, ethnocentric dwarves of North Korea or the Stasi surveillance-state of East Germany. Needless to say, a lot of George Orwell's best observations are untranslatable by the mere nature of the medium. The film is quite well made, but the book remains the greatest dystopian work ever conceived; there is no contest.
46. Lolita (1997)
R | 137 min | Drama, Romance
A man marries his landlady so he can take advantage of her daughter.
Votes: 42,491 | Gross: $1.40M
Worse than the book. Often disparaged as 'the other Lolita,' I prefer this version to the 1962 edition. Something about Peter Sellers' jokey Clare Quilty seems off, and Sue Lyon's Lolita is noticeably sub-par. This version is more explicit and never attempts to dodge the fact the story is almost entirely centered upon sex. Still, there is a quality of the book that just doesn't lend itself to the screen. Vladimir Nabokov is another case of Kafka-itis, novelists whose work simply doesn't translate off the page very well.
47. Lolita (1962)
Not Rated | 153 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
A middle-aged college professor becomes infatuated with a fourteen-year-old nymphet.
Votes: 75,827 | Gross: $9.25M
Worse than the book. Sorry Kubrick. Two out of three ain't bad though.
48. The 3 Penny Opera (1931)
Not Rated | 112 min | Comedy, Drama, Musical
In London at the turn of the century, the bandit Mack the Knife marries Polly without the knowledge of her father, Peachum, the 'king of the beggars'.
Worse than the book. One reasonably expected Bertolt Brecht's socialism and bawdy satirical humor to be toned down a little when it changed mediums. The alterations are harmless enough for the most part, Brecht and John Gay's indictment of the upper classes remain intact if de-emphasized. Even without the black comedy and political edge the film remains a classic of interwar German cinema. G.W. Pabst has no interest in Brecht's alienating techniques and his film is more effective as a broader satire. While the source material is a mixture of cabaret and agitprop, Pabst's movie plays closer to a farce in the guise of a political statement. But for whatever reason the screenwriters tweaked Gay's already perfect, wry happy ending. Which goes to show if something isn't broken don't fix it.
49. A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Unrated | 80 min | Drama, Romance, War
An American ambulance driver and an English nurse fall in love in Italy during World War I.
Worse than the book. The Hemingway novel was censored, naturally it makes sense the film should be too. In this case the plot is so terribly condensed and sanitized the plot is a murky, one-dimensional mess and development of the main character also rather dull and forced. I can only imagine how hard it must be for a person who didn't read the book to make sense of the film, the montage scene glosses over fifty or so crucial pages of the book that encapsulates the protagonist's new found disgust with the war. In the movie he deserts bizarrely only because of a spiteful postman. Worse the film's romance saps all the pathos out of the story, turning it into a reluctantly upbeat, generic melodrama -- the exact opposite of the book, which delicately drew you in closer only to punch you in the gut.