With the birth of home video, filmmakers have been able to tinker with their vision. Here are ten examples, however, of where their original endings were changed before said movies were released.
It is the rare film that comes out fully formed. One vision, manipulated by one person, is so unusual that many of the most famous movies are considered collaborations before anything else. Actors want to add and modify their roles. Suits who provided the necessary greenlight (and funds) want their notes and suggestions. Members of the various crafts -- art design, costumers, F/X artists -- all hope for a chance to offer up their creative choices, and then the entire package is collected, collated, edited, and focus-grouped, allowing even those without a single clue about the art form to determine what stays and what goes. Someone like David Lynch may have "final cut" over his efforts, but more times than not, a movie is not a finished product until it opens at your local Cineplex.
So it doesn't surprise a film critic like yours truly when they learn that there are alternative versions of various films. Think of celluloid as a collage contributed to by numerous (almost always divergent) voices, and you see why. For the fan, however, such news could be shocking. It could even revise your feelings about a certain movie or moviemaker. Some directors, like James Cameron, never stop fiddling with their films until they are as close to happy as possible. Others let comment cards and market research do the re-editing. Here are ten intriguing examples of famous films that decided to ditch their planned finale and, instead, reconfigure a new one. Of course, had they been released in their previous incarnation, they may not have been the beloved efforts they are today.
However, a couple are very interesting. Let's begin with one almost everyone knows:
10. Blade Runner
Ridley Scott's second big sci-fi spectacle (after the film at number four on our list) has always been a bone of contention with fans. Some like the voiceover narration and its callback to the '50s noir the movie manipulates for effect. Others like the idea of Deckard (Harrison Ford) as a human falling for a replicant. Of course, Scott himself is no help, having reconfigured his cut nearly a half a dozen times. One change that didn't survive was an ending which spelled out that Deckard was himself artificial and that, once "free", he too would be hunted down by his very own Blade Runner division.
9. Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
As it stands, this amazing Cold War satire ends with a bang -- actually, several nuclear bangs. As the song "We'll Meet Again" plays, director Stanley Kubrick infers that the entire planet gets engulfed in all-out multi-megaton annihilation. But he originally wanted to end things with a good old-fashioned slapstick pie fight. Deep within the War Room, the various factions would "battle" with delicious pastries, until the US president was "downed" by a dessert. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Kubrick had second thoughts and, hoping to spare audiences of any reminder of the tragedy, changed the finale.
8. Fatal Attraction
As you know, this hot topic thriller about adultery and its stalker aftermath ends with Michael Douglas and Anne Archer battling a deranged Glenn Close for control over the couple's crumbling life. But originally, the cuckolded character was to have his existence completely dismantled by his one-night stand psycho. Close's character wasn't supposed to go all Jason Voorhees on her targets. Instead, she kills herself and sets it up so that Douglas takes the blame. While a far most psychologically satisfying and dark conclusion, the studios wouldn't stand for it. They knew that audiences would demand retribution and mandated the change.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Here's a strange one, considering the source and the individual behind the lens. For his adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel, English eccentric Edgar Wright wanted the title character (Michael Cera) and his teenage Asian gal pal Knives (Ellen Wong) to get back together. Test screenings showed them walking off into the sunset, hand in hand. Apparently, this did not sit well with those who just watched the character take on a bevy of angry exes. Instead, they wanted Scott with Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Universal, sensing a problem with their potential hit, agreed. Thus, the ending we have now.
6. The Descent
This is one of the rare cases where two different endings were carved out of a single finale. In the UK (and elsewhere), this claustrophobic horror thriller ends with our lead, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) escaping the hellish confines of those monster-filled caverns, only to realize it was all a dream and that she is moments away from being attacked by the cannibalistic creatures. The US didn't like this one bit and demanded changes. So director Neil Marshall acquiesced, cutting the ending for that it looks like Sarah survived. Both bits work, but the original European finish falls in line more with the director's desire and the film's dark tone.
Now this one is really dark. After spending 90 minutes watching two slackers and their equally lazy pals complain about sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and growing up in the '90s, a robbery takes place in the convenience store. During the fracas, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is shot and (presumably) killed. Writer/director Kevin Smith believed this ending was proper since it hit home the "nowhere job" subtext his storyline was suggesting. Once screened, however, the filmmaker's mentors suggested that he nix such carnage, considering it didn't fit in with the rest of the film, tonally. Smith agreed, and an entire career was born.
Now this one is a lulu! All throughout the shooting of this classic haunted house in space epic, Ridley Scott (yes, him again -- the man can't seem to make up his mind when he's behind the lens) wanted to kill off Ripley. He didn't foresee the franchise possibilities of his genre pic and felt his planned denouement was disturbing and dramatic. In it, the xenomorph would finally catch our heroine and bite her head off. Then, using her "voice", the alien would record a message regarding a return to Earth. Naturally, the studios responded like Scott was insane, and Ripley became the center of a creature feature cottage industry.
3. Army of Darkness
As it stands now, this third film in the Evil Dead trilogy takes our chainsaw-armed hero Ash back in time, forcing him to fight off medieval creatures and customs. When he uses the famed Necronomicon (or Book of the Dead) to return to contemporary times, he ends up back at S-Mart stocking shelves and warding off the occasional demon witch. But in the original ending, Ash screws up the magic chant ("Klaatu Barada Nikto"), and when he wakes up from his ancient slumber, he's nowhere near his own time. The final shot is one of the greatest "gotchas" ever conceived up by Sam Raimi and the gang. It didn't make the cut.
2. I Am Legend
Considering how much they screwed up Richard Matheson's masterpiece of modern macabre with this movie, it makes sense that they would louse up a decent ending as well. Originally, the albino creatures who are constantly attacking Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) are not out to kill him. Instead, they are trying to save members of their species from being guinea pigs in the last man on Earth's attempts to find a "cure." It was a finish which gave the Darkseekers (as they are called) more depth and focus. Instead, Smith wanted to play the martyr, and so the monsters remained monsters, with Neville sacrificing himself to save some survivors. Ugh.
1. Little Shop of Horrors
Without out a doubt, this is probably the biggest rewrite of any ending ever; it was originally part of the stage play as well. Indeed, when Alan Menken and Howard Ashman conceived of their musical take on the famed Roger Corman horror film, it was to end with Audrey (Ellen Green) dying, her boyfriend Seymour (Rick Moranis) dying, and the Mean Green Mother from Outer Space -- aka extraterrestrial flytrap Audrey II -- running amuck throughout New York City. Instead, test audiences were anguished over the death of their two likable leads, and they demanded they live. The filmmakers reluctantly agreed, removing several minutes of stunning city-destroying special effects on the cutting room floor.