Movie-goers generally don’t realize this, but making a Hollywood film is hard. Really hard. With many things to worry about like writing a script, getting some money and a crew, and actually making the movie, it is inevitable that a movie will end up changing multiple times before it even ends up in cinemas. The story evolves, sub-plots get added or dropped, actors get recast, and most importantly, the fates of a film’s main characters may be altered.
Here are 12 films where major characters very nearly got the axe (literally) but were saved at the last minute due to reasons ranging from creative arguments to the studios’ need to preserve a cash cow. Since this article is all about movie deaths and the movies themselves, there may be a few spoilers.
12. First Blood – Rambo Supposed To Commit Suicide
Rocky may have propelled Sylvester Stallone to stardom but his turn as John Rambo in First Blood established him as a bad-ass cinematic action hero. Had First Blood stuck with its original ending, Stallone’s career as an action star may have been considerably different.
The original ending shot for First Blood was faithful to the novel but far more grim and depressing. After surviving through the police force, Rambo comes face to face with Colonel Trautman. But rather than persuade Rambo to surrender, Trautman pulls a gun on the Vietnam vet. When Trautman ultimately couldn’t pull the trigger, Rambo jumps forward, grabs Trautman’s hand, and kills himself. When the director and Stallone first read that ending, they were apprehensive because killing Rambo after putting the character through hell would enrage audiences. When test screening responses came back, they were 100 per cent right and the studio quickly shot a new ending before the enraged audiences could lynch the filmmakers for making such a depressing ending to the film.
Killing off Rambo may not have been the worst idea in the world, but Stallone had plans to kill off another far more famous character and that would’ve been a terrible idea…
11. Clerks – Dante Hicks Was To Be Shot And Killed During A Convenience Store Robbery
Clerks‘ surprise cult success paved way for a sequel, an animated TV show, and another sequel potentially in the works. But had Kevin Smith stuck to his original twist ending for the film, none of that would’ve happened at all.
The original ending was intended to follow on from when Randal declares ‘You’re Closed!’ to Dante. After Randal leaves, Dante continues on with his work and doesn’t notice someone else enter the store. Upon informing the latecomer that the store is closed, the customer suddenly shoots Dante and kills him in cold blood before robbing the store. There was a final shot of Dante’s lifeless body on the ground before the film ends.
After Smith showed this version of the film to his friends, they immediately advised him to cut out the shocking twist ending and finish it at Randal’s departure. Smith obliged without question and he later explained that the depressing ending came about because he was a “noob” and he “didn’t know how to end a film.”
10. Lethal Weapon 2 – Riggs Was To Be Gunned Down In The Climatic Firefight
Before all of his personal life overshadowed his work, Mel Gibson was probably most famous for playing the volatile and reckless Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series. Despite his tendency to rush head first into any situation and getting more injuries than Jackie Chan, Riggs is somehow still alive after four movies. However, Riggs wasn’t meant to survive past Lethal Weapon 2 had Shane Black, the screenwriter for the movie, gotten his way.
During the final shoot out, Riggs gets shot in the back and he eventually dies in Murtaugh’s arms. Seeing as how Riggs was characterized as a suicidal mess, Black thought that killing off Riggs would be a bittersweet finish to the character’s story. However, the producers thought that the cash cow still had more milk to give, so they decided that Riggs would survive in the end.
Unhappy at how his script was tampered with, Black walked away from any future Lethal Weapon movies, which probably explains why Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 were average at best.
9. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – Dr. Rodman Meant To Die In Caesar’s Arms
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes turned out far better than what everyone expect. A good portion of this credit can be attributed to the on-screen relationship between Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) and Caesar (Andy Serkis). Whilst their final bittersweet good bye at the end was a nice touch, it was originally going to end on a far more depressing note.
Rather than exchanging a tear-jerking farewell, Rodman ends up taking a stray bullet for Caesar before dying in his beloved chimp friend’s arms. This original ending was actually filmed and intended to be used right up until the studio changed their minds at the last minute. With the intention of setting up a multi-film cash cow, the studio quickly ordered a new ending to be shot so that Rodman ends up surviving long enough to be in the sequel.
With the benefit of hindsight, the studio probably shouldn’t have bothered wasting money on this new ending as Franco didn’t end up coming back for the sequel anyway and Rodman ended up being shuffled off this mortal coil unceremoniously off-screen.
8. Jaws – Hooper Was Meant To Die In The Shark Cage
When Steven Spielberg was handed the reins to Jaws, the main characters were far more unlikable and unrealistic than what was in the final film. Unhappy with the state of the movie, Spielberg had the script rewritten countless times throughout production. This resulted in a completely different film and one that completely changed the fate of the geeky Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss).
The original version of Hooper was one of a spoiled and rich playboy who liked to screw around whilst being an insufferable know-it-all. When this version of Hooper was lowered into the shark cage, he was meant to be eaten and audiences would’ve rejoiced at the character’s well-deserved death.
When Richard Dreyfuss was cast, Spielberg realised that Dreyfuss was a really cool guy and definitely not douche material. Realizing that killing off Hooper would’ve been a mistake, Spielberg had Hooper’s death scene cut and the character completely rewritten to better suit Dreyfuss’ nice guy persona.
7. Full Metal Jacket – Private James T. “Joker” Davis Was Going To Die At Some Point
The first half of Full Metal Jacket was a brilliant depiction of military training and the brutality that can come with it. This first act culminates in an shocking finish where Private Pyle loses his mind and commits suicide. But that astounding first half could’ve ended differently had Kubrick‘s original idea for James T. ‘Joker’ Davis (Matthew Modine) went through instead.
The details are a bit scarce but according to Modine, Kubrick’s original plan was to kill off Joker and have the film open with a funeral. This would’ve changed everything dramatically as the film would’ve been robbed of its supposed protagonist incredibly early whilst the second half of the film would’ve turned out incredibly differently.
Modine wasn’t completely sold on the idea and he suggested to Kubrick that Joker should live because the film needs a character who experienced all the horrors of the war and survived to tell the tale. Thankfully, Kubrick listened and the original scripted ending was never shot.
6. True Romance – Clarence Meant To Die At The End
When Quentin Tarantino was still coming up through the ranks in Hollywood, he offered director Tony Scott two of his scripts, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, and said that he could only direct one. Scott picked True Romance whilst Tarantino took on Reservoir Dogs, and both scripts resulted in two awesome movies. Despite Tarantino stating that True Romance was pretty faithful to his script and that Scott did a good job, the film’s happy ending wasn’t what was originally written at all.
The final movie as you know featured Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) getting away with the money and ending up on beach in Mexico. Tarantino’s original scripted ending actually has Clarence die at the end and Alabama is the only one who gets away with the money. In a final twist, it is revealed that Alabama never really loved Clarence at all.
Scott actually filmed the original scripted ending, but changed it at the last minute because he wanted Clarence and Alabama to have a happy ending. Tarantino later admitted that Scott’s decision was the right one before his ego took over and said that if he had made it himself, the film would’ve been much darker and Clarence would still be dead.
5. Paranormal Activity – Katie (And Micah) Meant To Die In A Couple Of Gruesome Ways
When Paramount acquired Paranormal Activity, the studio developed a couple of new endings because they thought the original one sucked. The ending you saw in cinemas had Katie (Katie Featherston) looking creepily at the camera before disappearing. What you didn’t know was that there were originally three different alternative endings – two of which feature Katie dying in some pretty gruesome ways.
The first original ending before Paramount got hold of the film involved the police discovering a dead Micah (Micah Sloat) and a knife-wielding Katie. Upon trying to get her to drop the knife, she suddenly attacks and the police shoot her dead.
The second Paramount ending was a far more gruesome affair. Katie gets possessed and kills Micah with a knife off-camera. After some silence, a blood-covered Katie returns and approaches the camera before slitting her own throat and collapsing. The third ending originally had Katie bludgeoning Micah to death with the camera, but it wasn’t filmed due to complications with getting the cinematography right.
After a few screenings featuring the throat-slitting Paramount ending, the studio quickly realized that they may have a new horror franchise on their hands and quickly re-released the film with the ‘Katie lives’ conclusion.
4. Jurassic Park – Dr. Ian Malcom Supposed To Die From Dinosaur Injuries
One of the many highlights of the first Jurassic Park (and one of the few in The Lost World) was Jeff Goldblum‘s charismatic turn as Dr. Ian Malcom. Whilst Malcolm manages to survive a few dinosaur wounds in the film, earlier drafts of the script had a different fate in store for Malcolm.
Like in the final version of the film, the original plan involved Malcolm getting injured. But instead of having the character survive in the end, Malcolm follows his novel counterpart’s fate and actually dies in the end when he succumbs to his injuries. That was until Spielberg cast Goldblum in the role and everyone couldn’t help but be impressed by the guy. Since Crichton wrote the novel and was also the screenwriter for the film, Malcolm’s death was quickly changed so that everyone could experience some more Jeff Goldblum calendar pin-up poses.
Goldblum made a big enough impression that Crichton decided to make Malcolm the central character for the sequel novel. In fact, the Lost World drops a cheeky reference to Malcolm’s reconnected fate by having the character declare that reports of his death were “greatly exaggerated.”
3. Alien – The Xenomorph Originally Bites Off Ripley’s Head
The producers behind the Alien franchise can make all the sequels, reboots, and Prometheus prequels they want, but they’ll never come up with a more bad-ass main character than Ellen Ripley. But Ridley Scott originally had a much darker ending in mind for the character and Alien was very close to being Ellen Ripley’s only movie.
Despite having some reservations over the film’s material, the studio was impressed with Scott’s work and decided to let him do whatever he wanted. Sensing an opportunity to squeeze some more money out of the studio so he could film a final ‘fourth act’ of the film, Scott pitched a new and far more sinister ending: the Xenomorph bites off Ripley’s head. The Xenomorph would then record one last entry into Ripley’s log by imitating her voice before the movie fades to black on that haunting note. As dark as the film already is, the producers thought that ending was a bit too dark and would only write Scott a cheque if Ripley lived and the Alien died instead.
Scott thankfully abandoned that idea as not only would that have dramatically altered the Alien franchise for better or for worse, but the world would’ve lost out on one of sci-fi’s greatest female characters.
2. Rocky V – Rocky Meant To Die After The Final Fight
When an aging Sylvester Stallone puts on that famous grey tracksuit and ran up those Philadelphia museum stairs one last time in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, it was a fitting and satisfying send off to one of cinema’s greatest icons. But had Stallone stuck to his original plan, Rocky would’ve been shuffled off this mortal coil at the end of Rocky V.
The original ending featured Rocky beating Tommy Gunn in a street fight before dying in Adrian’s arms shortly after. This was the plan right up until the scene was about to be filmed and Stallone started having second thoughts. After realizing that Rocky is about perseverance and having him die so unceremoniously would render the whole series moot, Stallone decided to scrap that original ending and kept Rocky alive.
It was definitely the right move as Rocky V was pretty terrible and had Rocky died, Stallone wouldn’t have had the chance to wrap up Rocky’s story as neatly as he did with Rocky Balboa.
1. Star Wars – Han Solo Was Meant To Die In A Blaze Of Glory
It’s been 33 years since Han Solo last graced the big screen in Return Of The Jedi, but it’s now less than a month away before everyone can see that scruffy looking nerf herder again. But what you may not know was that Han was originally meant to go the way of Yoda and Obi Wan.
When Return Of The Jedi was still going through pre-production, a few random ideas were thrown around and chief among them was Han dying in a blaze of glory against the Empire. With both co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and Harrison Ford keen to see Han die, George Lucas toyed with the idea for a bit before deciding to veto that plan (with some resistance from Kasdan and Ford) and keep all of the principal characters alive.
The fact that Han Solo toys were still flying off the shelves may have contributed to Lucas’ decision not to have Han go the way of poor Greedo.