Why The Shining's Ending Was Changed For The Movie

The Shining Jack in the bar

Whether it's a movie or a book, The Shining is pretty great in any form. Stephen King's classic horror novel was famously adapted into a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980, making it one of the few titles out there to scare your pants off on both the screen and page. But like any adaptation, some things had to be changed from the source material for the movie to work. Perhaps the most prominent of these changes was the ending, which is completely different in the movie than it is in the book. The reasons for which have finally explained in detail by the film's co-writer, and they're mainly due to avoiding cliches.

For those who haven't read The Shining book, here's how the ending basically goes down: The young, psychic Danny (played by Danny Lloyd in the film) has a climactic face off against his possessed father Jack (Jack Nicholson). However, Jack is able to fight off the dark influences of the Overlook Hotel, allowing Danny a chance to escape with his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and hotel cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). Having neglected to maintain the hotel's boiler (one of his only jobs), the hotel explodes into flames, taking Jack with it. In the novel, which has pages and pages of prose to set this up, the ending works pretty well, but Stanley Kubrick felt otherwise. According to the co-writer of The Shining film, Diane Johnson:

The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliche to just blow everything up. He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting... A lot of the script was pared down during filming, too --- especially for Wendy, who had many more things to say in the script than she did in the film.

Diane Johnson spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the creative decisions that went into making the movie. One of those decisions involved changing the ending, which Stanley Kubrick thought wouldn't work on film. As Johnson remembers, she and Kubrick ended up going through a few different versions before it finally evolved into that classic WTF ending audience experienced.

It's not often I get to talk about two different endings of the same title, so why don't we go into the ending as it is in the film? As opposed to the novel, Jack kills Dick Hallorann soon after he arrives at the hotel late in the film (Jack is the only one to die in the novel), and Jack chases Danny through a hedge maze. Jack ends up freezing to death while Danny and Wendy escape. The film ends by revealing a 1921 photograph of Jack at a party in the hotel. That's a pretty severe difference, but it works gangbusters in the film.

Fun fact: some of the most iconic elements of The Shining are exclusive to the movie. The twin girls in the hallway and the torrent of blood from the elevator aren't in the book, in addition to improvised dialogue like the iconic and oft quoted at parties, "Here's Johnny!" Why were those elements in the movie then? Because, as Stanley Kubrick would tell confused crew members, "I never explain anything, I don't understand it myself. It's a ghost film!" Good on you, Mr. Kubrick!

Matt Wood

Matt has lived in New Jersey his entire life, but commutes every day to New York City. He graduated from Rowan University and loves Marvel, Nintendo, and going on long hikes and then greatly wishing he was back indoors. Matt has been covering the entertainment industry for over two years and will fight to his dying breath that Hulk and Black Widow make a good couple.