Endings can make or break a movie, and some of the most famous are as famous as the film’s they come out of. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, endings are shot and then changed. Here are 10 famous movies where the endings was originally different.
The Right Tone – THELMA AND LOUISE
1991’s ‘Thelma and Louise’ has one of the most famous endings in movie history; the title characters, on the run from awful relationships and deadend lives, and murder, have finally been cornered by the police on the edge of The Grand Canyon. But rather than give up, they hold hands and decide to ‘keep going’, driving off the cliff to their deaths. It’s a female empowerment move, in an era not featuring many of those.
The film fades to white with the car in mid air, poised in its plunge to the bottom. But originally, director Ridley Scott had intended to show the car crashing to the canyon floor, and then have one final shot of Harvey Keitel’s police detective, looking sadly over the edge at the wreckage. This small change (watch it here) adds a very different tone to the final scene; the ending where you don’t see the crash makes the characters seem mythical, immortal, whereas the longer ending becomes much more straightforward, with a tone like ‘crime doesn’t pay’. The stars of the film, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, both objected, and the final half a minute was cut.
Duckie Gets the Girl – PRETTY IN PINK
When you watch ‘Pretty in Pink’ for the first time, you know exactly how it’s going to end; Andie (Molly Ringwald) will come to her senses and chose adorkable Duckie (Jon Cryer) over handsome Blaine (Andrew McCarthy). Only… she doesn’t do that; leaving Duckie at the prom while she goes off with the richie. I still remember being outraged at this turn of events.
What you may not know is that they originally filmed it the way you thought it should happen, with Duckie and Andie cuddling on the dancefloor as David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ played, and the credits rolled. Sadly for likeable dorks everywhere, test audiences nixed this one, as apparently they simply didn’t believe Andie would choose Duckie. Director Howard Deutch later said he was ‘heartbroken’ when told he would need to reshoot the ending, although Molly Ringwold would defend the change, as she also felt her character would not end up with Duckie. In some ways, it is a great plus to this movie as it becomes a film about the value of friendship, and how not all of these need to lead to romance.
In another way, it remains an outrage.
Sledgehammer Subtlety – TITANIC
The ending of one of the most succcessful and rewatched films of all time is justly famous; the photos on old Rose’s bedside table, the plunge down to the sunken wreck of the real ship, the dream reuniting her and Jack. And the older Rose, after she has told her story of surviving the Titanic sinking, sneaking out late at night to drop the Heart of the Ocean off the side of the boat. ‘A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets,’ she said earlier, and here is one more thing she kept to herself.
But in the original version of the ending, Bill Paxton catches her at the ship’s railing, and tries to stop her. He then has to listen to a heavy handed ramble about following your heart, looks properly insane, and Rose then tosses the jewel overboard in front of him anyway (watch it here). While this isn’t a complete departure from the ending we know, it really just lays it on too thick. Wisely the subtler, shorter version, was ultimately used.
Cold Blooded Murder – CLERKS
Kevin Smith’s low budget debut ‘Clerks’, from 1994, was a hoot for anyone who had ever manned a counter in the service industry. Dante and his pal Randal dealt with annoying customers, played hockey on the roof, and otherwise did as little as possible, as they filled in another average day. It’s heavy on banter, and engagingly silly, and the ending has a nice light touch; Randal leaves, and Dante shuts up shop. It’s closing time.
But the film originally had a very different coda: a thief enters the Quick Stop to stick the place up, and during the course of the robbery he shoots Dante dead, before fleeing. A very jarring end, to what had been a slight and amusing film (watch it here). It’s like a scene from some other youth slacker movie, a really nihilistic one. Smith subsequently admitted that the murder scene showed he wasn’t sure how to end the film, and he quickly cut it after a dismayed reaction from members of the cast and crew when he screened a rough cut.
Who’s the Real Monster? – I AM LEGEND
Will Smith battles zombies in the post apocalyptic ‘I Am Legend’, as a dedicated scientist trying to find a cure for the disease that caused the zombification in the first place. Eventually, the zombie hoardes find his secret lab/hidey hole, and he blows himself (and a few of them) up, allowing a young mother and child to escape in the chaos.
But in the original ending, which is taken from the Richard Mathieson novel the film is based on, the zombies are actually just trying to rescue one of their own, captured by Smith and used as a guinea pig. The point is that the zombies are an advanced species, and they view Smith as the monster; a psycho who stalks, captures, and tortures them.
Smith, smart guy that he is, works this out and lets his captive go, and the other zombies then slink away (after screeching a bit: watch it here). And this is an example of the original ending being much better; the message is more complex and interesting – evolution is ongoing and humans are going to be replaced maybe? – and leaves you asking ‘What happens next?’ The ending that it was changed to is a much more straightforward good guy makes a sacrifice riff.
The Frame Up – FATAL ATTRACTION
One of the most famous of alternate endings is the original final act of ‘Fatal Attraction’, a taught popular thriller from 1987. After Michael Douglas – playing one of his patented 80’s douchebags – has finally fessed up to cheating on his wife, and ditched psycho Glenn Close, she hatches an ingenious revenge scheme. Close commits suicide, but does it such that it will appear Douglas murdered her, framing him from beyond the grave. The film ends with Douglas being arrested.
This nicely turns the expected ark of the movie on its head, and gives Close’s character real agency. She is evil, but a genius, and she has found a way to get back at a pretty toxic male dominated culture. Both stars were in favour.
But this ending was roundly rejected by test audiences, who did not sympathise with Close’s character. They actually wanted to see her killed, and a more conventional happy ending. In an interview several years later, Close said, ‘There is something with that character that people wanted her to be punished.’ Which, when you think about it, says a lot.
The Prom in Heaven – HEATHERS
Two decades before ‘Mean Girls’, there was ‘Heathers’: the original popular-high-school-girls-run-amuck black comedy.
In ‘Heathers’, young wannabe Veronica (Winona Ryder), and her boyfriend JD (Christian Slater), cap the film with a plot to blow up their high school. Only Veronica has a change of heart, foils the plan, and JD only kills himself. But there was no hedging of bets in the original ending, in which Veronica goes through with the plan; blowing herself up on the school steps and destroying the building, killing everyone inside. The film then cuts to… a prom, in heaven, where all the characters are seen enjoying themselves.
A ‘much better’ ending, according to screenwriter Daniel Waters (you can watch a short discussion of the change, here). Unsurprisingly, the studio balked at such a wild, bleak finale, where suicide is the solution, and every character is dead; they insisted on a tamer, although still pretty provocative, ending instead.
Rocket Launcher Roulette – DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE
John McClane can’t lose. But in the third installment of the Die Hard series, he originally had to wait a bit longer than usual to beat the bad guy, Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons). In the released version of the film, McClane Yippie Ki Yay Motherfuckers Gruber’s helicopter as he tries to get away, blowing it up and killing him in the process.
But in the original ending, Gruber’s plan actually works and he escapes with a shipload of stolen gold, leaving McClane and everyone else floundering in the aftermath of a huge explosion. Flash forward six years, and McClane has tracked Gruber to a fancy ski lodge, where he confronts him with a rocket launcher. The launcher has had all the markings removed, making it hard to tell one end from the other, and McClane says they are going to play a game; Gruber has to point one end at himself and press the trigger, giving himself a 50% chance of survival.
It’s a callback to the games Gruber forced McClane to play earlier in the movie, but it is the sort of idea that probably plays better in the script than in reality; it is just a bit too ridiculous. Watch it here.
The Unlikely Apology – ELECTION
The end of Alexander Payne’s ‘Election’ shows the wash up for the characters in a few years time; Jim (Matthew Broderick) has lost his job as a teacher, and is now working as a guide at the American Natural History Museum. There he sees Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), working as an aid for a politician, and there’s a great bit where Jim throws his soda at the limo Tracy is in, then runs away when her secret service detail gets out.
It’s one of my favourite parts in the movie.
But originally, a much more low key ending was shot. In this one, Jim has still lost his job, but has now ended up working as a used car salesman. Tracy comes in to the lot to buy a car for college, and, after a bit of awkward chat, they apologise to each other for their actions, and sort of make up. It’s very grown up, and matches the book the film was based on (watch it here).
The theme of the film becomes different as well. The original ending carries a message like; people can get carried away in the moment and do things they regret; it’s essentially about extremism. The reworked ending though, is more; people are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over, something you can see throughout recorded history. They both work, but for a variety of reasons my preference leans to the altered ending, which is punchier.
The Big Pie Fight – DR STRANGELOVE
Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’ has one of the most iconic endings in movie history, as General Kong (Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb onto a Russian target, triggering World War III and the end of civilisation. Only, this was not the ending of the film as it was originally scripted and shot.
Towards the end of the movie, when General Turgidson (George C. Scott) accuses the Russian ambassador of spying, the Russian retaliates by picking up a cream pie from a nearby catering table and flinging it at the general, triggering an all out food fight among everyone in the war room. The point is; whether it’s nuclear weapons or cream pies, humanity will find some way to make war.
But the scale – and mess – of the food fight was such that only one take was ever going to be possible, and no one was happy with the result. Everyone enjoyed flinging food around a little too much, with the result that the tone of the movie shifted dramatically to giddy slapstick. While Strangelove is funny throughout, Kubrick wanted a more haunting ending, that would supply something for the audience to really ponder.
And so the current ending was devised and inserted. You can see more photos of the food fight (the footage is sadly lost) here.