The book is always better than the movie. Everyone knows that. But what if that’s not the point? 

From the saturation of book-based rom coms on Netflix to the high-production Hollywood book-adapted films that seem to pop out every month, it feels like book-adapted movies are a fairly recent 2000’s phenomenon. On the contrary, this film genre actually made its mark in media history over a century ago. 

The first recorded film based on literature was the 1899 movie Cinderella, directed by French director Georges Méliès in 1899. The film was adapted from the original Cinderella text written by French author Charles Perrault and was the first ever film adaptation of the classic tale. 

As the decades rolled on, more adaptations started to arrive on the silver screen. This resulted in the creation of a whole new film genre. Eventually, these adaptations became academy-award winning, iconic titles such as The Godfather I and II (1972 and 1974), Jaws (1975), Schindler’s List (1993) and Fight Club (1999)—each based on books of the same name. 

With this popularity came the now age-old debate: are the books better than the movies?

Past the 1900’s, popular book-to-movie adaptations included defining titles of the young adult literature genre, including the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Divergent series. The existence of these movies has defined pop culture history, and fan bases and fantastical worlds of these series have taken on lives of their own. With this popularity came the now age-old debate: are the books better than the movies? Though the discourse tosses and turns, the short answer to that question is always yes. But so what? 

Books and movies have often been pitted against each other as conflicting forms of media, especially when the latter is derived from a preexisting piece of literature. Some argue against its necessity—what’s the point of making books into movies? It seems like with the recent mass production of book-adapted films and series, quantity is prioritized over quality to satisfy fans. With the media oversaturation of book-based movies and series, it’s only expected for a debate regarding the devaluation of literature to emerge.

For some, compromising a book’s essence to fit ninety minutes of screentime is a crime against the original text. Characters are distorted and plot points are morphed, betraying the original soul of the story. Should literature be kept just that, literature, in order to preserve the narrative in its purest art form? Is fan service worth the warped adaptations of initially wonderful stories? 

For the longest time, I have been the book’s strongest defender in this debate. To me, books are always better, no debate is even warranted. But as I started to grow as a reader, writer, and conscious consumer of all forms of media, I soon realized it doesn’t really matter. 

But as I started to grow as a reader, writer, and conscious consumer of all forms of media, I soon realized it doesn’t really matter.

Art lives to be loved. If turning books into movies makes these stories more accessible, leading more people to love the tales being told, what’s the harm? 

It is almost unbelievable, the way that transforming books into movies ensures the immortality of the original text. What is on the internet stays on the internet forever, and for book-adapted movies, this is a good thing. They take on a life of their own. From Harry Potter to Twilight, most of these young adult series have shaped childhoods (including mine!). They inspired a love for stories within budding brains. Their movies spark a sense of curiosity and fantasy, and even encourage viewers to read. If you think the movie was good, wait till you read the book!

I remember being a part of these fantasy worlds and escaping into the movies and books with my friends. It was the purest form of excitement, and the popularity of these books and collective universes would not have been possible without its evolution into movies. By becoming large scale franchises, these books became worldwide phenomena. With that, they were able to take even more fans under their wing—to invite more people to love the stories being told.

Even when the movies are so terrible they are shunned for existing (not looking at you at all, Percy Jackson), the discourse it inspires only markets the original text. The debate becomes an endearing aspect of the book’s culture, and the excitement around the books live on.

As someone who loves escaping into the make-believe world of books and movies, the line between them has always been the most exciting to walk. The anticipation of seeing characters I’ve imagined come to life on screen and the teetering between satisfaction and disappointment is a process I always enjoy no matter the outcome.

Instead of just one version of the story, there are multiple that take on narratives of their own.

Turning these books into movies means making these worlds infinite. Instead of just one version of the story, there are multiple that take on narratives of their own. For instance, the infamous discrepancy between the way Dumbledore calmly questioned Harry in the Goblet of Fire, as the book says, and the way it was portrayed in the movie (who can forget “HARRY DID YAH PUT YAH NAME IN DA GOBLET OF FIYA!!”)

Adapting books into movies also means a new chance at diversifying and refreshing outdated plot values. Iconic books, though well-loved, are often written from western-centric and patriarchal perspectives with little or no space for diverse characters. Adapting these stories into modern movies means getting the chance to retain the heart of the story while refreshing it to be more inclusive. For instance, Hollywood’s most recent adaptation of the 1965 sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert starring Timothee Chalamet and Oscar Isaac—though remained mostly faithful to the original text—included some significant casting differences in an efforts to be more inclusive. The character of Liet Kynes, originally written to be a white male, was gender swapped and played by Black actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster in the 2021 adaptation. The character of Chani, originally portrayed by white actress Sean Young in the 1984 production of Dune, was recast and played by Black actress Zendaya. In this case, it is clear to see how adapting books into movies gives young, diverse audiences the chance to see people like themselves playing the characters they love. 

And when did catering to fans become bad practice? Isn’t pleasing the audience and inspiring excitement the very point of these movies? Turning books into movies intensifies the existing adoration for these stories. The way I see it, the existence of these movies bring about so much good that the quality of them doesn’t matter in comparison. Art lives to be loved, and isn’t it a good thing that there is more to love in the world?

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