On DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs, a common special feature are the deleted scenes and alternative endings, and upon watching them, most of the time it can be seen why they were removed from the final film or changed, as they are either boring or add nothing to the overall film. But they also often shine a new light on certain plot points of the film that went underdeveloped and were excluded from the film altogether.
No matter the length of a film’s run time, it is ultimately the ending that viewers will remember the most, partially because it was what they most recently saw, but more so because the ending determines whether the finale of the film they spent their time on was worthwhile. No filmmaker would want to make a great movie that was ruined at literally the last minute.
Case in point, the below films originally had different endings from what they ended up having, and the lasting impression they would have had on their audience would have been radically different. Some of these films almost had a cop-out ending, or were tonally not in synch with the rest of the film, and it is fortunate that either the director or editor could see the bigger picture. Or in some cases, these inferior endings were merely in the original screenplay, but thankfully changed.
Many spoilers ahead!
10. Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008)
Pineapple Express is essentially a stoner action comedy where two bumbling potheads cross a corrupt cop and drug lord who want the two idiots dead. While the film is mostly lighthearted despite its violence, its original ending concluded the film on an unnecessarily down note.
After the two protagonists Dale (Seth Rogen) and Saul (James Franco) have foiled the bad guys’ plan, they celebrate by smoking a joint in the warehouse, and notice one of the bad guys lurking towards them off screen, while Dale keeps having to point out the bad guy to Saul. They are too stoned to realize that their lives are in danger, and the stoners are shot dead, as Dale grabs Saul’s hand before passing away.
Having the two main stoners get executed would have been too bleak for this otherwise upbeat stoner comedy, and after all the laughs and shenanigans viewers would have watched beforehand, this ending would have been completely inappropriate for Pineapple Express.
9. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
Although the Alien saga is quite bleak overall, the first film is especially bleak for its claustrophobic feel, as the characters are trapped on a spacecraft with a murderous creature murdering them one by one. The closest thing the first Alien film has to something upbeat is its protagonist Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) escaping and killing the alien.
However, the screenplay’s original ending was even more grim. The alien killed Ripley by biting her head off and then mimics her voice to leave a final log, before heading to Earth to kill more humans. It would have been silly for a beast to suddenly start talking, let alone do a perfect impersonation of Ripley’s voice. This ending also would have prevented any chance of the sequels being made, and Ripley would not have become one of the leading female action movie icons.
8. Die Hard with a Vengeance (John McTiernan, 1995)
The Die Hard series has been mostly consistent with its fast pace and having a ton of action, all the while ensuring each film has its own unique story. While the third film in the series is mostly no exception, it’s strange to think that its original ending was so different tonally from the rest of the film. In fact, tone wise, it almost feels like a scene out of Pulp Fiction with Bruce Willis playing Butch Coolidge rather than playing John McClane in a Die Hard film.
In the alternative ending that takes place sometime after the events of the rest of the film, McClane tracks down the villain Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) to Hungary to play a game called ‘McClane Says’, which is a different version of the Simon Says game that taunts McClane throughout the film.
It’s also an unique version of Russian roulette using a Chinese rocket launcher where it could be either side of the weapon that fires the rocket, potentially killing either man. In the end, McClane survives their encounter and Gruber unwittingly shoots himself, and it is revealed that McClane is wearing a flak jacket that would have prevented the rocket from killing him.
The film’s screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh stated that this ending was rejected by the studio for its lack of action and for being out of synch with the rest of the film. The studio also criticized this ending for showing a crueller and more vengeful side of McClane that they felt went against the character’s admirable personality.
The aim of this ending was to show how jaded McClane had become after Gruber escapes justice, and while it is an interesting scene as an alternative ending, it did not match up with the rest of the film, and the more traditional Die Hard-esque ending it got works better.
7. Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
Rocky is one of the ultimate motivational films where someone can start from the bottom and go all the way to the top and be somebody. This is indeed what happened to the film’s star and writer Sylvester Stallone with his movie career. Even though small time boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) had lost his match against world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky still won his own self-respect and proved to all his doubters that he wasn’t a bum. However, the original ending went in the opposite direction.
In the original screenplay, Rocky threw the fight because he was disillusioned with the world of professional boxing, and he used the money he made to open a pet store for his girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire).
This ending would have gone against the spirit of the rest of the film, as Rocky just gave up, rather than proving that he can go the distance against the world champion. Had this original ending stayed, it could have meant no Oscars for Best Picture and Director, no Rocky sequels, and possibly no career for Stallone.
6. The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989)
Perhaps one of blockbuster director James Cameron’s less popular films, The Abyss is by no means a dud and definitely no less epic in scale and special effects. It tells the story of a group of Navy SEALs and offshore oil drillers attempting to recover a nuclear submarine that has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The group discovers aliens living in the deepest depths of the ocean, and the crew has mixed and sometimes deadly opinions on what to do with these extraterrestrials.
In the ending of the final film, Bud (Ed Harris) swims far down into the ocean to defuse a nuclear warhead aimed to kill the aliens. Expecting to die, the aliens appreciate the sacrifice Bud is making and show him a loving message he sent his wife, so the aliens take him, the crew, and their rig to the surface of Los Angeles and save them all.
However, the original ending went in the complete opposite direction, where they show Bud footage of violence and warfare, and once the aliens surface, they attack the city with the intent to annihilate the human race, by creating tsunamis before stopping their plan and letting mankind off with a warning for them to stop killing each other.
This ending goes against everything else that happened in the film beforehand, especially the aliens’ peaceful nature. It would have raised too many questions as to why the aliens waited so long in the ocean to attack humans when they could have done this at any point.
5. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
The plot of The Shawshank Redemption, detailing the lives of two inmates at Shawshank State Penitentiary, may sound dull on paper, but the bond between these two men and the ordeals they face is absolutely heartbreaking. Although not a big commercial hit upon its initial release, it has since been considered one of the best films ever made. It ranks as the #1 film on the Top 250 films list on IMDb, even beating The Godfather.
In the end, after the two leads face many years of hell together, it is genuinely heartwarming when you see them reunited at a beach in Mexico, far away from their past and out of America’s legal jurisdiction. However, the film was originally going to end with the penultimate scene where Red (Morgan Freeman) is left wondering if he will ever see Andy (Tim Robbins) again, as he is traveling on a bus headed for Mexico.
There would have been no closure or anything to indicate if Red met up with Andy in Mexico. All the time and commitment put in by the audience would have been for nothing had this been the case, especially with such an emotional rollercoaster of a film like The Shawshank Redemption.
Although the ending was basically just another scene added onto what was already in the film, it makes a world of difference to see that these two inmates serving life sentences remained lifelong friends with their newfound freedom. It wasn’t until it was suggested to director Frank Darabont that viewers will be upset without the lack of closure after everything they’d seen, and thank goodness Darabont listened.
4. Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s cold war satire Dr. Strangelove is to this day renowned as one of the best black comedies ever made. It had pitch-perfect satire of how inept the military was regarding how to handle the possible end of the world through nuclear war, and the characters were more concerned about saving face in front of their enemies than saving mankind.
Speaking of saving face, the film almost literally ended with everyone getting a pie in the face. It originally ended with all the military men and politicians from both America and Russia in the war room having a food fight and throwing custard pies at each other. Even though the film was already a wacky satire, this ending would have been too silly. It also would have ruined the impact of the ending and the overall film without the nuclear apocalypse.
In a 1969 interview, Kubrick stated why he removed the pie fight ending from the film: “I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film.” The pie scene was said to be ruined by all the actors laughing, since the characters were meant to be serious when having the pie fight as a representation of the missiles all parties would be firing at one another.
3. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
Clerks was the debut feature film of indie director Kevin Smith, known for his lighthearted but meaningful stoner and sex comedies. His career has gone into making different kinds of films over the years, but his fans still go back to his very first film, simply because it is hilarious. However, its original ending was not so hilarious. In fact, it was flat out depressing.
After 90 minutes of laughs, pop culture discussions, and learning graphic details about the characters’ love lives, the film originally ended on a very depressing note when a burglar robs the convenience store just as Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is closing up the store after a long day at work, and the burglar shoots him dead and robs the store.
This bleak ending was completely unnecessary and did not fit the rest of the otherwise funny film. It also would have been cruel to Dante as he died at work when, as he kept whining throughout the movie, that he was not even supposed to be there that day. There would have been no Clerks II had this ending been used, so that is another good reason Smith chose the ending the film has.
2. True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
True Romance is the odd combination of Quentin Tarantino’s witty dialogue and strong violence, with director Tony Scott’s flair for great visuals and Hollywood blockbuster action. Despite their seemingly very different approaches to filmmaking and storytelling, somehow True Romance is a masterpiece. However, one instance where Tarantino’s grimness clashed with Scott’s more upbeat approach was with the ending.
Instead of Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) surviving the shootout the film ends on and escaping the authorities to Mexico, Clarence was originally killed and Alabama would go on the run and live a life of crime. Tarantino had planned for Alabama to hook up with Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs, tying True Romance with Tarantino’s debut feature.
Slater and Arquette have such great onscreen chemistry that you really do believe that they are Clarence and Alabama and really are in love. So much so that had the original and depressing ending been used, our hearts would have been just as broken as Alabama’s.
Alabama’s monologue in the original ending is quite mean towards Clarence, especially as he had just died, talking about how Clarence’s death is his own fault and how she can get another guy straight away. Although this dialogue is clearly spoken in order for Alabama to grieve and move on from her loss, this would have gone against her being madly in love with Clarence throughout the rest of the film.
This was the original ending in Tarantino’s screenplay, but Scott changed it to the happy ending it has. Tarantino was against this new ending, thinking that the studio demanded a cheesy and tacked-on happy ending, but it was all Scott’s doing.
Scott changed the ending because he liked the characters so much that he wanted them to have a happy ending. So instead of Clarence losing his life, he and Alabama live out the rest of their lives being rich in Mexico with a son named Elvis. For once, the “they lived happily ever after” ending is the right one.
1. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s dark but visually stunning satire of bureaucracy and tyrannical governments. Although the film was initially only a modest success, it has since become a cult classic and is considered Gilliam’s best film, which is saying something given his filmography. Gilliam’s distinct visual flair matches well with an Orwellian story that is almost like a comedic version of 1984. The film is bleak throughout, but the original ending almost ruined this classic.
Dubbed the “Love Conquers All” ending, the name alone shows how cheesy and Hollywood this alternative ending was. In this version of events, the rescue that Sam (Jonathan Pryce) imagined was actually happening and that he got to live happily ever after with his literal dream girl. Not only would this have been too silly, since all the fantasy sequences were in Sam’s head, but it would have ruined the point of the film, in that you cannot escape a totalitarian society like the one in the film.
The reason for this was that Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg wanted the happy ending in place instead, and secretly had an team re-editing the film behind Gilliam’s back. Gilliam was naturally furious about this, so he notoriously put a full page ad in Variety asking Sheinberg when his version of Brazil was going to be released.
Gilliam and Robert De Niro went on Good Morning America to shame Sheinberg for his actions. Fortunately for film enthusiasts, Gilliam won and the world was treated to one of the greatest films ever made.
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Thursday 6 April 2017