Movies That Threw Book Endings Out The Window Completely

List Rules
Vote up the movies that completely ignored the source material when it came to the final act.

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?


  • How The Book Ends: Victor Hugo's famous novel is very bleak. Esmeralda is charged with attempted murder and sentenced to hang. Although the hunchback Quasimodo attempts to save her by giving her sanctuary in the cathedral, the Archdeacon Frollo turns her over to the king's guards after she rejects his advances. After her end at the gallows, Quasimodo pushes Frollo off the top of the cathedral. In the original ending of the novel, Quasimodo disappears, only for his decayed body to appear in a mass grave, locked in an embrace with Esmeralda's corpse.

    How The Movie Ends: While the animated version goes dark for a Disney movie by touching on themes like lust, sin, and the discrimination of the Romani people, it also makes significant changes to the original ending. Instead of a bogus charge and untimely demise, Esmeralda ends up falling in love with and marrying Phoebus. And instead of being explicitly thrown from the cathedral by Quasimodo, Frollo accidentally falls to his end. Perhaps the biggest change is instead of being rejected by the citizens and disappearing forever, the hunchback ends up being seen as a hero and is accepted into society.

    • Actors: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel
    • Released: 1996
    • Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
    615 votes

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  • How The Book Ends: Hans Christian Andersen's famous story is pretty bleak for a fairy tale. Not only does Ariel not end up with her prince (he marries someone else), but her transformation from mermaid to human also results in constant agonizing pain, she never gets her voice back, and she perishes of a broken heart after rejecting the chance to become a mermaid again by taking the prince's life. She does end up as an airborne spirit with the possibility of earning an immortal soul and getting into heaven if she does good deeds for mankind for the next 300 years, though. This added coda has been debated over the years, although Andersen himself felt that having the little mermaid get a chance to earn an immortal soul by doing good deeds was a better ending than simply just having her perish.

    How The Movie Ends: The 1989 Disney film adaptation of this famous fairy tale made sure to give its little mermaid her happy ending. Although she is transformed back into a mermaid and enslaved by Ursula, Ariel and Prince Eric are able to take out the evil sea witch once and for all. The film ends with Ariel's father King Triton giving his blessing for the young couple's marriage and permanently turning Ariel into a human being.

    • Actors: Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Rene Auberjonois, Hamilton Camp
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
    468 votes

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  • 3
    689 VOTES

    How The Book Ends: As in the film, Winston Groom's novel has Forrest experience a range of adventures, such as being a college athlete, serving in Vietnam, and eventually starting a shrimp business named after his late friend Bubba. The end of the story finds Forrest getting frustrated by how complicated his life has become, so he gives away his business and ends up living on the streets with a legless Vietnam vet and an orangutan named Sue. The novel portrays Forrest as more of a "savant" than the film version of the character, and Forrest and Jenny don't have a child together.

    How The Movie Ends: Instead of the novel's rather bleak ending of Forrest living on the streets, the film adaptation reunites Forrest with Jenny, who is raising their son who had been conceived through their one-night stand a few years earlier. They marry, but she passes due to AIDS soon afterward. The movie ends with Forrest, now a single dad, sending his son off to his first day of school.

    • Actors: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
    • Released: 1994
    • Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
    689 votes

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  • 4
    191 VOTES

    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.

    • Actors: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley
    • Released: 1984
    • Directed by: Barry Levinson
    191 votes

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  • 5
    334 VOTES

    How The Book Ends: Richard Matheson's 1954 novel is about a man named Robert Neville who seems to be the sole survivor of a worldwide pandemic that has either killed people or turned them into vampires. The story follows his attempts to protect himself by taking out the infected and eventually learning that, while many of the vampires are "undead," there are also "living infected" who have overcome the plague and are trying to build a new society. The latter hate Neville, who they regard as a slayer, and the novel ends with him ending his own life after being shot and captured by members of this new society. With his end, Neville becomes a "legend" in the vampires' burgeoning society, just as vampires had long been "legends" to human beings.

    How The Movie Ends: The novel has received several film adaptations, including 2007's I Am Legend, which starred Will Smith as Neville. In this movie, Neville tries to find a cure for the plague and is able to capture a Darkseeker on whom he can test his potential cure. But when he is forced to finish off his beloved dog after she is infected, he deliberately targets a group of Darkseekers and has to be rescued by a woman (Anna) and her son, who claim to be immune. They return to his home, where he sees the cure has worked on the captured Darkseeker. The film ends with Neville giving a vial of the cured woman's blood to Anna and then hiding her and her son in a coal chute before deliberately ending both himself and a bunch of Darkseekers by blowing up the building. Anna and her son then take the vial with the cure to a survivor's camp, informing the people there of Neville's sacrifice.

    • Actors: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson-Whitfield
    • Released: 2007
    • Directed by: Francis Lawrence
    334 votes

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  • 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.

    • Actors: Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, Robert Duvall, Joan Plowright, Scout LaRue Willis
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Roland Joffé
    193 votes