“5 Thriller Books Better Than The Movies (& 5 That Are Surprisingly Worse)”
The thriller novel is a challenge for any writer. Without the speed and visual intensity of the moving picture, an author has to work hard to make the novel just as gripping despite being worked through at a much slower pace. Many of these novels end up being turned into hugely successful films.
Despite this, there are a fair few thriller books who remain better than their film counterparts. We’ve collected five books better than their movie remakes, and five movie remakes which trump their source material.
10 BETTER: Red Dragon
The entire Hannibal novel series is a masterpiece. Thomas Harris is at his best when exploring the twisted, cannibalistic world and mind of his creation, Hannibal Lecter. It has rightly been remembered as one of the greatest thriller books of all time.
While Manhunter in 1986 was the first adaptation of Red Dragon to hit cinema screens, it didn’t have the same longevity of the 2002 Red Dragon film. It’s a brilliant prequel to Silence Of The Lambs (we’ll get to that in a moment) but doesn’t quite match the brilliance of Harris’ first exploration of the troubled Lecter.
9 WORSE: Silence Of the Lambs
It is an impressive feat to write a book that ends up being turned into one of the most well-loved and celebrated films of all time. A cinematic masterpiece, The Silence of The Lambs became only the third film to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. And rightly so.
Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Forster are exceptional every second they’re on screen, with the atmosphere and mood being one that has been (attempted to be) replicated for years since its release. The novel is a work of brilliance too, but it’s hard to view it in the same league as this masterpiece of a film.
8 BETTER: The Girl On The Train
Despite only coming out in 2015, The Girl On The Train is already regarded as one of the finest modern thrillers in literature. Remaining in the no.1 spot at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for thirteen weeks proves that quantitively.
The three-person narrative was ground-breaking in its use of the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope and makes for an addictive read. The 2016 film starring Emily Blunt didn’t do the book justice, with reviews not really moving past ‘average’ despite Blunt’s performance being praised.
7 WORSE: Cape Fear
Released under the name The Executioners all the way back in 1957, Cape Fear has certainly made more of a name for itself in film form. Twice. The film follows a lawyer being stalked by someone he effectively put in prison, with the 1962 film following the plot almost exactly, and the 1991 adaptation allowing itself a lot more creative freedom.
Both films have been remembered for their shock value and positive critical response, with the second allowing itself much more violence. Despite the book doing well to portray tension, this is simply a story that works better visually.
6 BETTER: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson’s series of psychological thrillers have already managed to earn themselves status amongst modern classics. It follows an investigation into what happened to a wealthy woman who disappeared forty years ago, and delivers dramatic twists and turns around every corner.
While the film has been praised universally (winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing), it’s hard to top the unfolding brilliance of the novel in its original form.
5 WORSE: Psycho
Arguably the best thing that can happen to a writer is having a widely adored director approach them to remake their film for the big screen. The only real problem this presents is that when you hand the rights to someone like Alfred Hitchcock, you sort of just have to accept that he’s going to do it better than you.
That is exactly what happened to Robert Bloch. The author of Psycho has since drifted into relative obscurity, while the adaptation of his book is remembered as one of the great masterpieces of cinema.
4 BETTER: Gone Girl
Gone Girl was nominated for just about every award you can think of, proving how widely loved the David Fincher adaptation was when it released back in 2014. Despite Gillian Flynn adapting the screenplay herself directly from her own novel, it’s impossible to compete with such a suspenseful reading experience.
With unreliable narration and twists around every corner, the 2012 novel is literally almost impossible to put down. While the film sends you through the dramatic tension in around two hours, the book forces you to endure many hours of nail-biting intensity.
3 WORSE: Shutter Island
Fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Martin Scorsese and using the music of Mahler, Penderecki and Cage, there was no way the film adaptation of Shutter Island wouldn’t leave its novel counterpart in the dust.
Obviously, in order to secure such a high profile adaptation and spawn a gripping, genius storyline, the original Denise Lehane novel had to be pretty brilliant. However, the unapologetically thrilling film is hard to compete with.
2 BETTER: One Shot
Lee Child’s ninth entry into the Jack Reacher series was the one that finally saw the writer make it to the big screen. With Tom Cruise taking on the central role of Jack Reacher, you’d expect big things. Unfortunately, the film was a lackluster representation of the action Child had created in his literature.
While exciting and dramatic in its visuals, it didn’t have the depth of any of the books in the franchise. The disappointment of the film meant a big-budget series was never formed, but the unexpected sequel in 2016 adapted the eighteenth novel in Child’s series, Never Go Back.
1 WORSE: Fight Club
This is another entry on our list that is remembered for being one of the greatest works of cinema in history. Fight Club is an inimitable masterpiece, putting Brad Pitt and Ed Norton at the center of a psychological thriller that delivers on action and tension just as much as it does existential questioning.
Its source material, written by Chuck Palahniuk in 1996, captures the brilliant story well but doesn’t have the drive of a magical Brad Pitt performance or the quick visual unraveling of that twist. However, Palahniuk has treated us to two comic book sequels.
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