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Movie Adaptations That Make A Lot More Sense If You’ve Read The Books

List RulesVote up the movies you think come with required reading.

A film can bring a beloved book to life, making visible what's only on the page or in the imagination. But even with the best of intentions, sometimes filmmakers miss the mark, and they make movie adaptations that are more enjoyable if you read the book. This is largely because books have hundreds of pages to provide context and backstory, and authors have the advantage of devoting significant time to character and story development. Screenwriters, however, have no such luxury; most of them have around 120 minutes, give or take, to compress an entire literary universe into a film that captures viewers' attention.

No story genre is immune from the difficulties of making the transition from page to screen, whether it's a young adult drama or sci-fi adventure. Fantasy and science-fiction novels, however, create unique challenges, because carefully crafted, complex worlds are everything. Filmmakers might be limited by budget constraints, often meaning huge, essential chunks of a complex story are cut. So for some movies, you need to read the book to understand what's happening. 

Even if you love a particular movie, you might understand it better - and also enjoy it more - if you read the book in tandem with seeing the film.

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  • The two Percy Jackson movies are drawn from Rick Riordan's series about an adolescent demigod and his friends as they embark on quests to save the world from evil. Because of the vibrantly drawn universe in Riordan's books, the movies suffer from oversimplifications and a watering-down of heroes and villains.

    The film version also cast several high-profile actors to play the adult roles, significantly expanding them from what was in the original books. It did so, however, at the expense of the younger characters. This makes it difficult and confusing to cheer for the leads audiences are supposed to know and love. 

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  • Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (AKA Northern Lights) has been hailed as a modern masterpiece of YA lit. But the 2007 film version misses the mark in some big ways. So significant, in fact, that many devoted fans of the book were left scratching their heads and wondering what happened to the rest of the movie.

    Case in point: the daemons. In Pullman's novel, who and what daemons are is not revealed via pages of exposition; it only becomes evident through the action of the story. The movie takes a decidedly different tack: it tries to encapsulate the complex daemons into a few lines of early-in-the-film voiceover narration. Some vague narration also attempts to explain the story's complicated class system.

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  • Dune, based on Frank Herbert's book, requires some exhaustive world-building that was difficult for filmmakers to wrangle into a screenplay. While director David Lynch has always gone for the bizarre over the conventional, Dune is too perplexing and frustrating even by typical Lynch standards. It's a big, sprawling space opera set in a feudal interstellar society in which various beings are all trying to get their hands on a coveted resource called Spice. Confused yet?

    Universal Pictures even distributed a glossary with each movie ticket to help audiences make sense of what they were about to see. In the book, Herbert has more freedom to construct his world methodically.

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  • Starring Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, and Taylor Swift, The Giver is a YA dystopian saga that makes sense only when paired with its literary source. The film version of The Giver never really gives viewers a thorough picture of what life is like in this nightmarish society, but Lois Lowry delves into all the messy details in her acclaimed book.

    To get an idea of what's truly at stake and better appreciate what the movie is trying to do, reading Lowry's book is essential.

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