It’s no secret that movie endings can make or break the audience’s reaction. After we’ve been sitting there for a couple of hours, completely engrossed in the storyline, we want an ending that gives us resolution and satisfaction. The film industry recognizes this and that’s why they offer pre-screenings of films to gauge people’s reactions. When they respond unfavorably to a particular aspect, such as the ending, the movie is sent back to production for retooling. Or sometimes what seems great on paper doesn’t work on the big screen. Having to alter the ending actually happens more than you’d think, even to movies that have become legendary. Would these films be so popular or famous if the creators had stuck with the original endings? (Note: spoiler alert on all films listed!)
The latest from director Baz Luhrmann, the recently-released “Australia” seemingly had problems from the start. It went way over budget and became the most expensive film the continent has ever released. It was also still under construction just a few weeks before it was due to premiere, and it was reported that Luhrmann shot three different endings before 20th Century Fox studios forced him to change the finale from a sad one to a happier conclusion. Audiences didn’t enjoy seeing Hugh Jackman’s character dying, so his character lives. Unfortunately, it seems the new movie ending didn’t work either — the film made only $14.8 million dollars during its opening weekend.
2. Fatal Attraction
I’ve never seen this movie (how is that possible?), yet I still know of its bloody, bullet-ridden ending — that’s the mark of a truly infamous movie. The original conclusion was less satisfying. Instead of being shot in the bathroom, Glenn Close’s psychotic character, Alex, commits suicide and stages it so that it looks like Dan (played by Michael Douglas) murdered her. He was arrested, Alex was never brought to justice, and the test audience said, “No fair!” A character that twisted and vindictive needs her comeuppance, and the audience demanded vindication for Dan’s family — hence the reshoot and the making of history.
This movie became a cult classic after its 1994 release and gave Kevin Smith a ticket into the indie film circuit. The plot follows the daily lives of Dante, who works at a convenience store, and Randal, who manages a video rental shop. It all starts with Dante getting called into work on his day off and the problems escalate from there. As it is now, the movie ends rather simply, almost anti-climatically. But that might be because in the original ending, Dante is shot and killed during an armed robbery. Not surprisingly, it was criticized for being too depressing, so Smith shaved off the last minute or so and let his leading man live.
4. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
In what is perhaps a more accurate underdog story, the Average Joes (Vince Vaughn’s team of “good guys”) were not supposed to win the dodgeball match against Ben Stiller’s nasty crew. To add insult to injury, Stiller’s character, White, was the one who hit Vaughn’s Peter. In the original version, the underdogs lost and the credits rolled, leaving the test screeners outraged and confused. The head honchos demanded a script rewrite, despite director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s insistence that it be left alone, and Vaughn’s team is victorious after all.
5. Little Shop of Horrors
It’s possible that no two endings are as polar opposite as the two shot for this movie, which was adapted by director Frank Oz from a play. The first ending stayed loyal to the original production’s — Seymour feeds his love, Audrey, to the ravenous plant (Audrey II) and then tries to commit suicide. He decided to fight the plant, but Audrey II devours him, too. Then, spawns of the plant end up taking over and destroying the world. Viewers didn’t respond well to all the lead characters being eaten, so Oz was forced to put a happier spin on the situation. In the version we all know and love, Seymour kills the plant and marries Audrey.
6. Men in Black II
In this case, the ending was altered not because it tested poorly, but because of bad timing. The original conclusion included a shot of UFOs around the World Trade Center towers, but when the unfortunate events of September 11 occurred, the film’s release was delayed so the ending could be re-shot. The Chrysler building replaced the towers. Otherwise, the finale was basically the same.
7. Dawn of the Dead
George Romero’s zombie classic originally finished with what fans call the “suicide” ending. In the ending attached to the final version, one of the main characters, Peter, almost commits suicide before the zombies get to him, but then decides to fight them off and ends up escaping with his cohort, Fran. In the first version, he does kill himself and Fran, who manages to make it past the zombies and to the helicopter, decapitates herself with the helicopter blades. The camera then shows that there wasn’t sufficient fuel in the helicopter to escape, anyway.
8. The Break-Up
Look at any tabloid cover from, oh, I don’t know, the past five years or so and ask yourself whether or not America is rooting for Jennifer Aniston. Around the time this movie was made, it became public that not only were she and Brad Pitt divorcing, but that he cheated on her with Angelina Jolie — and Jolie was going to have his baby! Aniston became the representative for lonely, jilted women across the land and so the last thing anyone wanted to see was her losing her man on screen, too, as was depicted in the original ending of “The Break-Up.” Test audiences hated the ending, so it was revamped to a slightly more ambiguous, if not promising, conclusion.
A movie ending that’s lacking makes us frustrated and angry, especially after investing our time and emotional energy into the characters and their lives. Because life isn’t always fair, we tend to want our entertainment to balance out that inequality — the good defeats the bad and no one gets eaten (who doesn’t deserve it, anyway). Watching films is a form of escape, so mirroring back too much reality can be depressing and easily rejected. Though directors often try to convey messages with their endings about the downfall of society or the inevitability of failure, at the end of the day, we viewers make the final call, and we almost always choose happier endings than the ones we get in real life.
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