Fair warning: Since this article is about movie endings, there are going to be spoilers for every movie listed. Obviously.
A movie’s ending is one of the most important parts of the story, so it’s no wonder that we constantly hear stories about writers and directors fighting with studio executives to preserve their artistic vision or last-minute adjustments to a film's finale. Below are the most interesting stories I could dig up about movie endings that were almost changed, shouldn’t have been changed, and a few in-between options that are unlike anything you’d normally consider.
These are some of the best alternate endings to popular films out there. The alternate ending sometimes adds to the movie, but sometimes the alternate ending changes the plot so entirely that it's good that it was removed to begin with. These alternate endings to famous films are some that could have easily changed the course of the film completely. These movies range from Fatal Attraction to Clerks. to Little Shop of Horrors.
Clerks concludes its meandering narrative on a high note: Protagonist Dante (Brian O'Halloran) gets direction in his life after Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) outright states the moral of the film directly to his face. He prepares to close-up shop for the day, and the future actually begins to look bright for the guy.
The ending Smith originally came up with (the one attached to the earliest screenings of the film) went a little differently. After Dante reconciles with Randal and Randal leaves, a new customer enters the shop and abruptly shoots Dante, killing him in cold blood for the money in the cash register.
It's certainly a bolder take on the story's conclusion, but Smith himself admitted that he only wrote this ending because he didn't know how to end a film. After receiving encouragement from some mentors, Smith re-edited the film to end just before the killer's appearance, transforming the conclusion from abrupt tragedy to hopeful optimism.
Actors: Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Scott Mosier, Brian O'Halloran, Walt Flanagan, + more
Directed by: Kevin Smith
After Audrey 2 reveals that shes actually an alien from outer space and tries to bury Seymour (Rick Moranis) beneath the rubble of the destroyed plant shop, Seymour retaliates by electrocuting the plant until she explodes. He and Audrey are promptly married, and the movie ends on a high note.
The alternate original ending, finally released to the general public for the first time in 2012, takes the conclusion in an entirely different direction. Audrey 2 attacks and kills Audrey, who before dying, tells Seymour that he should feed her to the plant so that he can be famous. Then Audrey 2 eats Audrey, then Seymour, and spreads her buds across the country, taking over all major cities and presumably, the world.
The reason for the change is one of the more fascinating backstories in film history. Though the original ending, running a rumored $1 million to shoot, was included in the first test-screenings of the film, the creators found that the ultra-downer turned the theater into an icebox. Director Frank Oz speculated that in a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow in a movie, they don't come out for a bow, they're dead. They're gone, and so the audience lost the people they loved... and they hated us for it. He stands by the idea that the changed ending is the better ending, because it gives the audience the story they want.
Actors: Bill Murray, Steve Martin, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Jim Belushi, + more
Directed by: Frank Oz
It’s worth noting that there are eight different versions of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir film Blade Runner. But the ending originally shown in theaters is also pretty universally considered one of the worst: After defeating the rogue replicant and escaping with his replicant girlfriend, Deckard drives through a forest strikingly similar to the one seen at the beginning of The Shining and casually tells the audience in a voice-over that even though Replicants have a four-year lifespan, Rachael (Sean Young) is “special” and will live an indeterminate length of time.
There are two others that are worth talking about. One includes a terrible voice-over that ruins the message of the film, and one that actually fits with the tone and direction of the film. While the theatrical version is annoyingly sappy and the voice-over makes Deckard seem like kind of an idiot (what do you mean you “don’t know why” Roy let you live? He literally just told you!) this ending keeps things uncertain and tragic without insulting the audience’s intelligence.
Actors: Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, + more
Directed by: Ridley Scott
As is rarely the case, the theatrical ending of Brazil is actually the superior one, due to director Terry Gilliams steadfast refusal to accommodate the studios wishes. The ending of Brazil that most people have seen is the dark, tragic version where hero Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is driven insane after being tortured to near-death by an insanely bureaucratic dystopian future government.
The ending the studio wanted was a little different: instead of slipping into an escapist fantasy to avoid the tragic situation hes found himself trapped in, Lowry slips into an escapist fantasy for no reason: his life is actually OK, and love has conquered all evil, and he can live happily ever after. Not only is this unbelievably corny, but it makes absolutely no sense in the context of the story.
Actors: Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin, + more
Directed by: Terry Gilliam