Book Then Movie? Or Movie Then Book?

You know that book in your to-be-read pile, that one you’re really looking forward to reading, the one you just haven’t gotten around to yet? What would you do if you found out that Hollywood is going to adapt it, and it’s going to be the next big movie/television show?

Would you read the book before watching the movie/television show?

Or are you going to watch the movie/television show, and then read the book?

For a lot of people, the answer is clear: because the book is always better, they read the book first, because there’s no way the movie/television show can compare. For the longest time, that was my philosophy as well. If it was a story that I had planned on reading anyway, I’d read the book first, no question. Of course, there would always be the movie or television show that I’d watch which would capture my imagination, and I’d come to the source material afterwards (examples being Fight Club and The Lord of the Rings), but by and large, I’d read the books first. I admit, I enjoyed the feeling of slight superiority I got from knowing what was happening on Game of Thrones and, to an extent, The Walking Dead, even if I wasn’t always surprised.

Then I made a mistake.

Gone Girl was announced, and David Fincher was slated to direct. Fincher is my husband’s favorite director, so I knew we’d be seeing this movie in theaters, and since I’d always wanted to read the book, I settled down and read the book before seeing the movie. The book sucked me in with the writing style, the mystery, and of course, the twists. I couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen. But… while the movie was incredible well-done, already knowing those twists had me disengaged from the story, and I found myself telling people who had the similar choice to see the movie first instead, and then read the book, because the book goes into so much more detail and they’d get so much more out of the story.

This experience bothered me, because I’m not a purist when it comes to adaptations. I attended a writing workshop not long after this experience and the topic came up, and another writer said he always chooses to see the movie (or television show) first, because, and I’m paraphrasing here, he’s never had the movie ruin the experience of reading the book, but he’s had the book ruin the experience of watching the movie.

This, dear readers, was a revelation.

For Speculative Chic’s Resolution Project, I decided to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I have, of course, until the end of the year, but in my resolution I noted that I might throw the film in as well, because Mitchell’s novel was adapted by the Wachowskis back in 2012. I never got around to seeing it, and I’d always wanted to, despite the controversy surrounding the issue of yellowface used in the film (which is a topic for another day and time). Now that I’ve decided to read the book, I had to take my revelation and really consider it: my resolution was to read the book. The movie would just be a bonus, but I knew I wanted to watch it. Would I embrace my revelation and watch the movie first, and allow that movie to be a kind of Cliff Notes guide to my understanding of the book? Or should I read the book as planned, watch the movie if I had the time, and allow the book to possibly sour my viewing experience of the movie?

In the end, my choice was made for me: iTunes was running a $0.99 rental special on the film, so I rented and watched it. Originally, I thought about reviewing the movie independently of the book. After all, even adaptations of films are meant to stand on their own two feet, independent of their source materials, but this movie clocks in at practically three hours, and it’s so detailed, complex, and rich in theme and story that after I finished, my first thought was, “I’m glad I watched this first,” and my second thought was, “I’m going to have to watch this again after I read the book.”

Now, the question remains, will I feel the same way when I read the book? Will I feel having seen the movie first has spoiled the pleasure of reading the book? While I doubt it now, the question does remain, and it won’t be answered until I read it (before the year is over). But until then, I ask you:

Do you have to read the book before you see the movie or the television show? Or do you prefer watching the adaptation before curling up with the source material? Or, like me, have you been burned and have you changed your tune, and what changed your mind?


  • davidbrawley January 25, 2017 at 8:02 am

    For me, it was Jurassic Park. I saw the movie first, and then read the book. I loved the movie, and then I loved the book, while still loving the movie. I don’t know that I’d have felt the same awe and joy with the movie if I’d have read the book first.

    • Shara White January 25, 2017 at 9:14 am

      Oh, I forgot about that one, and yes, me too!!!!

  • Mekaela St. George January 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

    I tend to read things before I watch them, but every now and then I’ll see it first. If I read the book first I usually find that I will like the movie (or tv show) better on the second viewing, when I’m not constantly comparing it to the book. If I see it first, I look to the book to fill in the gaps.

    I’d like to hear what you think of Cloud Atlas when you’re done reading/rewatching. I read it first, then saw the film because I just had to see how they tried to adapt it. Ultimately neither were my favorite, but I could appreciate how ambitious both projects were.

    • Shara White January 25, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      I don’t know when I’ll get to the book, other than to say it’ll be before 2017 is over, and I definitely want to rewatch the movie too. Keep your eyes posted on this blog, and you’ll hear all about it! 🙂

  • Kelly McCarty January 26, 2017 at 1:17 am

    I’m more of a book first person, mainly because I like reading better than watching TV or going to the movies. It feels like less effort to get my hands on a book, either buying going to the library or just buying it. I like imaging things for myself first. There have been times that a TV show introduced me to a book series, which happened with Game of Thrones and Outlander. I l actually think that Game of Thrones is better as a TV show in some ways–the emotions of certainly plot lines are amplified up on the show. I don’t watch Outlander on TV because it comes on a channel I don’t get. I liked the casting of Jamie and Claire but that is not what Brianna looks like. That is a problem for me sometimes when the actor/actress doesn’t look the way I imagined the character.

    I read Gone Girl before I saw the movie but I wasn’t wowed by the movie. Rosamund Pike did a good job but Ben Affleck is one of those actors that I see in a movie and think the whole time, “There is Ben Affleck, not the character.”

  • Lane Robins January 26, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I think there’s also an outrage factor in reading the book first that you don’t suffer through if you see the movie/show first. The other day I watched a few episodes of The Witches of East End (goofy, not particularly good, but with a certain charm), then realized it was based on a book. Went back, and boy… they changed everything that could be changed! It amused me to see how much had been altered to make the show sort of like everything else on TV. But Howl’s Moving Castle–the movie? I don’t care how talented Studio Ghibli is, I loathed that movie because they changed all my favorite things from the book, that I went in expecting to see.

    I think there’s another category too–books I didn’t like, but anticipate a movie/show of. There are books I’ve bounced off of for one reason or another where the premise is appealing enough I’d gladly watch an adaptation instead of reading it.

    • Shara White January 26, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      That makes sense. One thing that never made a whole lot of sense to me personally was people who re-read books RIGHT BEFORE they saw the movie adaptation. I’m like, why are you setting yourself up for hate? I think my happy medium is having read the books FOREVER AGO, then forgetting most of it, and then seeing the movie/television adaptations. 🙂

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier January 26, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    It’s funny that you mentioned Gone Girl, because I read the book before seeing the movie, and felt like I ended up enjoying it more than my husband, who had not read the book. It could be in part to personal taste, of course.

    I try and make an honest effort to read the book first. I don’t always succeed (for example, I saw Hidden Figures, and I haven’t read the book yet), but I do try. Interestingly enough, one of the drawbacks of watching the movie first is I feel more “done” with the story (especially if the movie was not-great), and I’m less likely to bother to pick up the book. When I’ve read the book first, I’m far more likely to check out the movie (unless it’s poorly received). Not sure why this is!

    • Shara White January 26, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      Interesting point. I feel like the story has to engage me past the point of mere enjoyment to pick up the book after I’ve seen the movie or television show first. For example: A Winter’s Tale. I’d heard so many great things about the book, saw the movie, and recognized the movie clearly was inferior to whatever the book was (and the book is a DOORSTOPPER), and I still want to read the original incarnation of the story. I’ll get to it, one day, but I’m glad I saw the movie first, because it wasn’t the best movie ever, and I would’ve hated it if I’d read the book first, I suspect…..

  • Nicole Taft January 27, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    Normally I’ll do book first then movie – usually because the book it out waaaay before the movie. However in the case of the Maze Runner, I totally made a point to watch the movie first because it looked so cool and, as we’ve mentioned, I didn’t want the book to ruin it. But having read the trilogy now and seen the first two movies, I’m actually good. I can see they’ve taken the story in a different direction, but it’s still good so it’s fine.

    Also, holy crap the second movie would have been rated R if they went the book route. Geezo!


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