Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Top 10 Movies Based on Books

We all know the old saying: The movie is NEVER better than the book. And, in most cases, it’s the truth. We need not look further than WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, THE LOVELY BONES, or the vastly overrated THE HELP to see that it’s hard for the movie to match. And I think WILLIE WONKA is the creepiest movie ever made, so forget that argument. I don't care about TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS, or HUNGER GAMES, and I'm not going to pretend I read THE 'WONDERFUL' WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND to make comparison, and I didn't read THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, but wow, is Meryl Streep amazing in that one. Every once in a while a movie adapted from a book does trump it. The following is my list of the 10 flicks that prove it’s possible for the movie to be BETTER than the book.

10. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987): This romantic comedy is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by William Goldman. It’s a good book but such a great movie, a must have in anybody’s DVD collection. Plus, it’s the acting debut of Andre of the Giant. I don’t know how you get better than that. Remember the poison wine switch scene? Love this flick.

9. THE SHINING (1980): “Here’s, Johnny!” The first time I saw this movie I was a wee lad of eight years old. I didn’t sleep right for the next year. The twin girls, redrum, the labyrinth scene. In fourth grade I tried writing my own Shining story. I was terrified by it, obsessed by it, loved it. Then I decided to read the Stephen King novel that the movie was based on. I didn’t like it as much, but I say this is the scariest flick ever. I still don’t trust myself to watch it.

8. CASINO (1995): A non-fiction entry. This crime drama is based on the book by Nick Pileggi. I own the book but have never been inspired to read more than a few excerpts from it. I love this movie. How could you not? The only bad part is how Joe Pesci sort of ruined his Tommy from GOODFELLAS, maybe the greatest character portrayal ever on-screen, by trying to retread it here as Nicky. CASINO is a great, great film, and a bit overlooked by historians, in my opinion. I watch it every time it’s on TNT or USA.

7. THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982): “A cartoon, Brian?” Get real, right? The first book that ever caught my imagination was the 1971 book MRS FRISBY & THE RATS OF NIMH. I was engrossed in this book, even trying to set up a NIMH world in my own backyard. Don't judge me, I was seven. And if it wasn’t for this book and Cormier’s I AM THE CHEESE, I may not have become a life-long reader. But Guess what? The cartoon based on NIMH was better than the book. I could watch it 10 times a day back then. It was the first time I saw the movie (albeit a cartoon) trump the book. I’d watch it right now.

6. MYSTIC RIVER (2003): One of the best movies ever made. Clint Eastwood is our finest living director. Sean Penn is a god in this movie. I still watch it several times a year, and discover another wrinkle in the story every time I watch. The acting, writing, directing: A+. It’s based on Dennis Lehane’s book of the same name. Don’t get me wrong: Lehane is a great writer, one of Stephen King’s favorites in fact, but no book beats this movie, the first flick since BEN HUR to win both the best actor and best supporting actor Oscars.

5. THE GODFATHER (1972): My grandfather used to say, “There’s every movie ever made and then there’s THE GODFATHER.” I know how much people love this film and I recognize it as an epic masterpiece, no doubt. I tried to read Puzo’s 1969 book of the same name, but just couldn’t do it. The book was so boring. But the movie is, well, it’s the godfather of movies.

4. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007): Best movie of 2007, no question. The Coen Brothers hit a homerun with this flick. How many hours I spent talking about what the end of that movie meant. As for the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, I can only say the following: Every book by Cormac McCarthy is fundamentally unreadable. Don’t let anybody trick you into reading a McCarthy or telling you how GREAT it is. People just say that to sound smart. Nobody can actually read a McCarthy. They are written not be read, I’m convinced of it.

3. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975): Based on the amazing novel by Ken Kesey. “They’re out there . . .” It is one of my all-time favorite novels, but I have to admit the movie is a little bit better, and Oscar agreed in ’75. Jack Nicholson IS! Randle P. McMurphy. The film and all the actors look exactly like I’d imagine it when reading the book. A historically-great book followed by a historically-great flick. How can you go wrong?

2. FORREST GUMP (1994): In my opinion, Forrest Gump is the 2nd greatest movie ever made, behind only TITANIC. It’s based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. I’ve read some of the novel, and it’s good, but Tom Hanks just brings this idiot alive on screen, plus a killer soundtrack backing up his Oscar-winning performance. When I first saw this movie, I started acting like I was Forrest Gump, running really fast everywhere like a buffoon. Don't judge me, I was twelve. It’s a masterpiece, and the highest moment in Hanks’s brilliant career. But I still say Hanks isn’t funny on SNL.

1. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994): OK, it’s based on a novella if you want to get technical, Stephen King’s RITA HEYWORTH & THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. And, in the novella, Red (our narrator) is actually a white, Irish guy with red hair, instead of Morgan Freeman. I’ll take Morgan Freeman, and that’s saying a lot, because King is the best author in America today, and he was when he wrote this novella in the 80’s. But Morgan was born to narrate, people, just accept it. This movie is actually #1 on It’s a masterpiece, no way around it, and my personal 5th greatest movie ever. I even tried to get myself falsely imprisoned so I could attempt a tunnel-style escape. Don't judge me, I was twenty-seven. I LOVE the 110-page version, but I LOVE-LOVE the 3-hour screen version. Tim Robbins’s greatest starring role ever! Such a watchable movie overall. It doesn’t get much better than this adaptation.

Did I miss any?

Dedicated to Mike Morano (INTO THE WILD is my #11, friend. But the idea is all yours!)

Brian Huba


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  2. Most of my top 10 are there in this list, but I'm surprised that you put the godfather at 5th spot. Anyway, If you'd like to see my list, then here it is My List of top 10 movies based on books