Coming up with a suitable ending to a movie is one of the hardest aspects of movie making. Everything in the plot has led up to this moment, and if the conclusion is not up to par it can completely derail a project. Even if the first two acts rank among the best ever seen in Hollywood, a poor finale (or even final scene) can spell doom for a director.
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the director and screenwriters will spend some time brainstorming possible ideas for an ending before settling on the one that reaches theaters. In some cases, this means that other options were conceived (or even shot) before the team decided to go in a different direction. It’s a classic film industry “what if,” and contemplating the effects of a different ending is always fun for cinephiles.
Here is our list of 5 Alternate Movie Endings Audiences Never Saw.
Along with Rocky Balboa, Vietnam veteran John Rambo ranks among Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic characters. The Rambo film series is defined by its over-the-top action and violence, and the movies are no stranger to copious amounts of bloodshed. It’s easy to forget that the first installment of the franchise – First Blood – is an extremely grounded and heartbreaking portrayal of an American soldier trying to get acclimated with society, and originally it was going to end in a way that would have made the sequels impossible.
First Blood is actually based on a novel, and in the book, Rambo commits suicide at the end in order to escape his personal turmoil after fighting his way through the small town. When screened for test audiences, they felt it was too depressing, so a more “upbeat” conclusion where the protagonist lives was created. Sticking to the source material may have been a hard-hitting way for First Blood to have its themes truly hit home, but the official ending works well for a number of reasons. It gives audiences a nice moment of catharsis, seeing Rambo escape from his oppressors, and it allowed the studio to pursue followups, all while honoring the movie’s message.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
As far as ending a series’ story, James Cameron’s Terminator 2 is pretty finite. Sarah and John Connor teamed up with the T-800 to destroy Skynet before it was ever created, preventing the disastrous Judgment Day from ever happening. With humanity saved, Sarah contemplates the unwritten future of the world as we look at a shot of a long, dark highway. In a way, it was somewhat ambiguous in its nature, and producer Mario Kassar preferred it, since it did leave the door slightly ajar for more sequels. But if Cameron had gotten his way, things would have been much more clear-cut.
The alternate ending (available in the special edition of the film) fast forwards decades ahead of the T2 story, depicting people living life as normal well into the 21st century. Sarah is now a grandmother, living peacefully and content after years of being hunted by killer cyborgs. John is serving as a U.S. Senator, “fighting the war” in a different capacity than he was supposed to. It really wrapped up the narrative and put a bow on the franchise, leaving any further installments with nowhere to go. Given how every post-T2 film turned out, many fans would have preferred Cameron’s ending stuck.
I Am Legend
In one of the most infamous cases of studio interference, Warner Bros. misguidedly changed the ending of their post-apocalyptic film I Am Legend. In the theatrical cut, Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) discovers that one of his cure formulas works, and sacrifices himself to ward off a wave of Darkseekers, as Anna takes the materials and makes her way back to a human colony so the remaining survivors can attempt to bring the victims back. However, this conclusion was highly criticized, particularly by fans of the book source material, who felt it completely went against the entire point of the story.
Because of this, many people have taken a liking to the original “alternate” ending, which was included on the home media release. In it, Neville comes to the humbling realization that the Darkseekers he’s been fighting against are living individuals with feelings who just want to be left alone. Much like how Dracula and the Wolfman are the “legends” of our monster stories, the twist here is that Neville is the “legend” of the Darkseekers’ stories, as he became notorious for hunting them down so he could run his experiments. It was poignant and heartfelt, completely changing Neville’s character arc. I Am Legend may have even gone down as one of the genre’s elite if this was the “real” ending.
28 Days Later
Danny Boyle’s horror film is credited with revitalizing the zombie genre, thanks to its terrifying portrait of a crumbling society amidst the epidemic of a highly contagious virus. Even though it’s very bleak and somber throughout its running time, 28 Days Later still finds a way to end on a positive note, as survivors Jim, Hannah, and Selena are all rescued from their living nightmare. However, the theatrical finale was the result of test audiences going against what Boyle had originally intended, which was something that arguably fit better with the tone of the overall movie.
In one of the film’s many alternate endings, Jim is taken to a hospital by Hannah and Selena, who attempt to treat his injuries before he dies. Unfortunately, they are too late, and Jim passes away, bringing his character’s story full circle (he was introduced waking up from a coma in a hospital bed). Hannah and Selena are left to move forward on their own, with Boyle intending for the final images to represent the pair’s survival. Viewers felt it meant they were marching towards their death, so things were changed. Boyle liked this ending so much, he actually included it in the theatrical release as a post-credits “what if?” sequence.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The infamous film that killed Sony’s dreams of a standalone Spider-Man movie universe and spurred the groundbreaking deal between Sony and Marvel Studios, there are a lot of holes to poke in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Chief among them is the movie’s final scene, which teases a Spider-Man showdown with the Rhino before cutting to black just as the two are about to collide. It was frustrating for fans, especially given that most of what had come before wasn’t exactly stellar, either.
For Marc Webb’s part, there is a nice emotional undertone to that sequence, as Peter Parker makes the decision to keep being Spider-Man after his girlfriend Gwen Stacey is killed. In the theatrical cut, his inspiration to return to hero work is watching Gwen’s valedictorian speech, but an alternate conclusion finds a different source: Richard Parker. In a twist, Peter’s father (believed to be dead) comes out of hiding so he can support his son. Saying that he’ll always be there for him, Richard provides Peter with powerful words of encouragement, including the well-known “with great power…” mantra. It was a touching and grounded way to end the story, even if it is a little out of left field.
Those are our picks for alternate endings that would have drastically altered their movies. Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share some of your favorite alternate endings in the comments below. And subscribe to our YouTube channel for more fun videos!