Books make great blockbusters. Hollywood has been mining the literary world for movie ideas since the beginning, and with today's audiences craving more from genres like fantasy, sci-fi, YA, and thrillers, there's no shortage of books that have been optioned and made into movies.
It can be tempting to skip the book and head straight to the screen, but for every critically-acclaimed adaptation, there are dozens that miss the mark. And then there are movies that have to leave so much out that if you haven't read the book, it's easy to get lost in the plot. These are the top books you should check out before (or in some cases, instead of) watching the movie.
You can also check out the audiobook versions of any of these titles. All of them are available on Audible if you prefer to listen. Audiobooks are a great chance to take some time out for yourself and enjoy the act of listening.
#1 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fans pretty much unanimously agree that Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a huge success and a faithful adaptation that brought millions more fans to Tolkien's world. The Hobbit is another story.
Even Jackson himself admitted that the three Hobbit movies were bad. Part of the reason was the studio's insistence on stretching the relatively short book into three bloated films.
The Hobbit is also much more of a children's book than Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. The audiobook is great bedtime listening for kids.
#2 Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
The reviews aren't in yet, but if you're a die-hard Stephen King fan, it's worth checking out Doctor Sleep - King's sequel to The Shining - before the movie comes out. Rather than skipping the cinematic version, file this one under "read before watching." The audiobook is read by American actor Will Patton, an award-winning voice actor for his work in over 45 audiobooks.
#3 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
There have been multiple attempts to adapt Jackson's haunted house classic for both big and small screens. A 1999 movie was widely panned, and while the more recent streaming miniseries was more positively received, it's significantly different from the original work, which Stephen King called "nearly perfect." The audiobook is especially chilling. All in all, the original is not a work to be missed.
#4 Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
Thackeray's classic stands the test of time, while Hollywood misses the mark by simplifying the main character, Becky Sharp, a sharp, cunning young woman determined to climb up through English society. Sadly, her complexities just don't make it to the silver screen. Fans of historical fiction and films are better off sticking to the book. There's even a full-cast dramatization produced by BBC Radio 4 available as an audiobook.
#5 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
One of the most beloved fantasy series ever was poised to become the next big blockbuster trilogy when The Golden Compass was adapted for film in 2007. Audiences were very disappointed with the results, and a combination of financial difficulties and religious pressure meant the studio never returned to the series. There is a new TV adaptation launching this year, but why not dive into Pullman's nuanced original? For a change of pace, the audiobook is narrated by Pullman himself, as well as a full cast giving unique voices to each character.
While it does happen, it's rare for a movie to outshine the original. There are a lot of compromises that have to be made reducing several hundred pages into two hours on the screen. It's always worthwhile to check out the original.