The Original Endings of 10 Famous Films

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A slow dolly shot and the haunting, ethereal sounds of “Midnight, The Stars and You” by Al Bowlly takes us into the closing scene of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The moment leaves us speculating about the film’s supernatural subtext as we catch our breath. It’s one of the most famous endings in cinema, but it almost never happened. Website The Overlook Hotel — a great source for fans of Kubrick’s iconic horror film — recently posted a copy of the director’s original screenplay that includes a deleted scene cut from the film at the last minute. We talk about it more after the jump. Audience feedback, filmmaker OCD, and other factors have helped shape the movies we know and love, changing the course of cinema history. We took a look at other popular movies and their original endings (as always, there may be spoilers). Did the final cuts triumph?

The Shining

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect way to conclude Stanley Kubrick’s horror opus, The Shining. The director’s floating camera eases us into a chilling realization after Kubrick reveals his unhinged caretaker, Jack Torrance, has frozen to death in the hedge maze. Torrance hadn’t been himself for weeks and tried to murder his wife and son, Wendy and Danny. The scene cuts to a tracking shot through the Overlook Hotel’s lobby, focusing on a framed photograph from 1921. Jack is dressed in period clothes and celebrating July 4 with the Overlook residents of yore. According to website The Overlook Hotel, there is a scene between those two moments that was cut from the film at the last minute. Kubrick was an obsessive perfectionist and even sent his assistants to New York and Los Angeles where it was already screening to seize copies of the movie. (All known copies of the scene were supposedly destroyed, but it’s rumored one may still be out there somewhere.) According to the original script, the filmmaker removed an epilogue involving a hospital scene. Diane Johnson (co-writer) explained the director’s motivation:

“Kubrick had filmed a final scene that was cut, where Wendy and Danny are recovering from the shock in a hospital and where Ullman [the hotel manager] visits them. Kubrick felt that we should see them in the hospital so we would know that they were all right. He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny and thought that, at the end of a horror film, the audience should be reassured that everything was back to normal.”

The original ending is a far cry from the ominous mystery Kubrick leaves us with, but feels more in the spirit of Stephen King’s book finale.

Little Shop of Horrors

The original ending to Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors has been circulating on YouTube for years, but the catastrophic conclusion was recently updated in color for the Blu-ray release. The director’s cut reveals a 23-minute ending that features nerdy florist, Seymour, and his ladylove, Audrey, being devoured by the bloodthirsty, sentient Venus Flytrap-like plant, nicknamed Audrey II. After she gulps down the couple, she destroys New York City. Test audiences didn’t respond well to the violent final chapter, and the ending was rewritten so that Audrey II was destroyed.

“We had to do it in such a manner that the audience would enjoy the movie. It was very dissatisfying for both of us that we couldn’t do what we wanted. So creatively, no, it didn’t satisfy us and being true to the story. But we also understood the realities that they couldn’t release the movie if we had that ending,” Oz said in a commentary track for the film.

Watch Audrey II on a rampage (in color!) in the above clip.

Clerks

Star Wars politics abound in Kevin Smith’s Clerks — especially during the film’s original ending. “Empire had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings,” Brian O’Halloran’s Dante argues with Jeff Anderson’s Randal. Smith took that sentiment to the extreme when he filmed a grim finale for his cult 1994 hit that found Dante shot dead during a robbery. Smith fans debate the dark genius of the scene (especially as an homage to Empire), but the director was encouraged to cut it from the film after it screened. The movie had already been struggling with a potential NC-17 rating due to its graphic language, and the death scene surely would have added to the heat Smith was getting. Watch the NSFW clip, above.

Dawn of the Dead

George Romero’s second zombie masterpiece shares a pointed message about the horrors of American consumer culture by setting the carnage in a suburban shopping mall. Though the concept could have played out horribly, the output is pitch black and perhaps bleaker than his original fleshmuncher. In the original script, Romero had swapped a more heroic conclusion for a double suicide. When Peter and Fran realize they’re living a death sentence by fighting the inevitable, they take matters into their own hands — or in Fran’s case, her head, which she decapitates with helicopter blades. Peter shoots himself. A final shot shows there wouldn’t have been enough fuel for the duo to escape if they had chosen to live. Romero thought the scene might be too depressing and axed it.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner saw its share of script changes, which has left fans debating about the film’s hero, Deckard, being a replicant for decades. Hampton Fancher wrote the original screenplay after convincing author Philip K. Dick to option his book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, for the big screen. The scribe became executive producer and ended up battling with director Ridley Scott who sought rewrites. The original script is said to have focused more on environmental issues than emotional ones. IMDb tells us:

“The androids in this script have no obvious reason to be on earth; there is nothing about them wanting to live longer, they are simply on earth killing people for no apparent reason. At the end of the script, Rachael kills herself, as she knows if she doesn’t do it, Deckard will have to. The script ends with Deckard wandering into the desert with the intention of dying, but upon seeing a tortoise struggling to turn itself over, he decides to live on.”

This original ending saw multiple changes, including a “happy” ending where Harrison Ford speaks in an explanatory voiceover (above). Yikes.

Fatal Attraction

Drunk Glenn Close almost topped Fatal Attraction Glenn Close, but the 1987 Adrian Lyne film has bunnies, which means it’s inherently better. The original ending of the psychological thriller saw obsessed stalker Alex (Close) slashing her own throat instead of being shot by her paramour, Dan (Michael Douglas). It was written so that Alex sets Dan up for murder, which lands him in prison. Test audiences hated it and wanted vindication for the bunny boiler’s actions, so the filmmaker went back to the drawing board. Watch Lyne’s original closer in the clip, above.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

“I’ll be right here,” alien E.T. tells his human caretaker, Elliot, in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film. Cue sobbing and a giant spaceship flying off into the sunset. Movie endings don’t get more magical than that. In an alternate ending, Spielberg had Elliot delivering a quiet, sad, cryptic monologue: “We come in peace. We’ve been on this journey for many days. We are adventurous, searching for experience, and if we don’t got any, then we’re not going to be able to survive in this world. Goodbye, E.T.” The scene then cuts to young Elliot playing with his friends. The alternate finale (which starts around 1:40, above) was shot to add a more sobering look at life for children. Yahoo indicates, however, that there is speculation the deleted scene may have been intended for another place in the film. What do you think?

Alien

In a genre film world filled with bare-breasted female protagonists, Ellen Ripley has been a beacon of hope. The Ridley Scott heroine from his Alien series took gender clichés and flipped them upside down when she appeared as a fearless warrant officer aboard the Nostromo spaceship in Scott’s 1979 movie. After a terrifying creature hunts the Nostromo crew, Ripley gives the alien beast a fond farewell by blasting it into space, surviving the attack (along with the crew’s cat, Jones). Scott envisioned a much darker ending for his low-budget nightmare, but Fox refused to give it the green light. Reportedly, the alien in the escape shuttle would have torn off Ripley’s head. The creature would have taken her seat and started transmitting a message to Earth using her voice. Does that mean the Alien series would have continued on Earth with the creature colonizing humans to use as baby factories? Dislike. Sure, the series would have been spared a few subpar installments, but we can’t imagine Scott’s alien world without Ripley.

Titanic

Treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) searches for the “Heart of the Ocean” in James Cameron’s epic, Titanic. In the theatrical ending to the 1997 film, he never finds the brilliant blue diamond originally owned by Louis XVI, purchased for Rose (Kate Winslet) by her wealthy fiancé, Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). The older Rose drops it into the ocean after keeping it a secret from everyone. For the original ending, Paxton gets to work his crazy and the older Rose comes across as a total b*tch. It’s pure comedy gold!

The Birds

After Mitch (Rod Taylor) and Melanie (Tippi Hedren) escape a series of inexplicable, violent bird attacks in California, director Alfred Hitchcock leaves audiences with a final shot that implies the avian nemeses have taken over the land and quite possibly the world. In an interview, the filmmaker shared an idea he toyed with for the final shot that would have seen the Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds. Another original idea for the finale is explained by Birds co-writer, Evan Hunter, who described a kind of car chase with the killer birds. The scribe indicates it was ditched most likely due to time and money constraints since the scene would have required complex special effects and helicopter shots. Hunter talks about the scene that was in the shooting script, but was never captured on film, above.