In Defense of Movie Novelizations

I know what you’re thinking. “Who would choose to read a book based on a movie?!” Well, me! And hopefully after reading this defense, you will too!

It is well known that many novels are adapted into movies, but did you know that movies are often adapted into novels? They’re called novelizations.

What are novelizations?

A novelization is a novel derived from the story originally created for a film medium. Novelizations exist for many films ranging from Star Wars to a recent publication of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to—my personal favorites—Alien.

Novelizations are often maligned: some people see them as hackwork, money grabs, or quickly produced junk. But I’m here to suggest to you that novelizations can be good, even very good!

“It’s always amusing to me, you take a book, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, throw away three quarters of it and win an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, But if you take a screenplay and add three quarters of original material to it — which is a much, much more difficult piece of writing — well, that’s by definition ‘hackwork.’ And it’s much harder, having done both, to take a screenplay and make a book out of it than [to] take a terrific book and make a screenplay out of it.”

Alan Dean Foster, prolific novelization writer

Novelizations have existed for nearly as long as films. And before the existence of DVDs, VCRs, or even televisions in our homes, novelizations were ways that fans of movies could relive and enjoy the story again at home. They were a little souvenir to remind of you of the thrill of seeing Alien in theaters for the first time. But it’s 2021 now, so why do novelizations still exist?

Novelizations are good, actually!

They have more details, including deleted scenes or information that’s not in the movies. You can experience the same story you love in a deeper and more complete way. If you’ve wondered while watching Alien Resurrection why Larry Purvis’s chestburster grows so much slower than in others, the answer is explored in the novelization: he has a genetic thyroid dysfunction. This small detail raises more interesting questions in the Alien universe about the life cycle of the xenomorph and human disability.

They explore different angles than their movie counterparts. Because novelizations are derived, their writers do have some freedom in telling the story in a new way or even telling new stories entirely. Tarantino describes his recently published novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as “a complete rethinking of the entire story.” He explains, “It’s not just me taking the screenplay and then breaking it down in a novelistic form. I retold the story as a novel.” Alan Dean Foster says about writing the novelization of Alien, “As [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget.”

They explore different truths. Novelizations tend to explore characters in more detail and give more individual attention to all characters in a story. We see new sides and nuances of the same characters. In particular, the novelization of Alien Resurrection gives the reader insider knowledge of smaller characters, especially DiStephano and Christie. You can see inside their minds and learn motivations never revealed in the movie. Even the main character, Ellen Ripley, is explored in deeper ways, including more tension on whether her loyalties are with the humans or aliens.

They can be more accessible for some people. In a novelization, you experience the story in different time. A two-hour film can be become a ten-hour novel—maybe experienced and read over weeks or months, giving you time to bask in the mythos. For some, films with flashing lights can be overwhelming, triggering, or impossible to watch, so a novelized version could be a preferred or necessary way to experience the story. Novelizations can be more accessible for people with disabilities, including those who have difficult focusing for the duration of a movie.

They let you linger in worlds you love. The different times you spend in a movie versus in a novel changes your experience of the story, letting you delight in a beloved story or franchise. The truth is: people who read novelizations tend to be the ones who loved the movies. As a huge fan of the beloved Alien franchise, it’s a joy for me to spend more time with characters I already know and love.

So, who would read a book based on a movie? Maybe you! Whatever your favorite movie, check out its novelization and enjoy the story you already love in a deeper, lingering, and more nuanced way.

6 Best Movies that Began As Books

There is no way around it: there are some books that are just completely butchered as movies. And it. is. so. painful. I would argue, almost nothing is worse for a literary junkie. However, we don’t like to focus on the bad things here at Spellbinding Shelf, hence why I decided to bring you my list of the “6 Best Movies that Began As Books.” So for those of you who may need your faith restored in the cinematic world, fear not—I have the solutions right here.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien. If this wasn’t first on the list, I think I could be put in literary jail. Putting myself in Peter Jackson’s shoes, I’m still in awe that he was not only able to undertake such a massive project like this (dealing with a literary legend), but turn it into a cinematic masterpiece as well. While a few of our favorite characters may not have made it to the screen in this iconic trilogy (Tom Bombadil anyone?), there is no doubt that Peter Jackson brought Tolkien’s magnificent world to life in the most fulfilling way.

Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Bless all of the memes that came from this wonderful line of dialogue from the first book in Rowling’s seven part series. Spanning nearly a decade of filming, numerous directors, and (sadly) two Dumbledores, the screen adaptation of Rowling’s iconic series is—without a doubt—a cinematic masterpiece. With each of Rowling’s characters brought perfectly to life through incredible acting, there is no debate that the Harry Potter movie series is every inch as magical as us Potterheads could ever hope for.

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green. If you try to tell me that Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel and Augustus wasn’t sheer perfection, I call foul, sir. Originally winning the reader’s heart on the page, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars continued to break our hearts in the most wonderful way as it made its screen debut. With incredibly raw and emotionally-captivating performances by everyone on screen, The Fault In Our Stars remains one of my favorite book-to-movie creations.

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks. Name one person who doesn’t love this movie. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Don’t worry, I can’t think of anyone either. Each time I watch this movie, I am still so overcome by the incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as they so poignantly bring Noah and Ally to life. With a love story so ridiculous, crazy, and beautiful, the screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook perfectly captures every emotion we as readers felt on the page.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. Okay, to be fair, it was a musical long before it was brought to life on screen in 2012, but I say: mere technicality! It’s a movie now. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first found out Les Mis was going to be a movie. Could they capture the vulnerability that Hugo left on the pages and numerous stars had left on stages around the world? Spoiler alert: heck. yes. Boasting some of (what I think to be) the most magnificent performances to have ever graced the silver screen, Les Miserables is a movie that does not disappoint its OG readers.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. And of course, my dear Pride and Prejudice. Did I choose this merely because of Keira Knightley? No, but, if I did, would that really be so bad? Though the movie version may not have Colin Firth in it (*sigh*), watching Jane Austen’s most iconic work come to life on screen is an unforgettable experience. So for any of my classics lovers, if you haven’t already seen the movie, my advice is this: hunker with a bottle of wine, your best friends, and your Mr. Darcy daydreams. It will not disappoint.