The art of filmmaking is a complicated art to master. It is a long, strenuous process where the most major of changes to the film can take place just as early as pre-production or as late as days before the film is set to release. The biggest changes to a film tend to happen in regards to the film’s ending. The final note which a movie ends on is perhaps the most important aspect of a film because it is centered around the final image that the audience will remember as they are leaving the theater. The last image they see will make or break the critical perception of the film and is the final deciding factor in convincing mainstream audiences to recommend the film to everybody they know or telling everyone how much it sucks. Given the importance of the ending, a film’s ending often gets switched around by the director, editor, and/or the studio. In some cases, it is the audiences who are the first to view the film at test screenings that are the deciding factors in what changes do or do not need to be made in post-production. If the test audience loves everything except the ending, then the ending will likely be re-written and re-shot immediately. If the audience loves the ending, but hate the blue color in the background, the entire ending will be re-shot with a new color in the background. Or at least the color will be changed in editing.
Given just how important the ending is to the final version of the film, the cast and crew tend to overthink the smallest of details regarding the ending until the very last minute. It has often led to many films being given new endings that either get minor changes or are glaringly different from how that ending looked in the original script. Here are just a few films with endings that got changed at the last possible minute. By the way, in case it wasn’t obvious, there are going to be several spoilers to movies in this list so fair warning before diving in head first.
15. Scott Pilgrim vs The World
This is a rare case when an ending was changed less because of the studio or test audiences, but more because of the source material itself. When the movie script for Scott Pilgrim vs the World was finished, the graphic novel series was not. Therefore, Edgar Wright had to come up with his own ending. His script ends with Pilgrim defeating Ramona’s evil exes, but Ramona decides to leave Scott after realizing that he has better chemistry with his ex, Knives. This proved to be true as despite being polar opposites, Knives and Scott were a perfect fit for each other and the film ends with the two playing Ninja Ninja Revolution. When this version of the film had its first run of test screenings, the ending divided audiences between those who loved it, those who hated it, and those who preferred the recently released graphic novel’s ending. To satisfy everyone, it was decided to go back to the set to film an ending closer to the source material, where Ramona and Scott stay together after Knives accepts that her relationship with Scott is over. Knives even encourages him to move on with Ramona.
14. I Am Legend
In the original cut which coincides with how the book of the same name ended, I Am Legend’s conclusion sees Neville’s (Will Smith) home get raided by the new mutant civilization, but Neville soon realizes that these mutants were actually intelligent lifeforms. They weren’t looking to kill anybody. The pack’s alpha male just wanted back the female who Neville had been running tests on. After Neville returns her to them, Neville decides to leave New York with his fellow survivors after he concludes that he’s the monster that he feared the mutants to be. This ending was filmed, but was left on the cutting room floor in favor of a more action packed ending. No one has come forth with a clear answer as to why the change was made, but in the final cut of the film, the mutants attack Neville in his home and after handing off the cure to the survivors, he sacrifices himself by blowing up the house with the mutants inside. The survivors then hand off the cure to a military facility for them to research and save mankind.
13. Scream 2
One of the worst things that a film production can suffer is when the script gets leaked out. This was unfortunately the case for Kevin Williamson when his shooting draft for Scream 2 was leaked in full. Production began in July 1997, but somewhere along the way, the script got leaked onto the internet. The script covered in detail who the killers of the film were. Scream 2 was originally supposed to have four killers: Derek, Hallie, Cotton Weary, and Mrs. Loomis. Williamson was forced to make drastic changes to his script after the leak as scenes were still being shot. Instead of being the killers, both Derek and Hallie were killed off near the end of the film while Cotton was an innocent bystander in the whole affair. Mrs. Loomis remained as one of the killers, but her accomplice instead was solely Mickey. Williamson also had to change the roles of several different characters, such as Randy and Joel. The former went from originally being Gale’s cameraman to just another student on campus while Joel was meant to be one of Sidney’s friends before being made Gale’s cameraman. To avoid another leak from happening, the actors weren’t given pages for the ending until the day they shot it.
12. The Avengers
While the climax itself is as it was originally intended to be in the final version of the film, Joss Whedon waited until the very last minute to add the post-credits scene in The Avengers. And we all have Robert Downey Jr. to thank for that. During the film’s climax, when Iron Man awakened from his near death experience, his first and only line in the script was “What’s next?” Instead, Downey saw the opportunity to improvise a few lines. After being told his team just won the battle, Stark tells them they should take the next day off and go to a shawarma joint two blocks over. “I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it,” he told them. And so they did. Literally a day after the film had its first world premiere release, Whedon decided to bring the cast back to the set to film The Avengers eating at the shawarma joint. It may seem like such a small, pointless thing to add to the film, but without it, the film may not have had a post-credits scene and a Marvel film isn’t complete without a post-credits scene. Sure, they could’ve pushed the mid-credits of Thanos’ reveal to the very end if the shawarma scene wasn’t filmed, but it all worked out for the best. For such a small scene, the shawarma bit got the biggest laugh out of most audiences.
11. Terminator: Salvation
It is no secret that Terminator: Salvation was not a very well received entry into the franchise, but maybe the movie would have had a better fate against critics if the original ending could have made it to the final cut. In the original ending, John Connor (Christian Bale) is killed, but his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) knows that Connor is still needed as the face of The Resistance. Therefore, she transfers Connor’s skin onto Terminator Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to pass him off as Connor. One would expect the franchise to continue with Wright at the helm of The Resistance as the new John Connor, but the original ending went even further when Skynet gets a hold of the new Connor. They reprogram him and at their control, he kills Connor’s wife and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Talk about a bleak way to end a summer blockbuster. Before this ending could be film, the script was leaked. The studio was forced to change the ending to have Connor being wounded in a battle and then saved after Wright offers a heart transplant.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed is a little indie sci-fi gem starring Aubrey Plaza as a college grad investigating a newspaper ad submitted by a man (Mark Duplass) looking for someone to travel in time with. The film hints throughout that the guy might be crazy and his time travel claims may be fraudulent, but by the film’s end, a time machine manifests itself and the film ends with the two disappearing in it. However, the cast and crew originally filmed a much bleaker ending where the time machine attempt wasn’t so successful. As Plaza explained during an interview discussion at the New York Film Academy, the time machine wasn’t meant to work in the original ending. Instead, Duplass’ character gets arrested and hauled off to jail while Plaza’s character goes back to her office job in Seattle before crying hysterically at a party. When the film was submitted into Sundance, it was submitted with all the scenes from the original ending, but somewhere along the editing process, director Colin Trevorrow decided to create an ending where Duplass and Plaza disappeared in thin air in the time machine. Everyone loved that version so much that it made the final cut.
Endings often get changed if the tone of that ending does not match the overall ending of the film. There’s nothing wrong if a comedy film ends a bit more dramatically than one would expect or vice versa, but if it is drastically dramatic, than that’s when it becomes a problem. Take the original ending for the film Clerks, for example. The entire film is a rather cheeky comedy, but the original ending was no laughing matter at all. Meant to last just a couple minutes after Randall leaves Dante after their conversation, a robber runs into the store as Dante is counting the register money and shoots him dead before clearing the register of its money. After the credits roll, a customer comes in, sees Dante’s dead body, and steals some cigarettes. While the ending was foreshadowed earlier by Dante’s earlier notion about how life is a series of down endings, this was ill-received by critics at the film’s first screening. Particularly by one of Kevin Smith’s mentors, John Pierson, who suggested to Smith that he should change it. Taking his mentor’s advice, Smith cut the ending off after Randal and Dante had their conversation.
8. Die Hard With A Vengeance
The original ending of the third Die Hard entry saw Simon Gruber’s planned robbery go off without a hitch and John McClane being used as a scapegoat. As a result, McClane is kicked off the NYPD. Wallowing in his sorrows after being released from his 20-year job (after already getting divorced before the film even began), McClane wants his revenge. He hunts Simon down to a German bar where he forces the bad guy into a game of “McClane Says.” The two start a game of Russian Roulette with a small Chinese rocket launcher. Because the sights have been removed, neither man knows which side the rocket is meant to come out of. After Simon fails to answer a riddle which McClane asks, McClane forces Simon to fire the launcher, which fires right through Simon. The studio decided that McClane looked too much like an unsympathetic sociopath in killing Simon with a vengeance. They also thought that this ending was too understated for what had been a high octane action flick. Therefore, the ending was changed and re-shot to what we actually got with the film.
7. Fatal Attraction
Sometimes, less is more. While the spectacle that is the ending of Fatal Attraction is rather entertaining and chilling in its own right, the original ending sought for a more low-key, subtle tone and was more disturbing for it. Originally, Fatal Attraction almost ended with Glenn Close’s character, Alex, slicing her own throat with a knife. Since Michael Douglas’ character, Dan, nearly killed her with the knife in an earlier struggle with Alex, he was the suspected culprit in her death. Because, obviously, no one is crazy enough to slice their own throat open, right? The credits would’ve closed just as Dan’s wife, Beth (Anne Archer), found a recorded tape of Alex’s suicide and one would assume that Beth would provide the tape to the police as evidence to her husband’s innocence from there. Test audiences were dissatisfied with the lack of resolution and so a more slasher-rific ending was shot in its place. Still, watching Alex slice her own neck open remains more horrifying than any image that appeared in the final cut.
6. First Blood
Sometimes, when a book is adapted to film, the book’s original ending gets changed. The original ending may be fine in book form, but the ending often needs to be tweaked in order to give it more of a cinematic flair once it reaches the big screen. This was the case for the classic Sylvester Stallone vehicle, First Blood, though even fans have admitted that the original ending was better. The original ending is a rather depressing one as Rambo tries to persuade Colonel Trautman to kill him in an assisted suicide. Trautman refuses, but Rambo grabs his gun and pulls the trigger himself. Test audiences rejected this ending because they liked Rambo enough that they all wanted to see him live. With persistence from star Stallone and director Ted Kotcheff, the ending was changed for Rambo to turn himself in. This ending helped allow Rambo, as a character, to fulfill his franchise potential. The character went on to star in three sequels, a line of action figures, comics, video games, and even an animated series.
5. Dr. Strangelove
With Dr. Strangelove, director Stanley Kubrick sought to use absurdist humor to tell a dark underlying political message highlighting the childish bickering between countries that have led to some gruesome wars. He originally wanted to take those absurdist levels as high as he possibly could by ending the film with a food fight. That’s right, a food fight akin to the average schoolyard lunch debacle. And not just any food fight: a pie custard fight. Everyone in the War Room would’ve spent the film’s final minutes slinging pies at one another like children, kind of like how men at war mindlessly fling missiles and heavy artillery at each other. That was exactly what Kubrick intended, but after attending the first test screening on November 22nd, 1963—ironically, the day that John F. Kennedy was killed—Kubrick had a change of heart. After deciding that this ending was “too farcical and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film,” he gave the film a much more haunting ending with a series of nuclear missiles going off.
4. Deep Blue Sea
Deep Blue Sea is a killer shark popcorn flick best remembered for Samuel L. Jackson’s shocking death scene. Another significant death that doesn’t get much attention is the death of Saffron Burrows’ character, Dr. Susan McAlester. What makes this death so significant is the fact that she survived till the end in the original cut of the film. The problem was that she was a rather unlikable character throughout the film. At least as far as test audiences were concerned at the first screenings. The audience admitted to being disappointed that McAlester was alive at the very end and to satisfy the masses for the wide-release, scenes were reshot for McAlester to get devoured by a shark in the film’s final minutes. Anyone who hated McAlester throughout the film rejoiced to see her chomped to bits.
3. Little Shop of Horrors
This instance here proves just how much movie studios value the opinions of a test audience more than anything else in post-production. The original ending for Little Shop of Horrors reportedly cost $5 million to film, which is a third of the film’s overall $25 million budget and at the time was Warner Bros’ most expensive movie they made. The ending was decked out with visually striking set pieces depicting the dreaded plant, Audrey II, killing everyone in sight and taking over the world. Despite coming out of pocket to pay for such an extravagant ending, the studio scrapped every single second of it after test audiences reacted poorly to it. So poorly that the ending motivated audiences to give the film a score of 13 out of 100 at the first screening. In its place, a much happier ending was filmed where Seymour (Rick Moranis) destroys Audrey II before going off to marry his sweetheart, Audrey (Ellen Greene) and moving to the suburbs.
2. Dawn of the Dead
In the original 1978 George Romero classic, Dawn of the Dead, the original plan for the ending called for a suicide pact. After deciding it would be impossible to outrun a zombie apocalypse and their fates were pretty much inevitable, main characters Peter (Ken Foree) and Francine (Gaylen Ross) decided they were better off killing themselves. Peter shoots himself while Francine sticks her head into a helicopter’s blades. The scene was shot, but the studio decided they wanted to see a bit of a more happy ending. So, re-shots were made, and the gruesome ending was replaced. The allusions to suicide remain throughout the film, but Francine’s suicidal aspirations are cut completely. As for Peter, he puts a gun to his temple, but eventually changes his mind to fight the good fight. Unlike most of the movies on this list, the original cut of the film with the ending intact has been long lost. The only proof to its existence is a leftover puppet still of Francine’s decapitated head.
1. The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect actually had several different endings. Not one, not two, not even three, but four alternate endings. Three of those endings are more or less similar to each other. The ending that appeared in theaters saw Evan (Ashton Kutcher) change time one last time for the sake of his girlfriend, Kayleigh’s (Amy Smart) life and ignores her presence when they meet on the street. Another ending saw Evan approach her while another ending had Evan approach and talk to her, but the original ending lies within the Director’s Cut. In that ending, Evan goes all the way back in time far enough to wake up as a fetus in his mother’s womb. To avoid all of the time travel chaos that took place in the film, baby Evan sacrifices himself by wrapping his umbilical cord around his neck. Love it or hate it, that is a daring way to end a movie. Though test audiences didn’t think so as their displeasure for the ending inspired the filmmaker’s to go back into production to film a new one.