10 Films That Contradict the Endings of the Books They’re Based on

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.

In the 2002 film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, Fernand is killed in a duel rather than committing suicide.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.

The Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is not even a pale imitation of Victor Hugo’s novel.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.

Disney's version of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid has a happy ending.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.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.

9. Sphere

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.

When the three scientists decide to get rid of their memories and powers, the Sphere lifts up out of the ocean and flies away.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.

All images are the copyright of their respective owners.

(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.)

About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
This entry was posted in Random Stuff and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to 10 Films That Contradict the Endings of the Books They’re Based on

  1. Chris says:

    You can add Breakfast at Tiffany’s to this list.


  2. Earl says:

    Have to include Grapes of Wrath (one novel ending and two film endings).


    • I hate to admit, but I haven’t read The Grapes of Wrath. I have read Of Mice and Men and a few other Depression-era novels, but that one has somehow slipped off my radar. I believe I remember that the book was controversial at the time because of the somewhat explicit act at the very end of it. The filmmakers probably had to change the ending for code reasons back then.


  3. Nat says:

    Fight Club


  4. Eine says:

    Killing Me Softly. Many movie endings make mad, but this one goes beyond even that. Loved the book. And the movie was great until that maddening ending!


  5. webowers says:

    The Postman.


  6. chocoboat says:

    I Am Legend. In the book, the hero gives up hope for humanity and goes out in a blaze of glory, killing as many vampires as he can, knowing that the vampires will remember him as one of their most dangerous enemies.

    In the movie, the infected are more like unthinking zombies, the hero sacrifices his life as he saves humanity, knowing that people will remember him for his deeds. An incredibly stupid “send the audience home happy with a good ending” change that just ruined the whole story.


  7. Pingback: 10 Films That Contradict the Endings of the Boo...

  8. Pingback: The Lorax: Forget the Trees, He Speaks for Hollywood | The Minority Report Blog - Conservative News & Opinion

  9. Mr Hollywood says:

    What’s mind-blowing with Jurassic Park though is that Crichton’s sequel The Lost World takes its cues not from the novel but from Spielberg’s film.


    • Arthur C. Clarke did the same thing with his sequel: 2010. He based it on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than his book. In the book, the Discovery goes to Saturn, but in the film it goes to Jupiter. There were a few other changes, but that was the biggest one.


  10. Drew Proctor says:

    The Horse Whisperer. It wasn’t much of a book and I was glad Redford changed the ending – hero survived, heroine went home to her husband. I’m not a prude but this was one time that a love story was definitely not called for. The book was more Hollywood than the movie!


    • I never actually made it to the end of the film The Horse Whisperer. Once the horse and the girl recovered and learned to trust again, I thought the story was over. When it kept going, I knew I was in for a lot of melodrama and other stuff I just wasn’t interested in, so I decided to leave it on a high note.


  11. SDG says:

    Neil Jordan’s THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1999) not only betrays Graham Greene’s novel, it subverts the very NAME OF THE STORY. It’s actually a very faithful adaptation of the first half of the novel — right up to the point where, in the novel, THE AFFAIR ENDS, but in the movie the affair is only postponed, and resumes again later on.

    If you’re going to change the whole premise of the title, shouldn’t you retitle the movie? I realize “THE POSTPONEMENT OF THE AFFAIR” doesn’t have the same ring, but that’s apparently the movie Jordan wanted to make for some reason.


  12. I’d nominate “The Firm” as an essential one. A wonderful, and arguably his best, novel by John Grisham, the book gave you the creeps. You almost viscerally felt the walls closing in on you.
    If the old phrase “it’s not paranoia if everyone really IS out to get you” was ever true, it’s true here.

    But with the movie, ….meh.

    Cruise and Holly Hunter do a fine job, but it’s just too neat and tidy, and doesn’t get into any of the real intrigue of the novel. Actually, the last third of the book is a completely different plot entirely.

    If you’ve never read it AND watched the film, I recommend you read the book first.
    Then you can be just as massively disappointed as I was.

    Good list, partner.


    • That’s one of Grisham’s books that I haven’t read, actually. I loved The Client and The Pelican Brief. Sounds like I’m missing out. In my opinion, Sydney Pollack was always an overrated director. Any of his movies, even the good ones, would probably have been better in someone else’s hands.

      I’ll definitely be sure to read the book before watching the film in this case. Thanks for the tip!


  13. Wonderboy says:

    Add THE NATURAL. The movie is so much better. At the end of the Malmud book, Roy Hobbs takes the money and throws the game.


  14. Kris says:

    My Sister’s Keeper


  15. Shannon says:

    Thank goodness Disney changed the ending of The Little Mermaid, because the original one sucks!


  16. Russ Harvey says:

    The Horse’s Mouth. If I’d ever had a chance to talk to Alec Guinness, I’d have ignored Star Wars and asked him about his screen adaptation of the Joyce Carey novel. One of his finest screen characters, so he’s more than forgiven for the flip.


  17. Michael says:

    Fight club definitely needs to be added to this list.


  18. Barbara says:

    My Sister’s Keeper should be the top of the list. In the movie theater, you could tell exactly who read the book, for all the gasps and screams. I’d also list A Patch of Blue. The movie made the ending much more hopeful and less traumatic.


  19. Dear John. I think this was the one that test audiences were so upset about so they changed the ending. The book is typical Sparks but the movie has everyone live happily ever after. Annoying.


    • I enjoyed The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, though I haven’t seen any of the more recent Nicholas Sparks-inspired films yet. I do like happy endings, but not if they feel contrived. Sometimes a good downer is exactly what a story calls for, like The Dark Knight or The Empire Strike Back. I might have to compare Dear John’s book and movie to see which is superior. Thanks for mentioning it.


  20. Pingback: The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: May 2, 2013

  21. Pingback: The List List #55

  22. Dustin says:

    I thought for sure I’d see A Clockwork Orange.


  23. I especially loved your section on The Count of Monte Cristo — as soon as I saw the article title that is what immediately sprang to mind! It is one of my all-time favorite novels, I reread it every couple of years.


    • Thank you. That is one of my favorite books, too. I love how subtle it is and the rollercoaster of emotions it puts the reader through. They would have to turn it into a miniseries to fully capture all of its details on film.


      • Janet says:

        There is a miniseries…but it’s in French with subtitles. Definitely check it out! Stars Gerard Depardieu. It keeps most of the plot intact while changing the ending of the book, which I never did like. Mercedes just didn’t deserve what Dumas gave her. Although, I liked the idea that Albert was Edmond’s son rather than Ferdinand’s in the 2002 version.


  24. Bruce Greeley says:

    Blood Work! The movie was ok though they not only changed the ending but also who the main bad guy is!!


  25. debbierodgers says:

    The film version of Oscar and Lucinda followed the book so closely that the opposite ending came as a shock.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Practically every James Bond film ever made 🙂


  27. Pingback: Introduction to my Blog! | bookstofilmblog

  28. Laura says:

    The Natural


  29. Jinnie says:

    The Devil Wears Prada. In both stories, the antagonist leaves her boss from hell stranded, but in the book she screams obscenities at her as she leaves. When she finally gets another job, it’s because she’s become a legend for telling the witch off publicly. It’s a triumph for a maligned worker! At the end of the movie, she gets a job because her boss gives her a good reference and when they see each other on the street later, the boss smiles at her like a sweet mentor. Turned around the story so that management retained the upper hand in this woman’s career. SO disappointing!


  30. Pingback: Nice Day for a Red Wedding | gabriel's wharf

  31. Pingback: Movie Matchups: X-Men Origins: Wolverine vs. Rambo: First Blood Part II | Deja Reviewer

  32. Pingback: 10 Classic Films You Probably Didn’t Know Are Based on Books | Deja Reviewer

  33. Pingback: 1990: The Year of Failed Franchises | Deja Reviewer

  34. Pingback: 8 Timeless Yet Dated Classic Films | Deja Reviewer

  35. Pingback: 10 Amazing ’80s Directors Who Lost Their Mojo in the ’90s | Deja Reviewer

  36. Pingback: The 10 Most Obscure Movies That Earned More Than $300 Million (Adjusted for Inflation) | Deja Reviewer

  37. Pingback: Everything in Planet of the Apes (1968) Came from These 6 Twilight Zone Episodes | Deja Reviewer

  38. Carl Wawrina says:

    “Logan’s Run” by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. The book takes place in a 24-hour period versus several days in the film version. The sandman weapon isn’t a flamegun but rather modified six-shooter with as many various charges: needler, nitro, ripper, vapor, tangler and homer (I can’t believe I still remember that!). People only live until 21 instead of 30, and so on. If the book were faithfully adapted it might get an NC-17 rating. I enjoyed both versions for different reasons. The book is a quick read and spawned a few sequels.


  39. dbmoviesblog says:

    Great list. Well, I don’t usually blame some films and especially animations for making endings happier. No child should be forced to watch the real ending of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Happy endings are nice. I know they can tarnish literary classics, but the re-workings of the endings are sometimes so necessary to even get a handful of people to come to watch a film.


  40. Pingback: Steve McQueen Is the King of Name Placement on Movie Posters | Deja Reviewer

  41. Pingback: 10 Things I Appreciate About Airport 1975 | Deja Reviewer

Leave a Reply to Chris Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s