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Film / The NeverEnding Story (1984)

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"A hole would be something. No, it was nothing."
Rock Biter

The NeverEnding Story is a 1984 fantasy film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, which is based on Michael Ende's novel The Neverending Story. Most of the plot of the film covers the first half of the novel's story.

Bastian (Barret Oliver), an ostracized young boy who loves to read, steals a magical book which is claimed to go on forever. Within the book is the story of an otherworldly Magical Native American boy named Atreyu, who is on a quest to save the Magical Land of Fantasia from vanishing, as a terrible force called The Nothing consumes the world while its ruler the Childlike Empress lays deathly ill. As Bastian reads more and more of the story, he discovers that the book seems to be aware of him. Eventually, he learns that the magical land within the book is another dimension encompassing all of human imagination; only a human with creative ideas can save it. Needless to say, this film does not so much break the Fourth Wall as it never really has one to begin with—which is a large part of the point.

Klaus Doldinger originally composed the soundtrack for the German release version, but most of the US release's soundtrack was eventually composed by Giorgio Moroder. Including the eponymous theme song.

The film would eventually spawn two sequels, which are The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter in 1990 and The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia in 1994. The first two films were based on the first and second halves of the original novel (the first more closely than the second), whereas the third movie had only one connection to the novel: the appearance of the Old Man of Wandering Mountain.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was announced that The Nothing had begun to encroach upon other universes, figuring into the plot of the 2024 Warner Bros. Fighting Game MultiVersus.

The Neverending Story contains examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: Atreyu pulls this epically on Gmork late in the film as part of a Badass Boast, below.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the book, Bastian was plain and fat in the real world, then appeared tall and princely once he entered Fantastica (as a result of his first wish, with insecurity about his appearance being one of things he had to get over by the end of the story).
  • Adaptational Explanation: In the book, Engywook tells Atreyu that despite all his research, he has been unable to find any discernible pattern in which people the Sphinxes keep their eyes shut for and let pass safely and which they open their eyes for and destroy. In the film, he explains that they open their eyes when someone who doesn't believe in their own worthiness passes by.
  • Adaptational Nonsapience: In the book, Atreyu's horse Artax was a Talking Animal, like all animals in Fantastica. In the movie, he's portrayed as an ordinary horse.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Gmork was helping the Nothing because he envied Fantasticans and humans for having the one thing he did not: a place to call home. This motive made him a somewhat sympathetic character, albeit a petty one who wanted to destroy two worlds out of spite. The film version, on the other hand, is a Straw Nihilist who wants the power to control the despairing lives left in the Nothing's wake.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The film changes the inscription on AURYN from "Do What You Wish" ("Tu was du willst") to "Do What You Dream". This was one of the changes that Michael Ende disagreed with most strongly.
    "Do what you dream!" This inscription is really the opposite of what the message of my book means.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Many elements in the first film are not adequately explained because their meanings from the novel were either simplified or omitted. Some of the elements lost from the novel include:
    • Atreyu does not take his weapons because he must remain neutral as a bearer of AURYN. All Fantasticans will respect him as they respect the Childlike Empress.
    • Atreyu learns of Morla through a vision he has in a dream about a purple buffalo.
    • Atreyu reaches the Southern Oracle with help from a monster, Ygramul the Many, whose poisonous bite gives the victim the power of instant teleportation before they die. Falkor was a victim who also used this power after overhearing Ygramul tell Atreyu about it. It was cut from the final script due to VFX limitations of the time. This also would have explained the medicine being given by the Gnomics to Atreyu and Falcor, which was to counter Ygramul's poison.
    • The Nothing has no appearance of anything at all; any Fantastican who looks at it feels as though they have been struck blind. This obviously presented a problem in the translation to film, so the movie instead depicts the Nothing using visuals of roiling clouds created by mixing colored oils and salt water, to create a visual indicator of its presence. The movie's version of the Nothing also acts like a black hole that sucks in the landscape—and Fantasians—while the novel's version lures in Fantasticans like moths to a flame.
    • Gmork's motivations and explanations about Fantastica and the nature of the Nothing go much deeper in the book. He reveals that he is a shapeshifter who can go between Fantastica and the human world but belongs in neither; his true motivation for wanting to aid in destroying Fantastica is envy, because he has no world to call home. He also reveals that Fantasticans enter the human world through the Nothing, but emerge as lies and delusions in the minds of humans, which increases the rate at which the Nothing spreads.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • A very minor example with Fantasia itself. While the English translation of the book uses the name "Fantastica", the film uses "Fantasia". Arguably, this is actually a better translation, as it's closer to the original German name, Phantasien (which follows German geographical naming customs, i.e. Australien for Australia).
    • Other minor examples with Falcor, who in the book's English translation was spelled "Falkor", and with the Rockbiters, who were "Rock Chewers" (although "Rockbiter is also a closer translation of the original "Felsenbeißer").
  • Adaptation Species Change:
    • In the book, Cairon, the doctor who hands Atreyu the AURYN on the Childlike Empress's behalf after being the last to examine her, was a zebra-centaur. Here, he is a humanoid merman who can walk on dry land.
    • The film's Southern Oracle is a second pair of Sphinxes, colored blue in contrast to the dangerous gold Sphinxes who comprise the first challenge gate. In the book, the Southern Oracle was a being made of sound named Uyulala who spoke only in rhymes and could only hear questions posed in rhyme. (The first gate was still a dangerous Sphinx Gate.)
  • Adapted Out: Many examples. The first Fantastican we meet in the book, the will-o-the-wisp Blubb, is absent, though the other three messengers (the Rock-chewer, the Tiny and the Night-hob) are present. Atreyu's village isn't shown as Cairon doesn't go there but instead Atreyu goes to the Ivory Tower. The purple buffalo that serves as Atreyu's animal guide and tells him about Morla. The bark trolls who show Atreyu the Nothing for the first time. Ygramul the Many, who is responsible for getting Atreyu to the Southern Oracle. The third gate to the Southern Oracle, the No Key Gate. The Wind Giants who blow Falkor off course so that Atreyu ends up in Spook City. The Old Man of Wandering Mountain. The entire second half of the book.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Childlike Empress is a unique, immortal being who rules all of vast Fantasia, but in the end, she isn't too proud to beg Bastian to save her.
  • All for Nothing:
    • Played with. At the end of his quest, Atreyu has learned that the Childlike Empress can be saved if a human child gives her a new name. He returns to her with this information, only to discover that... she knew this all along. This causes Atreyu to rant that he suffered all the loss and all the horrors of his quest just to learn what the Childlike Empress already knew, but then she quickly informs him that the REAL purpose of his journey was to Break the Fourth Wall and bring Bastian to her.
    • When Bastian finally gives the Childlike Empress a new name, Fantasia has completely disappeared. But one grain of sand remained, allowing Bastian to wish to have Fantasia restored.
  • All There in the Manual: When Bastian names the Childlike Empress, the name he shouts is hard to make out due to Dramatic Thunder. Those who are familiar with the original novel will know what Bastian actually says, but the movie's soundtrack itself also gives the answer; the name of the piece of music accompanying the scene is, in fact, "Moonchild".
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: "Natsu No Jewelry" by Seiko Matsuda was the theme song of the Japanese version.
    • Technically, Limahl's "Never Ending Story" qualifies; it was not present in the original German release and was later added to the film for the probably more well-known North American release.
  • Artifact Title: The reason for the title was cut by the adaptation. It originally referred to every plot thread followed to completion generating multiple new story hooks, but that entire meta level of the story was cut. Although the narration at the end states Bastian had "many amazing adventures" in Fantasia before returning home, which is Another Story for Another Time.
  • Aside Comment: At the end, the Empress talks straight into the camera when trying to communicate with Bastian who's reading the book.
  • Award-Bait Song: Limahl's "The Never Ending Story".
    • Christopher Hamill ("Limahl" is a Significant Anagram) was previously the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, best known for "Too Shy".
    • Now that Kajagoogoo reunited for good, they've adopted the song to themselves (of course with Limahl still on lead vocals), with bassist Nick Beggs (who was the band's lead vocalist after they fired Limahl in 1984) now singing the second voice, and Nick and the rest of the band members now handling all the background music.
  • Badass Boast: "If we're about to die anyway, I'd rather die fighting! Come for me, Gmork! I am Atreyu!"
  • Beyond Redemption: When confronting Gmork, Atreyu tries to reason with him and asks why he's helping the Nothing destroy Fantasia. When Gmork makes it clear he's doing it out of a selfish desire for power and has no remorse for it, Atreyu's demeanor noticeably changes as he realizes Gmork is too evil to reason with and has to be killed.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Falkor's rescue of Atreyu from the Swamps of Sadness, his literal Despair Event Horizon, and the wolf, Gmork. Bastian even lampshades this with his huge exclamation of relief and collapse after the scene ends in the movie.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Bastian when he realizes that he's the one the Empress is talking about.
  • Blind Alley: Bastian escapes his bullies by hiding in a bookstore while his chasers rush by. The following encounter with the bookstore owner sets the plot in motion.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Near the end of the film, the Childlike Empress tells Atreyu that as he was adventuring through Fantasia, the Earth-child Bastian was sharing his adventures by reading the story, then mentions that others are sharing Bastian's adventure, referencing the viewers of the film in progress. The last part she does whilst looking directly at the camera.
  • Break Them by Talking: Gmork tries to do this to Atreyu. It fails, as eventually Atreyu has enough and decides to kill him.
  • Bright Castle: Although depicted differently than in the book, the Ivory Tower is gorgeous. It even partakes slightly of the other side of the trope, since while it is not cursed it does end up the only part of Fantasia left floating in the dark void after the Nothing has destroyed the rest of the land. As if that symbolism isn't enough, Atreyu specifically seeks it out in desperation as a sort of beacon, and the fact it has survived acts as a Hope Spot for him. It certainly seems to be the heart of Fantasia (if not its geographical center, since it has no boundaries), and its survival is likely tied to the Empress's, since for the hero to have any chance of succeeding in his quest she has to be there to be given a new name.
  • Bring It: Atreyu to Gmork, followed by I Am Your Opponent.
  • Bully Hunter: Bastian and Falcor at the end.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Even if you're reading a book.
  • Captain Obvious: Played for drama: "Artax, you're sinking!"
  • Catapult Nightmare: Bastian wakes up this way in the opening scene.
  • The Chessmaster: Unlike the novel — where Bastian steals the book and the store owner doesn't even remember it at the end of the novel — Mr. Koreander tricks Bastian into taking the book in the film.
  • Children Are Tender-Hearted: Bastian sheds tears over the death of Atreyu's horse, Artax.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The film literally cut out half of the book. Thanks to Adaptation Displacement, most viewers don't even know anything was removed. The sequel picks up elements from the second half of the book, although it was still not quite all there.invoked
  • Cool Horse: Artax doesn't last long, but he still qualifies.
  • Covers Always Lie: The movie poster (shown above) displays the Rock Biter and his friends, suggesting that they play a prominent role in the story. In the movie itself, they only appear in a couple of scenes.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: The original German versions of the movies—and the books—base the story in Germany. How come Bastian's hometown looks like an American city, then? Especially ridiculous since the Fantasia scenes were filmed at a studio in Munich, meaning the filmmakers could easily have preserved the original setting simply by taking their equipment outside the studio.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: As Atreyu and Artex enter the Swamps of Sadness, Bastian's voiceover informs audiences that they'd already searched "the Silver Mountains, the Desert of Shattered Hopes, and the Crystal Towers" — places that are never explored on-screen or elaborated on in any way.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: At the end of the film, Atreyu stares into a dark corner to find his nemesis, Gmork, eyeing him back.
  • Death Glare: Atreyu gives Gmork one when he says, "Who are you, really?"
  • Decoy Protagonist: Sort of. Within the book, the opening chapter introduces Bastian—and the viewer—to the Rock Biter, the Nighthob, and the Teeny Weeny. The film implies that one of them will be the protagonist, or that the group may at least form a traveling band with the protagonist. But they exist first for exposition—to reveal what The Nothing is doing in various parts of Fantasia and how everyone is concerned enough to send representatives to the Ivory Tower—then to act as viewpoint witnesses to Cairon's council that sets up the plot of the rest of the story. The book's actual protagonist is Atreyu, and he travels alone except for Artax and, later on, Falkor. The introductory characters do come back into the story, though—at least in their absence, for all but the Rock Biter.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Coupled with Driven to Suicide for the Rockbiter, as he decides to let The Nothing overtake him.
    Rockbiter: They look like good, strong hands, don't they?
    • The Swamps of Sadness can cause this in people, which causes them to sink. This happens to Atreyu's horse Artax, which (combined with the revelation that his next goal is 10,000 miles away) pushes Atreyu himself across the Despair Event Horizon. He is saved from fully sinking into the swamp by Falkor (In the book, he is protected from sinking by the Auryn being around his neck - he can't put it on his horse, however, as it won't fit.)
    • This is the origin of The Nothing. Humans have begun to lose their hopes and dreams in the real world, and as a consequence, that despair is tearing all Fantasia asunder.
  • Determinator: Atreyu is this personified. He never gives up on his quest, no matter how hopeless things seem or how few clues he has about what to do next.
  • Deus ex Machina: When Atreyu is about to be caught by Gmork, a hitherto unknown luck dragon comes down from the sky to save him.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: The telephone call that distracts the bookstore owner, allowing Bastian to succumb to the temptation to make off with the old book he's been told not to touch.
  • Disneyfication:
    • The death of Gmork in the film by Atreyu's hands. In the novel, Gmork was chained up in Spook City some time ago by Gaya the Dark Princess and is already dying; he takes on the role of Mr. Exposition before finally starving to death (although his dead body is still full enough of malice to clamp its jaws down on Atreyu's leg as Falkor rescues him). The film abandons this in favor of a final showdown between the hero and the only tangible villain, likely to make Atreyu look more heroic.
    • Bastian riding Falcor in the human world at the end of the film. This ignores the novel's insistence that Fantasticans cannot exist in the human world as themselves. It also counts as a Clap Your Hands If You Believe resolution of Bastian's problems with the other kids bullying him. In the novel, Bastian's journey of self-discovery helps him find the strength to deal with his problems without expecting fantasy and wishful thinking to make his problems magically disappear.
  • The Dragon: Multiplied by two. Gmork is the Nothing's dragon, and the Nothing is one for the power behind human apathy.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Near the end of the movie...
  • The Dreaded: Atreyu is this for Gmork. The look on the wolf's face when he realizes whom he's talking to is something to behold.
  • Dream Land: Fantasia is made up of humanity's stories and creativity — and often takes on a surreal, dreamlike nature.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: This film has an extremely rare example of this happening to the protagonist. Atreyu, put through the wringer on a long and perilous quest, is suddenly killed by falling debris. He gets better.
  • Dutch Angle: Used effectively—and creepily—during the scene with Atreyu gazing up at the Sphinx Gate.
  • Ethereal Choir: The angelic Auryn theme.
  • Even the Loving Hero Has Hated Ones: Atreyu is friendly and compassionate to everyone, but hates Gmork due to his evil nature, and is willing to kill him to save Fantasia.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: After the Nothing completely destroys Fantasia, the only survivors are Atreyu, Falkor and the Childlike Empress herself. Eventually, even Atreyu and Falkor perish, and the Empress is all that remains.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Atreyu is called for his quest, the centaur comments that he didn't call for Atreyu the child, he called for Atreyu the warrior. Atreyu explains that they are one and the same.
    Cairon: I'm sorry, but this is not the time or place for children. I must ask you to leave.
    Atreyu: If you do not want me here, then you shouldn't have sent for me.
    Cairon: It is not you we sent for. We wanted Atreyu.
    Atreyu: I am Atreyu.
    [Everyone in the room laughs]
    Cairon: Not Atreyu the child, Atreyu the warrior!
    Atreyu: I'm the only Atreyu of the Plains People.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: What the Night Hob's asking if the Rock Biter is a nutcase amounts to. The moment he gets his answer, he realizes just what such a name entails and then the Rock Biter is having a snack of limestone that could crush him, his friend and their mounts.
  • Eye of Newt: Urgl's healing potion seems to include earthworms as an ingredient.
  • Fade to Black: A devastating one caps the scene where Artax dies. It happens again when Bastian calls out the Childlike Empress's name as the Nothing destroys (almost) the last bit of Fantasia.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: In the film's opening scene, Bastian's father tells his son to get his head out of the clouds because he is failing in school. In the end, if not for Bastian's vivid imagination, Fantasia would have been destroyed forever.
  • Filming for Easy Dub: When Bastian screams "Moon Child" out of the attic window, his mouth is mostly covered in shadow to make it easy for foreign dubs to insert their translated version of it.
  • The Film of the Book: See Compressed Adaptation.
  • Find the Cure!: Atreyu's quest, in essence, since doing so for the Empress will also save Fantasia from The Nothing.
  • Fisher King: At the beginning of the film, numerous Fantasians appear at the Ivory Tower to beseech the Empress for her help to stop the Nothing - only to learn that the Empress herself is deathly ill. When Cairon gives the quest to Atreyu, he states that finding the Empress a cure for her malady will stop the Nothing, and vice versa, which all but outright states that the Empress is a Fisher Queen.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Near the end of the film, Atreyu sees a number of murals showing various events that have already happened to him. He then sees a mural showing a growling wolf in some rubble, which he definitely has not encountered...until about five seconds later, when the Gmork makes his presence known.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Mr. Coriander's describing of the book to Bastian is either this trope or Schmuck Bait, given his smile when Bastian takes it.
  • Foreign Rescore: For its international release Giorgio Moroder was brought on to rework some of the music in a more contemporary (i.e. The '80s) style. Not the only time something like this happen in 1980s fantasy.
  • Framing Device: The film starts off looking like it invokes this trope—until you realize Fantasia is another dimension and not just a story being read by Bastian.
  • Friend to All Living Things: In the extended German cut of the film, Atreyu at first offers to help Gmork (likely thinking he's hurt) despite his Obviously Evil appearance. He also calls Artax his friend more than once.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: What apparently happens when someone looks into the Magic Mirror Gate.
    Engywook: Atreyu has to face his true self.
    Falcor: So what? That won't be too hard for him.
    Engywook: Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!
  • Good Is Not Soft: Atreyu, as Gmork finds out the hard way.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Gmork states that human apathy and lack of imagination is his true master:
    Gmork: I am the servant of the force behind The Nothing.
  • The Heartless: The Nothing is described as an Eldritch Abomination who works in these terms.
    Atreyu: What is The Nothing?
    Gmork: It's the emptiness that's left. It's like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
    Atreyu: But why?
    Gmork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has control has the power.
  • The Heavy: Gmork fills this role. The Nothing is the main threat, but Atreyu has to fight Gmork instead, as he is actually tangible. Gmork even says something to this effect:
    Atreyu: Who are you, really?
    Gmork: I am the servant of the power behind The Nothing.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • The Rockbiter is shown to be in one near the end.
    • Atreyu goes into one when Morla tells him he can't reach the Southern Oracle. Combined with the death of Artax, this information sends Atreyu into enough despair that he begins sinking to his death in the Swamps of Sadness. Fortunately, Falcor shows up just in time.
    • Atreyu goes into another one near the end; ironically, Gmork unwittingly gives him some information that snaps him out of it.
  • Hero of Another Story: Before Atreyu tries to get past the Sphinx Gate, we see a literal Knight in Shining Armor try to pass on his horse, only to be judged as unworthy and killed by the Gate's Eye Beams. Who he was and why he was trying to get through is never explained, and the whole scene is basically just to show the viewer how dangerous the Sphinx Gate is.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The Swamps of Sadness.
  • I Know Your True Name: In the original book, the inhabitants of Fantasia hold the Auryn in such high regard and respect that they very rarely refer to it by its real name, preferring to call it something similar like "the Gem" or "the Glory." In the movie, they have no such apprehension.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Gmork, courtesy of Atreyu.
  • Impending Doom P.O.V.: A couple of scenes of Gmork chasing after Atreyu through the woods are shot from his perspective.
  • Improvised Weapon: In the final confrontation with Gmork, Atreyu grabs a roughly knife-shaped shard of rubble to defend himself with.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Gmork is the servant of the Nothing, but is the only tangible villain in the film and is after Atreyu personally and gloats to him over his actions, so Atreyu has more of a personal enmity with him.
  • It's the Journey That Counts: The entire premise of the Childlike Empress's Batman Gambit. Atreyu is sent on a quest to find the cure for her mysterious illness, when in truth, she already knows what that cure is. The true purpose of Atreyu's journey is to get Bastian emotionally invested enough in his adventure and the fate of Fantasia that he's willing to take a Leap of Faith and call out the Empress's new name when the time is right.
  • The Joy of First Flight: Bastian when riding Falcor at the end.
  • Just a Kid: The Prime Minister didn't want Atreyu the child, he sent for Atreyu the warrior. Atreyu just shrugs and says he is the only one of his tribe with that name. The Prime Minister rolls with it and issues Atreyu the quest anyway.
  • Karmic Death: Gmork, whose mission is to kill Atreyu and thereby doom Fantasia, is killed by Atreyu.
  • Kid Hero: Bastian and Atreyu both.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Gmork. While the situation was already grim with the Nothing gradually destroying the world of Fantasia, his introduction causes the film's tone to go from hopeful to dark and intense. The scene where he confronts Atreyu is a nightmarish deconstruction of the nature of stories and imagination, revealing him to be an opportunistic nihilist working with the Nothing to destroy Fantasia in order to rule over the unimaginative masses left in the wake of the oblivion, which makes Gmork's evil feel more personal and vile, while the Nothing behaves more like an uncaring natural disaster.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Bastian and Falcor dish this out to the bullies at the end.
  • Lightning Reveal: Gmork makes his reveal to the audience when lightning strikes and lights up the cave he is hiding in.
  • Magical Land: Fantasia.
  • Magic Mirror: And The Mirror Shows Your True Self, naturally.
  • Missing Mom: Bastian's mother died at some point before the film's opening. Based on the conversation Bastian has with his dad, it's likely she's only been dead for a few weeks before.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Atreyu does this to Gmork, overlapping with Bring It.
  • Narrator: The film suddenly sprouts a narrator only at the very, very end. It would be all too easy to construct a lofty critical reason for this—"It's to emphasize thematically that the real story is only beginning" or whatnot—but in all likelihood, it was because of earlier scenes being cut or a sloppy mistake in the film's writing or editing.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Unbelievably near. At the end of the film, all that remains of Fantasia is the Childlike Empress and a single grain of sand.
  • Nerves of Steel: Atreyu when he confronts Gmork.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: By opting to give Atreyu a big lecture rather than just attack him, Gmork unwittingly gives him some pretty valuable information—such as the fact that he is the only one capable of stopping The Nothing. Atreyu had actually hit the Despair Event Horizon before hearing that, so Gmork's attempt to kill Atreyu only cause Bastian to empathize more with Atreyu and his quest.
  • No Fourth Wall: The Childlike Empress explicitly says that others have been following Bastian through his experiences, like he had been following Atreyu.
  • No Ontological Inertia: At the end, once Bastian has given the Childlike Empress a new name, Fantasia goes right back to its old state.
    Bastian: Falkor, it's like the Nothing never was.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The Nothing. Literally. It's destroying the world of Fantasia, and it has no form.
    • Also the Nothing's servant, Gmork. For much of the movie, his scenes are mostly shown from his perspective, with his menacing theme music playing as he follows Atreyu's trail. You don't actually get a good look at Gmork himself until his final scene, but that doesn't make this monster one bit less frightening.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Gmork has an epic one when Atreyu reveals his identity and challenges him to fight.
    • Atreyu also has this expression in the Swamps of Sadness when Artax stops moving.
    • The three bullies at the end get their own taste of this trope when Bastian comes after them — on Falkor's back.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: This exchange when Atreyu and Falkor float across the Shattered World near the end.
    Atreyu: Do you suppose the Ivory Tower is still standing?
    Falkor: Let's hope so, Atreyu. Let's hope so.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Inverted—Gmork claims that Atreyu is the only one capable of defeating him. Atreyu is happy to oblige.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Double Subversion—Atreyu is not worthy to make it past the Sphinxes (or at least, doesn't feel that he is, which is what triggers them), but he makes it through anyway by leaping out of the way of their deadly eye beams.
  • Palette Swap: As opposed to the book, the Southern Oracle is this to the Sphinx Gate. It is actually more likely the latter is modeled after the former, but the order in which Atreyu encounters them would make it appear the reverse, which explains why he is understandably reluctant to approach and the Oracle make a point of reassuring him that they will not hurt him. Bastian also lampshades this by having a bit of confusion when reading their description before the viewer gets to see them.
  • Pals with Jesus: Bastian gets to ride Falcor in the real world to chase some bullies.
  • Plot-Triggering Book: The plot is about Bastian who steals a book called "The Neverending Story" from a bookstore one day. As he reads the book, he finds out that it's about Fantasia, a Magical Land threatened by "The Nothing," a malevolent force that devours everything, and a young boy like him who's on a quest to save it. Bastian starts wondering if Fantasia needs him to survive.
  • Portal Statue Pairs: The two sphinxes of the Southern Oracle. As noted under Palette Swap, the Sphinx Gate are weaponized, Gate Guardian versions.
  • The Power of Friendship: Atreyu invokes this when he is trying to save Artax from the swamp. It doesn't work.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "Then my first wish is..." Followed by Bastian bringing back all of Fantasia and getting revenge on the bullies with Falcor's help.
    • "Come for me, Gmork! I am Atreyu!"
  • Quicksand Sucks: The Swamp of Sadness is the manifestation of despair.
  • Race Against the Clock: The story is about not only saving Fantasia from The Nothing, but saving the life of the dying Childlike Empress; to underscore the symbolism and up the stakes, Cairon says that her sickness is linked to The Nothing.
  • Race Lift: White actor Noah Hathaway is cast as Atreyu, whose appearance and lifestyle are clearly meant to suggest that of a Native American (though thankfully he doesn't wear Brownface). In the sequel, the character is played by Mexican-American actor Kenny Morrison. Also, Atreyu has green skin in the book, but a normal flesh tone in the two movies. According to Hathaway they tried green makeup on him at first but it looked awful.
  • Reaching Through the Fourth Wall: When the Nothing is about to destroy the Childlike Empress (along with the last bits of Fantasia), a violent storm rages against the school where Bastian is reading the story, making it seem like the Nothing is coming for him, too. Not to mention that this is also the scene where the Childlike Empress is talking directly to Bastian.
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Reading literally saves all of Fantasia.
  • Reset Button: Of the Set Right What Once Went Wrong variety by Bastian.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Atreyu's horse Artax, who is overwhelmed by the Swamps of Sadness and drowns to his death.
  • Savage Wolf: Gmork is a hitman sent by "the power behind the Nothing" to kill Atreyu and thereby doom the world.
  • Say My Name:
    • "ARTAX!"
    • And at the end, the Empress tells Bastian to call out the new name he has chosen for her.
  • Scare Chord: Plays in the tense moment Atreyu encounters Gmork near the end.
  • Schmuck Bait: Deliberately invoked by Mr. Koreander, who describes the Neverending Story as a book that isn't "safe" and tells Bastian to stay away from it, which only inspires the boy to steal the book the moment Koreander's back is turned. Of course, Koreander wanted Bastian to take the book... and the book indeed turns out to be far more dangerous than Bastian expected.
  • Serpent of Immortality: This is the visual motif behind AURYN, the amulet representing the power of the immortal Childlike Empress.
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: Gmork was shot in this style.
  • Shattered World: This is seen near the end when Atreyu and Falkor float across a field of floating rocks, which is all that is left of Fantasia.
  • Shout-Out: To prove to Mr. Koreander that he's into books, Bastian lists Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tarzan as literature he has read. Koreander himself brings up Robinson Crusoe.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Atreyu kills Gmork in one hit with his stone knife, albeit with the Curb Stomp Cushion of Gmork tackling Atreyu first, forcing the young warrior to crawl out from under the beast's corpse afterwards.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the movie, everyone taken by the Nothing is restored at the end, and Atreyu's horse Artax comes back to life.
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: Atreyu gives Gmork a long, cold stare before asking him who he really is.
  • Stuffed into a Trashcan: Dumpsters are trashcans, too, and Bastian ends up stuffed into one, courtesy of the local Gang of Bullies. In a Book Ends ending, the bullies jump into the same dumpster to dodge Falkor who is Buzzing the Deck.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Atreyu journeys through the Swamps of Sadness, which consume vulnerable travelers with despair and suck them into a muddy grave. Atreyu's horse Atrax succumbs.
  • Symbolism: While there is plenty of it in a story this archetypal, the ultimate example would have to be the combination of what the Empress needs to be cured, why her illness is tied to the Nothing, and why the book is needed to draw in an Earthling child to provide the cure: In a world that is both the source and product of human imagination, of course names have power. At the same time, the fact that such a place is a world of fantasy readily explains why no one within it has the power over creation/existence/true nature that comes with truly naming things. (This is expanded on more in the book, of course.) Of course a person without a true name would become an Empty Shell, thus making something like the Nothing possible. And the fact that the human world is said to be losing imagination and ceasing to believe in magic still ties in; in such a state of affairs, one of the first things to go would be the essence/inner nature of the one who rules the world of imagination, especially when their existence is tied to the land's.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: When Atreyu wonders how Falkor knows his name, the latter responds that Atreyu talked in his sleep.
  • Taxidermy Terror: A wolf head falls onto Bastian in the attic which makes him scream in terror. Cue a Match Cut to Gmork racing after Atreyu in Fantasia.
  • Technicolor Science: Engywook has a telescope using green and red colored carboys.
  • That Liar Lies: When Gmork tells Atreyu Fantasia has no boundaries, Atreyu accuses him of lying.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Inverted with the Rockbiter, who ends up at These Hands Have Not Saved. See Despair Event Horizon above.
  • This Cannot Be!: Bastian tends to react this way whenever he realizes that the Fantasian characters are aware of him.
  • This Is Reality: Averted. The Empress not only knows she exists in a story, but that the person reading that story is himself in a story being followed by us, the viewers.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Atreyu feels this way toward Gmork when he realizes he's trying to destroy Fantasia purely out of a desire for power, and decides to fight him to the death as he's too evil to be left alive.
  • Tranquil Fury: When Atreyu hears Gmork's motives for helping the Nothing and realizes he has to be stopped, he gives him a long, cold stare and asks in a deadly quiet voice, "Who are you really?"
  • Travel Montage: Atreyu's journey to find a cure for the Empress is captured in a montage of key moments of him riding across exotic locations.
  • Turtle Island: Morla is originally perceived by Atreyu as a hill of some sort.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Atreyu flat-out tells Gmork the dangers of doing this: "I will not die easily. I am a warrior."
  • Urban Legends: The "Swamp of Sadness" scene was evidently a troubled production site. Depending on who you ask, the horse that played Artax got caught in the elevator and died—which scarred Atreyu's actor for life—or Atreyu's actor got caught in the elevator and almost drowned. Not to mention, he was thrown off a horse during training and stepped on, which certainly would not have helped.
  • The Villain Must Be Punished: Even though Gmork doesn't recognize him, Atreyu reveals himself and fights him anyway, deciding that even if his quest fails, he'll at least take Gmork with him.
  • Villains Never Lie: Double-subverted. When Gmork says that Fantasia has no borders, Atreyu immediately accuses him of lying, but he's telling the truth.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Downplayed in the extended version, where Gmork at first asks Atreyu to leave him alone. Once Atreyu realizes how evil he is, he's in no mood to walk away and makes it clear this is going to end in a fight, and only then does Gmork try to kill him.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Atreyu is surprised to wake up beside a dragon in an unknown location.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: When Bastian reads that the Childlike Empress needs a new name, he remarks to himself that his mother had a beautiful name, which he would like to give to the Empress if it were up to him. When it turns out that it is up to him, the name he shouts is obscured by Dramatic Thunder but seems to be the same as the new name that he gives her in the book: "Moon Child".
    • The live-action series Tales from the Neverending Story goes with the "'Moon Child' was inspired by Bastian's mother's name" idea from the movie despite the series being another Alternate Continuity, but clarifies that his mom's actual name was Selene, after the Greek moon goddess.
  • Worf Had the Flu: In the extended German version, Gmork explains that he has weakened himself by chasing Atreyu for so long, which explains why he goes down with one hit.
  • World-Healing Wave: Bastian restoring all of Fantasia at the end.
  • You Wake Up on a Beach: Happens to Atreyu in the third act when he falls off Falkor and into the Sea of Possibilities. The next shot has him waking up on a beach.

Alternative Title(s): Neverending Story, The Neverending Story