It takes years of planning to make a typical Hollywood film – and this can even stretch to decades, particularly where big budget blockbusters are concerned. As you’d expect, an incredible amount of decision-making is involved along the way, all to ensure that the best possible story ultimately finds its way into cinemas.
Amazingly, though, it’s often the last-minute changes made by filmmakers that determine whether a movie is a massive success or a bitter disappointment. Sometimes, these edits are made after the director has a “Eureka!” moment, realizing just in time what elements need to be amended for the final cut to truly soar.
In other cases, the circumstances are motivated less by artistic considerations and more by the commercial bottom line. Here, the studio financing the production will mandate alterations intended to maximize box office revenue – often based on feedback from test screenings.
Regardless of the rationale behind these edits, what makes them remarkable is just how late they’re implemented. Seriously: we were only weeks away from seeing very different versions of some of the most popular films of all time!
With this in mind, here are 10 Last-Minute Changes That Saved Movies (And 6 That Ruined Them).
16 Saved: Obi-Wan Takes Anakin’s Lightsaber (Star Wars)
It’s established in the first Star Wars film that Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber previously belonged to his father, Anakin. After the elder Skywalker transformed into the evil Darth Vader, he was confronted by former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, who pocketed the fallen Jedi’s weapon following his eventual defeat.
Funnily enough, when it came time to actually depict the epic duel in Revenge of the Sith, director George Lucas nearly forgot to capture this pivotal moment.
It was only in the editing room that he realized it was missing – leaving a gaping hole in the series’ timeline.
Fortunately, additional shooting was already planned and Lucas filmed the necessary insert shot in time for the movie’s release. It’s lucky he did: fans may have had a mixed reaction to the third Star Wars prequel – but can you imagine the outcry if this mistake had made it onto the big screen?
15 Ruined: Heroic Ending (I Am Legend)
Fans of Richard Matheson’s sci-fi horror novel I Am Legend were mortified by the changes made to the source material in the cinematic adaptation starring Will Smith – especially the ending.
In these climactic scenes, Smith’s Robert Neville sacrifices himself to save two fellow survivors from the vampiric Darkseekers. This uplifting conclusion stands in direct contrast to the dénouement of Matheson’s book, where Neville makes an unsettling discovery: to the nocturnal society now populating the globe, he is the monster preying on them.
Disappointingly, a finale much closer to this thought-provoking twist was filmed, and very nearly appeared in theatres.
It was only scrapped after receiving a negative response from test audiences – who disliked seeing Neville re-cast in a morally ambiguous light – and a new ending was hastily added in its place.
14 Saved: Woody Gets A Personality Upgrade (Toy Story)
A major reason for the continued success of the Toy Story franchise comes down to the likeability of its cast of characters. Did you know that the first film came perilously close to falling apart entirely, after the filmmakers realized that cowboy protagonist Woody was hard to root for?
It may seem hard to believe, but this was the situation Pixar Animation Studios found itself in, when – deep into production – they realized that Woody was (to quote his voice actor, Tom Hanks) “a jerk.”
Production was immediately put on hold, and the script was completely re-worked to soften Woody’s personality.
Implementing these changes on a ludicrously tight schedule probably pushed the animation staff to the brink of insanity. But after the overwhelmingly positive reception Toy Story received – it picked up one Oscar and several more nominations – it’s hard not to argue Pixar made the right call!
13 Saved: Rufus Isn't An Angel (Love Actually)
Perennial Christmas favorite Love Actually is about as unashamedly unsubtle as movies get – a big, boisterous paean to the power of love, all wrapped up in an implausibly interconnected narrative. While this lack of restraint is a huge part of the romantic comedy’s charm, writer-director Richard Curtis nearly took things a step too far by revealing one of the characters to be an angel in disguise!
That’s right: Rowan Atkinson’s officious store clerk Rufus was to be outed as an angel, before Curtis wisely dropped the idea.
Traces of Rufus’s angelic nature can still be seen in the finished film, however. Notably, there’s a moment where he exchanges a knowing look with Liam Neeson’s Daniel – after aiding Daniel’s son on his quest to win the heart of his true love – that makes a lot more sense once you know what Rufus was originally intended to be.
12 Ruined: Fox’s Less Than Fantastic Re-Edit Of Fantastic Four
Most people would agree that Josh Trank didn’t do himself any favors directing the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four. The relatively inexperienced director allegedly behaved erratically on set, and he repeatedly clashed with top brass at 20th Century Fox throughout principal photography.
Things reached a head during post-production, when the studio – dissatisfied with Trank’s initial cut – removed him from his post and assumed editorial control over the film. Now, it’s hard to say whether Trank’s unaltered vision for Marvel Comics’ superhero family would have impressed audiences – although he and Doctor Doom actor Toby Kebbell seem confident it would have.
It is clear that the drastic changes ordered by Fox – including altering or excising key plot points – were a disaster.
Indeed, the finished product was so underwhelming, it’s not hard to see why Trank recently removed mention of Fantastic Four from his filmography on Instagram.
11 Saved: Twist Ending Removed from Fatal Attraction
Fatal Attraction is the story of a weekend fling gone terribly wrong, as Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest becomes dangerously obsessed with Michael Douglas’ married man Dan Gallagher. In the third act, Alex attacks Dan and his wife Beth in their home, and is eliminated by Beth in the ensuing struggle.
This wasn’t always the plan, however. As originally filmed, Alex takes her own life using a knife covered in Dan’s fingerprints! Thanks to timely intervention by Beth, Dan is acquitted of the crime, but it’s a considerably more haunting ending than what was shown in theatres.
Now, some would argue that artistically, the revised conclusion is far less satisfying than what it replaced – and Close would agree, given she lobbied hard against making the change. But the filmmakers must have felt vindicated by their decision, after Fatal Attraction scored six Oscar nominations and raked in over $300 million at the box office.
10 Saved: Indiana Jones Brings A Gun To A Knife Fight
Raiders of the Lost Ark was always going to be a hit – so it’s a slight stretch to say the film needed “saving.” At the same time, we’d argue that Indiana Jones might not be the icon he is today were it not for a change to the script necessitated by Harrison Ford’s illness during filming.
Ford was stricken with dysentery while the production was shooting in Tunisia, and wasn’t up for performing an intricately choreographed fight sequence that would have pitted Indy’s whip against his assailant’s sword.
With director Steven Spielberg unsure of how to proceed, the actor bluntly suggested, “Let’s just shoot the sucker."
Spielberg agreed, and the scene – where a weary Doctor Jones defeats the master swordsman with a single, lazy gunshot – not only became a defining moment for the character, but one of the most beloved moments in pop culture history!
9 Ruined: Live Free Or Die Hard Goes Soft
The Die Hard franchise is famous for several things, and that includes a healthy dose of hard-hitting action and four-letter words. Obviously, the ongoing saga of Bruce Willis’ everyman cop John McClane has more going for it than just brutality and cussing, yet a Die Hard film without either of these elements wouldn’t feel quite right.
That’s probably why Live Free Or Die Hard seems a little off: because 20th Century Fox (along with the numerous production companies involved) pushed to trim out the more intense violence and swearing.
As the fourth installment in an increasingly ridiculous series, Live Free or Die Hard was probably always going to be a bit of a letdown – no amount of gore or profanity could compensate for a tired story. Nevertheless, toning these aspects down to secure a lower ratings classification comes across as a cynical betrayal of the series’ rugged roots.
8 Saved: Arwen Doesn't Fight In The Battle Of Helm's Deep (Lord of the Rings)
Peter Jackson’s celebrated big screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings benefited heavily from extensive reshoots and editing room tinkering – not to mention re-casting the pivotal role of Aragorn with Viggo Mortensen weeks into filming.
Of the three films in the trilogy, The Two Towers arguably underwent the most significant changes. Perhaps the best of these was the decision to remove Liv Tyler’s Arwen from the climactic Battle of Helm’s Deep – a departure from the books that would surely have left Tolkien purists in an uproar.
Jackson an admirable job of beefing up Arwen’s screen presence across all three flicks, but putting her on the frontlines of the War of the Ring would’ve been a major mistake. Doing so undermines the character’s understated bravery – which stands in stark contrast to the overt heroism of our heroes. The director fortunately rectified this before the film hit cinemas.
7 Ruined: No Justice For Zack Snyder’s Cut Of Justice League
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Zack Snyder’s darker approach to DC Comics’ superheroes, it’s obvious the director had a strong vision for where he wanted to take the story next in Justice League. Sadly, Snyder was forced to vacate the director’s chair during post-production due to a family tragedy, handing over the reins to Joss Whedon.
It’s at this point that Whedon – allegedly guided by Warner Bros. executives no longer sold on Snyder’s vision – completely overhauled the production. What happened next was exactly what you’d expect when extensive reshoots are undertaken with only months to spare: Justice League was a mess!
Tonally erratic and plagued by plot holes, an underdeveloped villain and rushed CGI, this compromised cut of the film failed to break even at the box office.
Even worse is that Whedon's reshoots resulted in Superman's infamously terrible CGI upper lip, as Henry Cavill was unable to shave the mustache he'd grown for another role.
6 Saved: Darth Vader Unleashed in Rogue One
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was Disney’s first foray into the world of spin-offs set in a galaxy far, far away, focusing on the plucky team of Rebels who stole the Death Star plans. The film was a mega-hit for the studio – both critically and (especially) financially – and featured many unforgettable moments.
Of these, easily the most talked about takes place shortly before the credits roll. Here, Darth Vader personally dispatches an entire squad of woefully outclassed Rebel soldiers, at last displaying on screen the full extent of his previously only hinted at Dark Side powers.
It’s the kind of scene that fans have long been dreaming of – and it nearly didn’t exist!
According to director Gareth Edwards, the Vader attack was only conceived, shot, and added to the final cut during the editing phase, a mere four months prior to Rogue One’s release date.
5 Saved: Kubrick Cut The Shining's Epilogue - Post-Release
It’s not uncommon for changes to be made to a movie right before it’s due in cinemas – it’s far less common for edits to be made after it’s been released, however.
That's is exactly what happened with The Shining, when director Stanley Kubrick decided he still had one more tweak to make a week after his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel opened.
Upon reflection, Kubrick decided to cut an epilogue that originally appeared immediately following the ending proper. This required theater projectionists to physically cut out the relevant frames from their prints of the film, and send them back to Warner Bros. for disposal.
So was it worth all the fuss? Well, the extended finale makes the mysterious fate of lead character Jack Torrance both more and less puzzling, and therefore less satisfying overall. As such, we’re firmly with Kubrick on this one.
4 Ruined: Love Conquers All in Brazil
Cult classic Brazil is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made – but that wasn’t enough to save it from the editorial scissors of Universal Pictures prior to its North American release.
Worried that US audiences wouldn’t accept the downer ending of Terry Gilliam’s surrealist tale, Universal Chairman Sid Sheinberg supervised his own edit of the film. Sheinberg’s shorter cut reimagines Brazil’s “love conquers all” dream sequence fake-out as the actual closing events of the film – which comes across as ridiculous, even within the absurdist reality of the film.
After a protracted dispute between Gilliam and Universal over which version of Brazil would be screened, common sense finally prevailed, and Sheinberg’s cut was shelved. Even so, the “love conquers all” edit occasionally crops up on television and is available on home video release – although we wouldn’t recommend wasting your time with it.
3 Saved: Christopher Plummer Replaces Kevin Spacey in All The Money In The World
What do you do if one of the main stars of your film is the subject of multiple allegations of assault, less than two months ahead of your scheduled release date? Well, if you’re director Sir Ridley Scott, the answer is “perform a minor miracle."
That’s essentially what Scott did last year, when he substituted Christopher Plummer for the disgraced Kevin Spacey – completely reshooting Spacey’s scenes for All The Money in the World in only nine days.
Everyone was blown away by the 80-year old director’s stamina, with many suggesting that even a much younger director would have been hard pressed to deliver under the circumstances. Critics heaped praise on Plummer’s performance as J. Paul Getty as well, with the veteran thespian notching up an Academy Award nomination for his performance come awards season.
2 Ruined: Deckard And Rachael Drive Off Together (Blade Runner)
If there’s one thing we’ve learned by now, it’s that studio executives really dislike downbeat endings. Ridley Scott found this out the hard way, after a mixed test audience response to his workprint of Blade Runner led to a raft of studio-dictated changes.
These edits included the addition of a voice over by protagonist Rick Deckard, and an upbeat finale tacked on the end.
Although some fans are fond of Deckard’s narration – it admittedly complements Blade Runner’s noir aesthetic – no one is a fan of the revised climax, where Deckard and his android girlfriend Rachael drive away to live happily ever after.
It’s an outrageously jarring scene – not least of all because the footage of an incongruously lush countryside was culled from outtakes from The Shining – that clashes with the rest of the film. Luckily, Scott’s original vision has since been restored in Blade Runner: The Final Cut.
1 Saved: Hugh Jackman Joins The X-Men Cast After Filming Begins
After 18 years and nine appearances, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Hugh Jackman filling Wolverine’s boots in the X-Men film series. Yet that’s almost what happened, as Dougray Scott was originally set to star as the mutant superhero in 2000’s X-Men.
Unfortunately for Scott – but as it turned out, fortunately for movie audiences – the Scottish actor had to bow out after filming on his current project, Mission: Impossible 2, over ran. This left director Bryan Singer without anyone to don Logan’s famous claws three weeks into principal photography, until Jackman came in and nailed his audition.
The rest, as they say, was history: X-Men proved to be Jackman’s breakout role, setting him on the path to stardom, and the sequels that followed wound up being constituting one of Fox’s most lucrative franchises.
What are some other last minute movies that saved (or ruined) movies? Let us know in the comments!