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12 Famous Movies That Originally Had Terrible Endings

July 25, 2017
8 min read

Endings have the power to ruin, elevate or salvage a film. A great ending is what stays with us the most long after the credits have rolled out. It should possess the power to define the film on a thematic level. A film does not qualify to be labelled as “great” if the ending fails to hold up the entire film. But some of the greatest endings in cinema weren’t originally intended the way we now get to see it. In fact, many of them were really bad. Let’s take a look at 12 movies that originally had bad endings. Also note that the numbers here do not reflect rankings of any kind.

12. Chinatown (1974)

Writer Robert Towne had ideas for a lesser depressing and mysterious film ending for Roman Polanski’s iconic mystery thriller, ‘Chinatown’. He was reported to have said that he found Polanski’s ending to be excessively melodramatic. Towne originally wrote an ending in which Evelyn would killer her father, who raped her when she was 15, and would end up in jail. Now this is by no means a bad ending but Polanski’s ending just had a more mysterious, enigmatic quality in a way that is hard to express and kind of defines the film in its entirety.

11. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

I don’t believe it’s humanly possible to hate ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. The sheer madness, energy and charm of the film is unlike any other and it is quite simply one of the most significant American films of all time. However, this wouldn’t have been the case had they not changed the ending of the film. In the cut that we see it today, we can hear a gunshot fired by the Bolivian forces and we know Newman and Redford are dead but we aren’t really shown anything. But in the original ending, their death is shown on-screen which kind of lessens the mysterious impact of the one that we see it now. It’s subtly ambiguous, mysterious and more in tone with the film.

10. Fatal Attraction (1987)

‘Fatal Attraction’ had an original ending which was famously altered for the sake of audiences. The original script has Alex slashing her throat using the knife that Dan had left on the corner which makes it look like he was the culprit. Later, a tape reveals Alex threatening to commit suicide which Beth presents to the police and helps Dan get off the case as he is acquitted of the murder. The final scene shows Alex slashing her throat while listening to Madame Butterfly. This was changed to the ending as we see it today; the iconic bathtub shooting that almost radically changes the story on a thematic level.

9. Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott’s epic sci-fi horror took cinema by storm back in 1979 with its staggering display of technical prowess and a deeply unsettling atmosphere that leaves you gasping for breath. However it wouldn’t have been as admired and revered as it is today had they gone with an ending where the alien kills Ripley and chews her head and would then mock her by emulating her voice. Yes, that was the original ending planned out for the film. Seriously? An alien doing some stupid mimicry in a sci-fi thriller? Okay, perhaps the film would have still been effective or maybe even more effective with a dark, tragic ending but they weren’t getting anywhere that with this ending that would have turned out to be an absolute farce.

8. The Abyss (1989)

James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ is about a team of Navy SEALs who are in search of a nuclear submarine  but find themselves fighting for survival when they happen to encounter a group of aliens. In the ending that we get to see now, Bud, played by Ed Harris, makes a huge sacrifice as he swims deep down the ocean in order to defuse a nuclear warhead that would kill the aliens. But the aliens are so touched by his sacrifice that they rescue him and the entire team. But in the original ending as it was planned, the aliens would show him clips of war to show him how brutal stupid we are as human beings and then warn them off by letting them know of their plans on destroying the mankind in its entirety. This would have only made things look bizarre and silly because the aliens could have destroyed the human race long back and we would never really know what made them wait for so long.

7. Brazil (1985)

Most people must be knowing the story behind the ending of Terry Gilliam’s wildly eccentric dystopian thriller. ‘Brazil’ had a happy ending. Yes, you heard that right! A happy ending for a dark, dystopian sci-fi thriller. Sam’s dream in the end of rescuing the woman was in fact supposed to be real and the film would have had a “happily-lived-ever-after” end. The bizarrely dark tone of the film demanded an ending as disturbing, frightening and pessimistic as the one we got and in no ways could an optimistic ending filled with naive hopes of a better future have served the purpose the entire film.

6. Clerks (1994)

This cult classic black comedy indie flick wouldn’t have been anywhere near as brilliant as it is had they gone with the tragic ending that would have just murdered the film in its entirety. The film is a complete fun package with utterly delicious comedy and some endearing characters. The original ending had Dante getting shot and killed by a burglar as he failed to notice him entering the store while being busy counting out the register. The film ends as the camera focuses on him while a random guy makes an entry and steals some cigarettes. It’s so off tone considering the film’s comic, fun going attitude.

5. Titanic (1997)

For many, ‘Titanic’ has gone from being the greatest romance drama ever made to a guilty pleasure. Well but if you said the ending where the lovers meet in a dream still doesn’t choke you with sadness, you’re probably lying. It really is a gorgeous ending to a gorgeously flawed film. However, what was initially in store for us wasn’t all that good. Rose would go to the ship’s deck in order to drop the necklace but the entire crew would rush in to prevent her from doing so. But then she would preach Brock with a lesson on how life is “priceless” and “make each day count”. This would have really felt out-of-place and ineffective because as audiences we don’t really feel anything for Brock as his character isn’t well-developed in the entire film.

4. Rocky (1976)

Imagine Rocky throwing up the fight with Apollo and taking the money he earned from all that scamming he did and opening up a pet store for his beloved Adrian? Wow! What a cute ending to a lovely inspirational flick, right? Well…no, not really. This is the worst possible ending one could ever imagine for an underdog-triumph story. More than 4 decades later, ‘Rocky’ still hits us. Why? Because it’s a film that very well knows the pulse of its viewers. So an ending as badly pessimistic as the original would have never really gone well the audiences and neither would it have made for a good film. Rocky gives all he has and fights for it. He doesn’t give up. And there’s nothing else that could have fit the story better.

3. True Romance (1993)

Happy endings are rarely good. But when they hit, they hit so well. One such instance happens to be in the 1993 cult classic black comedy romance, ‘True Romance’. Written by Quentin Tarantino, the script originally had a tragic ending where Clarence would get killed and only Alabama would escape. Now this would have only made things unnecessarily sad and tragic. The entire film, despite all its violence, had this magically vibrant tone that wouldn’t have gone well with an ending as dark and tragic as this one. We are so glad that Tony Scott changed it to the one we see it now. It’s more optimistic, fun and heartwarming.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

What makes ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ so powerful? In word, it’s the ending. The scene where Red and Andy meet on a beach in Zihuatanejo is one of the most memorable film endings of all time. But that wasn’t supposed to be the case. The film was originally intended to end where Red takes a bus and goes off to see Andy and we would never really know whether they met. Ambiguity is great but the fable like quality of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ demands more of a fairy tale ending and less of an open ending. And so the ending we got works far better than the original one. It is emotionally rewarding and utterly satisfying.

1. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

There were plans to end ‘Stanley Kubrick’s iconic cold war satire, ‘Dr. Strangelove’ with the final scene showing people in the war room getting involved in pie fight. Now I can only imagine this scene turning out to be a ridiculously hilarious moment that would have killed the bizarrely funny and penetratingly satirical tone of the film. But Kubrick sure knows better as he altered the ending to the one that we see it today. He didn’t see that scene going well with what the overall feel of the film and the impact of what it was trying to say throughout.

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