It seems that almost every movie that’s packaged as a Blu-ray or DVD is treated to an “Extended Cut” or “Unrated” version. What that usually means is that the movie is jammed with unneeded scenes that do more harm than good. Often, there’s a good reason for footage to wind up on the cutting room floor, but not always. Occasionally there is that rare example where an Extended version of a movie will come closer to showing the audience the director’s true vision of the movie, elevating the original to new heights.
These versions are the real “Director’s Cuts,” which are updates of a movie that really do improve the theatrical version shown in theaters. While a director’s cut has a 50/50 shot of improving or making a film worse (we’re eagerly awaiting what Zack Snyder’s Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does), these next 12 examples no doubt top the original releases. The movies on this list can either start out as flops that are transformed into different movies, or they can be box office hits that still pick up some steam from a makeover.
Here are 12 Movies Drastically Improved By a Director’s Cut.
12. Apocalypse Now
It’s hard to improve on perfection, and Apocalypse Now is as close as any to being a perfect movie. Named Roger Ebert’s favorite film of the 1970s, this war epic is about the duality of human nature and the darkness that lurks inside men’s hearts. Martin Sheen plays a Captain in the U.S. military stationed in Vietnam, who journey’s up river to assassinate a rogue Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando.
The theatrical run of the film already clocked in at 2 hours and 33 minutes, but director Francis Ford Coppola’s director’s cut released in 2001 added an additional 49 minutes of footage. Apocalypse Now Redux has several scenes extended, including two entirely new scenes that were cut out of the original run. While the scene depicting the visit to the French plantation can get a little tedious, overall the Redux addition of the movie is what some might call the definitive version of the film.
11. Return of the King
Like Apocalypse Now, not a whole lot can be tacked on to Return of the King to make it a definitively better movie, which went on to win 11 Oscars. Peter Jackson’s ridiculously long extended cut does certainly come close though, with some added scenes that really clear up some glaring plot holes that were left after Frodo and the rest of the gang completed their journey to destroy the one ring.
For starters, we finally find out the fate of that mean ol’ Saruman, who was played wonderfully by Christopher Lee. As one of the main bad guys of the series, it was a little jarring when Jackson left us hanging as to what happened to the evil sorcerer. Thankfully, he takes care of that in some of the opening moments of his extended version, which shows the backstabbing wizard falling to his death from a tower. While the longer version is worth that moment alone, it’s comes with a ton of extras including lengthier battle scenes and an extended prologue with everyone’s favorite deranged Hobbit, Gollum. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings or anything middle-earth, then checking out these extended cuts is an absolute must see.
10. Almost Famous
Director Cameron Crowe recounts his early years as a rock music journalist in his fictionalized film Almost Famous. Loosely based on Crowe’s time while touring with the Allman Brothers Band, the movie is a sentimental and nostalgic ode toward the rock music of the 1970s. It was critically praised upon released, and even earned Crowe an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. While the original release was well received, it didn’t keep Crowe from releasing his “bootleg” version, aptly named Untitled, which added 30 minutes of extra footage.
Crowe didn’t release the version as a director’s cut, but as a “bootleg” version, careful enough to stand by his theatrical cut which is still a great film. However, the bootleg DVD makes the original version seem a little bare in comparison, with the addition of scenes that really broaden the already wonderfully developed characters.
Plagued with ludicrous production costs, Waterworld is the movie that broke up the friendship between actor Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds. Due to productions delays from hurricanes breaking out during shooting, and expensive transportation to the massive underwater sets, the film ran almost $75 million over budget. With over 3 hours of footage, Reynolds was forced to leave a large bulk of it at the bottom of the sea, and the theatrical cut was trimmed to just over 2 hours.
When this shortened version hit theaters, it was both panned by critics and skipped over by audiences, not even earning back half of it’s massive budget. Some critics argued that while Waterworld was indeed a mess, a good movie might be hiding in there somewhere. The director had this same idea, and Reynolds’ longer version of the film, which is now the cut that airs on television, adds back in that extra hour, making it a far superior version. Better takes of scenes and more humor are added as a result, and while the film still isn’t a masterpiece, it is heaps better than the one that was released in theaters.
8. Sucker Punch
Poor Zack Snyder, the guy just can’t seem to get a break. He’s one of those directors who people love to pick on, albeit part of that is his own fault. His movies have visual style galore, but what they really lack is a thoughtful compelling narrative. The theatrical version of Sucker Punch continued this trend, as it featured amazing action scenes, but a mess of a story that proves that style isn’t everything.
While the initial response to Sucker Punch was pretty abysmal, it wasn’t all to be put on the shoulders of Snyder. Against his wishes, Warner Bros. heavily edited the theatrical version, leaving a shadow of the director’s original vision. Accordingly, Snyder followed suit with his own cut of the movie that helped fix a number of these problems, but not all. The mismatch of the dramatic mental asylum scenes and the heavy action pieces in a fantasy world still don’t come together quite like they are supposed to, and the movie still drags in certain areas.
Still, Snyder’s cut of the movie is much more coherent, with a lot of scenes in the asylum pieced back in to add an extra weight that was missing from the original. The film is still a bit of a mess, but at least with this cut we know what kind of dark movie Zack Snyder was attempting to make.
When you think of under-appreciated movies, your mind probably wouldn’t race to Ben Affleck’s take on Daredevil. You would probably think, “Hey, that movie got what it deserved. It was a mess!” And you would be right, but Mark Steven Johnson’s director’s cut is on a whole other level. Fully fleshed out and allowed time to resonate, Johnson’s cut really does add depth and an extra layer to a film that was previously flat and stale.
So why wasn’t the theatrical cut as good as this?
It’s obvious that the studio involved with the production had something to do with all the trimming. It’s sad, but sometimes directors don’t have final say about what happens in their films. It’s a shame, because Affleck’s Matt Murdock is a believable character here, and he’s treated to an actual compelling narrative in Johnson’s update.
The director’s cut of the film is still nowhere near the level that the Netflix Original Series is operating on, but it’s miles ahead of its theatrical predecessor. It’s just a shame that most audiences will never see the director’s cut, and base their opinions about Daredevil on the half-baked version that was shown in theaters.
After floundering in pre-production limbo for years, flip-flopping from one director to another, and even going through a lawsuit prior to its release date, Watchmen finally saw the light of day in 2009 with director Zack Snyder at the helm. While his dark comic book movie was a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the source material, it just didn’t click with modern audiences. The movie was too bleak, a concept hard to believe, with every film studio clamoring for anything “dark and edgy.”
Watchmen was subsequently written off, a pity considering that this was one of the last times Snyder took some creative risks. While his director’s cut doesn’t exactly turn the movie on its head, it does add a couple very juicy new scenes, making it a more enjoyable experience. The most important addition is a scene in which main good guy, Night Owl, meets his tragic end. Like Sucker Punch, Snyder’s update is still far from a perfect movie, but it is a vast improvement on an already decent comic book flick. Let’s hope that his Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman is as strong as his cut here.
5. Superman II
Ever since Richard Donner was fired, half way through the production of Superman II, fans had wondered how it might have turned out if he wasn’t so hastily replaced by Richard Lester. In 2006 we got an answer with the release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, a look into Donner’s version of the film, or at least the closest thing to it. Restored by Michael Thua, who was under the guidance of Donner and writer Tom Mankiewicz, this version gives viewers a look at all the great footage that was thrown out the door once Lester came aboard.
Not that Richard Lester did a bad job with Superman II, but the truth is Donner did such a phenomenal job with his origin story of the Man of Steel that to not have his cut of the film would be a travesty. Donner’s Superman II fills in a lot of the blanks left adrift by Lester’s cut, and the overall tone is much more mature. While we might never know what would have happened if Donner was able to finish the project, this version gives us a very comprehensive look to what could have been.
Even though Troy wasn’t the most well-received movie (it scored a 56 on Metacritic), it did make close to $500 million, which makes it a bit of a success. Especially considering that movie’s theatrical run ran 2 hours and 43 minutes long, a bit of a bloated runtime for modern audiences. Director Wolfgang Petersen’s new edition is only roughly half an hour extra, but it adds volumes to the film most accused of not having a strong central figure.
Petersen’s extended cut, which cost him $3 million to finance, doesn’t fix all of these problems, but it does come close. With just the brief 35 minutes, Petersen is able to fill in glaring omissions in the plot, making it flow much smoother. A lot of the subplots feel more suspenseful and, as a result, the runtime seems much brisker, despite the fact that it’s longer. In this go around, we care about the big bloated action scenes because we’re more involved with the characters. It’s a great example of what can be done with the addition of some scenes and better editing, creating a much more satisfying narrative experience.
3. Blade Runner
There’s been so many versions of Blade Runner by this point that’s it tough to pinpoint the actual director’s cut, let alone deciding on a definitive version. In the early 90s a work print from 1982 made the circuits as the director’s cut, only problem was it wasn’t signed off by the director. Ridley Scott disowned that version, which he said was poorly edited. As a result Scott made his own cut of the film in 1992, a cut without the cheesy noir voiceover or the cliché happy ending. Still, the director wasn’t happy with it, and in 2007 he made his way back into the editing room to create the “Final Cut.”
In favor of more editing and rearranging the story structure, Scott opted to fix the tiny technical flaws of his sci-fi classic. The film is even more beautiful than it once was thanks to it’s visual and audio remastering. This Blade Runner is much clearer, with its breathtaking sci-fi visuals still holding up against today’s bloated CGI standards. However, some fans still prefer the original version, where it was left more ambiguous if Deckard was indeed an artificial lifeform like the ones he was tasked to terminate. With that issue aside however, Scott’s “Final Cut” is the most comprehensive version of the many out there, until the next one comes along that is. With Blade Runner 2 in full gear, it’s not hard to imagine that Scott’s original might get another makeover treatment in the near future.
2. Kingdom of Heaven
For some reason, movie studios don’t like Ridley Scott to have free reign over his movies, even though he’s one of the best directors working today. Like Blade Runner, Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven was chopped and trimmed by 20th Century Fox for the theatrical release. Running just over two and a half hours, the version shown in theaters is crammed with ideas that need more time to evolve. The epic tale of the Crusades is smooshed together, making character motivations and their actions often confusing for the audience. The most glaring flaw in the theatrical cut is the development of Orlando Bloom’s character, who just seems to be going through the motions as a keen military strategist.
Thankfully, the director’s cut adds in about 45 minutes of footage, which makes the story come full circle. Character’s motivations, as well as their relationships to other characters, are much more fleshed out here, especially Bloom’s character’s growth as a leader. It’s a much more cohesive story, and the updated Kingdom of Heaven would be our #1 pick if it wasn’t for the next entry on our list.
1. Once Upon a Time in America
No movie has ever benefitted more from a director’s cut than Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. The epic tale of Jewish gangsters during the prohibition era first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival with a cut that was nearly 4 and a half hours of footage. The European cut of the movie eventually had 40 minutes trimmed off of it, but what happened to the American version is an absolute travesty.
Boiled down to a mere 139 minutes, the American theatrical version removes key subplots, motivational scenes, and worst of all, edited out the elliptical narrative so that the film runs in chronological order. The result was a film that was impossible to follow, and even more impossible to care about. Leone’s original weaved stories from 3 different time periods, but the theatrical version edits them all together, leading to disastrous results.
Luckily, a few years after the film was in theaters, American television ran the 4 hour cut of the film so viewer’s could make up their own mind to which cut was better. The decision was clear, and today Once Upon a Time in America, the almost 4 hour version, is considered one of the best movies ever made. Although Leone has since passed, his legacy carries on, with his foundation and fellow director Martin Scorsese still trying to piece together the full 4 and a half hour version shown at Cannes. Let’s hope that they do.
Can you think of any other Director’s Cuts that should be on this list somewhere? Let us know in the comments!
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