There’s nothing quite so enjoyable in a movie than a well-executed plot twist. When filmmakers are able to catch their audience off-guard by taking the narrative in an unexpected new direction, it can be an exciting, suspenseful moment.
Interestingly, cinematic history is filled with films that would have benefited from the inclusion of a major plot twist, only for this element to be abandoned prior to release. It actually makes a lot of sense: a plot twist – which asks us to question everything we thought we knew about a movie – can prove controversial, so omitting them is often a safer bet.
Even setting aside the potential for viewer backlash, many of the unused plot twists over the years have carried rather bleak undertones. This can potentially impact on the commercial appeal of a movie, causing studios to get cold feet and insist on a lighter, less shocking finale – ironically lessening the film’s appeal in the process.
All this being said, plenty of movies very nearly included plot twists that arguably wouldn’t have improved their stories, but majorly detracted from them. In these situations, the big revelation or narrative u-turn just doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, and comes across as a cheap gimmick that sours the overall viewing experience.
Bearing both of these scenarios in mind, we’ve considered virtually every film that almost included a surprise twist, compiling the best (and worst) for this list of 10 Canceled Twists That Would’ve Saved Movies (And 10 That Would’ve Hurt Them).
20 Saved – Marcus Terminates Everyone (Terminator Salvation)
Given the lukewarm critical and commercial response Terminator Salvation received, it’s fair to say that it would have taken more than just a twist ending to salvage the film. At the same time, the planned climax – which was preferred by director McG and star Christian Bale – would have easily been the most bold, intriguing moment in an otherwise bland, unimaginative affair.
Here, resistance leader John Connor succumbs to mortal injuries suffered during the final battle, and his likeness is grafted onto the exoskeleton of human/Terminator hybrid Marcus.
Despite coming across as a largely benevolent figure thus far, Marcus gives in to his anti-human impulses, using his new disguise to wipe out the rest of our unsuspecting heroes!
19 Hurt – Andie Winds Up With Duckie (Pretty In Pink)
Seminal '80s romantic comedy Pretty in Pink wraps up exactly the way you’d expect it to – poor girl Andie hooks up with rich guy Blane. Sure, it’s not exactly a shocking development, but it works within the context of the film, which has spent the vast majority of its 96 minute runtime convincing us why the pair are meant for each other.
This wasn’t writer-director John Hughes' original intent. As initially scripted and shot, Pretty in Pink saw Andie shack up with her BFF Duckie.
Test audiences reacted negatively to this narrative curve ball.
It makes no sense, as Andie’s feelings for Duckie are blatantly platonic – and a new ending was devised, instead.
18 Saved – Maul Isn't The Mastermind (Solo)
When an older incarnation of Darth Maul was unveiled as the secret mastermind behind Crimson Dawn in Solo, casual fans were left scratching their heads. And rightly so: if you don’t follow the Clone Wars and Rebels TV series, Maul’s resurrection isn’t something you could possibly be aware of.
Director Ron Howard has since explained in interviews that he was provided with a short-list of potential candidates who could be the brains behind the criminal syndicate, and he went with Maul.
In fairness, the former Sith Lord’s cameo was genuinely surprising. But since it also left a hefty chunk of the audience confused, distracting them from the actual finale proper, a different baddie might have been a better choice.
17 Hurt – Scott Ends Up With Knives (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World)
Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim comics entered production before the series was finished. Wright therefore scripted and shot the film without knowing precisely how things were meant to pan out – so prior to reshoots being filmed, Scott was all set to end up with Knives and not Ramona, unlike in the comics.
As anyone who has watched the unbelievably charming alternate ending can attest, Scott and Knives getting back together could have worked.
Yet audiences would likely have felt cheated by this last-minute bait and switch, given Scott spends the whole movie fighting for Ramona only to ditch her!
16 Saved – Neville Realizes He's The Real Monster (I Am Legend)
Fans of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend were horrified when director Francis Lawrence’s big screen adaptation jettisoned the book’s final plot twist in favor of a generic blockbuster ending.
However, Lawrence did shoot a finale that came much closer to honoring the spirit of Matheson’s story that might have put a smile on more than a few purists’ faces.
In this unused, more nuanced climax, protagonist Robert Neville discovers that the vampire-like mutants he previously believed to be ruthless, bestial monsters are actually sentient, sensitive lifeforms. Having hunted the mutants remorselessly, Neville comes to the devastating realization that he’s every bit the monster he once thought them to be.
15 Hurt – Palpatine Is Anakin's “Father” (Revenge Of The Sith)
Star Wars creator George Lucas managed to squeeze in multiple direct parallels between the events depicted in the saga’s original trilogy and the prequels – and he nearly included a few more.
According to early drafts of Revenge of the Sith, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was set to announce that he used the Force to engineer Anakin Skywalker’s birth, making him the future Darth Vader’s “father!"
Although this would have more clearly explained the circumstances behind Anakin’s mysterious, mystical conception, it is better left implied than stated outright.
What’s more, as scripted by Lucas, this twist is unbelievably clunky, with the connection to Vader’s similar revelation to his own son, Luke, feeling forced.
14 Saved – The Alien Wins (Alien)
Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror movie Alien is a classic, but it could have been made even better, had Scott actually implemented the chilling finale he initially dreamt up.
As envisioned by Scott, heroine Ripley’s desperate attack on the unearthly monster would fail, with the alien promptly bumping her off. The alien then uses its previously unseen technical skills and ability to flawlessly impersonate human voices to assume control of the space ship Nostromo, on its way back to Earth.
It would’ve been unpredictable and unforgettable in equal measure, and would have completely changed the trajectory of the series.
13 Hurt – Dick Is The Real Villain (The Shining)
Director Stanley Kubrick devised several different potential endings for his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining – even one where young protagonist Danny doesn’t make it out alive!
Of these, one that allegedly came this close to the big screen was designed to mess with audience expectations. It depicted Danny’s mum, Wendy, taking out her possessed husband Jack in self-defence, only for the formerly virtuous Dick Hallorann to arrive and become possessed, as well.
Dick’s third act transformation from hero to villain certainly would have taken audiences by surprise.
On the downside, removing Jack from the equation seriously undermines the father/son themes underpinning the rest of this ghost story, so Kubrick was right to ditch this twist.
12 Saved – The Villain Wins (Die Hard With A Vengeance)
The general consensus among film critics and fans alike is that none of the Die Hard sequels approaches the quality of the 1988 original.
One of the main complaints is that each successive installment neglected to bring anything fresh to the table. That’s certainly one charge you couldn’t have levelled at Die Hard with a Vengeance, had screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh gotten his way.
Hensleigh’s script had Simon Gruber pull off his heist despite John McClane’s best efforts, ruining McClane’s life – he’s booted off the force and even loses his pension!
It’s a jaw-dropping subversion of the usual “McClane saves the day” formula, and leads to a grim finale where our embittered hero exacts his less-than-legal revenge on Gruber.
11 Hurt – The Aliens Know What's Coming (Edge of Tomorrow)
It’s debatable whether the logic behind the closing scenes of Edge of Tomorrow actually makes sense – but at least they provide for an emotionally satisfying and streamlined ending. That’s more than can be said for the finale as originally written, which was apparently neither of these things.
Co-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has spoken extensively about how the planned climax of Edge of Tomorrow represented the downbeat culmination of a more complex chain reaction of time travel-related plot mechanics.
Before the credits roll, the malevolent Mimic alien forces would now be able to anticipate (and presumably counter) humanity’s desperate final assault, resulting in a conclusion that would have been both needlessly convoluted and depressing.
10 Saved – The Rapture Actually Comes To Pass (Red State)
Action-thriller Red State was a decided change of pace for Kevin Smith, who was until then known only for directing more comedic fare. The film received mixed critical reviews and tanked at the box office – which makes us wonder if the ending Smith first scripted (eventually cut for budgetary reasons) would have garnered a better reception.
Unlike in the finished film, the original screenplay for Red State ended in a full-blown, really-for-real, angels-with-flaming-swords Rapture actually taking place – proving that the movie’s hate-filled religious zealots really were right!
It’s about as insane as it is brilliant, and arguably preferable to the “It was all a hoax” scenario Smith ultimately went with.
9 Hurt – Tyrell Is A Replicant (Blade Runner)
Most versions of neo-noir masterpiece Blade Runner refrain from explicitly outing Harrison Ford’s Deckard as a Replicant. That said, Ridley Scott at one time intended to make it clear that the robotics genius responsible for creating the Replicants, Eldon Tyrell, was actually one himself.
It would have been one clever idea too many.
Finding out that the real Tyrell passed away while in cryogenic stasis only to be replaced by his android counterpart doesn’t introduce any plot or character-related discrepancies. But it also sidetracks the main narrative at precisely the moment it should be ramping up towards the showdown between Deckard and Replicant leader Roy Batty.
8 Saved – Esther Survives (Orphan)
In the theatrical cut of Orphan, Esther – a fully-grown woman trapped in the body of a young girl – meets a suitably grisly end at the bottom of a frozen-over pond. There’s an undeniably cathartic quality to seeing such a deranged villain taken out, although it’s markedly less clever than the alternate ending packaged with the home release.
Esther is confronted by the police, and it seems justice will run its course – until she deviously disguises herself as a helpless child again.
Not only does the baddie not get stopped, but the door is left open for a sequel, too - although whether or not that’s a positive depends on your appetite for a follow-up.
7 Hurt – Ron Burgundy And Wes Mantooth Are Brothers (Anchorman)
Absurd moments abound Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – a comedy flick not afraid to introduce surreal and even flat-out ridiculous plot points. Yet there’s one such scene we’re glad ended up on the cutting room floor: the revelation that antagonist Wes Mantooth is secretly Ron’s brother!
Sure, it’s a funny gag, and actors Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn play it brilliantly, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense based on the characters’ previous interactions. Ron even makes a snide jibe at Wes regarding his mother at one point, so from a purely continuity-based perspective, this twist had to go.
6 Saved – Evan Erases Himself From The Timeline (The Butterfly Effect)
The Butterfly Effect is a rather bonkers time travel movie. However, if the darkest of this Ashton Kutcher vehicle’s four alternate endings had made it into theatres, it would have been crazier still – although it might also have been better, too.
Evan uses his powers to go back in time and eliminate his unborn self, sacrificing himself to prevent the events of the film from ever happening.
Yes, it’s beyond OTT and would have upset at least some viewers, but it’s a solid twis. The basis for this happening is established earlier in the film, and it's far more dramatic than Evan simply deciding never to alter the timeline ever again.
5 Hurt – The Average Joe's Team Loses (DodgeBall)
Goofball sports comedy DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story is an enjoyable romp that succeeds largely thanks to its breezy vibe and upbeat “David versus Goliath” ending. For some reason, director Rawson M. Thurber wasn’t really sold on this second aspect of the film, and to this day, he still regrets not wrapping things up on a far gloomier note.
That’s right: as originally shot, DodgeBall didn’t see our plucky heroes from Average Joe’s win the dodgeball tournament!
No, the gang are instead vanquished by their Globo Gym rivals. While unexpected and frankly, more realistic, this is way too much of bummer finale for such a fun, lighthearted flick.
4 Saved – Ash Wakes Up In A Dystopian Future (Army Of Darkness)
Army of Darkness is the perfect distillation of co-writer/director Sam Raimi’s demented comedy/horror sensibilities – or it would be, if he had been allowed to keep his original twist ending.
Raimi originally wanted time-displaced hero to awaken not back in the present, but rather in a post-apocalyptic wasteland!
Universal Pictures objected to a climax which left Ash even worse off than where he started, and insisted that Raimi devise a happier scenario that saw our guy make it back from the Middle Ages without a hitch.
To his credit, Raimi has spoken positively about Ash’s revised fate, although he concedes that it’s cheesier than what he originally planned for the character.
3 Hurt – Luke Turns To The Dark Side (Return Of The Jedi)
Luke Skywalker comes perilously close to succumbing to the Dark Side during the finale of Return of the Jedi, only to regain his composure and redeem his father in the process. Intriguingly, before settling on this rosy turn of events, George Lucas proposed an ending where Luke truly did go bad, donning Darth Vader’s helmet after defeating him!
It’s fair to say next to no one would have seen this coming, and it would have set the stage for a very different sequel trilogy.
All the same, this twist doesn’t really compare to the emotional impact of seeing Luke and Vader finally embrace their true heroic potential – so it’s a good thing Lucas discarded the idea.
2 Saved – Blade Gives In To "The Thirst" (Blade: Trinity)
To many comic book movie fans, Blade: Trinity is a lost cause beyond saving, but the scrapped alternate ending actually sounds half-way decent.
Designed to pull the rug out from under viewers’ feet, this abandoned scene portrays Blade apparently giving in to his vampiric nature, attacking the innocent hospital staff who are tending his wounds in the aftermath of the final battle.
True, fans may not have been thrilled by the prospect of their hero falling off the wagon after years of walking the straight and narrow. But there’s no denying that this would have been extremely memorable, and would have ushered in a new direction for the ailing franchise.
1 Hurt – Joel And Clem Live Unhappily Ever After (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explores what would happen if a former couple – in this case, ex-lovers Joel and Clementine – could erase the painful memories of their failed romance. This sci-fi/rom-com has several surprises up its sleeve, but director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman nearly fit in one more.
In a flash forward, an ageing Joel and Clem are in caught up in a cyclical pattern of breaking up and making up, fuelled by memory deletion.
The finished film’s ambiguous, more uplifting ending allows the audience to decide whether or not the couple’s romance flourishes the second time around, depending on their mood at the time.
Did we miss out any plot twists that would have saved (or hurt) movies? Let us know in the comments!