Great Film Scenes Not In the Book

March 26, 2012 — 12 Comments

One of my favourite scenes ever in a film is one that wasn’t in the book it was based on. In most cases I wouldn’t know what an adaptation left out or added, but in this case the book also happens to be one of my favourites. The scene appears near the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Ron has abandoned his friends, who now sit depressed in the English wilderness. Harry, while contemplating his situation, hears a song coming from their tent. He walks in to find Hermione sitting there listening to Nick Cave’s “O Children” on the radio. He goes to her, takes her by the hand and begins to dance. The scene is only about two minutes long, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of that first half of the book. And it’s completely invented for the film.

The themes of friendship and feeling lost are right there in one beautiful scene. It’s beautifully filmed,  beautifully acted and the song choice is wonderful. What I love most about it is that the screenwriter and director found a way to do something new and truly cinematic. It’s a scene that wouldn’t work as well in a novel anyway. It’s all visual and aural. It appeals directly to visceral emotion. They took the very heart of the book and translated it into filmic terms and came away with the best scene in the entire franchise.

This wasn’t the first time the Harry Potter series had added scenes that weren’t in the books. The previous film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, expanded a scene from the book in which Slughorn tells a story about Harry’s mother when she was a student. It’s a tiny addition, but it speaks so well to the emotion that underlies the series at this point in the journey. Again, an invented scene that’s better than any scenes which originated with the novel.

I wish more films would do this. The Hunger Games featured scenes that weren’t in the book, though they were all hinted at or described in the book and the sequels. Still, one of the major scenes in the film showed a small uprising in District 11, and it was one of the few moments where the film where the emotion was sold for me. It’s a scene discussed in the second book, but inserted into the first film it has a greater power.

Another great example of new/altered scenes in adaptations is Watchmen. That’s a film famous for its incredible faithfulness to the source graphic novel. It’s faithful to a fault. But one area where the film isn’t literally faithful is with the twist at the end. The spirit of the book’s ending is there, but the film brings it back to the characters, and makes it more believable. Most things in the movie are not as good as the book, but the ending is actually better, more emotional and ultimately more profound. It’s a change from the book, where the people adapting it saw a way to do right by doing different.

In the Coen brothers’ True Grit there’s a scene where the character bump into an eccentric man in a bear suit. It’s a small scene, and the character is very weird. At first I thought of it as just a little comic bit to break the tension. The scene certainly plays that way, but upon further reflection and subsequent viewings I’ve come to see its thematic importance.. The man in the bear suit is a vision of what a person becomes when completely removed from society. He’s the ultimate loner. He is what the main characters threaten to become. It also happens to be one of the few scenes in the film that are completely invented. Maybe not the best scene in the film, but a great one nonetheless.

I think what works so well about all these added scenes is that they are products of writers and directors addressing the thematic core of the source material. Purely adapted scenes are filtering the source, but these new scenes feel more like responses. This gives them the room to do something more cinematic, or to address themes through totally new eyes.

I’m sure there are examples I wouldn’t even know about due to not having read the novels. Do you have any favourite scenes that weren’t in the original source? Tell me about them in the comments.


12 responses to Great Film Scenes Not In the Book


    I love each of these scenes too (besides the Watchman ending- preferred the strange- and otherness of the original ending) and the Harry/Hermione dance is the first thing I thought of when I read your title. Nice piece!


    Most of Trainspotting, Youth in Revolt, and Drive. The best, most recent example is Our Idiot Brother. In which is a true adaptation.

    Moving an already established franchise name from a book to a movie isn’t necessarily adaptation, but more like the way they used to novelize original films.

    Faithfulness to a novel is a sign of a poor movie. Especially in Hollywood films. Professional grade quality in recreating trees does not always make a forest.


      Faithfulness can be great, but only when it serves the film. If it works well in the film, then might as well take what the source material is offering. The problems start when you’re being faithful to the point of detracting from the film.


    My favorite instance of this isn’t even a book to movie adaptation, but David Mamet’s adaptation of his own play Glengarry Glen Ross. The Alec Baldwin role wasn’t in the play, and his scene is my favorite part of the movie.


    The last two HP films in general are a masterclass in adaptation. Both surpass the parts of the book they cover by quite a bit. The somber reflection at the end of Pt. 2 is WAY better than Rowling’s free-for-all celebration where they pretty much just do jello shots out of the hole in Fred’s chest. The weariness and tired relief of the movie’s denouement was incredible.


      Right. I heard a lot of people knocking those films, particularly Part 1, for being pointlessly faithful. That they were just doing fan service. These complaints usually came from people who hadn’t read the books and were bored by the camping in Part 1 and were annoyed that the film had been split and now they’ve have to see one more film on top of it all. Of course, anybody who’s read the books will know that though the story is the same a lot of those scenes were compressed, expanded, altered or dropped. Both Parts 1 and 2 are very different from the book, and to my mind the only “service” they do is give time to spend with the characters many of us came to love in the film versions, not the books. A scene like that dance is purely there to build upon the film as a film. And it’s great.


    I think your example speaks to the fact that film is super effective at expressing ideas in a particular way that doesn’t always work in literary methods. The play of music, image, atmosphere and tone in the scene in HP 7.1 plays to the strength of film as a medium in a way that would be hard to express on page.

    My favorite adaptations tend to be ones that take the spirit of the book and then decide to create a filmic world of story. Blade Runner is the pinnacle of this for me. It takes moments and the basic rough idea of the classic sci-fi novel and then turns it into an ethereal, operatic film that works brilliantly at exploring the same ideas and emotions.

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