11 Movies That Almost Had Much Happier Endings (But We're So Glad They Didn't)

List Rules
Vote up the movies that are much better off with their dark endings.

Lots of movies have alternate endings. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes test audiences reject the original ending, prompting filmmakers to go shoot a new one. National Lampoon's Vacation and Pretty in Pink are two of the most famous examples. Other times, filmmakers choose to shoot multiple endings, either to prevent spoilers from leaking out - which can't be done when no one knows which one will be chosen - or because they simply want to give themselves storytelling options in the editing room. In some cases, the studio will even mandate a new ending for a movie because they fear the existing one will diminish the box office returns.

The following movies all went through one of these situations. The difference is that they dodged the proverbial bullet. In each instance, the unused alternate ending was a happy one, whereas the one that went out into theaters was considerably darker. Although happy endings are generally viewed as being preferable, these films actually benefited from not going all puppy dogs and rainbows at the end. Had they kept the happy endings, they would not have made the same impact on viewers. 

Which of these movies that almost had a happy ending is better off without one? Vote up your picks.


  • The Dark Ending We Love: Everything in The Bourne Identity points to the CIA as the bad guys. They run a Black Ops program called Treadstone that trained people to become assassins. Hero Jason Bourne was one of them. After a bout of amnesia, he spends the whole movie discovering that he was a pawn in this program, having had his sense of morality broken down in order to make him a killer with no remorse. The film wraps up with him walking away from the program and taking control of his own destiny.

    The Alternate Happy Ending: The movie was released in 2002, just one year after the horrific events of 9/11. Fearing the American moviegoing public wouldn't take well to a story that paints the CIA in a negative light, the studio filmed an ending in which Bourne wakes up and realizes everything that happened to him was just part of a flashback sequence. Treadstone did exist, but it was already stopped. The flashback gimmick is obviously a cheat that would likely have inspired audiences to throw popcorn at the screen. When the film tested well with the original ending, the filmmakers realized people weren't as politically touchy as they'd feared, and that version is the one that hit theaters.

    41 votes

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  • The Dark Ending We Love: John Carpenter's The Thing takes place at a research station in Antarctica. An alien life-form has been found, and it has the ability to disguise itself as any human it comes in contact with. Once the team of scientists figures this out, paranoia runs rampant, as they don't know who among the group is real and who is the alien in disguise. The movie ends on a bleak note, with hero R.J. MacReady blowing up the facility to destroy the creature, but then presumably freezing to death because he now has no shelter from the cold. He and fellow survivor Childs are shown swigging scotch to stay warm. Of course, the possibility exists that one of them is the alien, so we're left with a hint of mystery as to whether or not the Thing has truly been vanquished.

    The Alternate Happy Ending: The Thing's editor, Todd Ramsay, wasn't sure how well the dark ending would play. He convinced Carpenter to shoot a happier conclusion before star Kurt Russell left to go work on another film. In this version, MacReady is given a blood test, thereby proving he isn't the creature. Ultimately, Carpenter preferred the dark ending, and the studio allowed it. The director has never permitted the happy ending to be included on any of the various DVD and Blu-ray releases. 

    69 votes

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  • The Dark Ending We Love: Wes Craven's horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street ends with an important revelation. Heroine Nancy Thompson realizes the way to beat villainous Freddy Krueger is to not be afraid of him, thereby robbing the knife-fingered slayer of his power. This revelation causes her to wake up, having escaped his torment. She heads to school, hopping in a car with her friends, all of whom had seemingly perished over the course of the movie. The hood of the convertible - which resembles Freddy's famous red-and-green sweater - flips up and the doors lock, trapping everyone inside. As the car speeds down the street, Nancy's mom is pulled through the window of the front door by Freddy. He lives, and Nancy hasn't actually escaped the dream world.

    The Alternate Happy Ending: Craven's preferred ending had more ambiguity. It found Nancy and her still-alive friends simply driving down the road in the car, making it appear everything that just transpired was all a dream. The director believed there was irony in that idea - that despite the seeming happiness, audiences would be left debating whether Freddy ever really existed, or if he was just tricking Nancy into believing her ordeal was over. New Line Cinema executive Robert Shaye felt the movie needed one last jolt at the end, so he and Craven collaborated on ideas, eventually settling on the one that was used in the final cut. As an additional bonus, it paved the way for sequels. 

    56 votes

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  • The Dark Ending We Love: Terry Gilliam's Brazil is an inherently dark story about a bureaucrat named Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) who escapes his humdrum life by indulging in a daydream where he heroically saves a beautiful woman. Then he gets wrapped up in a wild situation involving a terrorist, covert government dealings, and someone who appears to be the woman he was dreaming about. The story ends with Sam descending into madness from all the craziness he goes through - it feels like the only appropriate resolution to a story as fundamentally bizarre as this. Nothing else makes sense.

    The Alternate Happy Ending: Executives at Universal Pictures didn't like that downbeat ending. They took Gilliam's footage and edited it into what became known as the "love conquers all" version, which not only removed much of the film's surreally sinister underpinnings but ended with Sam getting the girl and finding total happiness. It provided uplift, as opposed to the original finale's sinister implications. The director absolutely hated it, believing it to undermine the story. For a time, Brazil didn't get a theatrical release because of the battle over the ending. Gilliam forced the issue, showing his preferred cut to reporters and film critics, hoping to gain their support. When the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave it awards for best picture, best screenplay, and best director, Universal was forced to concede and release Brazil with the intended dark ending.

    37 votes

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  • The Dark Ending We Love: Seth Brundle announces his deranged plan to fuse his body with that of girlfriend Veronica Quaife and, by extension, the unborn child she's carrying. He shoves her into a Telepod to begin the process, but her editor/ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans arrives to disconnect her pod from the computer. Seth comes out of his own pod as a grotesque, slimy creature. Veronica picks up a shotgun, and Seth moves the barrel to his head, essentially asking her to put him out of his misery. She complies, then breaks down sobbing as the movie fades to black. The audience is left with the insinuation she may be pregnant with a fly baby, so her horror isn't over. It's a chilling finale.

    The Alternate Happy Ending: Preview audiences got to see a different ending. In this one, Vernonica wakes up in bed next to Stathis. She says she had another dream about giving birth to Seth's maggot baby. Stathis reminds her the child in her womb is his, not Seth's. Comforted by this, Veronica goes back to sleep, dreaming of her unborn baby sprouting butterfly wings and flying around. This ending tested poorly with the sneak peak crowds, and director David Cronenberg decided, correctly, that leaving the pregnancy a mystery gave viewers a lingering sense of horror to take home with them.

    36 votes

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  • The Dark Ending We Love: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends on what was supposed to be a dramatic cliffhanger leading into a third movie that never got made. Peter Parker's love Gwen Stacy perishes after plummeting off a tower during Spider-Man's fight with the Green Goblin. Overcome with grief, he retires from being a superhero for a while, but is called back into action when a new bad guy, Rhino, appears on the scene. The whole gist of the ending is that superheroes will, by nature, have to deal with loss, yet somehow find a way to power through. 

    The Alternate Happy Ending: The filmmakers must have worried that Peter had already suffered too much loss. After all, he'd lost his beloved Uncle Ben, as well as both his parents, who lost their lives in a plane crash. For that reason, the alternate ending includes the revelation that his father is still alive. They have a good heart-to-heart in the cemetery where Gwen is buried, and Peter's dad explains he faked his own death to protect Peter from Oscorp. The two even share a hug. Although it partially feels good to see Peter have something positive happen at the end, the fact remains this tacked-on happy ending comes out of nowhere. It also lessens the impact of Gwen's demise by making us forget about it because we're distracted by this new twist. 

    45 votes

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