18 Movies That Changed The Ending Of The Books They're Based On

Photo: Summit Entertainment
It's the argument that never seems to die: What's better, the book or the movie?

While I would argue that it's nearly impossible to compare a film to a novel, not all big screen book adaptations are equal. In addition to switching up the medium, plenty of adaptations go so far as to change the ending of the work in which they are based.

There are a few reasons why a film might swap out a novel's ending when giving it the film treatment. Is it kind of a downer? Is it lacking a certain pizzazz that works fine on the page but less so on the screen? With the creative freedom to twist a story any which way, you best believe that filmmakers will take it if it means a more memorable movie.

You might be surprised to learn which movies altered their original conclusion for the big screen — and how these stories were actually supposed to end. Here's a list of some of the biggest changes made when a book became a film.

Spoilers, obviously, to follow.

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Fight Club

At the end of David Fincher's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's famous novel, anarchist Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is no more — the Narrator (Edward Norton) "shoots" his alter-ego, killing him. However, Palahniuk's ending is a little bleaker: the Narrator wakes up in a mental institution, and it's made clear that Tyler is still very much a part of him.
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My Sister's Keeper

This story — about a girl who fights for the right to her own body when her parents ask her to donate a kidney to her sister with cancer — had a different, equally tragic ending. In Jodi Picoult's novel, Anna wins a lawsuit against her parents and does not have to donate a kidney to her cancer-ridden sister Kate, whom we learn set up Anna's lawsuit in the first place. However, after winning the case, Anna gets into a car accident and dies, and donates her kidney to Kate posthumously.

In the movie, the accident never happens. Kate (played by Sofia Vassilieva) dies and her family, including sister Anna (Abigail Breslin) makes peace with her decision to stop battling cancer.
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I Am Legend

At the end of this zombie apocalypse flick, Will Smith's Robert Neville sacrifices himself to a hoard of zombies, so that a woman and child can live and pass on the cure to the virus that has destroyed humanity. The original book by Richard Matheson has a twist that's not so... dare I say zombie-basic?

In the novel, Neville realizes that he has become a monster of sorts to the zombies, who have created their own society and look upon him, a murderer of their species, with fear. Neville is captured and given an execution pill, which he takes, contemplating whether it's the zombies or him that's to blame.
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The Shining

There are a lot of differences between Stephen King's novel and Stanley Kubrick's adaptation, so much so that King reportedly loathes the film version.

However, one of the most notable differences is the ending: In the original novel, Jack is able to recover the love he has for his son Danny, and tells him to run away as Jack's mind is possessed by the spirits of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel then explodes. In the movie, Jack (Jack Nicholson) stays a bad guy all the way through the end, and though Danny (Danny Lloyd) is able to trick Jack into freezing to death in the maze, the Overlook Hotel remains intact.
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The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic stuck pretty closely to the original — at least in terms of plot. However, there was one major change that added extra context to the story watched unfold. At the end of Luhrmann's film, it's revealed that narrator Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) was writing a book about his friend Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) which he naturally titles The Great Gatsby.
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Stand By Me

Stephen King's novella, The Body, gives the boys of Stand By Me a far less optimistic future. After experiencing a summer of adventure and trauma, the narrator, Gordie, reveals what happened to his friends in adulthood. In the film version, the boys go their separate ways, and by the time they're in high school, Gordie (Wil Wheaton) stops hanging out with them completely. Chris (River Phoenix) who beat the odds of their poor factory town by going to law school, is eventually killed while attempting to break up a fight in a fast food restaurant.

That happens in the novella as well, except, well, it gets even worse. In King's original version, Teddy and Vern also die tragically.
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Dan Brown's most recent adaptation had a slightly more ambiguous ending than the Tom Hanks-starring film version. In the film, Professor Langdon is able to stop a virus from infecting the world's population and rendering everyone sterile.

In the book version, it's not as simple. The virus gets released, but Langdon and his team learn that due to *insert fictional science here* it will only affect around one-third of individuals. Instead of trying to find the cure, the group decides to let the virus take hold and curb the population as it was intended.
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First Blood

The first Rambo film went on to launch a franchise, but had it stuck to the ending of the novel, it likely wouldn't have. David Morrell's novel ends with Rambo dying by gunfire rather than surrendering, as he does in the film.
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This movie was pretty dark for a Disney flick, but Victor Hugo's original novel took things to a whole other level. In the book, Esmeralda is executed and thrown in a tomb where other bodies of criminals have been dumped. Quasimodo lays down with her dead body and dies of starvation. Yeah... not exactly fun for the whole family.
10 of 19
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Twilight gets major props for both sticking to the original story and pleasing fans while still changing up its ending in a pretty radical way. During a confrontation with the Volturi, Alice (Ashley Green) approaches leader Aro (Michael Shannon) and tells him that she can show him what will happen should they battle it out with the good guys. Then, she tells him it won't matter, as she knows it won't change his mind. That leads into a dramatic battle sequence in which Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) is decapitated, and vamps die on both sides of the line. Ultimately, the battle ends with Bella (Kristen Stewart) killing Aro — which is when we realize the whole thing was merely Alice's vision. Aro and crew decide to bail instead of dying.

The battle sequence doesn't exist in Stephenie Meyer's book, but the general idea remains the same. It's the perfect example of how even a different ending can still stay true to what fans want.
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Planet of the Apes (1968)

The brilliant ending of this sci-fi film, in which our hero discovers that the so-called "Planet of the Apes" is actually Earth in the future, wasn't the ending of the original novel by Pierre Boulle.

In the novel, Ulysse (named George Taylor in the film and portrayed by Charlton Heston) returns to Earth, only to find that gorillas have taken over the planet there, too. However, that's not the only twist: It turns out that the people reading Ulysee's manuscript — the framework for the entire novel — are actually chimpanzees, who can't fathom a universe in which gorillas rose to power.
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Jurassic Park

In the classic Steven Spielberg film, the main characters are able to escape the island after the park's T-Rex kills the raptors hunting them down.

Michael Crichton's novel doesn't end as neatly. In the book, the Costa Rican Air Force destroys the island with napalm after hearing of the dinosaur situation. In addition, Dr. Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the movie) doesn't make it out of the book alive, and it's hinted that the raptors have somehow expanded their murderous reach to a nearby island.
13 of 19
Paper Towns

The film version of John Green's Paper Towns focused less on the relationship (or, really, non-relationship) between Margo and Q, and more on Q breaking out of his comfort zone and staying loyal to the people who matter.

Instead of ending with Q's conversation with Margo (portrayed in the film by Cara Delevingne) the film shows Q (Nat Wolff) taking a bus home in order to enjoy prom night with his friends.
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The Giver

Not very much about this adaptation of Lois Lowry's book resembles the original novel, but the ending is especially different. In the book as well as in the film, Jonas (portrayed by Brenton Thwaites onscreen) runs away from the town with baby Gabriel upon learning the baby will be "released" (a.k.a. euthanized) the following day.

In the book, Jonah and the baby trudge through snow to get to a town outside of their strict community, and the ending is left ambiguous as to whether they make it to the town or die. (It's the former, as evidenced in Lowry's follow-up novels.)

In the film, Jonas leaving the community releases memories and emotions that the community has since suppressed, and the people in the town are finally able to feel love and see color.
15 of 19
Gone Girl

Though Ben Affleck teased that author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn had written an entirely new third act for the movie adaptation, that ended up not being entirely true.

Still, the buzzed-about David Fincher movie did get an additional beat that changed its ending from the book, and played into the story's media commentary. Instead of merely discussing the pregnancy with Nick, as she does in the book, Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick (Affleck) reveal that they are having a baby during a television interview.
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The Mist

Yet another Stephen King adaptation on this list, this time with an ending that King greatly approved of.

In the novella, the townspeople, who are trapped together in a grocery store, turn on one another and prove just as much a threat as the monsters hiding in the titular mist. The hero of the story, David, is able to escape and eventually heads to Hartford and an uncertain, though more optimistic future. It's not a happy ending, but it is a hopeful one.

The film version decided to add a dash of cynicism to the story — or, rather, a bucket. When David (portrayed by Thomas Jane) escapes the store, he goes to his house only to find his home destroyed and wife dead. Realizing there's no hope, he takes a gun and shoots his fellow survivors, including his son, leaving no bullet for himself. It's only then that the military arrive, and we realize that there is no more threat in the mist.
17 of 19
Breakfast At Tiffany's

Your favorite romance wasn't always romantic. Truman Capote's novella does have Holly lose her cat, but instead of falling into Paul's arms at the end of the movie, as Audrey Hepburn's version of Holly does, she moves to Argentina.
18 of 19
The Little Mermaid

Disney movies do a pretty great job at sanitizing the stories upon which they are based, and The Little Mermaid is no exception. Though the basic plot of a mermaid being turned into a human out of love for the Prince remains, the ending is way, waaaay different.

In Hans Christian Andersen's story, the little mermaid doesn't get the prince — he falls for someone else, without any magical interference — and ultimately kills herself. She's then reincarnated as an angel, but let's be real: It's still seriously upsetting.
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