A lot of movie scenes end up on the cutting room floor, because that’s just a natural part of the creative process. If every movie went with its first draft and made no changes, they’d probably all suck. At least, most of them would; as they the saying goes: “writing is rewriting.”
Endings get hit with this the most, as they’re difficult to pin down and often have to go through rewrites, reshoots and painful back-and-forth editing. And then the test audience hates them, and they’re sent right back to the drawing board. Here are just a few alternate endings that aren’t necessarily worse, but they do round off the original movie in a very different way…
Titanic (1997) – Bill Paxton’s Pointless Epiphany
The Original Ending: Elderly Rose finishes telling her three-hour-long tale to the crew of the salvage ship, and Lovett (Bill Paxton) decides to stop searching for The Heart of the Ocean. Rose then tosses the necklace into the ocean, somehow forgetting that she’s standing on an actual salvage ship floating there for express purpose of finding said necklace underwater. She then either dies in her sleep or just has a really vivid dream, in which she reunites with her sort-of boyfriend from eighty years ago who she knew for like two days, while being applauded by a bunch of people she definitely didn’t know.
It’s actually really nice.
The Alternate Ending: All of the aforementioned poignancy is thrown out and replaced by something that would be better suited at the conclusion of a soap opera story line. The ending features Bill Paxton, Rose’s daughter and a few other crew members you don’t care about finding the elderly Rose about to drop The Heart of the Ocean into the ocean. Bill Paxton isn’t too happy, until Rose gives him a speech about life being precious and making every day count, which you might notice doesn’t really resonate with anything. The necklace ends up in the ocean after all, and Bill Paxton has a good laugh with himself before he falls in love with Rose’s daughter.
The critical change here is the tone, which combined with the crew’s reactions (“THAT REALLY SUCKS, LADY!”) turns what should’ve been a poignant ending into a mushy feel-fest. Even worse, this is the conclusion to a three-hour tale in which – save for Ros e- we’ve only known these people for a few minutes. James Cameron made the correct assumption that the audience had long stopped caring about Bill Paxton or any of the crew, leading to the more muted ending of the original.
Alien (1986) – Ripley Dies
The Original Ending: Having blasted the titular Alien into space and become a feminist icon, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left as the single surviving human on board the Nostromo. She then puts herself into stasis for the journey back to Earth.
The Alternate Ending: Ripley dies, no feminist icons are created that day.
The originally pitched ending for Alien was set to more closely follow the horror movie trend of leaving none alive. After her climactic confrontation with the alien, it would unexpectedly return once more to bite off Ripley’s head, leaving her tragically unable to film any sequels. To make things worse, the alien would then mimic Ripley’s voice to leave a final log, before presumably blasting off towards Earth to spread more fear and facehugging shenanigans.
This particular ending would’ve left the franchise without any sequel fuel, though that’s not the worst part. Ellen Ripley is science fiction’s most famous and beloved female character because she was an everywoman who survived while all her gun-toting crew died around her. This message might have ended up just the slightest bit diluted had she ended the movie as a headless corpse.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) – Scott Gets a Different Girl
The Original Ending: Having murdered his way through seven evil exes and died himself in the process, Scott (Michael Cera) is helped to realize that Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the one he’s been fighting for all along. He runs after her, they agree to try their relationship again and then walk through a door, which is probably symbolic or something.
The Alternate Ending: There’s some debate about which ending is better out of the two, but the message ends up being very different either way. In the alternate ending, Scott instead lets Ramona walk off into the snow, opting to stay with his eerily underage girlfriend, Knives Chau. They then play a ninja-themed rhythm game, signifying that their relationship will be a long and happy one, presumably.
What you think of this ending all depends on your view of Scott’s quest. Was it for love, with Ramona as the end goal? Or has he proved to himself over the course of his systematic slaughter that he doesn’t need a relationship to be confident in himself? Either way, he ends up with a girl…and Knives makes the comment in the original ending that Ramona is the one Scott has been fighting for.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – Rogue is Back, Wolverine Isn’t
The Original Ending: After Jean Grey is killed and Magneto defeated, the world becomes a better place for mutants, with Beast being appointed the new ambassador to the United Nations. Storm takes over as the headmaster of the Xavier Academy, while Wolverine/Logan/Hugh Jackman sticks around and becomes the new art teacher, maybe. Rogue also returns, having taken the cure, but the final scene shows Magneto regaining the use of his own powers, showing that the cure only lasts a short time. This of course means that everyone just spent an entire movie fighting and dying over the mutant equivalent of deodorant.
The Alternate Ending: The alternate version contains a few subtle changes, but their effect is still fairly profound. For one thing, the entire ambassador scene is scrapped, with Beast simply hanging around the X-Mansion. Doesn’t do wonders for showing the progression of the outside world, but oh well. Perhaps most prominently, Rogue returns having not taken the cure, still wearing her gloves. Given that this was her entire reason for having been written out of the entire third act, it’s a bit hollow, but at least it serves to show that she decided to keep being herself, embrace her uniqueness and something something empowerment something. This is the ending most likely to be embraced by fans of the series, what with Rogue being an X-Men icon, which makes it confusing that they chose to use the ‘cured’ version in the final product.
Finally, Logan returns to Alberta, Canada, which you might remember as the place we saw him way back in the original X-Men. The cranky, racist bartender points a gun at him (again), then he and Logan sit down for a beer. Roll credits. Exactly why Logan returns to this one bar in particular is never really explained, except for the fact that it rounds off the trilogy on a familiar note. Fortunately for all of us, we got Magneto’s chessboard scene to finish instead.
Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Everyone Dies
The Original Ending: Main characters Peter and Francine find themselves in a bit of a pickle when their hideout is overrun by extremely iconic zombies. Faced with the prospect of suicide, the pair instead decide to keep fighting, making their way to the roof and escaping on a helicopter to an unknown fate, but definitely not a sequel.
The Alternate Ending: Faced with the prospect of suicide, the pair gladly get right onto that. The original Night of the Living Dead ended with a profound lack of hope and all the main characters dead, and Romero was clearly going for the same vein of ending. The alternate version has Peter shooting himself through the head while Francine sticks her own head into the helicopter blades and is chopped into tiny bits, a death that’s surely horrible to watch but just sounds hilariously cartoonish when said aloud.
To add insult to injury (or insult to horrific dismemberment), the helicopter blades would’ve slowly stopped after a few minutes, showing that their escape would’ve lasted for the time it takes to brew a coffee before they plummeted from the sky. Hopefully the decision to go with the original, more hopeful ending also included an unseen helicopter refuelling.
Blade Runner (1982) – Less Happiness, More Plot Twists
The Original Ending: It’s common knowledge that the original ending to Blade Runner was lackluster. The voiceover bears no real relation to what was happening on screen, and it sounds very much like Harrison Ford is reading his lines at gunpoint while watching a video of his family held hostage in the next room. Essentially, it attempts to paste a happy ending onto the film with a hastily justified narration, and also saxophone music for some reason. Harrison Ford gets to live forever with his robot girlfriend, the end.
The Alternate Ending: Blade Runner actually has multiple versions of the ending, though there are common themes that run through all of them. The Final Cut version removes the terrible voiceover, instead showing the final scenes as more open to interpretation. Specifically, the tone is hugely shifted once again, as all we see is Harrison Ford driving off into the sunset with a woman who could expire at any minute.
Also missing from the original version is the suggestion that Deckard himself might be a replicant, something confirmed by subtle, origami-related hints and also unicorns. So when I said “open to interpretation”…that meant very open.
Rocky (1976) – Rocky Throws the Fight
The Original Ending: Rocky fights Creed. No one really wins. There’s still a lot of celebrating.
The Alternate Ending: Rocky, as portrayed by Sylvester Stallone, is supposed to be the classic underdog story, which is why the more popular of the alternate endings features him winning against all odds. However, the original script had him going the complete opposite way, and throwing the match. And why? So he could use the money to help Adrian buy the pet store she’d probably always wanted.
While the original conclusion had Rocky going the distance and generally showing that the little guy (relatively speaking) could make a name for himself, the alternate version would’ve given the complete opposite message: in life, there are challenges. You can’t win them all. Just give up, and you’ll be handed loads of money for your trouble. Either way you look at it, that’s a terrible aesop. Also, it doesn’t leave much room for the obligatory sequels.
Clerks (1994) – Dante is Shot and Dies
The Original Ending: Randal and Dante reflect on their lack of direction in life, resolve to rectify their broken relationships and the film ends on a slightly higher note than everything that came before.
The Alternate Ending: Dante is brutally murdered, apropos of nothing. Whether you want to view this ending as alternate or simply extended is up to you, but despite being filmed, it was ultimately cut due to negative reactions.
In this ending, Dante is alone in the store when a robber comes in, shoots him dead and steals money from the cash register before making off with the loot. It’s not even a particularly well-thought out robbery (usually there are demands before someone commits murder for what looks to be about twenty-seven dollars), and the whole thing comes across as tacked on. This would be because director Kevin Smith admitted that he didn’t know how to end a film, and wanted to make the whole thing memorable. It’s worrying that a random act of bloody violence was the first thing that sprung to his mind, but hey. At least he nailed the “memorable” part.
Salt (2010) – Kids Get Blown Up
The Original Ending: After an entire movie of Jason Bourne-esque adventures, Salt (Angeline Jolie) finally manages to disarm nuclear missiles and escape into the woods to go and kill more people in the name of justice and sweet, sweet action sequences.
The Alternate Ending: This ending is more of an extended reshuffling rather than a completely new conclusion, (though the director’s cut does do that for the rest of the movie). However, it does shed a bit more light on Salt’s character, in that she appears perfectly willing to blow up a building full of children.
A few scenes in the director’s cut have her travelling to Russia, specifically to the place where she was trained as a child, and blowing it sky high. In case there was any ambiguity, we get a good long scene beforehand where we see that yes, there are indeed children in the building at that very moment, and there’s very little chance that they’ve reached the level in their evil spy training where they can survive explosions.
Salt isn’t the most morally straightforward hero, but an ending in which she blows up a bunch of kids really shouldn’t be our last image of the character, particularly since they’re all in exactly the same situation Salt was at that age. And she turned out fine, right? Actually, never mind.
Hannibal (2001) – Brainchild
The Original Ending: Hannibal’s elegant dinner of sautéed brain is interrupted by Starling handcuffing their wrists together with the police approaching. Lecter is forced to sever his own hand to escape, and runs off into the night probably wondering why he didn’t just sever her hand, as it would’ve allowed him to get away and given him something to eat on the journey. He’s later seen on a plane, offering an unknowing boy some of his food. The food is also brains.
The Alternate Ending: For starters, the whole hand severing business is cut from the alternate cut, with Lecter simply escaping outright. However, this eventually leads to the scene on the plane, with Lecter Senior making a little Lecter Junior by way of brain food. The boy next to him still asks to try some of his food (which is a trifecta of talking to strangers, taking food from strangers and showing interest in mystery meat), but their extended conversation is more loaded and the final shot superimposes the back of the boy’s head with Lecter’s face, symbolic of the fact that this innocent child is now supposedly on the same dark, brains-obsessed path.
That’s the director’s opinion, at least. Feel free to interpret the final shot as “feeding a small boy human brains is a messed up thing to do.”
Do you know of any other movies that had drastically different endings at some stage of their production? Let us know in the comments!