Every year, Hollywood mines literature for the big screen, and inevitably, the movies that changed the ending of the book end up generating the most discussion. Whether they're purist fans who want to see their favorite obscure moments or critics who think it's wise to tone down dark moments from the source materials, everyone tends to fixate on what's different.
It's not uncommon for a movie to change or ignore the ending of the book - sometimes quite dramatically. These changes are made for a variety of reasons - for example, if the book has a tragic ending, the filmmaker or studio might want the movie to have, if not a completely happy ending, at least a more hopeful one. Or the filmmaker might change the entire tone of the original story – as Stanley Kubrick did with the film Dr. Strangelove - so the ending needs to be changed in order to fit the rest of the movie.
Below is a list of some movies based on books that ignored the ending found in the original source material. Which ones do you think stray the furthest from the book?
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
How The Book Ends: In Anthony Burgess's novel, the psychotic teenaged Alex is sent to prison for the mayhem he perpetrated throughout the book. By the conclusion of the book, he has gone through aversion therapy that is supposed to cure him of his impulses. Although Alex isn't revolted by his previous behavior once he's released from jail, he still chooses to become a law-abiding citizen, as he feels that participating in mayhem would be just a mindless waste of time. This ending underlines the book's theme of free will.
How The Movie Ends: Stanley Kubrick's screenplay is based on the American version of Burgess's novel, which omits the final chapter that deals with the rehabilitated Alex rejecting his former ways. Although the filmmaker did become aware of the existence of the novel's final chapter, he decided to go in a different direction with the film. Instead, the film concludes with Alex supposedly cured of his compulsive behavior but still acting as psychotic as ever. Burgess was not a fan of the movie, saying that it glorified the characters' abhorrent actions and made it easy for readers of the novel to misunderstand what the story was about.
Ignored the book?
- Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, Steven Berkoff, David Prowse, Adrienne Corri
- Released: 1971
- Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
How The Book Ends: A classic novel about the public shame and scorn a woman named Hester Prynne faces in Puritan New England in the 1640s for committing adultery and refusing to name the father of her child, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter does not have a happy ending. When her missing husband returns years later, the man sets out to find out the identity of her lover and get his revenge. The lover turns out to be the local minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who is in failing health and tormented by his cowardice in not revealing the fact that he is the father of Hester's child. Hester and the minister make plans to flee to England together, but before they can leave, Dimmesdale perishes in Hester's arms after publicly revealing himself as her lover. Her husband also passes soon afterward. Hester does leave the community with her daughter but returns years later and resumes wearing the scarlet A on her clothing until her own demise. She is buried alongside Dimmesdale.
How The Movie Ends: Hawthorne's novel has received multiple film adaptations, including a 1995 version directed by Roland Joffe that starred Demi Moore and Gary Oldman. Joffe's version is a loose adaptation of the book and introduces a major plotline involving simmering hostilities between the Puritan community and the local Algonquin tribe (a plotline that does not exist in Hawthorne's novel). In the film, Hester's estranged husband slays and scalps a man he mistakenly believes may be her lover, then takes his own life when he realizes his action led the Puritan colony to declare war on the tribe. The movie concludes with the Algonquins taking over the community just as Dimmesdale publicly confesses that he is the father of Hester's child. The couple and their daughter are among the handful of Puritans who survive the bloody engagement, and in the aftermath, they decide to leave the colony in the hope of making a new life together in the Carolinas.
Ignored the book?
- Actors: Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, Robert Duvall, Joan Plowright, Scout LaRue Willis
- Released: 1995
- Directed by: Roland Joffé
- Photo: TriStar Pictures
How The Book Ends: Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel follows the story of a former baseball phenom, Roy Hobbs, who makes the majors at age 35 - 16 years after his career had seemingly ended when he was shot by a woman who targets top players. When he gets his second chance in his mid-30s, he becomes an immediate success. The novel ends with Hobbs accepting a $35,000 offer to throw the final game of the season, only to change his mind when he learns he is going to be a father. He attempts to come through for the team but strikes out on his final at-bat and the team fails to win the pennant. Hobbs still faces the possibility of being banned from baseball permanently since a reporter found out about the payout, giving the ending an ambiguously dark air.
How The Movie Ends: The novel was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford, but while the film keeps the basic plot of Hobbs's career going from cut short to resurrected in his 30s, the ending is significantly changed from the book. Instead of Iris being a new romantic interest who is pregnant with Hobbs's child, she is turned into an old girlfriend of his who gave birth to his son years earlier. Hobbs also rejects bribes to throw the last game. Instead, just out of the hospital (he'd been poisoned), he hits a home run in the ninth inning to win the game and the pennant for his team. So in the film, he's a hero for the ages, while in the novel, he is a failure who may get banned from the game for life.
Ignored the book?
- Actors: Kim Basinger, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey
- Released: 1984
- Directed by: Barry Levinson
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
How The Book Ends: In 1963, French author Pierre Boulle saw his science fiction novel La Planète des singes (US title Planet of the Apes) published. The plot follows the story of Jinn and Phyllis, who find a manuscript written by journalist Ulysse Mérou detailing his experiences on a planet ruled by civilized, intelligent apes. Mérou is captured shortly after his arrival on the planet and mated to Nova, who gives birth to their son. The novel ends with the couple escaping the planet and successfully returning to Earth, only to find that 700 years have gone by since the journalist first left on his adventure and Earth is now ruled by apes. The framing story then reveals that Jinn and Phyllis are actually civilized chimpanzees. They end up discarding Mérou's manuscript because they don't believe that it's possible for a human being to be intelligent.
How The Movie Ends: In the 1968 film adaptation of Boulle's novel, the main character is not a journalist, but rather an astronaut named George Taylor, whose space vehicle lands on a planet ruled by apes. After Taylor escapes the threat of being lobotomized and castrated, he helps two chimpanzee scientists identify the remains of an ancient, technologically advanced human civilization. He sets out to get answers about what happened, but Dr. Zaius warns Taylor that he might not like what he finds. The apes allow Taylor and Nova to leave and the film ends with them stumbling upon the remains of the Statue of Liberty and realizing that they had been on a post-apocalyptic Earth all along.
Ignored the book?
- Actors: Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, James Whitmore, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter
- Released: 1968
- Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner