At the time of its release in 1984, The Never-Ending Story was the most expensive movie ever produced outside of the United States. Financed in West Germany, and directed by legendary German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (at the time best known for his gritty Second World War drama Das Boot), the $20 million movie proved a huge box office success, with around one in twelve German people believed to have seen it on its release.
But despite that unending popularity both with fans and at the box office, at least one person was not quite so enamored of the movie: the author on whose story The Never-Ending Story was based, Michael Ende.
Ende’s novel The Never-Ending Story (or “Die unendliche Geschichte,” to give it its original German title) was published in 1979. It sold more than a million copies in West Germany alone and stayed at the top of the German book charts for a staggering three years.
A movie adaptation ultimately proved inevitable, and when Petersen signed on to direct, Ende initially began working on the script with him and his producers.
As the project rumbled on, however, Ende became increasingly displeased with the direction the movie was heading in, and as more and more of the original story was cut or altered for the big screen, Ende demanded the filmmakers either cease production or else remove his name from the project and change its title. When they refused, Ende sued, but his case was unsuccessful.
So, faced with little other option, he hosted a press conference to accompany the movie’s release—in which he criticized almost every aspect of the film.
“My moral and artistic existence is at stake in this film,” Ende declared. “I wanted a beautiful movie. I trusted them … [but] I was horrified.” The movie, he declared, was “revolting.” Nothing on screen was how he had wanted or envisaged it—most notably, two enormous magical golden sphinxes, which Ende dismissed as “one of the biggest embarrassments of the film,” which he described as looking like “full-bosomed strippers who sit there in the desert.”
“The makers of the film simply did not understand the book at all,” he went on. “They just wanted to make money.” Unfortunately for Ende, despite his obvious reservations, The Never-Ending Story went on to gross more than $100 million at the 1984 box office and was followed by two further sequels, in 1990 and 1994. And even today, it remains a firm family favorite, finding a whole new generation of fans in the 21st century.