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It's not intellectually lazy to watch the movie before reading the book

One who flew over the Cuckoo's Nest celebrates fifty years with a 50th Anniversary Edition. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Every time a film adaption of a critically acclaimed book hits the theaters, there is always a familiar discussion I hear between my friends and peers:

Person A: “Have you seen ‘(insert movie title here)’ yet? I heard it was really good.”

Person B: “Not yet, I’m trying to finish reading the book first.”

Person C: “Oh, don’t even bother seeing that trash, I’ve already read the book and it’s waaayyy better."

And then there’s me giving Person C the Frank Underwood side-eye because I like seeing the movie first.


As a bookseller and avid reader, I know I should be advocating for the opposite, but I don’t think it should be considered intellectually lazy to see the movie before reading the book — just as you shouldn't feel smugly superior because you read the book first. I consider both mediums of expression to be on equal grounds of each other. A good quality film with the right director and the right cast should not be inferior to a sufficiently well written book.

In fact, I find that I enjoy both mediums more when I see the movie first because I have no prior expectations of what I'm about to see. Seeing the movie first allows me to evaluate the film based on its own storytelling merits and not how well it followed the written version. I didn't turn on "Reservoir Dogs" expecting Mr. Pink to be exceedingly tall and handsome or for Mr. White to be the one who was actually the undercover cop. Instead, I turned on the movie for the first time completely unaware of what events were about to unfold, and I enjoyed it.

Although "Reservoir Dogs" is not a film adaptation of a book, I still think this formula applies to most movies. Looking back, I really do regret reading Ken Kesey’s "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" before seeing the movie. I really tried to love the film, but short of Jack Nicholson’s performance, I really didn’t enjoy it because of the expectations I had from the book. I fully expected to see the Chief narrating the movie and I was irritated that they totally left out the fog.

I really think that if I had seen the film before reading the book I would have been able to appreciate both pieces as separate bodies of work for what they were. But instead, I was too caught up in my expectation of what the film should be.

With "The Shining," another Jack Nicholson classic, I saw the movie first and I’m glad I did. While the film adaptation in my opinion feels drastically different from the book, I’m able to appreciate both works separately because I didn’t enter either of them with an expectation of what I thought they should be.

Movies, books, music, etc. are meant to be enjoyed. There is no right or wrong way to consume art, and nobody should make you feel inferior for consuming it in whatever order you choose. 

Related Links:

Watch the books you've read

John Malkovich superior in book-to-film adaptations

Reach the columnist at or follow @KelcieGrega on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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