It’s tempting to think that show creators and filmmakers had everything set in stone when they arrived on the set, but that’s not always the case. For TV shows, the audience response and ratings tell the show heads a lot about their characters, and sometimes this feedback leads them to make changes to the original design of their show. There are times, with movies especially, that directors have a change of heart after seeing how an actor plays a certain character. Perhaps they play a character differently than at first imagined, or better than what was initially planned. In some cases, this has even led to the director changing that character’s outcome, keeping them alive when they were meant to die.
Whatever the reasons, the point is that nothing is guaranteed in show business. Characters that were supposed to be major players sometimes get killed off and characters that were supposed to die sometimes live. We’re dealing with the latter in this list. We’ll go through both film and TV, because we’re not prejudiced, and look at some of the most popular on-screen characters who were never meant to last. With some of them, it’s hard to imagine a show or a film without them. Here are 15 popular main characters who were actually supposed to die.
15. Dr. Ian Malcolm – Jurassic Park
Dr. Ian Malcolm is the suave mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum in the Jurassic Park franchise. Malcolm, in addition to being a co-star in the original film, was the main star in the sequel, The Lost World. Even though he doesn’t make an appearance in the later films, he is mentioned within them and a few of his books can be seen in Jurassic World. But this happy outcome for Malcolm was never meant to be before filming started. After Goldblum was cast, Spielberg asked if Michael Crichton (author of the novel and the film’s co-screenwriter) could change up Malcolm’s storyline. Originally (in the novel), Malcolm is picked up the T-Rex outside of one of the Jeeps and thrown to the ground, badly breaking his leg. Though he survived the attack, his health deteriorated and it was announced that he died at the end of the novel. Crichton fixed this when he wrote the sequel for the movie by suggesting the death announcement “was premature.” Malcolm would never fully heal and would need to use a cane throughout the rest of the series in the novels.
14. Hooper – Jaws
Remember that scene in Jaws that has Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) lowered into the water in a shark cage? The shark comes barrelling, busting up the cage, but Hooper miraculously escapes. Well in the original story, Hooper actually dies there. He never gets out of that cage alive. In the book that’s not so bad because Hooper is a massive jerk. Yet, when Steven Spielberg cast Dreyfuss in the role, the character took on a new and more likeable persona. To keep him alive for any possible sequels, the script had him get lifted out of the cage in the nick of time.
13. Lafayette – True Blood
True Blood fans fell in love with the character of Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) in the HBO show early on and they fell hard. The character was charismatic and stole the limelight in nearly every scene he was in. This put the show creators in a difficult spot. You see, in the books on which the series is based, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, Lafayette dies at the end of the first book/season. To overcome this major change, keeping Lafayette on the show and staying as true to the story as possible, the show heads killed off Tara’s exorcist (Miss Jeanette) instead. This way, they kept Tara closely involved with the death and got to keep one of the better (if not the best) cast members around. Lafayette would end up keeping that job until the very end.
12. Joker – Full Metal Jacket
Matthew Modine of Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket revealed after the film was released that the original plan for the film, the original plan of Kubrick’s, was to have his character, James T. “Joker” Harris killed off. Actually, Joker’s death was supposed to happen instead of Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). It’s difficult to picture the change considering both character outcomes are so vital to the plot of the film. Plus, the original source novel, The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, had neither of these possibilities in it, so we don’t even have that to go off. It’s unclear if this was ever scripted, but we’re glad the change was made because the end result was amazing.
11. John Rambo – Rambo
It might be a bit weird to learn that the star of the Rambo franchise, John Rambo, was supposed to die at the end of the first film, First Blood. In the novel of the same name, written by David Morrell, Rambo commits suicide at the end of the story, and not by any traditional means either, with friggin’ dynamite. Well, every script that was pitched to adapt this book to a movie had that same result, except for Sylvester Stallone’s treatment. He saw the potential in the character, so he made him more sympathetic and less violent, if you can believe that. This allowed them to go on and make three sequels afterward and drive up Stallone’s star power even more. Even though it was decided that the character would survive, they still filmed a suicide scene as an alternate ending. You can even see a bit of that scene in Rambo (2008).
10. Dante Hicks – Clerks
The original ending that Kevin Smith drew up for Clerks changes the movie dramatically. In that script, the convenience store is robbed at the end and in the commotion, one of the clerks, Dante Hicks, is shot and killed. They shot this ending, which finished with a shot of Hicks dead on the ground, but the producers didn’t like it and asked for it to be changed to a happier ending. Smith obliged mainly because the original ending was just a way to conclude a film he couldn’t figure out how to properly end. The new ending was shot, everyone lived and a sequel was eventually spawned (with one more coming down the pipeline).
9. Jack Shephard – Lost
When J.J. Abrams first developed the script for Lost, he had a goal (which is a trend for him) that would see a character thought to be a main character die in the pilot episode to shock the audience. This character was to be Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox). The first plan for the character was to cast Michael Keaton in the role, have him die (the pilot that is found in the trees was meant to be Shephard), freak out the audiences and move on. The producers saw this and didn’t like it much, thinking that audiences would be too mistrustful early on to stay tuned. Abrams changed it and let Shephard live, which subsequently caused Keaton to decline the role. They cast Matthew Fox instead and he would become the de facto leader of the group from that point on.
8. Katie – Paranormal Activity
Technically there are three endings for the found footage horror film Paranormal Activity. The original ending was shot and sent to the studios, but when Paramount picked it up, they decided to change it to leave the films open for sequels, which they got. In that original ending, Katie goes downstairs at the end and starts screaming, like she does in all the endings. When Micah, her husband, goes down to investigate, he starts screaming as she starts killing him (this is also in the alternate ending). After he goes silent, from being dead and all, she comes back upstairs and sits down next to the bed. She sits there and rocks back and forth as the clock timer switches over to the next night when the police come knocking on the front door. When they break in and come upstairs, Katie stands up and approaches them and they blast her dead. The End. In the alternate version, Katie comes upstairs, looks at the camera and slices her own throat. The Paramount ending has Katie come up with Micah in her arms and throw him at the camera then do some weird stuff and leave. Methinks the original or the alternate was more effective.
7. Dewey – Scream
Deputy Sheriff Dewey, played by David Arquette, proved to be very difficult to kill in the script both by the villain and with test audiences. Director Wes Craven cast Arquette in the role really for one reason, and that was to have him die in a really brutal way. It wasn’t that Craven didn’t like Arquette, he just thought he was really killable. The entire script was leaning toward the death of Dewey from the very beginning, but yet, when they filmed and showed the death to test audiences, the test groups hated it. Everyone loved Dewey and wanted him to live, so Craven shot an additional ending which had him live. That was the one that stuck. When Dewey is stabbed in the original film, pay attention to him on the ground. He’s actually meant to be dead there, so don’t feel bad if you were surprised to see him alive and well afterward. Dewey would go on to live through all of the sequels.
6. Poe Dameron – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) crashes in the Jakku desert, the guy looked like he was dead for sure. It turns out, not only did it look like that, he was meant to be dead. Since J.J. Abrams is a guy who loves that early cameo death, we know that this story is true. But Isaac wasn’t thrilled about the idea. He went to Abrams and asked him to reconsider the decision. They came to a compromise. Instead of having Dameron die forever, he would have him die for about half the film. The audience experiences the loss and shock of such an early departure for a well-known actor/character, but Dameron/Isaac gets to come back for the second half.
5. Clarence – True Romance
True Romance is an undervalued treasure by the masses. Those who love it, are crazy about it and for good reason, but the general film fan either hasn’t seen the film or has forgotten about it. Well, at the end of the movie, SPOILER, Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) escape the craziness and probably live happily ever after, just like they deserve. But that wasn’t the original plan. The original Quentin Tarantino script—a script he sold to Tony Scott—had a darker ending. Tarantino planned to have Clarence killed at the end and only Alabama got away alive. Now, while Tarantino loves the Scott film and loves what Scott did with the characters, he still claims that if those characters ever show up in another one of his scripts, Clarence will still be dead. Please sweet baby Jesus Tarantino, bring back Alabama.
4. Spike – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, death is never really permanent, but for a few characters it was supposed to be. Originally, even Angel (David Boreanaz) was supposed to die, but because the producers wanted him to have his own spin-off (Angel), Joss Whedon changed the plan. The same goes for the ever-popular Spike (James Marsters), who was supposed to die early on in his run. That was to change when the fans fell in love with the vampire-punk. He didn’t just last, he made it to the very end, even making some fans question their loyalty to Angel, well, until a certain something happened. You Buffy fans know exactly what I mean.
3. Martin Riggs – Lethal Weapon 2
If you’re a Lethal Weapon franchise fan, you’ve probably noticed the marked differences in atmosphere between the original Lethal Weapon and the sequels. The original is much more bleak and darker than all the rest, though there are some lighthearted moments to be sure. Well, when it came time to write the script for Lethal Weapon 2, the screenwriter, Shane Black, went back to this darker world, ending the film with a courageous Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) dying in Murtagh’s arms (Danny Glover). But the filmmakers and the studios had a problem with this ending. Not only was Riggs one of the most popular characters in film at the time, but the studios wanted to have the chance to make more sequels (which they did). They asked Black to do a rewrite, but he refused. He claimed that he felt like a failure, which sounds a bit like pouting, and he stepped away from the project. He even suggested that he return his pay. The studios had Jeffrey Boam come in and make the script lighter, focusing way more on the comedy and the rest is history.
2. Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad
It’s unclear how far this original plotline got, but it’s really interesting nonetheless. The initial plan for Breaking Bad was to have Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) get beaten to death by a crazed drug lord. This would create a ripple effect that never saw itself worked out on screen. Walt (Bryan Cranston) would kidnap this drug lord and keep him hostage, an action that would eventually lead to the death of his own son, Walt Jr. Now, this was never done because of Paul. The show creators saw Paul and how he played Jesse Pinkman and decided that he was going to be a hit with audiences. They gave his character a much bigger role and let him ride off into the sunset at the end of the series, straight into his next role in Need for Speed.
1. Ellen Ripley – Alien
Ridley Scott‘s Alien is a dark and dreary movie. The atmosphere is so thick that it can feel stifling while watching it. Apparently, it could have been a lot worse if the script never changed. The word is that Scott’s original ending had the Space Jockey kill Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), scratch that, bite Ripley’s head right off. Instead of having Ripley rise victorious, the Xenomorph would kill her than mimic her voice in a distressed call. The producers saw this plan and thought better of it, asking it to be changed so that Ripley can live. This also allowed for sequels to be made with Ripley still alive, a great thing for the sequel Aliens and a not-so-great thing for Alien 3.