5 “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
Laura Weisberger’s novel had all the requirements for a chick-lit bestseller: plenty of haute couture name-dropping as a sympathetic protagonist pulls back the curtain on the glamorous fashion magazine world to reveal its horrible, abusive underbelly. The problem with the novel was that it was entirely one-sided. Meryl Streep’s performance as boss-from-hell Miranda Priestley provides the character with a more well-rounded sense of humanity. As a result, the film tells a more mature story than Weisberger’s novel, which comes off more as the rant of a put-upon assistant who is unfamiliar with the demands of the industry.
4 “Forrest Gump” (1994)
There are two reasons “Forrest Gump” the movie is better than the book that preceded it: Tom Hanks and Eric Roth. Gump receives a much kinder portrayal in Roth’s treatment, becoming the hero who manages to triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. The result is a panoply of major events from pivotal times in modern American history retold through the eyes of a mentally handicapped man. Hanks’ performance renders Gump a wise hero who triumphs by doing right—a far cry from the abrasive fool Winston Groom’s novel spends more time ridiculing than applauding.
3 “Jurassic Park” (1993)
Michael Crichton didn’t write the novel “Jurassic Park” to be a thriller—but the film adaptation delivered exactly that. The fast pace of Spielberg’s film puts the action-filled plot of the story exactly where it wasn’t in the book: front and center. Crichton intended his book to be more of a morality tale, a horrific example of what happens when scientific innovation is pursued without regard to morals and human impact. The film’s characters are sympathetic, the raptors positively terrifying—and in the end, it delivers the same pro-humanity message without the dullness of an ethics lecture disguised as a novel.
2 “The Princess Bride” (1987)
Considering that William Goldman wrote both the novel and the screenplay adaptation, you might consider this a bit of a cheat. Of course, no one knows a book better than its author. It makes complete sense, then, that Goldman would know exactly what to omit from the film—for starters, all the self-indulgent parenthetical commentary Goldman repeatedly uses to interrupt the text-based version of the story. Goldman was a prolific screenwriter, writing treatments for films such as “All the President’s Men” and “The Stepford Wives.” So maybe it’s fairer to consider this novel as having been a rough first draft for the final screenplay.
1 “Psycho” (1960)
Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film brought horror and suspense to the mainstream, paving the way for future genre filmmakers whose work would be respected and taken seriously by critics and studios alike. Robert Bloch’s novel, however, was pure psychosexual pulp—heavy on gore, light on substance. Hitchcock not only bought the rights for the film, he also allegedly ordered that all copies of the book be purchased, so people could not read the book and spoil his film’s ending. Never mind that the book was published a year before the movie was released—Hitchcock evidently assumed his film would be far more important than Bloch’s book, and it turned out he was right.