It can be tough for filmmakers to decide how to end their movies. Then you have executives’ notes and test screening reactions, which can all add pressure to come up with an alternative. Presented here are some that were considered but never made it to screens, or original versions of endings that were changed for different reasons. Not all of them work, but some of them really do...
In cinemas: Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) finishes up his working day after enduring the endless witticisms of pal Randal (Jeff Anderson), the stoner nonsense of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (writer/director Kevin Smith) and various other minor calamities, including an ex-girlfriend who accidentally has sex with a dead guy in a toilet stall.
Alternately: Dante is shot and killed by a robber at the very end of the story. Kevin Smith smartly realised that he’d already lumped enough on the poor guy’s head, that the death was a huge downer on a comedy and, though it wasn’t in his head at the time, he might just need Dante to be the beating – albeit down-beating – heart of a future franchise that now has its third film in its sights.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
In cinemas: After a long, brutal battle with the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), John Connor (Edward Furling) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) watch the T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sacrifice himself for the good of the future. “If a machine can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too,” muses Sarah as he gives the thumbs up and a legion of teenage audience members try to stifle their tears. Finito! Lots of possibilities for the future.
Alternately: James Cameron originally wanted to show that the victory meant the future was secured, showing an older Sarah recording her diary entry about how it all turned out wonderfully. John is a politician and has children of his own, and no one knows about the terrible time ahead where Cadbury changes the recipe for Creme Eggs. Happy endings are great and all, but the studio decided that more ambiguity was better in case someone should try to make more Terminator films. No one did, so that’s okay. Right. RIGHT?
Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)
In cinemas: Frank Oz’s adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Broadway musical ends with Seymour (Rick Moranis) discovering monster plant Audrey II’s alien origins. Despite the angry floral fanatic’s best efforts to collapse his shop and bury him, Seymour electrocutes Audrey II and escapes with the original, human Audrey (Ellen Greene) to life in the suburbs. Where another alien plant bud lurks among their flowers…
Alternately: Oz and company originally wanted to go with the musical’s ending, in which Audrey is fed to the plant and Seymour considers suicide. He’s talked out of it, but is then killed by Audrey II. The plant’s buds go on to become an army, taking over New York and the world. Total downer, but probably more fun than the cinematic version.
Army Of Darkness (1992)
In cinemas: Director Sam Raimi throws Bruce Campbell’s Ash up against legions of Deadites in medieval times, but our hero eventually triumphs and is given a magic spell to return him to his own time. He still has to dispatch one Deadite that travelled with him, but he’s finally allowed something of a normal life.
Alternately: Ash drinks too much of the potion, oversleeps in the cave and awakens in a Deadite-crammed post-apocalyptic future where, presumably, the makers of Date Movie and Epic Movie are allowed to run rampant. The studio preferred a less terrifying finale for The Chin.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
In cinemas: Captains Kirk (William Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) face down Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) as he attempts to re-enter the Nexus after changing the space phenomenon’s direction by collapsing a planet’s star. He already managed it once, but now Kirk and Picard have arrived back in time to take him down. Yet it’s Kirk who eventually goes to see the Great Bird Of The Galaxy, eventually crushed by a bridge. What a disappointing way for a space hero to die.
Alternately: Kirk is shot in the back by Soran during a moment of distraction. Honestly, neither way out for Star Trek’s most famous captain is particularly great, which might explain the numerous fan videos that help him survive through the magic of editing. Apologies for the low quality of the video on this one, as well Shatner’s sex face as he’s shot.
In cinemas: John Frankenheimer’s car-heavy spy thriller ends on a mild note with CIA undercover agent Sam (Robert De Niro) and fellow mercenary Vincent (Jean Reno) meeting in a bistro to talk while a radio announces a peace agreement between Sinn Féin and the British Government. Sam wonders if this means he can get together with IRA operative Deidre (Natascha McElhone), but Vincent figures she’s not coming. She doesn’t. End of.
Alternately: She does show up! But before she can enter the bistro, she’s snatched from the street and bundled into a van, which drives away. Nothing is revealed about those who take her, so you’re left to make your own guess. We actually like this one a little more – it has a hint of mystery about it.
Pineapple Express (2008)
In cinemas: Stoner Dale (Seth Rogen) and pot dealer Saul (James Franco) barely survive a fire-and-fist fight with the crooked Ted (Gary Cole), cop Brazier (Rosie Perez) and henchmen Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan) and Matheson (Craig Robinson). The lads emerged a little battered, bruised and bloody, but ultimately victorious, enjoying breakfast in a diner with Red (Danny McBride) before heading to hospital.
Alternately: Dale and Saul are quietly enjoying spiffs in the warehouse when they suddenly realise one of the bad guys has survived. It does not go well for our pot-loving pair, ending with a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde or Butch and Sundance vibe, but with more comedy death. Given that Rogen and co. might make a sequel (the one in This Is The End doesn’t count), we see why this was mostly shot for chuckles.
The Abyss (1989)
In cinemas: Things have gotten nasty between the human military forces and the NTIs (non-terrestrial intelligence) with Navy SEALs planning to destroy what they see as invaders using a nuclear warhead. Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) volunteers to stop it and knows it’s basically a suicide mission. But the aliens, moved by his sacrifice, save him.
Alternately: Here, the aliens take Bud aboard their ship and show him the destructive ways of mankind. Oh, and the mega-tsunamis they’re planning to send to wash us all away. Fortunately, his messages to his ex-wife and friends convince them we should be spared. Hooray! Thank goodness Blackfish hadn’t been made by then, or it would have been so long, and thanks for all the fish.
Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
In cinemas: Back when the Die Hard franchise still had more of its dignity intact, the third movie finds Bruce Willis’ John McClane tangling with Jeremy Irons’ Simon Peter Gruber, brother of Hans (Alan Rickman in the original). The film ends with McClane shooting an overhead power line down onto a helicopter that Simon is attempting to use to make good his escape. With the crisis in New York averted, Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) tells McClane to finish a call he was trying to make to his estranged wife Holly.
Alternately: This is a really different, much darker take. Gruber actually escapes, and McClane, taking the fall for the bullion Gruber stole and all the chaos he perpetrated, is drummed out of the NYPD. Cut to some time after the events of the film and John tracks Simon down to Hungary, forcing him to play Russian roulette with a rocket launcher. It’s a fascinating peek into a far more brutal McClane.
I Am Legend (2007)
In cinemas: Francis Lawrence’s take on the story sees Will Smith’s virologist Robert Neville sacrifice himself to save Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan). One quick grenade blast later, Neville is dead along with the attacking vamp-like “Darkseekers”. Anna and Ethan escape to reach a survivors’ colony, carrying the cure for the disease that started all the madness in the first place. A happy ending! Well, except for Neville.
Alternately: The other idea hewed close to Richard Matheson’s original book, with the invading Darkseekers revealed to be actually after the female test subject Neville was experimenting on to find the cure. The creatures’ Alpha lets him live and Neville realises he was the legend, the killer among the creatures, and that peace could reign if he takes the cure to the survivors. A happy ending! For everyone, this time.
First Blood (1982)
In cinemas: After the mistreatment and manhunt, the first film featuring Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo ends with him breaking down and raging about the horrors he experienced in the Vietnam War, and the trauma he’s suffered since he came home. He surrenders to former commanding officer colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) and is led away to live (and fight) another day.
Alternately: David Morrell’s novel, published in 1972, is much more violent, with Rambo slaughtering many people, and then being blown away by a blast from Trautman's shotgun. Stallone and director Ted Kotcheff actually shot a version of the ending where Rambo commits suicide, but preferred instead to have him turn himself in. It feels like the right call, for all the power the tragic version holds.
In cinemas: Titanic survivor Rose (Gloria Stuart) convinces treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) to end his search for the rare diamond known as the Heart Of The Ocean. Standing alone on the ship’s stern, Rose drops the diamond – which she had all along – into the ocean over the wreck of the Titanic. Seen in her cabin, either sleeping or dead, we pan through photos of her adventurous life before watching the younger version of the character (Kate Winslet) reunite with then love of her life, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) in a dream/heaven/make your own mind up.
Alternately: In a weird, soapy version of the scene, Rose is spotted by Brock and the others, worried that she’s about to commit suicide. She gives them a speech about life being precious which does not cause them to vomit spontaneously. She still drops the diamond, and not everyone is pleased. Brock, however, laughs like a loon, possibly while secretly plotting to throw Rose overboard himself.
In cinemas: Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is rescued from the hands of the bureaucratic behemoth that runs Terry Gilliam’s dystopian future, and manages to make it to safety with dream girl Jill (Kim Griest), escaping the city on a trailer. Except he’s actually going nowhere and the whole rescue is a product of his imagination as his brain shuts down from torture by Jack Lint (Michael Palin). The last shot of Sam is his humming the title tune as the camera trails away.
Alternately: Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is rescued from the hands of the bureaucratic behemoth that runs Terry Gilliam’s dystopian future, and manages to make it to safety with dream girl Jill (Kim Griest), escaping the city on a truck. Hooray! Love truly conquers all! This is one of the more famous examples of a studio clashing with a director. Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg wanted the happy ending cut released in the US, but Gilliam dug in his heels and put out ads while drumming up support for his cut. One critics’ award later and a compromise cut reached American screens. Determination conquers all, at least when you’re Terry Gilliam. You can find a lot more about this on the Criterion release of the movie.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
In cinemas: Alex (Glenn Close) tries to kill Beth (Anne Archer), the wife of the man (Michael Douglas' Dan Gallagher) she had an affair with and subsequently became a little too interested in. Lurking in the bathroom as Beth draws a bath, Alex attacks with a knife before Dan runs in and plunges her into the water, seemingly drowning her. But true slasher movie style, she rears up, trying to kill them both, only to be shot dead by Beth.
Alternately: Alex was originally going to commit suicide, slashing her throat with the knife and setting Dan up to take the fall for her murder. Glenn Close believed this was a better ending for the character, and fought to keep it, but ultimately agreed to shoot the new version. The original was part of the film on its Japanese release and has shown up on home entertainment formats.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)
In cinemas: Scott (Michael Cera) defeats Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), befriends his own negative doppelganger and, encouraged by ex-girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), wanders off to new romantic adventures with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In a film that alters some details from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, the ending remains intact (even though all six volumes weren’t published by the time the film was made).
Alternately: Director Edgar Wright and writer Michael Bacall had actually concocted and shot a version of the ending where Scott reunites with Knives. But after O’Malley wrote the finale to the books with Ramona as the one he ends up with, and test audiences indicated they weren’t fond of the Knives twist, the cast and crew reconvened to shoot the ending that now adorns the movie.