What if some of your favourite movies were to have ended on a different note? What if the characters you’d grown to love and care for were to meet a different fate from what was really shown on the big screen? What if this iconic character was to kick the bucket instead of live before the end credits rolled? What if the movie was to take on a whole other meaning from what you interpreted from its theatrical release? What if the film was released with the filmmakers’ original plans intact? Would the film be as iconic? Would it have been ruined? Would it have been better? Would it have gotten a sequel? Would it have even seen the light of day?
These are intriguing questions asked about the world of film editing, as many movies we know and love could have been completely different if it hadn’t been for some opinionated interference. This interference may be from the money-minded studios or unsatisfied test audiences, this having altered the finishing moments of some true classics of the past, in most cases it seems for the better. Before shown in theatres, some films really did have some bizarre, some freaky, some unexpected and some arguably superior endings attached to them, now just sitting in the deleted scenes sections of the DVD menus. Here is my list of the top ten cinematic endings that ended up on the cutting room floor, listed in order of their intriguing nature rather than actual quality. Spoiler warning, of course.
10. “Army of Darkness” (1992)
The threequel of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” series saw unlikely hero Ash Williams unwillingly travelling back in time to the middle ages, forced to once again kick some demonic ass with his trusty chainsaw and loaded boomstick. The film was originally intended to finish with Ash winding up in what looked to be a post-apocalyptic future, horrified to find that he had accidentally taken too many drops of the wise wizard’s time-zapping potion. However, Universal Studios didn’t like the bum note on which the film ended, Raimi having to film a whole new ending, in which Ash does return to the present day, goes back to working at S-Mart, and shoots an attacking Deadite before making out with a random lady. I must admit, seeing “Evil Dead” going into futuristic territory for the non-existent sequel would’ve been rather interesting, but I already had enough of a problem with this instalment being set in Medieval times.
9. “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004)
This is a case of a test audience’s dislike of a film’s ending resulting in that ending being changed. The self-titled true underdog story was supposedly intended to finish with our protagonists, Average Joe’s, losing to the villainous Globo Gym Purple Cobras, White having hit Peter with his ball and thus winning the game. However, in the theatrical release, it turns out White’s foot was over the line and his throw was not counted, which results in Average Joe’s taking home the trophy when the two go head-to-head. The so-called original ending would have been much less predictable and generically happy, but I’m suspecting that it is in fact a fake alternate ending made specifically for the DVD as a joke, as it ends so abruptly with White celebrating, leaving many loose strands in the narrative. Its authenticity also isn’t helped by the DVD’s commentary being one big spoof. Still, it’s a surprise that, if shown, I’m sure would’ve hit audiences like a wrench to the face.
8. “I Am Legend” (2007)
Francis Lawrence’s post-apocalyptic one-man thriller was one of 2007’s biggest money-makers, but audiences were originally supposed to leave theatres after a less explosive ending. Will Smith’s Robert Neville was meant to open up the glass door of his basement that protected him from the horde of snarling vampires on the other side, and hand over the female bloodsucker on which he was earlier experimenting. The head vampire would then accept Robert’s apology, and leave the scientist’s home along with his grunting CGI buddies. While this poignant climax is significantly closer to Richard Matheson’s original book, test screenings provided a negative reaction to the closing moments. Instead, what we got was Robert running at the swarm of vamps with a grenade in his hand, blowing them all to smithereens along with himself, this saving the woman and little boy whom he met just earlier that same day. I must say I much prefer the original ending, if only for its poignancy and meaning, it showing us that the diseased monsters do in fact still have some humanity left inside them. But oh well, test audiences disagreed, and we got a big kaboom instead.
7. “The Abyss” (1989)
Film studios sometimes don’t have much confidence in their audience’s attention span, as shown in James Cameron’s underwater sci-fi “The Abyss.” Rumour has it that studio executives were scared of the financial risk of the film’s original runtime, which ran at nearly three hours. The original finale, which is included in the Special Edition DVD, had massive tidal waves forming at coastlines all over the world, ready to decimate all of mankind. The aquatic aliens show Bud (played by Ed Harris) footage of the human race’s violent tendencies, which has made the extraterrestrials want to destroy us all through these tsunamis, but luckily Bud’s earlier self-sacrifice convinces them to retreat the attack before their spaceship comes to the surface of the water. In the theatrical version, this whole “humans must die” aspect is completely gone, edited out due to suspicions that the extended runtime would test the patience of Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer. And while the additional scenes are intriguing and give a full sense of the power the beings have at their disposal, they’re a bit too Hollywood for my taste.
6. “Clerks” (1994)
Cult hit “Clerks” is known not only for its low budget and its black-and-white method of filming, but also for the ambitiously crude vulgarity of Kevin Smith’s hilarious script, which makes it odd that the film once finished with an incredibly bleak tone. In its first cut, the indie comedy ended with its slacker protagonist, Brian O’Halloran’s Dante, being shot dead by a robber while serving at the register — what makes this even more depressing is that he wasn’t even supposed to be working that day. Smith’s mentors Bob Hawk and John Pierson rightly criticised the shocking climax, the film then edited to end on the previous scene, with co-worker Randal telling Dante that the store is now closed. Smith himself has stated that the reason he suddenly killed off the main character was because he “didn’t know how to end a film.” Well, thank the lord he learned how to, because I can’t imagine what I would have done without the donkey blow job in the 2004 sequel.
5. “First Blood” (1982)
Another character-killer is Ted Kotcheff’s “First Blood,” the film that gave us a true icon of the action genre, John Rambo, played of course by Sylvester Stallone. After his violent rampage across the city, Rambo ends up trapped in a police station with the cops surrounding the outside. Colonel Trautman enters and listens to Rambo rant about the horrors of war and the traumas he experienced in Vietnam. In the theatrical release, Rambo gives himself up and is taken into custody. However, in a past version of the film, Rambo asks to be shot and is obliged by Trautman. Rambo falls to the floor, dead as a doornail. This is how the novel by David Morrell had ended, but Stallone and Kotcheff decided they wanted to keep Rambo alive — maybe for the three sequels it spawned?
4. “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
Frank Oz’s comedy musical had a whole assortment of dark humour scattered throughout its runtime, but the original ending proved far too morbid for preview audiences to digest. Our nerdy main character and his ditsy love interest were originally both devoured by the man-eating plant known as Audrey II. This was then followed by the gigantic Venus Flytrap rampaging throughout New York City with others of his kind like Godzilla in his heyday, battling the US army, the film ending with a gigantic Audrey II scaling the Statue of Liberty and eating the screen. This 23 minutes of footage (which cost $5 million to film) ended up being scrapped in favour of the happier and much more schmaltzy ending we eventually received, with Audrey II being electrocuted to death in the flower store, and our two protagonists living happily ever after as a married couple. Bleurgh.
3. “Clue” (1985)
“Clue” is a film with three different endings, none of which are technically the correct one. Jonathan Lynn’s comedy whodunit, based on the board game of the same name, had a collection of guests huddled together in a gothic mansion, pinned as possible culprits of a callous murder. It seems like pretty standard aristocratic murder mystery stuff, filled with a plethora of red herrings and clashing personalities. The strange thing is, there’s no definite answer as to who the murderer really was. You see, when the film was shown back in 1985, three different endings were submitted randomly to theatres, each revealing their own truth of who killed poor Mr. Boddy. On TV and VHS, the three endings were stitched together, and the DVD version chooses one at random. There’s also evidence of a fourth ending, though it was never filmed.
2. “The Butterfly Effect” (2004)
The reason I’ve included this is because of the sheer outlandishness of the film’s alternate ending. Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s psychological thriller “The Butterfly Effect” has Ashton Kutcher starring as a man who can travel through time by reading his teenage journal, discovering he can tamper with his past, which he finds out has consequences when he travels back to the present. When things go horribly wrong and he realises it’d be better off if he’d never been born, he concentrates on video footage of his mother in labour, and manages to become a fetus again. While inside his mother’s womb, he baffles the doctors by strangling himself with his own umbilical cord. This is opposed to the theatrically released ending in which he simply walks away from the love of his life, who, in this timeline, does not know him. Guess which ending the preview audiences preferred.
1. “28 Days Later” (2002)
Made to match the rest of the film’s tone, the original ending of Danny Boyle’s British scare-em-up is suitably dark and melancholy. The post-apocalyptic zombie horror was initially meant to end with its main character, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy), dying from a gunshot wound, in spite of his two female friends’ emergency procedures. Due to complaints that it was too depressing, this scene was trimmed short and then cut to Jim and the two lasses smiling in a cottage and jumping about a grassy field to catch the attention of a rescue jet. However, due to Boyle and writer Alex Garland’s commitment to the original finale, they placed it after the end credits. What I love about this is that it makes the theatrical ending seem like a fantasy, the scene all too bright and colourful in comparison with the rest of the film. It puts a whole new perspective on its upbeat climax, as if Jim did indeed die from his wounds and that this idyllic rescue sequence is all in his head.
By Stephen Watson