Ending a movie is always a tricky thing, since it can be tough to wrap up the story in a way that satisfies everyone. There are plenty of examples of good movies that fumbled the ball in the last act – think of The Wolverine or Signs – and spoiled the experience for many viewers.
This is where alternate endings come in, where the filmmakers test out a few variations on the proposed climax to see how they work. They can feature relatively minor changes or be something completely different, and while most of them don’t work, they can offer a fascinating glimpse into how the story could have wrapped up.
Thanks to the DVD revolution, fans are now able to see most of these alternate versions for themselves, and judge how well they would have worked. Some feel completely detached from the final version and probably would have actively hurt the movie if they had been used.
Featured here are 15 Alternate Endings That Would Have Ruined The Movie, and the reasons why they just don’t work. Taken on their own terms, a few of them are interesting, but they ultimately wouldn’t have meshed with the film and were wisely tossed in the deleted scene bin.
15 Jyn And Cassian Escape - Rogue One
While the outcome of Rogue One seemed kind of obvious before the film came out – considering the heroes don’t feature in any other films in the series – it was still a surprise to see how dark the film ended up being. The rebel heroes think nothing of killing unarmed informants and the Death Star wipes out a planet full of innocent people, so the fate of the Rogue One crew shouldn’t have been a shock.
Despite the darkness, the fate of Jyn and Cassian fit the story, and their final scene on the beach was a touching one. Director Gareth Edwards was also surprised Disney let him get away with the suicide mission finale, and an early draft of the script featured a happier ending with Jyn and Cassian escaping at the end.
Disney didn’t feel this was the right finale for the story, and they gave Edwards the greenlight to kill everybody. Since their sacrifice leads directly into the original trilogy, the studio probably felt they could get away with a little darkness. The right call was certainly made.
14 Rambo Commits Suicide - First Blood
First Blood was based on a popular novel that producers had tried for years to turn into a movie, offering the lead to actors like Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman. The book was also a lot darker than the resulting film, with Rambo openly killing the police officers and National Guard men pursuing him. He was more of a bloodthirsty psychopath, all around.
The film trimmed away these rough edges, and Rambo’s only kill is in self-defense. The book ended with Rambo’s death by his mentor Colonel Trautman, which was also the original plan for the film version. An ending was filmed where Rambo forces a gun into Trautman’s hand and forces him to pull the trigger, but Stallone and the director felt this finale was far too bleak.
They quickly shot another conclusion where the character is arrested instead, which is a more hopeful end to the story and allowed the character to return for a mixed bag of sequels.
13 The Hospital Epilogue - The Shining
While Stanley Kubrick was a noted perfectionist, often demanding endless takes of simple scenes like actors opening a door, he still made the occasional mistake. This even extends to his horror masterpiece The Shining, which originally featured an epilogue showing Wendy and Danny in the hospital following their ordeal at The Overlook Hotel.
The hotel’s manager Ullman comes to visit, explaining the police didn’t find Jack’s body and offering them a place to stay while they recover. This scene also suggests Ullman was involved with the supernatural shenanigans, as the sequence ends with him throwing Danny a yellow ball similar to the one rolled to him outside Room 237.
By all accounts, the scene was an unnecessary addition that raised more question than it answered, so after the film had been in cinemas for a week, Kubrick ordered it removed, and the scene was snipped from every release print. It’s unlikely to see the light of day again, and while it sounds like an interesting curio, the film is better without it.
12 MacReady Is Rescued - The Thing
The Thing is arguably director John Carpenter’s finest hour; an intense, bleak ride with fantastic practical monster effects and a haunting score. It also ends on a note that sums up the paranoid themes of the story, with the two survivors – one of whom could be infected by the alien – waiting to freeze to death in the ruins of their destroyed Arctic camp.
It’s an incredibly bleak note to end on, and in the interest of playing it safe, Carpenter quickly shot a happier finale in case the studio rejected it. This alternate ending was a brief scene that would have found Kurt Russell’s MacReady in another camp, having just completed a blood test confirming his humanity, and that the nightmare is over.
This ending wasn’t even screened for test audiences, and it hasn't been seen since. A happy ending goes against everything about The Thing, and the final scene is so perfect that it’s hard to imagine it wrapping up any other way.
11 The Blood God - Blade
Blade is often credited with kicking off the modern wave of comic book movies, by taking a little-known character and building a kickass action movie around him. Wesley Snipes was perfectly cast, the movie had a fascinating mythology, and the action scenes were great.
The studio ran into trouble with the original ending, however, which featured Stephen Dorff’s villain turning into a resurrected blood god, who’s literally a sprawling vortex of blood. The CGI effects for this transformation were stunningly awful, and test audiences – who had loved the movie up to this point – laughed the finale off the screen.
The studio quickly called the actors back to reshoot the climax, which featured a more traditional sword duel and ended with a killer one-liner from Snipes. This ending also allowed Dorff to remain onscreen, and while some of the effects are still kind of poor, at least it doesn’t feature a giant, spinning vortex of jelly as the main threat.
10 The 2029 Epilogue - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Just like he did with Aliens, James Cameron crafted a near perfect sequel with T2, building on the themes and mythology of the original while turbocharging the concept. The later sequels found it impossible to improve upon, and for many fans, the series should have stopped with the second entry.
The film now ends with the image of a road and Sarah Connor’s hopeful voiceover, but Cameron shot an ending that showed everything worked out just a bit too fine. This epilogue featured an elderly Sarah in the same park that featured in her nightmare of a nuclear attack, while she watches a grown-up John – who's now a senator – playing with her granddaughter.
It’s a much cheesier ending that jars with the rest of the movie, and Linda Hamilton’s old age make-up is distractingly poor. The story needed to end on an ambiguous note since – like the movie said – the future is not set in stone. Having a super duper happy ending would have undermined that message.
9 Rocky Throws The Fight And Buys A Pet Shop - Rocky
Rocky is the ultimate underdog story, featuring a boxer who rises from nothing to become a legend. It’s a movie a lot of people relate to for this very reason, but if it had followed Stallone’s original script, it might have been remembered differently.
The first draft of Rocky was famously written by Stallone in a manic three-day binge when he pitched the story to producers without actually having a screenplay to show. In this version, Rocky is offered money by Apollo Creed’s team to throw the fight at the end, which he does. In the final scene, he buys Adrian a pet shop to run, which is a happy ending of sorts, but much more cynical than the final version.
Naturally, this ending didn’t last long, and the current climax – where Rocky loses the fight but ends up giving it his all and going the distance – is the one that kicked off a franchise that’s still going four decades later. If Rocky had thrown the bout, it’s doubtful the film would be considered the classic it is today.
8 The Butterfly Baby Dream - The Fly
The Fly remains David Cronenberg’s most popular movie, and one that combines his nightmarish body horror with a genuine love story. Its mixture of emotion and queasy gore made it an instant classic upon release, and star Jeff Goldblum has rarely been better.
Cronenberg trimmed a few scenes from the movie in the edit, including a sequence where Brundle tries – unsuccessfully – to fuse together a cat and a baboon, and ends up bludgeoning the unholy creation to death. The director also had trouble wrapping up the film, and tried to give it a slightly more uplifting ending than Geena Davis blowing off Brundlefly's head with a shotgun.
The film now ends without addressing the fate of the baby she’s carrying, but in an alternate ending, she’s seen in bed having a dream of a baby with butterfly wings. While it’s a poetic image and a happier ending for the character, the baby looks absolutely ridiculous. The operatic tragedy of the current ending feels like the right choice.
7 Dante Is Killed In A Robbery - Clerks
Clerks is the micro-budget, foul-mouthed comedy that made Kevin Smith an indie sensation, and it revolves around a day in the lives of a couple of slacker convenience store clerks. The film bypassed its low-fi origins to become a major cult success, thanks to the insanely quotable dialogue and likeable characters.
Smith was a rookie filmmaker when he made Clerks, so he wasn’t really sure how to end it. The original version ended with a robber entering the store and – for no real reason – shooting Dante dead before robbing the cash register. Later on, another customer comes in and, not seeing Dante’s dead body, steals some cigarettes.
It’s an abrupt and needlessly grim conclusion to say the least, and the studio who bought the film up was quick to suggest it was trimmed. The film now ends on a more positive note, and the characters later returned for Clerks II and cameos in various other Smith movies.
6 The Alien Planet Reveal - Cube
Cube was an intense no-budget horror film featuring six people trapped in a strange, cube-shaped structure filled with deadly traps. The film is probably best remembered for the nightmarish opening death, where a nameless victim tries to escape and ends up getting diced by invisible wires.
The film ends on an ambiguous note, where the only survivor exits the cube and walks toward a blinding white light, and the film fades to credits. It doesn’t explain what the cube really is or who was behind it, but according to director Vincenzo Natali, an ending was shot that explained everything, but he hated it so much he cut it out and destroyed the footage.
According to reports of early screenings, this alternate ending featured the survivor emerging outside onto a cliff overlooking an endless ocean on a purple alien planet, while behind him, the entrance to the cube disappears. Natali himself refuses to comment and prefers to leave the outside of the cube up to viewers' imaginations.
5 Clarence Dies - True Romance
True Romance was one of Tarantino’s earliest screenplays, and there are plenty of comparisons between the nerdy lead character Clarence and the director himself. Although he wanted to direct it himself, he sold the script to fund Reservoir Dogs, and director Tony Scott took the reins instead.
The film is a romantic fairytale, where Clarence falls in love with a prostitute and they both run into trouble with gangsters, though the script was originally a little darker than the end product. Tarantino’s ending had Clarence killed by the gunshot to the eye he receives in the final shootout, and his lover Alabama drives off alone with the money they made from a drug deal.
A version of this was shot, but Scott loved the characters so much that he couldn’t bear to end it that way. He instead had Clarence survive the bullet, and he and Alabama drive off together and later have a child. It’s far more romantic and fitting for the movie Scott made, and the darker ending would have been a needless bummer.
4 It Was All A Bad Dream - A Nightmare On Elm Street
Legendary horror filmmaker Wes Craven knew he had a great concept with A Nightmare On Elm Street – where a serial killer stalks his victims in their sleep – but he spent years trying to get it made. He eventually sold it to New Line for a low price just to get the wheels turning, and he clashed constantly with the producer over a number of issues.
Key among them was the ending, where the producer wanted a classic final scare to set up a possible sequel, while Wes Craven wanted a happy ending. In Craven’s mind, the movie should have ended with Nancy turning her back on Freddy, robbing him of his power. She’d wake up to a bright day and find her mother and friends are still alive, andtsht it was all a bad dream.
While there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, Craven’s original plan sounds a little underwhelming, and it likely would have left viewers disappointed. The somewhat cheesy final scare fits better, and it let fans know that Freddy would be back.
3 Somerset Kills John Doe - Seven
The ending to Seven is one of the most shocking in horror cinema, where the killer John Doe murders the wife of Detective Mills off-screen and has it delivered to him in a box. The anger drives Mills to execute the killer, making him commit the sin of wrath, thereby completing Doe’s twisted plan.
The studio was a little uncertain of this ultra dark climax, and a version was proposed where Doe is shot by Morgan Freeman’s Somerset instead, robbing Doe of his victory. This ending –which would have ended with Somerset spouting the cheesy one-liner “I’m retiring.” - was storyboarded, but David Fincher soon decided the original ending was much better.
Few would disagree, since the finale is arguably the best scene of the director’s career, and wraps up the story perfectly. A sequel to Seven was pitched where Somerset becomes psychic and chases another killer, a concept so ridiculous that Fincher claimed he’d rather put cigarettes out on his eyes than direct it. The script was eventually used for the forgotten Anthony Hopkins thriller Solace.
2 Wolverine Lives - Logan
Logan marks the end of Hugh Jackman’s era with Wolverine, and it was a perfect send-off. As emotional as it was violent, the final act felt like the right way to bring the character’s journey to an end, even if it was a tragic one.
Wolverine ends up being fatally wounded by his vicious clone X-24, and he says a last goodbye to his daughter before passing away. While his ending had been teased in The Wolverine, Jackman had second thoughts before filming. The actor was greatly inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which featured a character trying to pull away from his violent past, before giving into his inner demons and shooting a whole load of people.
Jackman felt it would be more meaningful if his character survived instead of getting killed off, and he tried to convince Logan director James Mangold that this was the right path. The helmer disagreed, feeling it was far more powerful for an immortal character to finally die and regain his humanity while encouraging the next generation to avoid his mistakes. It made for a tear-jerking goodbye, so the director wins this argument.
1 The Alien Bites Ripley's Head Off - Alien
Alien is a classic that’s spawned endless sequels, copycats, and spin-offs, but nothing really beats the original. The combination of Ridley Scott’s direction and the production design made for a finely crafted experience, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley would quickly become an icon for female action heroes.
This nearly wasn’t the case, since Scott conceived of an ending that would have ended the character’s journey earlier than expected. Late in production, Scott pitched the studio a climax where the Alien finally catches Ripley and – in a stunning move – bites off her head. The beast then sits down at a console, records a distress message in Captain Dallas’ voice, and sets a course for Earth.
Scott felt this was a suitably chilling way to end the story, only for the studio to threaten to fire him if he dared to shoot it. This was a smart move in hindsight, since it allowed Ripley - and the Alien franchise - to live to see another day.
Do you know of any other alternate endings that would have ruined their respective films? Let us know in the comments.