In 2023, production companies released more than 90 page-to-screen adaptations (Vulture Entertainment News). Many sources claim that roughly half of all movies produced in Hollywood are based on a book. Some studies report that movies based on best-selling books earn up to 53% more at the box office. Clearly, TV and film producers rely on great books to tell their stories. But are books or movies better? Well, that depends.

The Book Was Waaaay Better!


One of the hands-down worst screen adaptations ever is the 2007 adaptation of Beowulf. (I said what I said!) I adore the classic Anglo-Saxon work, believed to originate sometime between the 8th and 11th century AD. It is often taught to high school seniors across the country. When I studied the epic seriously in one of my college literature classes, I fawned over the language, the epic pseudo-viking good vs. evil adventure, and the character arc of the work’s namesake hero. I particularly love Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation since he maintained the unique poetic structure while leaving the text accessible.

Then came Robert Zimeckis’s hyper-realistic CGI movie adaptation (2007). The trailer was enticing, boasting a star-studded cast and state-of-the-art CGI technology bringing the supernatural creatures to life. Action, adventure, and monsters. What more could one ask of a story? But To my dismay, the screenwriters took some, um, poetic license? with the plot, altering the story and characters, distorting the time-tested themes. I’ll put it this way: I was so infuriated that by about half way through, I was ready to throw something at the screen. 

My recommendation: Read a good translation of the work and skip the movie. 


The Shining

My hot take: The screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is a flash-in-the-pan at best. I watched the movie before reading the book at the prodding of a friend. It wasn’t my favorite. Granted, horror isn’t really my genre. However, once I did read the book–when I was forced to in graduate school–I realized how bad it really was. I mean, sure, the visuals in the movie are stunningly horrifying, but Kubrick stripped the story to fit into the genre of the time. My biggest bone to pick with the film turned out to be similar to King’s issue: Wendy Torrance’s character. In the book, she’s a strong, clever, protective woman and mother. But Kubrick reduced her character to a whimpering damsel in distress. But trust me. I have other issues with the film.

The Shining screen adaptation was released in 1980 and starred the talented Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance) and Shelly Duvall (Wendy Torrance). Hailed by some as one of the scariest movies of all time, the film retains an 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But apparently some people agree with me as the film released to mixed reviews, was snubbed for an Oscar, and was even nominated for “Worst Director” in the inaugural Golden Raspberry Awards (or Razzies) in 1981. It’s also no secret that King is no fan of Kubrick’s film, reportedly saying, “It’s like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” 

My recommendation: While the film is now a cult classic, I am confident that the book is better in this case. 


Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but why did they have to mess with Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile? The Lyle the Crocodile series by Bernard Waber is about Lyle, a performing crocodile, the Primm family, and all the antics that ensue in their Victorian Brownstone on East 88th Street. 

The 2022 film adaptation is based on the first two books of the series. The key characters and premise remain: a performing crocodile abandoned by the man who raised him, Hector P Valenti, and his adopted family, the Primms. However, there are some significant changes that leave me scratching my head. Lyle is a performing crocodile, but for some reason instead of performing circus tricks, he… sings? (Featuring Shawn Mendez’s silky smooth crooning.) And instead of having a very particular appetite for Turkish Caviar, Lyle teaches the boy Josh how to dumpster-dive in some of New York’s “best” alleyways. 

My recommendation: So, the movie isn’t the worst if you want something lighthearted to watch with the family, but the original books have a unique charm that the film misses with its gimmicky musical take. 


The Screen for the Win

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

When the first The Hunger Games movie was released in 2012, I insisted on reading Suzanne Collins’ trilogy first. And I did. All of it. Within a few days. I could not put them down. While I loved the first two books, the last one left a bad taste in my mouth. I fell in love with Katniss, Peta, and yes, even Gale. My big issue with the last book, Mockingjay, was the ending, so here is your SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books and still want to, you might want to jump down to “My recommendation” for this one. 

I have a pretty narrow spectrum for a happy ending. There has to be enough satisfaction that I’m not left going, “WHAT?!” But it shouldn’t be so tidy that I have no room left for imagination. Collins ends the final book of the trilogy with a quick “and they lived happily ever after” that was rushed and impersonal. Instead, the film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, deftly depicts a sweet moment between Katniss and her baby while Peta plays  with their other children in the distance. It has the perfect mixture of hope and closure, leaving it settled but not saccharine.  

My recommendation: Read the books, of course, but if you want a satisfying ending, watch the movies, also. 



Ok. Bear with me on this one. Shakespeare is arguably the most influential writer of the English language. And while I love the man’s contributions, I hate reading his plays. I know… *GASP!* Before you crucify me, let me explain. Plays are meant to be experienced rather than read. So I much prefer the many performances of Shakespeare’s works that have been produced over the years. And Hamlet is probably my favorite Shakespearean tragedy. (You know, the one with the “To be, or not to be…” speech.) 

My top pick for film adaptations of Hamlet is Kenneth Branagh’s production (1996), in which he masterfully produced, directed, and starred. Despite the setting’s anachronism, the film remains the closest I’ve seen to the original script that doesn’t drag. But I also recommend BBC’s editionEthan Hawkes’ twisted version, the 2004 film starring Mel Gibson, and even the 1948 classic starring Lawrence Oliver. These screen adaptations give life to the centuries-old words in ways that reading a script falls short.

My recommendation: Read Hamlet when it’s assigned in English class. Analyze it. Study the language. Write the essays. But when you’re ready to experience the power of the story, watch a version of it.


Pick Your Poison

The Princess Bride

I have a special attachment to this story, so anytime that I can share it with people I will. I cannot put into words how much I love this story, both Rob Reiner’s 1987 film adaptation starring Cary Elwes (Westley) and Robin Wright (Buttercup) and the book The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman. And I love each for different reasons.

When I first watched the film, I loved the hilarious puns and dialogue, characters’ antics, and adventurous thrill. It’s Brothers Grimm meets Monty Python. Not much can top that in my book. And the film has gone on to be a cult classic, with faithful followers dressing up as their favorite characters for Halloween and ComicCons alike. And why not when the story has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” What more could you want in a story?

And still, the book takes the story to a whole new level. Goldman’s mock history of the fictional country of Florin smacks with sarcasm and satire the likes of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. And add in true love? Forget about it! 

My recommendation: Do both! Watch the film with the family and read the book (or listen using Libby or Hoopla) for a heartwarming & heart-racing tale of love and adventure. 


Those are just a few of my favorite books and movies (or both!). I’m sure you have your own. But whether it’s a small screen, silver screen, or just plain paper (or tablet screen), a good story is a good story. Enjoy it where you want, but be sure that you find a story that speaks to you.