Let’s say for argument sake that you haven’t ever seen the movie The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick and you also haven’t read the novel The Shining by Stephen King. Well this is a most fortunate and confusing conundrum. Fortunate because no matter what decision you make, you are in for a treat and confusing because you can’t unread a book or un-watch a movie. One impacts your viewpoint on the other. In the case of The Shining, I’m just going to give you the answer… watch the movie first. Watch it on a cold dark night when you’re by yourself and enjoy every antagonizing minute. Then give yourself another treat and read the book. Both the movie and the book are beautiful works of art and both are worth the time.
While my advice may work for The Shining, it would be a real shame to watch the movie Ender’s Game without reading the book(s) first. As someone who has probably read every word Orson Scott Card has written, I was excited and pleased to see Ender’s Game come to life on the big screen. However if I hadn’t read the book, I am sure I would have hated this movie just as many critics did. The entire point of the book is glossed over in the movie; emphasizing the action over the story. This is a straight forward book first, movie second decision. This is also true for Harry Potter and similar popular young adult novels.
So here is my rule of thumb, when the book is a classic such as The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, or The Grapes of Wrath, then by all means, read the book before you watch the movie. When the movie (or show) is adapted from a book you’ve never heard of like Game of Thrones, then watch the show first. Finally, if a book was written after the fact, a literary adaption of a movie; run, run, run away. That is not going to be good.