Movie Endings That Were Completely Changed
These films would have turned out very differently if they'd gone as planned.
When you go to the theater to see a movie, you’re watching the end result of countless hours of toiling, often from hundreds of people, to put something great on the screen. The money that’s poured into making a single big-budget film means there’s a lot on the line for everyone involved — and that means plenty of tinkering up until the last second to make something that will pay off.
Some movies have even had their endings re-written, re-shot and changed completely after the original conclusion was deemed to hurt the final product. Here are some of the most famous movies that have had their endings totally changed at some point in the filmmaking process, sometimes for the best and sometimes at the cost of quality.
Warning: We’re dealing with endings here, so there are obviously plenty of spoilers ahead.
Did you know that the original ending for “Titanic” called for the ship to miss the iceberg and cruise safely to New York, with a happy ending for everyone involved? Just kidding! But before this Oscar winner would shatter box-office records, “Titanic” did have its conclusion majorly altered.
In the version we’ve all seen, viewers are alone in observing the older version of Rose drop the priceless jewel, the Heart of the Ocean, into the water at the end.
The original ending, which was included as a bonus in a 2005 DVD release, is much more over the top, with Bill Paxton’s treasure-hunting Brock discovering Rose with the jewel and frantically trying to talk her out of getting rid of it before watching her throw it into the ocean. In the end, the better conclusion was chosen.
‘When Harry Met Sally’ (1989)
If you’re a fan of happy endings in your rom-coms, you can thank a case of real-life love for ending “When Harry Met Sally” on an upbeat note. This classic film was supposed to end with its title characters remaining friendly acquaintances but never ending up together. Director Rob Reiner said that was the ending to the script they were originally shooting but that when he met his own eventual wife while making the movie, he had a change of heart and decided he wanted the film to have a happier finale.
“It wasn’t until I met Michelle that I thought, ‘Ok, that’s how it could work for me,'” Reiner told the Daily Beast in 2017. “And I changed the ending to where they got together.”
‘Pretty Woman’ (1990)
“Pretty Woman” could’ve been a very different movie if Disney hadn’t gotten involved. According to producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, the beloved date movie was originally very bleak and the movie itself was much darker in the original script. Instead of ending as a fairy tale, with the prostitute played by Julia Roberts being wooed by Richard Gere’s wealthy businessman, the original ending saw the main character dying as a result of her tough lifestyle.
“In the original version — it’s pretty dark — I think she died of an overdose,” Katzenberg, the former head of Disney, revealed in a 2017 Q&A. But when Disney took over the rights to make the picture, they changed the entire tone of the film, including its conclusion, and it certainly seems to have paid off.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)
This changed ending resulted in a major rift between the filmmaker and studio that lasted for years. In 1984, writer-director Wes Craven came up with one of horror’s most iconic villains in Freddy Krueger, but he wanted the character to meet his fate at the end of the film that had introduced him. In Craven’s ending to “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the main character, Nancy, defeats Freddy simply by refusing to believe in him, with her waking to realize that all the bad things that had happened in the film were just part of a long nightmare she was having.
Producer Bob Shaye didn’t go for it and demanded a twist ending that would leave the franchise open for a sequel. In the end, Shaye won out and Craven had nothing to do with the series for the next 10 years, when he and Shaye reconciled.
“Do I regret changing the ending?” Craven asked Vulture in 2014. “I do, because it’s the one part of the film that isn’t me.”
‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ (2010)
This electrifying, graphic novel-inspired action film originally ended very differently — but the one that ended up on the screen is actually closer to the one from the books. The film sees Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim fighting his way through the ex-lovers of a mysterious girl named Ramona in order to win her heart. The movie ends with Scott and Ramona getting together after many hard-fought battles, which is the way it goes in the books.
However, the original ending that was filmed saw Scott ending up with Knives, the teenager he was dating at the beginning of the story. That ending was reportedly shown to audiences at a test screening but it didn’t go over too well, leading to the big change.
‘First Blood’ (1982)
The Rambo series has resulted in five movies since 1982, including a new one in 2019 but, in the beginning, there weren’t going to be any sequels. “First Blood,” the title of the first Rambo film, originally ended with its title hero killing himself after overcoming the abusive law enforcement officers he was battling. That conclusion was shot but star Sylvester Stallone hated it, convincing director Ted Kotcheff to completely change it.
“You know, Ted, we put this character through so much,” Stallone told Kotcheff, according to the director’s recall to Entertainment Weekly. “All this, and now we’re gonna kill him?”
With that question, Kotcheff quickly came up with an alternate, happier ending.
’28 Days Later’ (2002)
Some horror movies are known for their grim endings, but the one originally used for “28 Days Later” was too dark for studio heads. Several conclusions to this 2002 zombie favorite were shot, including one where the main character, Cillian Murphy’s Jim, dies. A more upbeat ending, where Jim and other survivors wait to be rescued, eventually was used in theaters.
However, audiences got to see the original, downbeat ending when the British film hit American theaters, as a bonus after the credits. This resulted in debates among viewers as to which ending was better and should be considered the “official” conclusion.
The goofy sports comedy, “Dodgeball,” came with the tagline, “A true underdog story,” but its original ending didn’t do the actual underdogs any favors. The 2004 movie sees Vince Vaughn’s character, Peter, forming a dodgeball team with the hopes of winning a tournament that would help him save his gym from being bought by Ben Stiller’s evil character, White. In the movie, Peter’s team, of course, overcomes the challenge of White’s team by winning the tournament and the cash.
An alternate ending that was included on the movie’s DVD release revealed that Peter’s team originally lost the tournament and the whole vibe was much darker for audiences. The original ending shows White’s team celebrating as the credits begin to roll.
Dwayne Johnson has reached a level of stardom that allows him to demand major changes to a movie’s story and have those alterations made. He did that with his 2018 action vehicle, “Rampage.” The blockbuster follows Johnson as an ex-soldier who is trying to stop a giant, mutated gorilla that he was once friendly with from destroying Chicago. The movie’s original script called for the gorilla, who is named George, to die in the end, but Johnson wanted nothing to do with that.
“I’m like, ‘No, did I miss something? George can’t be dead,'” Johnson told Rolling Stone of his reaction to the plot’s conclusion. “I don’t like a sad ending … When the credits roll, I want to feel great.”
In the end, Johnson convinced the filmmakers to see it his way and have George be a surviving hero.
‘Thor: The Dark World’ (2013)
Anyone who has watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies knows that Thor’s brother, Loki, is one of the best characters in the whole franchise. He started out as a villain before becoming an ally of sorts to his brother and The Avengers, with actor Tom Hiddleston charming audiences the whole way through. That’s why people were devastated during 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” when Loki was killed … before the ending revealed that he wasn’t really dead at all and was just playing a trick.
Well, his death was supposed to be permanent and that reveal was tacked on only after test audiences refused to believe Loki had really died, which led the studio to change the ending and keep him around.
“It’s such a great twist and the reason it works is that I didn’t even know it was a twist!” Hiddleston told Empire’s podcast in 2018, revealing he thought Loki had indeed been killed.
This one is a classic case of a studio meddling with a great director’s work and completely changing the end result. Director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 thriller, “Suspicion,” is based on a book about a woman who loves her husband dearly, despite the fact that he’s revealed to be a murderer in the end after much mystery. Hitchcock wanted his movie to end in the same way but studio executives at RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. shut that idea down because they wouldn’t allow star Cary Grant to be portrayed as a bad guy.
The movie instead ends with Grant’s character being cleared of all suspicion, and Hitchcock never forgave the studio.
“I’m not too pleased with the way ‘Suspicion’ ends,” he said in 1962. “I had something else in mind.”
‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ (1995)
The third movie in the Die Hard franchise was arguably the most intense of the lot, with Bruce Willis’ character, Lt. John McClane, having to play mind games with a vicious terrorist who is causing mayhem in New York City and using riddles to keep the police at bay. The movie ends with the terrorist, played by Jeremy Irons, being killed after the helicopter he’s on gets tangled up in power lines. It’s a bit of a letdown after the epic battle of wits between the two adversaries.
Special-edition DVDs of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” revealed the original ending, which had the terrorist escaping and McClane being fired from the NYPD. McClane eventually tracks down the terrorist in a European village, testing him with riddles of his own before blowing him up with a rocket launcher at close range. Writer Jonathan Hensleigh has said the studio changed the ending because they thought it made McClane look “too cruel.”
Here’s a rare example of a happier ending being left on the cutting room floor. The dark comedy, “Election,” was about an overachieving high school senior named Tracy Flick, played by Reese Witherspoon, and her attempt to win a student election, which was sabotaged by a teacher named Mr. McAllister, played by Matthew Broderick. The pair are bitter rivals in the film and none of that ever changes as, years after the main plot, McAllister bitterly throws a soft drink at his former student when he sees her working as a political aide in Washington.
The original ending, which was discovered in 2011 on a mysterious VHS found at a flea market, showed Tracy and McAllister reconciling and the teacher signing his former student’s yearbook. Personally, I’m glad they went with the darker choice!
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994)
Anyone who has seen “The Shawshank Redemption” can remember the final scene vividly: After serving his prison sentence, Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, travels to a beautiful beach where he reunites with his friend, Tim Robbins’ Andy, with a long-awaited hug and no words. It’s one of just many reasons the movie is so beloved. But the film wouldn’t have ended that way if studio executives hadn’t suggested it.
Writer-director Frank Darabont revealed in 2014 that his script ended the same way Stephen King’s original story ended, with Red simply on a bus with an uncertain future ahead of him.
“The folks at [production studio] Castle Rock thought after putting the audience through two-plus hours of hell, we might owe them a union at the end,” Darabont said in a Q&A.
He took their advice and we’re all grateful for it.
‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ (1997)
Another Julia Roberts romance flick that got a major change was “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” This film saw Roberts as Julianne, a single woman who tries in vain to sabotage the wedding of her best friend, a man named Michael, with whom she wants to end up. The movie originally ended with Julianne meeting a stranger at the wedding and beginning a relationship with him, but test audiences hated her character so much, they wanted her to be miserable in the conclusion. But the studio wasn’t comfortable with Roberts winding up unhappy on screen.
“So we had to come up with something that pleased the studio, but that was acceptable to the audience,” director P.J. Hogan told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
The decision was made to expand the role of George, another friend of Julianne’s. He became someone she could confide in, allowing the audience to better understand her motives. In the end, Julianne gets no guy but shares a sweet dance with George, which pleased everyone.
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)
The Terminator series has been one of the longest-running action franchises in Hollywood history, with five movies hitting theaters since 1984 and a sixth coming in 2019. But the beloved classic “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” would’ve been the end of the entire series if its conclusion hadn’t been changed. Writer-director James Cameron’s film originally ended with a flash-forward 30 years into the future, showing an older Sarah and John Connor living happily, with John having a daughter and the threat of Skynet being gone forever.
Of course, that ending was changed to leave things much more ambiguous, instead simply showing the mother-son duo riding on a motorcycle, with Sarah saying in narration, “The unknown future rolls toward us.”
‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986)
The ’80s teen classic “Pretty in Pink” had a very different ending when the first audiences watched it — but their reaction led to it being changed completely. According to director Howard Deutch, the film originally concluded with Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie, ending up with her sensitive best friend, Jon Cryer’s Duckie.
“The ending didn’t work in the test screening,” Deutch told Huffington Post in 2016. “The girls in the test screening didn’t go for that … they wanted her to get the cute boy. So we had to reshoot the ending.”
The finale that was used saw Andie ending up with Andrew McCarthy’s Blane, who was the “cute boy” in question. Poor Duckie!
‘Get Out’ (2017)
The instant classic horror film “Get Out” won an Oscar and shook audiences with its sharp allegory about racism and cultural appropriation. The film would’ve left viewers even more shaken up if not for a drastic change to its final moments. In the version of the film we saw, after escaping the horrible fate that awaited him inside the Armitage house, Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris, kills most of his captives and is suddenly rescued by his best friend, Rod, who pulls up in a police car.
The original ending, which was included on home media releases, was much grimmer and saw two white police officers step out of the car, their suspicions of Chris’ true actions leading to his arrest.
“This movie was meant to call out the fact that racism is still simmering underneath the surface,” writer-director Jordan Peele said in a commentary on the original ending. “So this ending to the movie felt like it was the gut punch that the world needed, as something about it rings very true.”
‘I Am Legend’ (2007)
Will Smith’s sci-fi monster movie, “I Am Legend,” differed significantly from the classic novel on which it was based, but its original ending was closer to the spirit of the text. The movie followed Smith as Dr. Robert Neville, a U.S. Army scientist who is working to find a cure for a mysterious disease that has led to many people turning into vampires. Along the way, he kills and conducts research on many of those vampires. The movie ended with Neville sacrificing himself to ensure the survival of the cure he had developed.
The film’s original ending revealed Neville to be more of a villain than a hero, showing that the vampires still retained some of their humanity and that he had been killing and torturing them in the name of science, but had never found a cure. The original ending was scrapped after two test audiences “wildly rejected” it, according to director Francis Lawrence, who prefers the unused ending.
One of the most acclaimed indie comedies of the 1990s, writer-director Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” launched his career. The film follows Dante, played by Brian O’Halloran, a convenience store clerk who goes through an annoying day at work even though he was supposed to be off. The film ends with Dante reconciling with his friend, who works at the video rental store next door, and his day at the store coming to a close.
However, the original ending that Smith wrote and filmed had Dante being shot and killed by a robber in the final seconds, putting a grim cap on his unscheduled day at work. He was convinced to change the ending by O’Halloran, who told Rolling Stone in 2014, “I hated that ending.” It was a good call because “Clerks II” hit theaters in 2006 and was a success with audiences and critics alike.
‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)
Writer-director George A. Romero’s legendary “Dawn of the Dead” is a classic of the zombie horror subgenre and it was nearly even darker than it ended up being. The movie follows a group of people who try to survive a zombie apocalypse by hiding out inside an empty shopping mall. It ended with two of the heroes escaping the horde, flying away in a helicopter toward an uncertain future.
Romero’s original ending was much more certain, having all of the people die, with the final two killing themselves after their helicopter plan failed to work. In 2012, DVD commentary from crew members revealed that Romero had grown attached to the characters during filming, realizing he didn’t want them to die in the end.
‘Happy Death Day’ (2017)
This 2017 horror film was basically “Groundhog Day” meets a slasher picture and its original ending was enough to make audiences want blood from the filmmakers. In “Happy Death Day,” a college student named Tree, played by Jessica Rothe, keeps living the same day on a loop, being killed by a masked murderer on most of the days. She works to figure out the mystery and break the loop and accomplishes both in the ending that was used for the theatrical release.
But the original ending was much less satisfying. Tree was killed again at the last second, but it wasn’t clear whether the loop had been broken, leaving her permanently dead, or if she was about to start her death day all over again.
“The [test] audiences were furious,” director Christopher Landon told Cinema Blend in 2017. “They were so pissed off because they felt betrayed.”
The change ended up leading to the 2019 sequel, “Happy Death Day 2U.”
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1986)
This musical comedy is one of the most beloved cult hits of the 1980s, but its original ending didn’t earn much praise from test audiences. The story follows a nerdy young man named Seymour, played by Rick Moranis, who works at a plant shop alongside a girl he has a secret crush on. The plot takes a crazy turn when a rare plant Seymour is caring for begins talking to him and eventually requires human blood to live, leading the plant to grow out of control.
In the ending audiences have seen for decades, Seymour ends up destroying the plant and getting married to Ellen Greene’s Audrey, the girl of his dreams. The original ending, which was used in the off-Broadway musical that inspired the film, had the plant eating both Seymour and Audrey.
“It was just fantastic … until Rick and Ellen died, and then the theater became a refrigerator,” director Frank Oz told SlashFilm in 2017. “It was a complete disaster.”
Needless to say, the ending was changed and people have loved it ever since.
‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987)
In another instance of a star hating an ending enough to fight it, Glenn Close was not pleased with the new ending of her classic thriller, “Fatal Attraction.” In the film, Close plays an unhinged woman named Alex who gets involved with a married man named Dan, played by Michael Douglas. In the original ending, which bombed with test audiences, Alex ends up violently killing herself but staging it in a way that frames Dan for murder.
“The audience viscerally wanted to kill Alex, not allow her to kill herself,” Douglas told The New York Times in 2017.
The filmmakers made the decision to write and film a completely different ending that showed Alex trying to kill Dan’s wife with a knife before being shot dead. Close hated the new ending because she didn’t want to see Alex turned into a “murdering psychopath” and fought against it. Ultimately, however, she lost.
‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (1942)
When writer-director Orson Welles chose “The Magnificent Ambersons” as his followup to the legendary “Citizen Kane,” you’d think he would’ve been free to make any artistic decisions he wanted, but you’d be wrong. The studio, RKO Radio Pictures, took control of Welles’ movie in the middle of production, changing the film completely, including its ending.
The movie is about a wealthy family whose fortunes dwindle as decades pass and modern society makes them obsolete. Welles’ ending was dark, showing Joseph Cotton’s character, Eugene, driving away after a sad, empty exchange with another character, revealing the city they live in to be filled with smoke and factories. But RKO decided to give it a happy ending that feels completely manufactured after such a stark film, showing the future to be much brighter for everyone and hinting at a new romance for Eugene. Lost footage of the original ending has been called a Holy Grail for film collectors around the world but has never materialized.