When filmmakers first release their movies to theaters, it’s not always in the form they would prefer. Studio mandates, public taste, and rights issues can transform an all-time classic film into something mediocre by the time it’s reedited. Fortunately, the rise of video streaming has allowed many of the better director's cuts to come to light.
Lots of director’s cuts are undeniably better than their theatrical versions. Extra scenes and added creative freedom can truly improve a film, regardless of how good it was in the first place. Plus, since the public has already reacted to the theatrical version, it's possible for creators to respond to criticism by fixing plot holes the second time around.
When it’s director’s cut vs. theatrical version, which comes out on top? Which director’s cuts are better than the versions first seen by the public? While the answers to all of these questions are up for debate, a few director's cuts stand tall above the rest by keeping the best parts of their theatrical cuts while including much-appreciated bonus material.
Some movie lovers contend the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings series are too long, but it’s harder to make that argument with Return of the King. Even though the movie runs over three hours, director Peter Jackson had to cut dozens of scenes from the theatrical version, including many that clear up plot holes.
Running nearly an hour longer, the extended edition provides a resolution to the fate of key villain Saruman. It also adds depth to the characters of Faramir, Denethor, and Eowyn.
The director’s cut of Aliens takes time to get going, but many viewers find it more satisfying than the theatrical version. The most important changes add depth to Ripley’s character, showcasing the difficulties she faces after spending 57 years in hypersleep, which include missing out on the entire lifetime of her young daughter Amanda.
Another scene shows Newt’s living family, giving viewers a glimpse of the young girl before the trauma of a Xenomorph invasion. Other scenes give fans one of the movie’s most intense set pieces, as well as foreshadow the discovery of a massive Alien Queen. Though the narrative basically remains the same, the special edition of Aliens tells its story in a more involved fashion.
With an extra 25 minutes to work with, Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Watchmen brings it a little closer to the classic graphic novel's story. A plethora of small additional scenes and shots add depth to just about every character in the movie.
Most critically, many scenes with Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, were readded to the director’s cut. These scenes, including Hollis’s tragic end, provide a counterpoint between the old hero’s optimism and the rest of the world's rising nihilism.
Despite having a similar runtime to previous cuts, the final cut is considered the definitive version of Blade Runner. It moves a number of small puzzle pieces into place that better clarify the moral “swap” that happens late in the movie when viewers’ sympathies are supposed to switch from Deckard to replicants Batty and Pris.
Like the “director’s cut” before it, the final cut also removes the detested expository narration and awkward happy ending the studio behind Blade Runner had forced into the movie’s theatrical version. The final cut, however, is the version director Ridley Scott feels encompasses his full vision.