Novelization better than the movie

There’s lots of discussion about whether the movie made from a novel is better or worse than the novel. What about novelizations? This is when a movie comes out first. The filmmakers arrange for an author to write a novel that uses the plot of the film. Do you know of cases where that novel is better than the film? I wonder about this because 45 years ago, after seeing a film that was nothing particularly good, I happened to take the novelization of the film down from the shelf of a bookstore soon after this. I flipped to the end and was astonished to discover that the ending made a lot more sense than the film’s ending. Just recently I got ahold of a copy of this novelization and read the whole thing. It does appear to be better in general. Do you know of any other examples of this?

I liked Isaac Asimov’s novel version of Fantastic Voyage better than the film but that’s the order in which I encountered them (even though the film was done first).

There’ve definitely been a few others but I appear to have offloaded those memories to external storage. Maybe I’ll come back and post them if the titles rise to the brain surface.

The novelization of The Wicker Man gives you some more information on the cult’s background, and the workings of their scheme. Also some more background on Sergeant Howie’s and Lord Summerisle’s motivations.

L. Sprague deCamp and Lin Carter did the novelization for the Schwarzenegger version of Conan the Barbarian, and it is slightly better than the movie. (It probably helped that the movie script was based more on their stories than on Robert E. Howard’s.) Their version of the scene where Conan’s father teaches him the Riddle of Steel is far more poetic, almost epic.

I have not read it, but I have heard it claimed that the novelization of Zardoz almost makes sense.

Several of the Star Trek movie novelizations (though not the first TOS).

I agree but I saw the movie first then the novel.

Not necessarily better than the film, but worth rading for how it either significantly added to the film, or was significantly different from it:

The Abyss – James Cameron was unhappy , he said, with earlier novelizations of his work (I assume he meant Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of Aliens), so he had SF writer Orson Scott Card do it. Card added so much backstory that Cameron actually worked it into his script and distributed it to the actors.

Forbidden Planet – the novelization was by “W,J, Stuart”, which was a pseudonym for mystery writer Philip MacDonald. MacDonald actually changed the plot quite a bit. His novel is self-consistent, and presents a slightly different story, in which the Krel didn’t bring back biological specimens from Earth – Morbius (unwittingly, apparently) created them himself using the Krel machine. The chapters are told from the points of view of different characters.

The Thief of Bagdad – I’ve been trying to figure out for years who really created the story. It’s credited, in various places, to Douglas Fairbanks himself and to Achmed Abdullah, the pseudonym of Alexander Nicholayevich Romanoff, a writer of “Oriental” pulp novels and screenplays. His background, as given by himself, is suspect. But he was a helluva writer. His novelization of Thief of Bagdad simply oozes atmosphere. It’s much better than the common run of novelizations, and well worth the read. It’s available as an e-book

Vonda McIntyre, Hugo award winner for Dreamsnake, did two really good novelizations for Star Trek III and Star Trek IV, which really add depth and characterization. Better than we have a right to expect.

A Study in Terror – the movie was a surprisingly good Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper (the first time I know of where that happens, although it was addressed by many other films and writers later). The novelization is credited to Ellery Queen, and was really written by the duo of authors who published under that name – Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, whose real names were Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky (they were cousins, to add to it all). Actually, they only wrote the framing story, where detective Ellery Queen analyzes the story. The Sherlock Holmes part was written by SF writer Paul W. Fairman, who isn’t even credited on the cover of my copy.

I wouldn’t say better, but without the novelization I would never have known that ET was in love with Elliott’s mother. (That, and the phrase “It’s only rocks and rolling” have stuck with me these past 30 years.)

As I remember, no, no it doesn’t. Still a mess. I read it long ago though.

Star Trek IV is one of my favorite movies and easily the best novelization of Trek I read. But I can’t say it was better than the movie.

Low bar but Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of Alien 3 was better than the terrible movie that was Alien 3. Though I don’t remember much about it now.

Alan Dean Foster Is going to be mentioned a lot in this thread. His novelization of the SF version of High Noon (Outland) was great. The Sean Connery film; not so much.

A few others

I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say if the novelization is better, but I CAN say that Fritz Leiber’s Tarzan and the Valley of Gold is better than Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. And I LIKE ERB. He managed to make his book consistent with ERB’s books as well as the movie, complete with footnotes, and added characterization beyond what was strictly needed. It became the first “authorized” Tarzan novel not by ERB. The movie evidently tried to make Tarzan into a “James Bond”-like figure, so I suspect that the novelization really is better. Hard to get hold of nowadays.

Peter George, as Peter Bryant, wrote the novel Red Alert, upon which Kubrick based his movie Dr. Strangelove He collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick and Terry Sothern. After that, he completely rewrote his novel to more closely resemble to film as re-issued it as Dr. Strangelove. It’s not better than the film – that IS a high bar – but it’s interesting.

I haven’t read either of these – or seen the movie, for that matter – but this is so weird that I have to bring it up. Peter Hyams’ movie Capricorn One has two novelizations. One was published in the UK and one in the US. The US one is by SF writer Ron Goulart. The UK one is by noted historical and thriller writer Ken Follett (!!!) (Pillars of the Earth, Eye of the Needle, and way too many others to even think of listing). The Follett one is supposed to be really good, with lots of characterization the movie lacks. He used the pseudonym “Bernard L. Ross”.

I figured Alan Dean Foster would be mentioned frequently.

The Black Hole, which I have a sneaking fondness for, is one where the novelization doesn’t dramatically differ from the source, but goes though fixing lots of details that spawn various WTF moments while watching the movie.

Here’s an article that does a better job than I would in pointing it out.

I don’t think I’ve read all the Star Wars prequel novels, but I believe they are better than the movies. I did read Phantom Menace, I believe, and it read like a regular book, much better than the boring movie.

The movie was a B grade potboiler mostly remembered for having Rachel Welsh in a wetsuit. Asimov’s novelization was a game attempt to fix not just the scientific errors but the gaping plot holes. Great author but he’d do anything for a buck. What he could not fix was made into fantasy/speculative science.

I read a story about him watching the movie with his young daughter. Don’t remember her age but I’m picturing 6-10. The story contains spoilers for a 50 year old movie/novel.


The movie is about a team of doctors and what not shrunk to microscopic size with a submarine and injected into the bloodstream of a dying patient who could only be saved by microscopic surgeons.

At the end, the miniature submariners were removed from the patient’s body just before they returned to normal size. All except the villain and the submarine which had been eaten by a white blood cell.

His daughter said that just because the submarine was eaten, wasn’t its matter still present in the white blood cell and wouldn’t it return to normal size and kill the patient?

Point being that a school girl could see an obvious plot hole that the movie makers apparently couldn’t.

Potentially controversial submission: Clarke’s novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey is fractionally better than the movie, but not incontrovertibly so, because both have different strengths and weaknesses.

The film scores high on impact. The novel is much stronger in comprehensibility.

I have to mention the special case of James Bond novelizations – because at least two of them are definitely better than their movies.

When the Bond movies started coming out, they just re-released the paperbacks with tie-in covers, usually taken from the movie posters. I don’t recall if they did this with Dr. No (I was too young), but they did it with From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball. and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The movies were close enough to the books that it didn’t matter – no novelization needed. But they didn’t, to my recollection, do it with You Only Live Twice. That movie differed so much from the novel (Fleming’s friend Roald Dahl – Yes! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Dahl – wrote the screenplay) that I guess it would be confusing. There was a paperback out, and when the movie came out they stuck fluorescent pink stickers on the cover about the violence and sex to be found inside, but nothing about the movie.

When Diamonds are Forever came out, though, they issued the paperback with the movie poster on the cover, even though the movie had absolutely nothing to do with the book (well, except for one guy getting killed in a mud bath.). They must’ve had really bad sales or something, because that’s the last time they issued a Fleming Bond novel with a movie tie-in (even though there were other opportunities to do so). So there was no movie tie-in releases of the novels Live and Let Die or The Man with the Golden Gun. Or novelizations.

Then Christopher Wood came in and wrote the two most puerile and silly Bond scripts ever – Moonraker and The Spy who Loved Me. The movies were abysmal (although the effects and stunts were good). Wood wrote a novelization of each. The movies had virtually nothing in common with the books, anyway. Technically, Woods’ novelization of the second was James Bond and Moonraker, but only “Moonraker” was in big letters. These two novels are better than their movies, but only because the movies are so awful. Wood actually makes the character of “Haws” somewhat believable. More so than the movie, anyway.

The next two Bond movies, directed by John Glen, got away from all that and brought Bond back to his roots. They took their titles from two short story collections.* For Your Eyes Only* is based on the title story in the collection, along with “Risico” (also in the collection) and a bit from part of Live and Let Die. They could’ve re-issued the paperback as a movie tie-in, but they didn’t. Similarly, Octopussy is based on the title story in the collection and on “Property of a Lady” (in the collection), but, again, they didn’t re-issue the book. They didn’t issue a book for the movies A View to a Kill or The Living Daylights, either.

They were starting to run out of Fleming titles to use or works to ever so freely adapt. Kingsley Amis had written the first non-Fleming novel, Colonel Sun, but no one filmed it. John Gardner started a new series with License Renewed (and would eventually write more Bond novels than Fleming did), and there was apparently thought of adapting it into a Bond film. Instead, they came up with a completely different story for Licence to Kill (spelling “Licence” the other way). But they DID issue a novelization. John Gardner wrote it. It was pretty good, and patched up some problems in the film (explaining why the Stinger missiles hadn’t locked onto their targets and hit them when they swerved, anyway.).

Gardner also wrote the novelization for the next film, Goldeneye. By the time Tomorrow Never Dies came out, Gardner had stopped writing Bond novels and Bond historian Raymond Benson took over. He also did the novelizations for The World is Not Enough and "Die Another Day*. His work in these, liuke his original Bond novels, is competent, but not thrilling.

After that they stopped doing novelizations. No Daniel Craig film, to my knowledge, got a novelization. In fact, even though Casino Royale, the very first Bond novel, was filmed twice and was adapted as a TV episode (the very first Bond adaptation), it has never, to my knowledge, been issued as a movie tie-in.

I have to take that back. Apparently they did release Fleming’s novel as a tie-in to the Daniel Craig movie. But it’s not a novelization, despite the differences between movie and novel

And the -67 movie had a tie-in release as well

Yeah, I’ve read a few novelizations that did what you describe- flesh out the backstory and behind the scenes type stuff in ways that you can’t really do in film without taking up a huge amount of time. I want to say that I read the “Return of the Jedi” novelization when it came out and thought how cool it was because it went into details that the movie may have just illustrated via visual details. And it had a lot of backstory that the movie just didn’t have at all.

I don’t know if I’d say that makes the novelization better, but it’s certainly more complete.

Dang, I came in to say Star trek IV and its already been mentioned like 3 or 4 times. It actually gives some explanation about the probe and its motivations rather than leaving it a big confusing mess.

Including, IIRC, the idea of Obi Wan and Annikin having their big battle in a volcano.

There are details in the books that I “remember” seeing in the movies that were never actually filmed.