Aside from the Director’s Cut — the edit of a film that reflects the director’s original intentions — movies are sometimes released with different endings from those originally planned. These are often by way of deleted scenes, but in some cases, films are released with more than one ending available to theatres.
An ending change, deleted scene, or defunct scene substituted for another often reflects investors’ wishes to change something that will be more favorable with regard to box-office returns. This takes the form of making the ending more interesting, less ambiguous, or just more pleasant and in keeping with the essence of the film.
The ending of a movie influences the whole feel of the work. The final few minutes of a film leave a firm impression in the minds of the audience.
Often, the concept that the director or the screenwriter realized at the start was the one which was strongest for the plot and the most effective way tie up all the plotlines and subplots. But when box-office numbers are the priority, the arty side of things must take a back seat to commerce.
These next 15 deleted scenes are so radically different from what we’ve seen in theatres that we may not recognize the film. We must warn you — there are spoilers ahead!
15. Rambo: First Blood
Rambo is based on David Morrell’s 1972 novel about a Vietnam vet who struggles to fit into civilian life. First Blood was directed by Ted Kotcheff and was co-written by Sylvester Stallone, who also plays John Rambo. The film was released in 1982 to mixed reviews. Variety referred to the film as “a mess” and condemned the ending for “not providing a proper resolution for the main character.” That said, the film was a box-office success, grossing $47.2 million.
The alternative ending scene that was shown on some DVD releases shows Rambo grabbing a gun from Colonel Trautman (Kirk Douglas) and shooting himself. In the better-known release, Rambo instead collapses on the floor at the end of the film and, in tears, remembers the horrors he witnessed in Vietnam. Although this opened up the way for sequels, it was felt, by some critics, that the previous ending would’ve been more in keeping.
14. Alien 1 – 0 Ripley
Ridley Scott directed this highly acclaimed Sci-Fi horror which was released in 1979. It follows the story of a group of mineral miners who are awoken early from a long sleep on their return journey to Earth. They investigate a nearby planet and unwittingly bring an alien life form on board the spaceship (called the Nostromo). The alien grows larger and begins to kill the crew, in the end, leaving only Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, to fend it off and escape.
In the released version of the ending, Ripley encounters the alien in her escape pod. She opens the payload doors of the craft to evacuate the creature, but it’s still tethered to the back of the ship. Ripley ignites the engines, which propels the beast into space, and she returns to earth. However, another version tells of how the alien attacks Ripley, kills her, and communicates with Earth in Ripley’s voice.
13. The Bourne Identity: Love Boat
The Bourne Identity is a film adaptation of a book written by author Robert Ludlum. It follows the story of Jason Bourne, an ex-CIA agent played by Matt Damon, who’s lost his memory and n0 longer recognizes his life. He tries to piece together his discrete past but is hindered by his employer, namely the CIA. The film also features Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Julia Stiles, Brian Cox, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
The film received generally positive reviews. Film site Rotten Tomatoes said, “Expertly blending genre formula with bursts of unexpected wit, The Bourne Identity is an action thriller that delivers—and then some.” The original ending showed Bourne and his girlfriend, Marie, in a passionate, Hollywood-style embrace on a beach, but it was ditched in favor of a quiet reuniting hug.
12. Hannibal: Hungry For Love
Ridley Scott directed this 2001 film thriller, a sequel to the massively successful Silence of the Lambs. We find FBI investigator Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) reunited with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), but first, we’re witness to her efforts to locate Lecter before his surviving victim Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) finds him and enacts revenge. The film received mixed acclaim with Variety saying it was “not as good as Lambs.” Variety added, “Ultimately more shallow and crass at its heart than its predecessor, Hannibal is nevertheless tantalizing, engrossing, and occasionally startling” (2001).
The released ending shows Starling handcuffing Hannibal, but a deleted ending shows a kiss between them. Lecter then walks away casually and evades capture. Time describes, “A banquet of creepy, gory, or grotesque incidents is on display in Hannibal. But this superior sequel has romance in its dark heart” (2001).
11. Blade: What a Way To Go!
The character of Blade was devised for Marvel comics in 1973 as a support character to their publication The Tomb of Dracula. Blade was Marvel’s first box-office success, and it paved the way for future Marvel-based productions such as Captain America and Iron Man. Blade is played by Wesley Snipes and is a half-human/half-vampire “daywalker” who — as a result of a genetic abnormality — is able to hunt vampires with ease.
For the ending of the theatrical release, Blade plunges a syringe of vampire poison into the head of Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), killing the latter by causing his head to explode. In an optional ending, Frost’s body turns into a whirlpool of blood that eventually diffuses in a tornado-style wind. After the poison takes hold, Frost’s body reforms, enabling Blade to kill him.
10. Dr. Strangelove: Food Fight
The 1964 smash-hit film Dr. Strangelove was directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s basically a political commentary about the possibility of a nuclear war set off by a series of unfortunate and unavoidable events. The Doomsday Machine, which summarized the edgy nuclear truce of the era, was a process by which the entire world would be destroyed by nuclear holocaust.
Such a sobering subject was tempered by the comic genius of Peter Sellers (who played Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer) President Merkin Muffley (the President of the United States) and Dr. Strangelove himself (the wheelchair-bound nuclear adviser and former Nazi). The ending, which is iconic, shows Major T.J. “King” Kong, one of the bomber pilots, riding a nuclear bomb as it falls towards its Soviet target. However, the ending that was first thought up included a food fight with lots of creampies.
9. Donnie Darko: Staked
Released in 2001, Donnie Darko is a sci-fi flick featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Maggie Gyllenhaal and written/directed by Richard Kelly. The film focuses on Donnie’s nightmarish imaginings for the end of the world, his efforts to come to terms with the visions and to find out why they’re so vivid.
The theatrical release ends with Donnie transported back into his recent past and to his bedroom as an airplane crashes into the house and kills him; the destruction is shown, and his death is implied. But in a leaked deleted scene, we find Donnie amidst the wreckage, impaled and fighting for life. The theatrical ending employed the cinematic technique of implication without having the audience be subjected to gore, but in light of the feel of the film, gore would’ve been more acceptable.
8. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
The concept of ET was based on an imaginary friend director Stephen Spielberg had in the months following his parents’ divorce. The film was an instant success and became the highest-grossing film of all time—a record it held until Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in 1993. It follows the story of an extraterrestrial who’s left behind after his spaceship departs without him, his befriending of the human boy Elliot, and Elliot’s efforts to keep ET safe.
The released version of the film from 1982 shows ET standing in front of Elliot before boarding the spaceship. ET places his finger on Elliot’s forehead and says, “I’ll be right here.” He then waddles up the ramp, the ramp door closes, and the spaceship takes off, leaving a rainbow in its wake. However, the deleted version of the ending, according to Robert MacNaughton, who plays Elliot’s older brother Michael, saw Elliot still in touch with ET via the homemade transponder.
7. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid: Blaze Of Glory
This 1969 Western was directed by George Roy Hill and written by William Goldman. At the time, it was thought of as a great piece of cinema. Movie critic Roger Ebert said of it, “The movie starts promisingly … And then we meet Sundance’s girlfriend, played by Katharine Ross, and the scenes with the three of them have you thinking you’ve wandered into a really first-rate film” (Chicago Sun-Times, 1969).
The original ending shows Paul Newman and Robert Redford (Butch and Sundance) escaping their hideout to a salvo of gunshots. As they run into the melee, they’re overcome by superior numbers and die. However, it was considered that, in order to bring some open-endedness, the film would finish at the point the gunshots sounded. Thus, not seeing Newman and Redford on the ground would allow the viewer to believe that they may have escaped.
6. Paranormal Activity: You Choose
Paranormal Activity was distributed as a low-cost independent film before being snapped up by Paramount Pictures in 2008. It was released nationwide the following year to critical acclaim. It earned $108 million at the U.S. box office and a further $85 million internationally, making it the most profitable film ever made, based on return on investment (The Wrap, 2010).
The film came with three variations of endings, depending on the theatre in which it was released. The first and most seen shows the demon that possessed the character of Katie hurling itself at a camera set up in the bedroom. The second, which is less often seen, finds Katie sitting on the floor at the edge of the bed for days having killed her partner. In the end, the police arrive and shoot Katie dead after she comes at them with a knife. The third sees Katy slitting her own throat.
5. Thelma And Louise: Crash And Burn
This is another great flick directed by Ridley Scott. Released in 1991 to critical acclaim, it stars Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise, two friends who enjoy an impulsive road trip together. It also stars Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and Brad Pitt. Janet Maslin (The New York Times) said of the film, “Mr. Scott’s Thelma and Louise, with a sparkling screenplay by the first-time writer Callie Khouri, is a surprise on this and many other scores” (1991).
The ending that’s now extremely well-known shows the car that contains the women flying from a cliff edge and sailing mid-air to certain oblivion. However, the original ending was more graphic. It showed the car tumbling down the cliff and smashing into pieces — all-in-all, a gory end to the women’s adventure. It was thought that by fading out mid-air, it would allow audiences to believe otherwise.
4. Terminator 2: Happy Ending
Produced, directed, and co-written by James Cameron, Terminator 2 brought about major advancements in CGI technology. Released in 1991, it was the highest-grossing film of the year and is known as one of the greatest action films of all time. In part, this is because of the story and the way in which time has been manipulated to affect a positive outcome for the human race. The film tells the story of Sarah Connor and her ten-year-old son, John, as they’re pursued by a more advanced Terminator android.
The released ending shows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator self-terminating. But a deleted version of the ending shows Sarah as an older woman with a grandchild living a contented existence. Producers considered that ending a little too fairytale and decided to opt for the shown version, leaving room, of course, for more sequels.
3. The Butterfly Effect: Confusion
This 2004 psychological thriller was written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber and stars Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. The story is based on the theory of chaos, that affecting some small change in life effects unpredictable worldwide consequences. Matt Soergel (The Florida Times-Union) epitomised critics’ reception when he wrote, “The Butterfly Effect is preposterous, feverish, creepy, and stars Ashton Kutcher in a dramatic role. It’s a blast… a solidly entertaining B-movie. It’s even quite funny at times…” (2004).
The film has four different endings, all of which were shot and released… In the first option, the main characters see but fail to acknowledge each other; in the second, they’re reunited; in the third, Evan (Ashton Kutcher) follows Kayleigh (Amy Smart); and in the fourth, Evan goes back in time and strangles himself in his mother’s womb.
2. Seven: What’s In The Box?
This 1995 film-noir was directed by David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey. Gary Arnold of The Washington Times praised the cast: “The film’s ace in the hole is the personal appeal generated by Mr. Freeman as the mature, cerebral cop and Mr. Pitt as the young, headstrong cop. Not that the contrast is inspired or believable in itself. What gets to you is the prowess of the co-stars as they fill out sketchy character profiles” (1995).
The story follows the activities of a serial killer whose eventual victim is the wife of David Mills (Pitt). The end scene depicts a box and the allusion that it contains his wife’s head. However, studios considered this ending to have too much pathos and instead proposed that a family dog was the victim. Brad Pitt was adamant he wanted a human head.
1. Return Of The Jedi: Solo Going
This 1983 space epic was the third in the original trilogy after Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The critics were divided on the merits of the film. James Kendrick described Return of the Jedi as “a magnificent experience” (Q Network, 1983), but The New York Times called it “by far the dimmest adventure of the lot” (The New York Times, 1983). However, it has stood the test of time and is appraised favorably by fans.
One of the original storylines, according to producer Gary Kurtz, included the death of Han Solo during a raid against the Empire. Producer George Lucas was concerned that Solo’s death would be taken badly by audiences who had already grown to love the equitable rogue. It was thus thought right to keep the part alive. Additionally, Solo’s death would’ve negatively affected merchandising.
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