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.