My article “10 Films That Barely Resemble the Books They’re Based on” was a huge hit a few weeks ago, receiving more comments than any of my other articles. One commenter, who went by the initials HJ, said, “I’d like to encourage you to write another article about movies that change book endings.” I was intrigued by that idea, so I have put together a list of 10 additional films that have endings that completely contradict the endings of the books they were inspired by.
1. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books. It is epic in scope and everything has an amazing payoff as the plot unfolds. Unfortunately, all of its subtleties are difficult to convey in a two-hour running time, so filmmakers are forced to cut a lot of corners. Thus, the 2002 version The Count of Monte Cristo (which is a great movie, by the way) combines a few characters and ties together several story threads to make the ending much cleaner.
Albert is now Edmond’s biological son, Fernand is killed in a duel rather than committing suicide, and no mention is ever made of Maximilien Morrel, his complex relationship with Valentine, or Edmond’s new love Haydée. The movie is an interesting take on the source material, but if you want to experience one of the most satisfying tales of your life, read the book.
2. First Blood
John Rambo dies at the end of David Morrell’s novel First Blood. After taking on an obsessed small-town sheriff in a guerilla war, Rambo is killed by his former commanding officer. The sheriff dies shortly after from a heart attack. I think the book is meant as an allegory for the approaches to the Korean War and the Vietnam War since the sheriff is a decorated Korean War veteran and Rambo is a Vietnam War veteran who has become an aimless drifter. It’s as much a psychological war as a physical one.
However, the movie turns Rambo into an underdog hero who the audience roots for rather than feels sorry for. They originally shot an ending where Rambo gets killed, but test audiences reacted poorly to such a depressing conclusion so they changed it and let Rambo live. After three sequels, it’s hard to imagine Rambo as anything but an unkillable soldier. The author of First Blood was a good sport about the complete reversal of his ending. He even wrote the novelization of the film’s sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Oh, Disney. You make such wonderful movies that reinvent fairy tales, like Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast. But other times you go and try to ruin classic books like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor Hugo’s novel has one of the most famously tragic endings ever with Quasimodo failing to save Esmeralda from death by hanging. Unable to live now that his love is dead, he cradles her dead body until he dies of starvation.
When the good folks at Walt Disney Pictures decided to turn this tale into an animated film for children, of course they couldn’t use that ending. It probably would have scarred kids for life. But their solution to the problem is to remove anything even resembling the original story and turn it into a quasi-feel-good flick. Esmeralda lives, but she’s fallen in love with someone else. But Quasimodo gets over her pretty quick as the townspeople of Paris finally accept him despite his hideous appearance. It’s not even a pale imitation of Hugo’s novel.
4. Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg was a genius at focusing complex novels into straightforward action-adventure films. He did it with Jaws and Jurassic Park to great success. Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park ends with John Hammond and possibly Ian Malcolm dead. The military bombs the entire island for good measure. The few survivors of the ordeal are likely to face the rest of their lives in legal limbo with Costa Rica and the United States. Not a pretty sight.
In Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Hammond and Malcolm live, we don’t see any military strikes on the island, and it’s never even hinted at that the survivors will face any legal challenges (thank goodness because their lawyer got eaten in the second act). Spielberg knew how to tell a satisfying story while also leaving people hungry for more.
5. The Little Mermaid
Ariel dies at the end of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story The Little Mermaid. That’s right. The prince marries someone else, which breaks Ariel’s heart. She never gets her voice back and she dies in agony. But all is not lost because she does obtain an immortal soul, which is apparently something mer-people don’t have. But still, that’s a really sad ending to a children’s story.
The Disney animated film of the same name has a much better ending. Ariel and the prince work together to stop the Sea Witch and then magically wind up together in the end as husband and wife, even though she’s only 16 and he is a sailor who apparently has never been aboard a ship that hasn’t sunk. Something tells me this might end badly. By the way, does anyone else find it ironic that a character named Ariel lives underwater? It’s like naming a space shuttle “The Submarine.”
6. The Lorax
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is an interesting departure from his usual fare. It ends with a real downer. The Once-ler spends the whole book telling his sad tale about how he over-harvested a special kind of tree to the point of extinction. He then gives a young man the last seed of the tree he had destroyed and encourages him to plant it. Hopefully it will develop into a forest one day.
The 2012 film The Lorax turns this somber climax into a cheerful one. The young man who the Once-ler gave the seed to races to plant the seed (why he’s in a hurry to do so, I’m not sure), and he overcomes all obstacles and manages to do the deed. Things start to turn around and pretty soon the tree multiplies into a forest, and the environment is saved. The book suggested that such a chain of events was possible, but it left open the possibility of failure, as well. You can take your pick about which is better, but I prefer the more challenging ending of the book.
7. Planet of the Apes
There are numerous differences between the Planet of the Apes novel and film, but the ending is the biggest. Ulysse (whose name was changed to Taylor in the film) marries Nova and has a son with her. He takes them in a spaceship back to Earth from the apes’ planet and discovers that it, too, has been overrun by intelligent apes. He takes his family and departs for uncharted territory in the end.
The ending of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes is so iconic if you haven’t seen the film, you probably still know how it ends. It turns out that Taylor has been on Earth the whole time, even though he thought he was on a distant planet. He’s stranded there with his companion Nova. The haunting final image is of him mourning over humanity’s fall in front of a tattered Statue of Liberty on a forsaken beach. Radically changing the book’s ending was a very smart thing to do in this case.
8. The Scarlet Letter
I don’t remember Native Americans playing a significant role at all in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. But for some reason the filmmakers decided their dramatic film needed an action-packed climax to spice things up, even if that completely undermines the message of the book and comes across as insulting.
Hester Prynne is about to be hanged (in a scene that is nowhere to be found in the book), but she is saved by her tragic lover who is then saved by a sudden Native American attack on the town. Rather than having him confess his sin in a sort of deathbed-repentance kind of way, the film turns it into an unquestionably noble act. There are several other changes, but this is definitely this film’s greatest sin.
Michael Crichton’s Sphere is a great novel. A team of scientists discover a spacecraft at the bottom of the ocean and they try to figure out its origin and purpose. Over the course of the book, three people enter a strange object known only as “the Sphere” and gain extraordinary mental abilities. Those three inadvertently kill all the other scientists until they are rescued. Because their power is impossible to control, they decide to erase their memories and get rid of their powers once and for all. However, the book ends with a clever suggestion that one of the characters did not actually give up her powers or memories.
The film takes a more literal approach. When the three scientists decide to get rid of their memories and powers, the Sphere lifts up out of the ocean and flies away. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It could have at least left a note that said, “See you around.”
10. The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno is a unique film for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is based on two books, not one: The Tower and The Glass Inferno. I haven’t read The Glass Inferno, but I have read The Tower, and its ending could not be more dissimilar from the film’s. In the book, the solution to getting the people out of the building is to launch a breeches buoy to slowly get one person out at a time. As the situation gets desperate, an unruly group tries to violently take control of the buoy to save themselves. But they are subdued and order prevails right up to the moment when the people who didn’t have time to escape are burned alive.
The Towering Inferno includes many of these elements. A breeches buoy is used to get most of the women out, but a group of men try to seize control of it once the women are gone. All their mutiny does is to destroy the buoy, preventing anyone else from getting out that way. The people who remain behind are saved when huge water tanks are exploded above them, finally putting out the fire. So it’s a fairly happy ending for most involved. To answer the burning question, which ending is better: I honestly can’t decide. They’re both great in their own way.
Once again, I welcome your thoughts on this list and any other films that completely mangled books’ endings or changed them for the better. HJ suggested I discuss My Sister’s Keeper, but I’ve never read the book or seen the movie. I apologize for not including it, but I just wouldn’t have been able to do it justice.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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(EDIT: I originally wrote that the Once-ler planted the seed in the 2012 film The Lorax. This is incorrect, and I fixed it above.)