If you’ve ever purchased tickets to a midnight showing of a newly released film, then you may have thought you one of the first audience members to ever watch the movie in its entirety. But there’s a good chance that the film was actually shown to selected viewers months before its official release. In fact, the opinions of those audiences may have greatly influenced the movie you went to see.
The idea of test-screening a movie is almost as old as Hollywood itself, and with production budgets and marketing cost continuing to soar, studios want to know exactly how audiences are going to react to their movie before it ever hits theaters.
Of course, showing an unfinished film to a group of unsuspecting Average Joes is certainly a double-edged sword. If you’re a lifelong cinephile, you might not like the idea of some random person telling Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese how to make a movie.
That being said, there are plenty of iconic movies that were saved because of early feedback, and you may have never suspected that a character's life or death was decided by an audience member not unlike yourself.
Here are 15 Movies That Were Drastically Changed Because Audiences Hated Them.
It’s hard to imagine a film with 10 Academy Award nominations, three wins, and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96% not winning over audience members during its original test screening. But apparently, those who got an early look at Gravity thought the film was boring, cumbersome, and missing some much-needed monsters or aliens.
Instead of altering the film’s vision altogether, Cuaron and his team of filmmakers simply had to double down on the special effects to make the films as enthralling as possible — especially considering the vast majority of the film was created using CGI.
When the completed opening sequence was finally shown at Comic-Con to a captivated audience of 6,500 people, Cuaron knew that his vision had finally paid off.
14 Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a primary example of the test screening process gone horribly wrong, which helps explain why there have been a whopping seven cuts of the film assembled since its initial release.
While die-hard fans will continue to argue over which version is the best, many regard the 1982 theatrical release to be among the worst.
This is because test audiences didn’t like the original nihilistic ending, which alluded to the possibility that Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) may be one of the very replicants that he’s tasked with hunting down. Reportedly, viewers wanted Deckard to be more like Ford’s other iconic characters, including Indiana Jones and Hans Solo, despite the fact that Blade Runner is nothing like those films.
Some serious studio meddling ensued, which resulted in a clunky voiceover and a more upbeat ending that is out of sync with the rest of the film.
At a runtime of 195 minutes, Titanic is far from a short film. But when the movie was first test-screened for audiences it had near four-hour runtime, which was bound to test the limits of even the most patient viewer.
To speed things along, a number of scenes were either cut down or scrapped altogether.
One of these included a fight scene between Jack and Cal’s bodyguard which took place after the ship was already taking in water, as the audience thought it was foolish for Jack to preoccupy himself with the Heart of the Ocean jewel when all of their lives were at stake.
There was also an alternative ending which was thankfully abandoned, where the elderly Rose has a long conversation with the crew of the Keldysh before she casts the jewel to the sea, which would have greatly diminished the emotional impact of the ending.
12 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
The ending of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is already enough of an emotional rollercoaster as Elliot and E.T. exchange their final goodbyes.
Can you imagine an ending in which E.T. died before returning home?
This was reportedly one of the endings that Steven Spielberg had in mind for the original film, but it was met with extreme backlash from test audiences. In response, Spielberg ended up going with a more bittersweet ending rather than a downright depressing one.
There was also a subsequent idea to end the film with a scene involving the kids playing Dungeons & Dragons after E.T.'s departure, which would have hinted that Elliott and E.T. were still in contact with one another. This was also discarded in favor of the more emotional ending.
11 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World wasn’t the first time that writer/director Edgar Wright heeded the advice of test audience.
For his debut film, Shaun of the Dead, Edgar even went back to film some last-minute action scenes when the test audience felt that the ending was a bit of a letdown. In the case of Scott Pilgrim, the viewers once again thought that Wright’s original ending was severely lacking.
Audiences were reportedly divided over Scott’s decision to pick Knives Chau by the story’s end, despite the character spending the entire film fighting to win over Ramona Flowers.
Therefore, Universal Studios and Wright decided to go back and shoot a new ending where Scott ends up with Ramona, which just so happened to be how the story originally concluded in the graphic novel.
10 28 Days Later
The original ending to this 2002 zombie film involved the main character of Jim getting shot in the stomach and succumbing to his wounds. Meanwhile, his fellow survivors Selena and Hannah are forced to head back out into the post-apocalyptic world, leaving their fate unknown.
Test audience were reportedly dismayed by this conclusion, feeling that it was unsatisfying and exceedingly bleak for a film that is already so devoid of hope.
Director Danny Boyle toyed with other endings that also involved Jim meeting his demise (most of which were included in the DVD extras). In the end, Boyle ultimately decided to opt for a more uplifting ending, which finds Jim surviving his wound under the care of Selena and Hannah, who inform him that the infect are dying off due to starvation.
Because Martin Scorsese is almost always given final-cut privileges over his films, the director managed to avoid test screenings all the way up until Goodfellas. As it was the director’s most expensive film to that date, Warner Bros. insisted on screening an early cut to gauge an audience’s reaction.
Around 40 people walked out of the film within the first 10 minutes due to the violence.
Audience members who stayed reported that the third act of the film was extremely overlong and agitating. While this was Scorsese’s intent, Henry Hill’s last drug-fueled day as a free man was subsequently sped up with various jump cuts to move the story along faster.
Scorsese even ended up trimming down some of the bloodier scenes — though this was more likely to appease the MPAA rather than the test audience.
8 Pretty Woman
While Pretty Women is certainly a beloved film for those who love a romantic rags-to-riches affair, the story also lacks any kind of social awareness when it comes to the circumstances surrounding real-life night-workers.
Although the original script had a much darker tone that focused more on drug use and ended with Edward kicking Vivian out of his fancy car once and for all, the studio wasn’t about to drop $14 million on production without hedging their bets.
Disney insisted that multiple endings for the film be shot and the winner would be picked based on the test audience’s reaction.
Of course, the viewers went with the more upbeat ending, which certainly worked out.
Pretty Woman ended up being one of the highest grossing movies of 1990 — even if it’s not particularly realistic.
7 Final Destination
For a franchise that prides itself on featuring one elaborate death sequence after the next, it's no surprise that the original Final Destination film struggled to find the perfect kill to satisfyingly wrap up the story.
Test audiences allegedly hated the original ending, which featured Alex being killed off via electrocution, only to fast forward nine months when his love interest, Claire, gives birth to their child. Another ending was cobbled together that featured Alex being decapitated by a helicopter with the love story between Alex and Claire minimized.
Once again, the audience didn’t like that the film’s protagonist met his demise when his nemesis remained unscathed.
Thus, a third ending was shot to adhere to their wishes, which increased the budget of the film by nearly $2 million. But after four sequels and a collective gross over $600 million, we’re sure the studio’s no longer complaining.
6 The Blair Witch Project
Despite only take eight days to film, the editing process on The Blair Witch Project lasted over eight months as the filmmakers struggled to cut their 20-plus hours of raw footage down into a cohesive story.
Although the final cut of the movie would be a breezy 81 minutes, the original version was nearly two and a half hours long, which apparently didn’t go over well when the movie was test screened for Orlando audiences.
Fortunately, film producer Kevin J. Fox happened to be in the screening room and he agreed to help the filmmakers with the remainder of their project if they agreed to cut out all of the fluff in the middle.
The result was one of the most original and eerily terrifying horror movies of the 1990s, which went on to gross an astounding $248 million against a measly budget of $60,000.
5 The Descent
Horror continues to be the one genre that can consistently get away with a bleak ending. It’s not uncommon for many horror films to end with all of the primary characters meeting their demise.
This was the original intent of the 2005 British film The Descent, which follows a group of six women as they’re consecutively picked off by subterranean humanoids while navigating an unmapped caving system.
While British audiences could handle the downbeat ending — which finds the main character “escaping” only to wake up back inside the cave — American test audiences were none too pleased with this fake-out.
Director Neil Marshall decided to alter his vision in an attempt to appease viewers, though he did state that even though one of the characters survives, the ending is still far from happy.
4 The Shawshank Redemption
Despite being a box office flop upon its initial release, The Shawshank Redemption has since become a beloved movie to many and is now considered one of the greatest films of the 1990s.
The reason for this certainly has to do with the film’s final scene, which ends an overall somber story on a high note by finding Red and Andy reuniting on a beach in Central America.
This ending is contrary to what director Frank Darabont originally had in mind.
Instead, Darabont wanted the final message of his film to be that of hope by letting the viewer decide whether Red can adjust to life outside of prison. But test audience greatly preferred an ending without any ambiguity, and despite Darabont believing the moment to be overly sappy, he ended up including it in the film anyway.
3 The Black Cauldron
Easily the darkest animated Disney movie ever made, The Black Cauldron was a critically and commercial failure upon its release. This almost single-handedly bankrupted Disney Feature Animation.
Ironically, the original version of the film was much darker, to the point that children ended up fleeing the theater during an original test screening.
Many of these scenes that were later deemed too frightening involved a number of the characters being melted by the Black Cauldron and transformed into an army of evil undead. Therefore, the film’s release was postponed for six months and a total of 12 minutes would end up being cut from the film.
When it was all said and done, The Black Cauldron was the most expensive animated movie to date with a budget of $44 million. Despite all the changes, the film failed to even recoup half of its budget.
2 Sunset Boulevard
Often considered one of the greatest film noirs of all time, Sunset Boulevard has no shortage of iconic moments and phrases, all the way from the opening scene of the film’s narrator, Joe Gillis, floating dead in a swimming pool, to the haunting “I’m ready for my close-up” line uttered in the film’s final moments.
Before it took home three Academy Awards, the film divided audience members at the test screening who were perplexed by the film’s tone.
Originally, the film had a much more comedic opening in which the corpse of Joe begins his narration by talking to the other bodies at the morgue. In fact, the audience laughed so much at this scene that director Billy Wilder had to walk out of the theater.
Consequently, Wilder ended up going back to shoot the pool scene to better establish the story’s darker tone.
1 Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad differs from every other entry on this list in that test audience didn’t actually dislike major aspects of the movie. In fact, early reactions to the film seemed overwhelmingly positive.
Despite this, Suicide Squad still underwent major reshoots as a result of Batman v Superman, which was poorly received by critics and experience a historic drop at the box office between its first and second week.
In order to combat criticism that the DCEU was becomingly excessively gloomy, director David Ayer was sent back to brighten up the atmosphere of Suicide Squad — even though this particular story really lent itself to a darker tone.
Though test screenings were positive, they reportedly took place before all the reshoots were incorporated. And considering that reactions to the theatrical release were dubious at best, we can only wonder if they might have been better off sticking with their original vision.
Do you think test audiences changed these films for better or worse? Sound off in the comments!
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