Don’t Read the Book Before You’ve Watched the Movie

I used to have a rule for books made into movies: I would never watch the movie until I had read the book. It was that simple. So I watched The Fellowship of the Ring but still have not seen The Two Towers or The Return of the King because I only ever made time to read the first book.

It sounds like a good, upstanding book geekish sort of rule, but in reality… well, it has not served me well. I get to shape my own views of the characters without being unduly influenced by some movie. And that lofty independent view means that I get to be routinely disappointed by movies.

While hunting for movie clips for an upcoming Anna Karenina post I was horrified by some of the movie versions. They were utter failures at capturing the wonder of Tolstoy’s world. They had none of the subtlety and bittersweetness of the words I read.

And then it hit me. I could be enjoying a perfectly good movie, except for the fact that I ruined it by reading the book.

So now I am rethinking my standard. Perhaps I should watch movies first and then be pleasantly surprised by the additional depth of the book.

Do you have a general rule for dealing with books made into movies?

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17 thoughts on “Don’t Read the Book Before You’ve Watched the Movie

  1. Allison

    I don’t think there’s ever been a case where I enjoyed a movie more than the book. The books are always infinitely better in my opinion. I think it may be the case for older books that when they’re made into movies sometimes they feel the need to modernize them and add things to gain interest, but I don’t like that.

    I don’t generally have a rule of reading first vs. watching the movie first, but I’ve just found that if I have read the book, I always like it better than the movie.

    1. Rae Post author

      The only time that I enjoyed the movie more was Les Misérables which may be the fault of the translation (though the movie was great!).

  2. Young Mom

    This is a tough one, but I lean towards watching the movie first, because if I like the movie I know I can look forward to reading the book. Otherwise I am pausing the movie every couple minutes to tell my poor hubby all the chapters it just skipped, and complaining throughthe whole thing about how they wrote out the best charactor.

  3. Kristy

    There is some merit to not reading the book until after seeing the movie. I don’t think you can really be disappointed that way.

    My rule? Depends on the book & movie. If I’ve read the book (‘Fever Pitch’ by Nick Hornby, for example) and the previews for the movie star Jimmy Fallon and the sport has been changed from football (soccer) to baseball, I avoid it entirely because they’ve already ruined the story. (How do you change the entire focus – obsession, in this case – from football to baseball?!) If it’s Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson is the director and he spent gobs of time putting the film together, then I’ll see it because he’s most likely done credit to the books. So I guess, if I’ve read the books, it’s a matter of who is in the movie and who directed and/or produced it. If I think you’re rubbish as an actor or director, I won’t want to see your movie in general; and especially not if it’s one based on a book I’ve read (and liked). I have learned to take movies-based-on-books with a grain of salt (or heaping tablespoon-full) after being disappointed so many times, but it has taken years.

    (That said, I still don’t buy Elijah Wood as Frodo; and I was slightly disappointed with The Two Towers because the book was my favourite of the trilogy and least favourite of the films. I still love the movies as a whole, though.)

    1. Rae Post author

      That is a good approach. But I am all about self-torment and will probably go to see a movie made from a book I love, even if I know that the director and actors are horrible.

  4. rachieannie

    The book is always better. I think the hardest part for me is when I watch the movie then that character automatically becomes who I see/hear when I read the book. Same with listening to it on audio. It’s fine when they do a good job with the actor/voice but if they fail then it just becomes annoying.

  5. Kacie

    Actually, on the Tolkein books and movies, I read the first book, then watched all the movies, then finished the books. That was perfect, in my opinion, because the second two movies take some liberties in story-telling but make it all very beautiful and profound anyways. I appreciated the movies, but then reading the books showed me the original, which I did like better in most ways.

  6. Christine

    I like that rule as well. I read the Lord of the Rings books after I saw the first movie and so when I went and saw the movies, I was sorely disappointed about how they changed my favourite character’s personality and took out his awesome love story. (Just ask my husband as every time we watch Lord of the Rings I prattle on about how they changed things was bad and it was perfectly fine in the book, blah, blah, blah. haha.)

  7. Christine

    If the movie is based on a book that I’ve no major interest in, then I’ll just watch the movie first.

    But, if I really am interested in the story, then I’ll [usually] try to read the book first.

    Sometimes, I’ll discover a story I like a lot because of watching a movie first. For instance, I watched all three LOTR movies, and have read/audiobook listened to the first book.

      1. Christine

        Actually, yes. For LOTR, there are so many characters and intricate things happening, that when I listened to the book, I could make sense out of it, rather than getting confused and distracted (like I usually do with audiobooks).

  8. Erin

    I agree with you! I think my biggest disappointment was going to see the movie for my favorite book, Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve read it several times and cried with excitement before the movie started. IT WAS HORRIBLE! The audience was full of teenagers who were bored and annoying (was it assigned for school?) but the movie – even Javier B couldn’t save it. :( My husband, who had never read the book, even disliked the movie – but I disliked it even more because I love that book in a way I’ve never loved a book. I can only hope they don’t attempt/ruin 100 Years of Solitude – perhaps they already have, but I won’t seek it out!

  9. Kathleen

    I used to, but I don’t anymore. I think the breakthrough came for me when I saw The Jane Austen Book Club, which I LOVED, before I even knew it was a book. Then I tried to read the book later and it wasn’t nearly as good. So now I do whatever I feel. :)

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