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How Reading Books is Different from Watching Movies

My kids and I have been spending some significant time watching movies and reading the books that go with them this summer. So I started thinking about what the differences in value between the two are.  Then I wondered how reading books is different from watching movies.

Some people prefer to watch the movie first.  Others prefer to read the book first. Consequently, I see value and differences in both.  But regardless of one’s preference, reading and watching movies are pretty different things.

So how is reading books different from watching movies and how can we take advantage of the benefits of both?  Reading books can give you many more details than watching a movie and also helps brain function among other things.  Watching movies is great for social life and a great form of entertainment among other things.  Both are great for stress relief, growth in knowledge and vocabulary and are great hobbies.  Read on to find out how each or both can be beneficial as well as fun for you!

how reading books is different from watching movies

The Benefits of Reading a  Book

There are actually more benefits to reading than I can fit in this one paragraph of a blog post.  Maybe that will be a separate blog post of its own one day soon.  Let me just touch on a couple of the most beneficial reasons for reading a book.

The mental stimulation that occurs from reading a book is far reaching.  The reader learns words they have never heard before (or heard but never learned what they meant) by reading in context.

Totally separate from that form of mental stimulation is the scientific theory that reading to keep the brain engaged can slow down or even prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  I have actually heard that reading 15 pages a day can improve your memory and productivity.

Interestingly enough, the earlier and more children read and carry the habit into adulthood, the more it is believed to aid in preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia entirely.  For more on this, see this article by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

Reading can reduce stress.  I know that there are times that I will start reading a book and get totally immersed in the characters and situations I’m reading about.  Before long I have totally forgotten what was going on before I started reading.  This could be good or bad!

But seriously, the studies I have read (here is one) indicate that reading has the ability to lower your heart rate and relax your muscles.  And it works faster than drinking a cup of tea or listening to music!

How reading books is different from watching movies.

The Benefits of Watching a Movie

Okay, I’m going to go ahead and start with the obvious one:  movies are entertaining.  We enjoy them.  Generally it is an experience for us.  Sometimes we watch movies as a social event. Maybe it’s when we meet friends at the movie theater or host a movie night at home.  But there is just as much value in settling in for the night for a movie by yourself.  Blankets, pillows, tea, your favorite movie, and you have the perfect recipe for a night in.

Surprisingly, watching a movie can also relieve stress, just like reading a great book.  Don’t watch horror though, especially if you are already stressed out!

How Reading a Book and Watching a Movie are Similar

I already shared with you that whether you are reading a good book or watching a great movie, you have found a good stress-reliever.  But there are plenty of other similar benefits to reading and books.

Both are learning experiences.  They don’t even have to be documentaries.  The best books and movies are produced with real-life facts throughout.  It makes the experience so much more enjoyable when the reader is able to relate what is going on in the plot to their life.  But actually, even if the plot is so far overboard that the reader/watcher can’t imagine it in their life, they still tend to be able to relate on some level as they engage with whichever format they are using.

Both can also help us to evaluate our lives.  They can inspire us to change in ways that improve our quality of life.  They don’t even have to be documentaries.  Some examples of books/movies that improved the way we perceive life and encourage us to change are The Pursuit of Happyness, Cast Awayand Pay it Forward.  All of these movies speak to the underlying spirit behind the actions we take in life.

How Reading a Book and Watching a Movie are Different

Reading a book puts ideas, pictures, people in your head that you have no context except for the description of the book.  By the end of a really good book, you have such a clear picture of what the characters looked like, what their movements looked like, what they were feeling at various points, and so much more.

For more on this, check out this very short video that explains the mental distinction between reading books and watching movies:


Watching a movie gives you the images and you fill in with the plot lines.  There isn’t a lot of imagination, but there can be tons of inspiration.

I love reading a book, having a picture in my head of how that book would play out if I were observing it, and then watching a movie and seeing how similar or different my picture was.  Most of the time it is so incredibly different than what the movie portrays.

On the flip side, watching a movie first, then reading the book opens a whole new world that the movie barely scratched the surface of.  It’s like going on an extended adventure after you thought you had already experienced so much.

Honestly, I’m not sure I know which way I like better.  I think I just like both for the rich experience that they both give.

The Strengths vs. the Weaknesses

One for the Books

So, let’s start with the strengths of books.  First of all, they have no limits on time constraints.  If it takes you a couple of weeks or even a month to finish a book, you can put a bookmark in it and keep it nearby until next time.  While a tv series certainly has the same ability, it’s really not the same.  You can enjoy a book that is one hundred pages by reading it in a night.  You can also enjoy a 1,000 plus page book just as much, although you are only able to read a few of those pages at a time.  You can still pick up that book and instantly be thrown back into life with those characters.

While movies are certainly more visual in this department, they don’t always have the same immersive effect that books tend to have.  This is especially true when the book spends a good amount of time building up the plot and characters.  You can definitely feel the character and plot development in a movie, but books have the ability to make you a part of them.

One for the Movies

Books, on the other hand, can have a very make-it-or-break-it lifespan.  If the first couple of chapters don’t engage the reader, then they certainly aren’t going to invest in hundreds more pages.  Movies can have the same effect.  But generally, the reader can make it all the way through a bad movie as well as a good movie.  This is true especially if they have forked out a significant amount of money to see it in the movie theater.  Another example of making it all the way through a bad movie is simple peer pressure.  A good friend tells you how inspiring a certain movie is.  So you hold out to the end, hoping to get a glimpse of what they saw.


So, which do I think is better–a great book or a great movie?  My answer is both!  You pretty much need both to get a well rounded experience.  They both have value that they bring to the table.  And doing both gives you much more than just one or the other–more inspiration, more entertainment, more imagination, more brain development.

There are so many ways to enrich your life by confirming how much you enjoyed a book by watching the movie and vice versa.

And for the record, I actually love to read the book AND watch the movie!

So for your “homework” this week, watch a movie based on a favorite book you have read sometime in the past.  Or read a book that you greatly enjoyed watching a movie about. While you do that, think about how reading books is different from watching movies.  But also think about how they are the same and how similarities and differences make for a better overall experience. Enjoy!

And for you literature teachers:  have a movie day for the books that you teach that have movies.  Your kids will love you for it.  And they may just tell their own kids what an awesome lit teacher they had back in the day!

To learn about more ways to reach your students in ways they will embrace (besides movies and reading), click here.

Click here for some amazing facts on how reading positively affects your brain activity.

Here are some related articles that you may find fascinating as well:

How to Choose the Best Books for Your Classroom This Year

What Makes These 10 Books so Well-loved?


This Post Has 100 Comments

  1. brianmayroam

    Both have played such an important role in my life. If a movie is based on a book, I say, read the book, watch the movie, then read the book again to fill in the blanks from the movie.

    1. Marie

      I fully agree!!!

  2. Cristina Petrini

    I’ve always preferred books over everything, they never have anything to do with movies. They are more engaging. Rich and exciting.

  3. Amber Myers

    I much prefer to read a book! It’s what I do for self care. I find it relaxing. I like seeing movies too, but there’s nothing like a good book.

  4. Nyxinked

    I love reading! It allows me to imagine the scenes in my head rather than having them fed to me. Often I find that when reading the book I come up with much better imagery than is portrayed in the movie. Harry Potter III is a prime example.

    1. Marie

      I agree. I love reading the book and forming my own pictures, then comparing it to how the movie portrays it. It’s always awesome to see how it turns out!

  5. alison netzer

    I love reading books first before watching the movie. I always make my kids spend 20 minutes before bed reading as I think it does calm them and helps them to shut their brain down.

  6. Krysten (@WeirdGirlBlog)

    I almost always get angry when they adapt a movie from a book – the book is almost always better. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  7. raisingyourpetsnaturally

    Great points. I agree on both! Like most things, pros and cons. 😉 I do love to read a good book and watch a thrilling movie.

  8. thecoffeemom0617

    I am an avid reader! While I love movies, I think I enjoy books more. I like creating the scene in my head and getting completely drawn into a new world.

  9. Gladys Nava

    Thanks for letting us know all that! I enjoy watching movies but I love reading books/stories!

  10. Cristina Pop

    It’s always different reading the book! I usually like to read the book, and maybe watch the movie after that 🙂

  11. Viola

    Yes! Great points. I love reading and watching movies both. I think reading stimulates our imagination so much more since we form our own scenes in our brain.

  12. successunscrambled

    I prefer reading books simply books movies tend to spoil that special thing called the imagination. I also prefer practical books with great lessons for life that I can apply straight away.

  13. Candace

    I’ve always loved reading books. I feel like reading has definitely improved my productivity and memory! When it comes to modern technology, we live in a world of instant gratification. But there’s something incredibly methodical and relaxing about reading books. They help me remember to slow down and breathe when my life becomes busy.

    1. Marie

      So incredibly true, Candace!

  14. Brittan

    What a great blog post topic! You did a great job of sharing the differences! I love reading the books and watching the films.

    1. Marie

      I love doing both as well, Brittan!

  15. Candace Hampton

    I totally agree. With both we can have a better experience. I read the Harry Potter books and then I watched the movies and I loved them both. Reading the books first also helps to comprehend more each character.

    1. Marie

      I fully agree. Reading the book first gives you so much more background on the movie.

  16. I feel like books a lot of time give more in depth background info more than movies. Also I’ve noticed that sometimes I can experience the way a character is feeling in a book more than a movie.. However I guess it depends on the person that is hired to play those roles too.

    1. Marie

      Yes! The books describe everything so I am not trying to figure things out like with a movie. Sometimes I miss the expressions or other subtle hints as to what is going on. With a book, I don’t miss those cues. But when I read the book first, I do get all the subtle cues that are in the movies!

  17. AMY KAUR

    I always read book before going to sleep. This is my way of relieving my whole day of stress in work. And that is really awesome.

  18. Hannah Marie

    I prefer watching movies but reading books is something else. Netflix predominantly, it is with me every night. This is an interesting post.

  19. Echo Aspnes

    We are big book and movie buffs! One thing we love to do is to compare the movies to the books, but generally, the book is always better!

  20. Cindy Ingalls

    Reading books and watching movies are both favorites of mine. I feel like they tap into different parts of my brain and can both entertain and educate me.

  21. Kez

    I always manage to build a more vivid picture of things from reading. I’ve also read some awesome fantasy books and thought they’d make great movies, then wondered why no one had adapted them.

    1. Marie

      Haha, I am very similar. I always find that the picture in my head ends up being very different than what the movie produces! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  22. Cristina Petrini

    I happened to see films taken from my favorite books and although I liked them I missed everything that the book gave me in the descriptions of the places, characters and emotions … the books are completely different. They allow you to immerse yourself in that particular story in a different way.

    1. Marie

      That is true, Cristina. I always have a way different picture in my head in the book than what the movies show.

  23. Travel Momma

    I like both, reading and watching as well. The thing I like about reading is just the context is into the whole novel/fiction while watching the movie it will help you visualize the what you have read. So both context for me is applicable

    1. Marie


    2. Marie

      I agree!

  24. CA

    My fave books are the Harry Potter series and the Crazy Rich Asians series. I’ve read the books first, before seeing the movies. And the movies will always fall short of my imagination, and so I get a bit disappointed. But afterwards, I do understand the limitations of the film industry executions versus that of my mind’s, exactly because the imagination has no limits or restrictions. So, the movies are still enjoyable, most especially when I watch them again.

    1. Marie

      I love to compare the movies to the pictures that the books put in my head. It is usually very different.

  25. ohmummymia

    I prefer to read books but I also like to watch movies and compare them and check differences.

    1. Marie

      I do exactly the same!

    2. Marie

      Me too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  26. Maryvivian

    I pick the movie. Or an audio book haha. I love books but can never fully concentrate on the letters on the page 🙂

    1. Marie

      Haha, I am the exact opposite. The words help me to focus. I’m fine with a movie, but with an audiobook, I spend the whole time rewinding because my mind constantly wanders with audio.

  27. I always prefer books over movies. It’s just easier to engage and I always find that the stories are richer. I have a friend who has watched all the Harry Potter movies and is FINALLY reading the books. I’m so excited for her.

    1. Marie

      That is awesome! You will have to go out to lunch to talk about it when she is done!

    1. Marie

      I agree, Lovely!

    2. Marie

      That is exactly my perspective, Lovely! Plus sometimes it’s fun seeing how differently the movie portrays it than what my mind imagined.

  28. Adrienne

    I love to enjoy both. If a book is adapted to film, I must read the book first or I will not enjoy the movie!

    1. Marie

      I agree, Adrienne!

  29. World In Eyes

    I always prefer movies are better than reading books. I like to watch movies than reading movies.

  30. Jessica Collazo

    I just can’t decide which one is my favorite because I love movies but if you give me a great book I will devour it in two or three days so I think I love them both.

    1. Marie

      I agree with you, Jessica. I love both!

    2. Marie

      I agree with you, Jessica. I am exactly the same.

  31. Agnes

    I have always loved watching a movie instead of reading a book. I now understand that both are different and play an important role. Now I am more informed. Thank you for bringing this out so well.

  32. Tonya Tolliver

    I would much rather read a book before watching a movie. Growing up we read books before the movie even existed! But, on the other hand, when the movies came out, I loved how they made them come to life! Especially animated movies!

    1. Marie

      I agree, Tonya! Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  33. Di Hickman

    I love both. However I will say that whenever I read a book first, that was then turned into a movie, I hate the movie. it’s never how it was in my head.

  34. Chad

    yeah I agree with you, both have their advantages but I personally prefer reading a book and let my own imagination build the set for me lol

    1. Marie

      I love doing that and then watching the movie to see how different it is than the picture in my head. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chad.

  35. Nyxinked

    I always find that reading books takes you on a more detailed and lengthly journey than a movie might. I’ve been let down by so many movies (that were once books) that I’ve lost faith in them to be honest. I prefer the detail on the paper and my own imagination, thank you

    1. Marie

      I have seen a lot of movies that amazed me too, though! I do feel like I have been pleasantly surprised more than disappointed.

  36. Agnes Dela Cruz

    I am so behind reading a book. I need to catch up soon, and yes it’s a big difference.

  37. Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

    Both for sure. Sometimes I’ll watch a movie and love it so much that I get the book so that I can really get into it. Then I’ll read a book and find out that there is a movie and I HAVE to see it to see how it compares to the book. Great post!!

    1. Marie

      I agree, Margaret. I am the same way.

  38. sdamasceno

    I wished I liked reading more. I do better watching movies.

  39. littlemisadvencha

    yes! I prefer to read books as well because i can create my own pictures of the characters and the environment based on the authors’ words. we all have different interpretations. 🙂

    1. Marie

      Exactly, Cha! Thanks for reading.

  40. Peachy A.

    I love reading but then again, I love watching movies too! I think they are different but a bit similar in some ways too!

  41. Hannah Marie

    I like doing both. Reading books relaxes me and that is my quiet time for myself. I usually watch movie with my friends.

  42. Maysz

    I love reading books if I have a lot of time and If I really love that book and also I love watching movies too. I love do both 🙂

  43. Gervin Khan

    Such a marvelous article to read, it’s very detail and informative. I’ve agree with everything you’ve cited here and for me it’s definitely the essence of this two. Thanks for sharing this to us.

  44. Claudia

    I love that you included positives and negatives for both books and movies. I think they both have their place. I feel like they fire up different parts of the brain.

  45. Bill

    I’ve always felt like movies and books were almost two sides of the same coin. They both transport you to different worlds, they just do it in a different way. Great post.

  46. Stacie

    I’ve always loved the way that both books and movies can take you on such amazing adventures. Unlike a lot of readers, I actually enjoy pairing the together. I don’t get upset when a movie adaptation strays from the book. I consider it the same story in an alternate universe. LOL

  47. chei

    I love reading book than watching the tv. You can feel more all the words in it. Like reading the harry potter books, its more interesting.

  48. WanderlustBeautyDreams

    I find books to be way better than the actual movie. You can easily spot the differences whilst watching the movie. Reading books takes you into a different world and opens up your imagination trying to picture and put the pieces of the book together.

  49. Lyosha

    It so very true. I prefer reading to watching movies but a part of is true because you do not require that much time for a fine read.

  50. Kaitlyn

    To me, the books are always more detailed than the movie version. If I’m a big fan, I’ll read the book first, but otherwise I’ll just watch the movie.

  51. Christine Weis

    What a great post. I love how you compared the two. In my opinion, I love to do both, read the book and watch the movie. I like comparing and contrasting the book to the movie. I think this is a great activity to do with my students and do it whenever I get the opportunity.

  52. the joyous living

    I love both books and movies. And yet sometimes if I love a book or movie I will hate the other medium. Mostly it is because of a decision to eliminate my favorite scene or line from the book when making the movie. Or suddenly a bad guy is now the good guy. Whahaa?

  53. Papa Jack

    I totally agree with you. I am both lovers of both. And I could n’t disagree much, reading is better than watching movies. Watching movies retention for me is less than a week. But reading books last for a long time.

  54. World in Eyes

    Both books and movies gives us inspiration, knowledge and wisdom, I love to read book as well as watch movies. Good differentiate reading books and watching movies.

  55. Renata Feyen

    I prefer watching movies and I do enjoy a good Thriller or Horror if it is not too bloody 🙂

  56. tweenselmom

    I prefer watching movies but I also agree that the book versions are much better! I love to do both activities as well so it’s a win for me!

  57. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    It’s crazy that you even had to explain it haha. I am a book reader but also a movie lover but I do know that those two give you really different experiences.

  58. Emman Damian

    I’m a very visual person so I really prefer watching than reading. Although, I’m a book worm, it’s easier to get the story while watching. It’s more fun too!

  59. Stacy

    Both reading books or watching movies are good habits. Surprisingly both can help you to relive stress in this tough time we are going through.

  60. Ntensibe Edgar Michael

    I must add on that reading a book keeps me wide awake…which a movie or tv show may not do; no matter how catchy it is!

  61. melissa

    Great points! I’m actually more into movies then reading which to be honest I wish I could turn it over. I would love to love reading.

  62. katrina Kroeplin

    reading is always so much different. i love reading the book first as i can use my imaginion more.

  63. dorry lyn

    this is why I let my kids read books more than watching tv.

    1. Marie

      I agree–reading is so much better than tv!!! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Marie

      Hi Erick, it is always such a balancing act trying to find that perfect balance, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing.

  64. CP

    Hi, I am a mature student doing a research paper on “To What Extent Do Film/TV Adaptions of Novels Encourage Reading?” I am wondering if any of you read the books because the film or TV adaptation was good? If any of you were not an avid reader or know of anyone (a child etc) where a film has encouraged them to start reading? Also, when you have watched the adaptation first then read the book, do you visualize new characters and scenes, or use the actors from the adaptations?

    1. Marie

      Hi CP! Yes, many of my students as well as some of my own children were not avid readers. And many times, showing them a great movie did actually inspire them to read the books. But many times, when we worked on a book in class, some of my students had already read it. It was always fun when they shared what they had visualized when they read the book first. I have not had any instances where students visualized new characters and scenes after watching the adaptation first. Honestly, I think watching the movie first really does kill the creativity. But I do think it helps make the book come alive for them, especially when they may not have been willing to read the book beforehand. Thank you for sharing your project.

  65. Hiren

    I like the way you explain

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Hiren!

  66. Nacy

    books could reserve us More room for imagination, which could Let you remember it for a long time, but movies could save you more time, and give you the key directly

    1. Marie

      You are exactly right, Nacy. One of my favorite things to do was read the book first so I would have a picture in my head, then watch the movie so I could see how different my vision was from the movie. Sometimes my version was better, but sometimes the movie version ended up being above and beyond anything I had imagined. Thank you for sharing!

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