Shorter stories make better films?

An average film is about 2 hours long; the average novel is at least 50,000 words. Film adaptations of novels are plentiful, with some good, some bad, and some ugly, and nearly all having someone leaving the theatre suggesting “the book was better”. Is this because films struggle to do justice to so many words, and if so, is a shorter story therefore a better bet? Here are ten films, and the novellas and short stories they are based on, including some classics (both literary and celluloid). 

  1. Angels and Insects (1995) – ‘Morpho Eugenia’ by A S Byatt, in Angels and Insects (1992). A young naturalist marries into an aristocratic family in England in the 1800s.
  2. Apocalypse Now (1979) – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902). The horror! Amazingly, a novella just over 100 pages long still manages to contain a story within a story.
  3. Away from Her (2006) – ‘The Bear Went Over the Mountain’ by Alice Munro, in Carried away: a selection of stories. Julie Christie was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007 for her portrayal of Fiona Anderson.
  4. The Birds (1963) – ‘The Birds’ by Daphne du Maurier, in The Birds and Other Stories. Classic Hitchcock!
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958). Capote created Holly Golightly, but Audrey Hepburn cemented her place in pop culture.
  6. Brokeback Mountain (2005) – ‘ Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx in Close range: Wyoming stories (1999). More than just gay cowboys. Ang Lee won the Oscar for Best Director in 2006.
  7. The Dead (1987) – ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce, in Dubliners (1914). A Christmas dinner in turn of the (20th) century Ireland, starring Anjelica Huston.
  8. The Killers (1946, 1964) – ‘The Killers’ by Ernest Hemingway, in The Collected Stories. The DVD contains both the 1964 version starring Lee Marvin and the 1946 version with Burt Lancaster.
  9. Minority Report (2003) – ‘Minority Report’ by Philip K Dick, in Minority report. The three “precogs”, Arthur, Dashiell and Agatha, are named for legendary mystery writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett.
  10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King, in Different Seasons. I prefer the story title: Rita Hayworth is indeed the key.