The ending of a movie can really either make or break the entire thing. A mediocre film can be saved by an extraordinary conclusion, just as much as a terrific movie can be completely undone by a lame final act. Sticking the landing is so important that oftentimes, filmmakers will create one or two alternate endings to decide upon for the final product.
We’ve already gone over some shocking alternate endings as well as those that are unknown to most moviegoers. But the alternate endings here are some that are so dark, twisted, or depressing that they completely warp the meaning of the story that precedes them. All of these are examples about how incredibly important an ending can be - if just one thing changes, the entire story can shift with it.
It’s not just one genre that can make a sudden turn into the macabre with its ending, though horror movies are notorious for it. There are even a few comedies that have gone for shock rather than laughs in their alternate endings, with some very strange results. No matter the genre, though, all of these conclusions would have a huge impact if they had made it into the finished product.
Here are the 15 Darkest Alternate Endings That Would Completely Change Great Movies.
15 Han Dies and Luke Leaves - Return of the Jedi
One of the earliest criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it stripped away all the happy endings of the original Star Wars trilogy. However, those tales of happily ever after almost didn’t happen. In the original draft of Return of the Jedi, Han was supposed to die, while Luke, distraught from the whole ordeal, was going to exile himself.
The strange thing is that all these things did eventually come to pass, just decades later in J.J. Abrams' long-belated sequel. If Return of the Jedi had ended on such a downer note, it would’ve completely changed the tone of the film and the trilogy altogether.
Return of the Jedi, love or hate it, is the climax of a three-film journey. After the (excellent) bummer that is Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi manages to bring the trilogy back to its fun and popcorn origins. It gives everyone the happy ending they deserve and need - even if it was never meant to last.
14 Dale and Saul Are Executed - Pineapple Express
This blurs the line between joke and reality, but as it is indeed listed as an alternate ending on the home release special features, it’s close enough to count. In the original cut of this stoner comedy, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters make it out of their dangerous drug-fueled gun fights completely unscathed.
In the alternate ending, their characters are shown to be brutally cut down by machine gun fire, with the pair holding hands as they die. The ending is not without a dose of humor, but it would've completely changed the tone of the movie. Pineapple Express goes from a disposable and endearingly stupid movie to one about the dangers of drug use … well, maybe. It's pretty (intentionally) stupid either way.
13 The Second Coming of Carrie - Carrie (2013)
The 2013 remake of Carrie was a mistake from the beginning, because it was never going to hit the same level of cultural cache as the original. Yet if it’s removed from the original movie, the remake is a solid and more faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s classic story. Originally, the movie was going to have a much darker and disturbing ending that would've changed things.
The alternate ending suggested that popular girl - and the one student who shows Carrie any kind of affection - Sue Snell was pregnant with the second coming of Carrie. This ending has Sue awaken from a violent and bloody dream where she gives birth and Carrie’s hand claws its way out of Sue’s body, killing her.
The ending is not only creepy, it’s a horrible fate for one of the movie’s only sympathetic characters, suggesting that Carrie is little more than a monster, and that no one is exempt from her revenge.
12 Hancock Rapes, Murders, and Tries to Kill Himself - Hancock
Hancock is a fun, if somewhat forgettable, original superhero movie. The first stab at the story, including its ridiculously bleak ending, would have made for an entirely different film. It's one that Will Smith wouldn’t have gone anywhere near, let alone star in.
Hancock was meant to be much more of a pathetic figure. He was a serious alcoholic, suicidal, and overall just flat-out miserable. Hancock’s horribleness was going to culminate in him raping Mary (played by Charlize Theron in the final film), murdering a bunch of police officers, and trying (unsuccessfully) to kill himself. This original ending left Hancock’s fate ambiguous, but since he’s invincible, a eternity of torture and self-loathing likely awaits him.
This would've been a more subversive take on the superhero genre, and it might've even made for a more memorable movie. It sounds so dark, however, that it would’ve made Hancock a straight horror film more than anything else.
11 Robert Realizes He's the Monster - I Am Legend
Speaking of Will Smith and dark alternate endings, the post-apocalyptic zombie-ish flick I Am Legend originally had a much darker and subtler climax. The current conclusion to the movie isn’t exactly a happy one, as Smith’s Robert Neville blows himself up to take out a bunch of monsters. The original finale, however, saw Neville come to the realization that the “monsters” weren’t so bad.
Lining up with the novella on which the movie is based, the alternate ending of I Am Legend has Neville realize that he is the evil one from the not quite undead's perspective. While he wantonly murders them, they’re just trying to survive.
I Am Legend, as it exists, is an action-packed and well-crafted thriller, with Will Smith doing his Will Smith thing. If the original ending had made the final cut, it would’ve been a startling look at morality and what it means to be human.
10 Red Doesn't Reunite with Andy - The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption is a nearly perfect movie with an equally flawless conclusion. Red and Andy reuniting outside of prison is the happy ending that they deserved and earned. In the alternate (and original) ending this happiness would've been completely interrupted.
The first ending of Shawshank was one where Red got out of prison but things were left ambiguous whether he found Andy afterwards. There was no moment of catharsis or happiness. This take left the audience completely in doubt to the fate of its main character.
If this ending had occurred the title of the movie should've been completely changed. Without Red and Andy’s reunion, there is no redemptive story at the heart of the film. It’s just one long depressing look at the flaws of the penal system.
9 Death by Police - Paranormal Activity
It might be hard to remember in the dredge of unending sequels and the annoying rip-offs it inspired, but Paranormal Activity's a pretty great horror movie. Much like I Am Legend, the official finale of Paranormal Activity isn’t exactly joyous, but it could've been much more brutal.
There are multiple alternate endings to the first Paranormal Activity, but the most disturbing one involves a run-in with the law. This cut sees Katie, possessed by the demon, kill Micah and then spend days alone in her bedroom bloodied and deranged. The cops eventually enter the house, discover Micah’s body, and that’s when the demon leaves Katie. She rushes downstairs in a panic and the officers open fire, killing her.
This infinitely more depressing finale wouldn’t have just put any future appearances of Katie out of the question. In the real ending, Katie does at least escape the terror. In the alternate cut, there are no survivors whatsoever, which is surprisingly rare for a horror movie.
8 Tracy is Sad, Alone and Regretful - Election
Election is a severely underrated comedy which boasts a pair of terrific leading performances with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. It's also one of the rare movies where the “villain” actually wins. Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick is a terrible human being. She’s manipulative, ambitious, and ruthless, but in the final cut that all serves her well. Meanwhile, it ends up pretty much ruining the life of her teacher, Broderick’s Jim McAllister.
In the original ending, which is incredibly hard to find, that doesn’t happen. Tracy and Jim both lose it all. Tracy goes to Jim, who is working at a car wash, and demurely apologizes for everything she did.
In most movies, this conclusions would’ve been the fitting one, as Tracy gets what she deserves. Election does such a good job of making Tracy empathic, though, that to have her apologize robs part of what makes the movie (and her character) unique. Tracy isn’t Tracy if she’s human.
7 Rambo Commits Suicide - First Blood
The Rambo sequels are little more than glorified gorefests. The original movie, however, has a lot of depth and serious emotional cache, but its alternate ending is so dark it’s almost hilarious. Rather than having Rambo survive to star in a wave of underwhelming sequels, the first cut of First Blood saw the hero commit suicide.
Rather than willingly be imprisoned, Rambo begs Trautman to kill him. Trautman refuses but Rambo places a gun in his hand and forces his commanding officer to pull the trigger. Trautmann walks away, leaving Rambo dying slowly and alone.
The ending is completely at odds with what the franchise would become and (arguably) what First Blood already represented. The alternate ending makes First Blood a harsh political condemnation of the Vietnam War that's more in line with what the source material (a novel by David Morell) originally envisioned.
6 Paxton's Revenge is Kidnapping a Child - Hostel
While the sequel would make Paxton’s victory short-lived, the end of Hostel is a cathartic climax. In the theatrical version of Hostel, Paxton is able to get his well-deserved revenge by killing the Dutch Businessman on a public train.
In the alternate ending, Paxton still enacts revenge against the Dutch Businessman, but by involving an innocent. Rather than kill the man, Paxton kidnaps his young daughter. The ending leaves the fate of the girl ambiguous, with the Dutch Businessman frantically searching for his missing child.
The one thing that wouldn’t have been ambiguous is the audience’s opinion of Paxton, if this ending became a reality. This conclusion makes it seem like Hostel is a story of a man becoming the same sort of monster his kidnappers are. It would've make for a radically different movie, that's for sure.
5 Dante is Murdered - Clerks
This is easily one of the most infamous dark alternate endings a comedy film ever considered using. Unlike Pineapple Express, which keeps its tongue firmly in cheek when killing its leads, the ending of this stoner comedy is deadly serious. Clerks, Kevin Smith’s opus to nerdy rants and dead end jobs, originally ended with Dante being murdered in a robbery.
Clerks doesn’t have a favorable view about working in customer service, but this alternate ending is downright nihilistic. Clerks is a goofy movie about nothing, but to end it in a brutal murder would've been a complete tonal whiplash.
It would flip the movie from "that funny stoner comedy" to "that depressing black-and-white film where a depressed man lives a short and meaningless life."
4 Vivian is Kicked Back on the Street and Abandoned - Pretty Woman
Many think of Pretty Woman as a modern day fairy tale. To be fair, it does follow that structure. The Julia Roberts and Richard Gere led romantic comedy is the quintessential story of a hooker with a heart of gold, but it was originally intended to have the exact opposite of a happily ever after.
In the original script, Vivian is a terrible drug addict, and there's not even a hint of romance between Edward and herself. Instead, Edward pays for her services, uses her, and then dumps her back on the street. Charming.
Disney, who produced the film, eventually stepped in and changed things for the better. Originally, though, Pretty Woman would have been less Cinderella and more dreary faux-documentary about the perils of prostitution.
3 Ripley Gets Her Head Torn Clear Off - Alien
This ending would have saved audiences from Alien: Resurrection and Alien 3, but it also would’ve prevented Aliens. No one should want that to happen. In any case, in the original cut for Alien, Ripley wasn’t the only survivor of the xenomorph attack. She was just another victim.
Rather than have a heroic showdown at the end of the movie, Ridley Scott had intended for Ripley to get her head torn off by a xenomorph. Scott eventually changed his mind, but this alternate ending nearly made it to fruition.
It’s not only a darker ending, but a worse one as well. Ripley is one of the most iconic female characters ever because of her ability to survive. To have her die in Alien would have undermined a big part of what makes her character special. She’s no longer an impossible badass, she’s just another casualty.
2 Thelma and Louise Go All the Way Down - Thelma and Louise
In fairness, this isn’t so much an alternate ending as it is an extended one, but it's so dark that it really does change the tone of the entire film. In the theatrical version of Thelma and Louise, the title characters drive off a cliff rather than allow themselves to be captured. The movie ends on a heroic freeze frame.
In the alternate ending, Thelma and Louise are not frozen in mid-air. Instead, the heroines' long, long way down is seen its entirety. The point of view also switches from Thelma and Louise to the cops chasing them.
The whole thing is pretty disturbing. No one actually wants to see Thelma and Louise die, but the damaging thing is the focus on the police. It implies that they’re the real heroes of the movie, which completely contradicts the rest of the movie.
1 Chris is Arrested for Mass Murder - Get Out
Get Out is, perhaps, the most crowd-pleasing horror flick of all time. The hero doesn't just survive the events of the movie - he manages to take personal revenge upon everyone who was about to kill him and gets off completely in the clear. Director Jordan Peele’s original ending was nowhere near that jubilant.
Rather than let Rose die from her wounds, Chris chokes the life out of her and is quickly arrested by the cops. The film then jumps forward in time to Chris in prison and being charged with the murder of the entire Armitage family, and he's presumably facing the death penalty. Chris accepts his dismal fate, feeling contented that he stopped the Armitages' body snatching.
This ending would’ve completely upended the film, as it's a much harsher view of racial politics in America. No one believes Chris’ story because he is deemed unimportant and "other." All the catharsis is replaced with depressing realism.
What's the darkest alternate ending you've ever seen? Would anyone of these finales made their movies better? Sound off in the comments!