What are the differences between Carl Sagan's novel Contact and the 1997 movie made by Robert Zemeckis?

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    I've only read the novel, but based on this question I can tell that the ending was more explicit in the novel. Also, in the novel it is not only Arroway who is sent in the alien capsule, but ~5 scientists, from different countries. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 18:02
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    The main difference was that the book was good, whereas the film was not.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 18:29
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    @Valorum Strange that Carl Sagan would complain about scientific inaccuracies in early versions of the movie script (e.g. - no ring nebula along line of sight between Earth and Vega), but write extremely unscientific ideas in his story (e.g. - hidden messages in Pi from creator of universe).
    – RichS
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:15
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    @RichS - It's worth noting that during the writing process Sagan often consumed heroic quantities of pot, chasing it down with whisky and LSD. It's not surprising that some of his ideas are a bit "out there".
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:28
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    @RichS - I recall that in one of his essays as "Mr X" he (favourably) compared the high you get with pot with drinking whisky which he accused of causing him unpleasant hangovers.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


The comments on this question have most of the information that seems readily available about the differences between the movie and the film, and I myself have not read the novel, so bear that in mind.

Here's the link to the site with the best analysis I noted.

To sum up, the primary differences are:

  1. The number of characters in the transport to Vega; in the movie, there's only room for one. In the book, it seats five.

  2. The character of Palmer Joss is a religious writer in the movie; in the book he's a preacher.

  3. The end of the Cold War caused one of the novel's subplots to be dropped from the film.

  4. There are (arguably) different motivations for some of the characters in the novel than as shown in the film.

  5. The film apparently plays the "science-vs-religion" aspect up more than the novel.

  6. The character of Ellie didn't face the sexism she encountered in the film.

  7. The romantic aspect of the film does not exist in the novel.

Here's another link to a Quora question with some of the same points listed.

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    I like this answer. In addition, the book and film give different impressions. For one, the book takes much longer to absorb than the movie, assuming normal reading speeds. This provides a more thoughtful experience, though the moviegoer will probably continue to mull over the concepts presented in the film for some time. And for another, the visual treats provided by the movie, especially the intro showing vivid images of the planets, are obviously not in the book either. Moreover, the film was shot partly at the real Arecibo Radio Observatory, which adds depth to the experience. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 21:14

5 people went in the book, and the conversations with the aliens were just amazing compared to movie. The conversation Ellie had with the alien alone makes the book a great read.

The endings were vastly different.

Movie: See, scientist lady! Faith CAN be good!

Book: Everything we know about the universe is wrong and the game has seriously changed. brain explodes


The movie ending had a religious bent like if millions of people can believe Ellie on faith, maybe Ellie can believe in God. Also the conspiracy aspect about the length of the static, which was suppressed.

The book ending touches the concept of reality itself, finding ordered data deep inside pi, leaving it hanging what that data may be... space bible? Encyclopedia Galactica? The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? More instructions?! I personally like to think that the data wiggles and is a nature-of-reality based universe internet. Or contains instructions to join said universe internet.

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    Welcome. Thanks for offering an answer. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how SE Q&A sites work best. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 18:56
  • Upvoting for the summaries of the endings. While they're not referenced usefully, they are an amazingly concise summary of the different spin put on the two versions.
    – occipita
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 12:23

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