Why Did Kubrick Change 'The Shining' Against Stephen King's Will?

What changes did Stanley Kubrick make to The Shining that made Stephen King angry? And why were those changes necessary to the story? 

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of the most influential horror movies, and movies in general, ever released. It's been heralded, homages, copied, and satirized on The Simpsons, which is the world's highest honor. 

It seems like everyone loves talking about The Shining...everyone but Stephen King...you know, the guy who wrote the original book on which the movie is based. 

The feud between King and Kubrick is legendary, but what's less known is the reason for it. Sure, changes were made from book to movie, that ALWAYS happens across every adaptation, but why were these ones so egregious? 

Let's head to the Overlook Hotel, pop open the door to room 237, and find out. 

Why did Kubrick Change The Shining Against Stephen King's Will?

Writing an adaptation of a beloved novel is no small task. You have to balance the audience for the book and the people who see the movie. You need details that represent the book, but I'm of the opinion that your number one task as a writer and as a director is to deliver the best version of the medium you're trying to capture. 

That means what might make the best book, might not make the best movie. 

Still, that can piss the author off a ton. 

And that's what happened when Stephen King saw The Shining

While the major threads of the story are there, the big change comes from the character of Jack. In the book, Jack is the center of a family drama. In the movie, he's the person whose descent into madness poses a threat to killing his family. 

King thought of Jack's character as a decent guy just trying to provide for his family. 

In the movie...he was just evil! 

Stephen King told Deadline, "The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as a shit house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he’s a guy who’s struggling with his sanity and finally loses it. To me, that’s a tragedy. In the movie, there’s no tragedy because there’s no real change."

Why did Kubrick make the change? 

Besides thinking the book was "sloppy," he wanted to distill the story down. To simplify it into the elements he thought would make the best movie. For him, that was a man becoming insane...not the backstories and an anticlimactic ending. 

So, Kubrick made changes to ensure the final chase through the hotel was memorable and visceral. 

He didn't think the wife needed to kill the husband, he thought his endless pursuit should kill him. 

There is no redemption, only darkness. 

What about Wendy? 

King also did not appreciate Wendy's depiction in the film. While many viewers loved Shelley Duvall's embodiment of fear and desperation, King thought she was actually regressive. In an interview, King said Wendy is "one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She's basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that's not the woman I wrote about."


The original ending of the movie had Wendy killing Jack, but that changed over time, allowing insanity to lead to Jack's undoing. 

King has enjoyed other adaptations of his work, and even enjoyed the 1997 miniseries of The Shining, because he felt like it stayed closer to the book. 

Is there a lesson here? 

I think the original lesson of "Do what you think makes the best X" makes the most sense. 

All of Kubrick's changes benefitted the movie in the long run. There's a reason we still talk about it today. It's even more famous than the original book in many ways. Still, Kubrick was not known as being someone nice and cuddly, but if you're ever in his position and working on a Stephen King adaptation, maybe don't call his prose "sloppy?"

The real lesson here is teamwork. Glean what you can from the author. Figure out what they think is important and why they think it connected with people. Then see if you can add more to your adaptation. 

Obviously, it's okay to take risks. But make sure you get it right. 

The last thing you want is people on both sides hating what you created. That'd be a real....Bonfire of the Vanities....

What's next? What are David Fincher's favorite colors

The visual storytelling of David Fincher is linked to the color theory in works done by the artist Hercules Segers. See how they use color in a similar fashion.     

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I think Kubrick did the smart thing in transplanting the story from one medium to another. Prose and cinema are different art forms with different strengths. In prose, you can explore the interior lives of characters and get inside their heads in a very direct way. In The Shining, you get an inside out perspective of a man's alcoholism and descent into madness, from his own point of view, and that's very compelling to read. Films can't get inside someone's head as directly, it requires imagery and dramatic scenes to illuminate a characters interior state. If Kubrick had been as heavy handed with Jack's alcoholism as the book was, you'd find him off putting as he'd just be a drunk asshole. So he pushed that element to the background and focused more on his frustrations with his writing career and family. I don't think Nicholson's Jack comes off as crazy from the get go. Maybe a bit tense and short fused but...uh...anyone with a wife and kids can understand and identify with those emotions quite easily.

March 12, 2020 at 1:09PM, Edited March 12, 1:15PM



March 12, 2020 at 7:33PM


King himself proved Kubrick was right by doing so. When king produced the shining in a mini series it flopped big time. Maybe it's time for king to let his little beef with Kubrick go.

March 13, 2020 at 3:57AM


i think the original lesson of "Do what you think makes the best X" makes the most sense.

March 13, 2020 at 7:14AM

Xe Điện 3 Bánh
[Xe Điện 3 Bánh] - Xe điện ba bánh cho người già | khuyết tậ

Let's head to the Overlook Hotel, pop open the door to room 237, and find out.

March 13, 2020 at 7:55PM, Edited March 13, 7:55PM

Xe Điện 3 Bánh
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King's novel is deeply flawed. It begins as a deftly written, very personal story, with so much promise, and then ... goes off the rails in a way that almost ruins the whole thing. There really is no better word for what happens after the midway point of the novel than sloppy. Kubrick was wise to go in a different direction. He tells a gripping story that works on many levels, and avoids King's big mistakes. It's not my favorite movie, but it a better realized story than the novel.

March 19, 2020 at 10:52AM


I was a King fan for a long time, and still am. However, "The Shining" was not one of my favorites back when it came out.

The movie was also a disappointment for me, but I do recognize Kubrick's genius visual approach to it (as well as a lot of his other masterpieces), and of course the many "iconic" moments in the film. I generally do like to see a little more of an arc, though, but that's just a personal preference.

It's a case of two masters that, for me, produced their not-best work. Both well-done, but both not absolutely kick-ass, over-the-top, punch-you-in-the-gut amazing. In my opinion!! (he said, running for cover...)

March 19, 2020 at 2:20PM, Edited March 19, 2:21PM


In the 80's I read a lot of King's books. If the Shining would have been the first I read from him, it would have been also the last, because I found it quite boring.
However, I totally agree with King when it comes to this movie. And before people start spitting their venom at me, please remember that it is just my personal opinion and I totally accept yours.
With some exceptions (for example Full Metal Jacket) I find most Kubrik movies very sterile and cold. Somehow the work of an architecture photographer. Just unappealing for me.
The feeling I get from Kubrik movies is best described as what bleach would do to my throat when I drink it, are Kubrik movies doing to my eyes.

March 19, 2020 at 9:08PM


Kubrick was right. I recently went back and tried to re-read The Shining after many years. It has not aged well, and it is not the book that mesmerized me when I was 13.

March 20, 2020 at 11:20AM

David Harter

I completely agree with King. Even without having read the book or knowing about the dispute with Kubrick I thought the movie was hopeless because of the Jack Nicholson character.
I desperately needed to believe in him but all I got was a two dimensional cartoon-caricature . As King said, the character needed to start off believable and relatively normal and then we see him evolve into the dangerous character that he became. This is such a serious flaw that it completely ruined the movie for me . I saw an interview with Steven Spielberg In which he spoke to Kubrick about the Jack Nicholson character being “over the top”. I can't remember what Kubrick replied..

March 31, 2020 at 5:52PM

rod prynne
photographer, filmmaker