Ask a movie buff what's wrong with Hollywood, and at some point during the resulting feature-length rant, they'll mention "test screenings." Showing a movie to a random group of people without film studies diplomas and asking for their opinions is how these things end up all samey and sterile. There are countless examples of good, challenging films that were hated by test audiences, from Goodfellas to Se7en to Babe: Pig In The City.
However, there are even more examples of test audiences saving classics from one of the most dangerous things in cinema: a good director with a terrible idea. Sometimes, even the most talented filmmakers need a room full of average Joes to tell them they're wrong. For example ...
6The Makers Of Anchorman Replaced Nearly Half The Movie After Test Screenings
Within a few years of its release, Anchorman quotes became about 10 percent of all online discussion. People were suddenly kind of a big deal, things were escalating quickly, etc. The movie popularized a new, improvisation-heavy form of movie comedy ... or, at least, the replacement movie did. That is, the one they made after throwing away half of the original.
Let's put it this way: They cut so many scenes out of Anchorman that they made a separate, much crappier direct-to-DVD movie out of the leftovers.
Spoilers: It was lost for a reason.
When director Adam McKay first test screened Anchorman, it was a huge bomb. Which must have made him especially nervous, since it was incredibly difficult to get a studio interested in a '70s pastiche starring the guy from Elf in the first place. One of the biggest things people disliked was a lengthy plot parodying hippie-era radicalism, featuring an extremist group called The Alarm Clock. Here's one scene from that subplot. While it's amusing enough on its own, you'll note that it has literally nothing to do with Anchorman.
Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph are in it, so it could pass for a fancily-shot SNL sketch. It also stars Chuck D from Public Enemy in what was probably supposed to be his big comedy acting break. And this wasn't merely a couple of scenes; it was the central running gag. Originally, nearly half the movie would have followed those assholes, until they kidnap Christina Applegate's character and the Channel 4 News Team rescues her.
Rescuing the movie itself proved trickier, though. After test audiences tore it apart, the studio ordered McKay to rewrite and reshoot a significant number of scenes to leave no trace whatsoever of the extremist group subplot. This changed 40 percent of the movie, and the result was a comedy classic.
We're not saying bears are funnier than Maya Rudolph, but ... OK, yeah.
5Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan's Spock Cliffhanger Was Added By Audience Demand
Depending on who you ask, The Wrath Of Khan is either the best Star Trek movie or the only good Star Trek movie. It revitalized the entire franchise, not merely by not sucking, but also by setting up a plotline that would fuel the next two films. After Spock sacrifices himself to save his friends, the movie ends with a shot of his casket on the Genesis Planet, hinting that Leonard Nimoy shouldn't throw those space elf ears in the garbage quite yet.
This isn't Spock's casket, though. This is some guy called Mark.
It was a glorious return to Star Trek's serialized origins ... and of course, it wasn't supposed to happen. When director Nicholas Meyer turned in the movie, Spock died, had a funeral, and that was it. The end. Test audiences found this really jarring and uncomfortable, even though Spock's death had already been known to Star Trek fans for a while (ironically leading to death threats for Nimoy). Everyone at Paramount was caught off-guard by this -- except maybe Meyer, who was completely OK with having a dark ending, even if it meant pissing off every Trekkie in existence.
"I can probably take 'em all at the same time."
It was Paramount boss Michael "I saved Airplane!" Eisner who proposed a solution. As Eisner put it, they had the start of a Christ parable (Spock sacrificing himself), and now they simply needed to hint at the rest of it. For those of you who've never seen the best Jesus movie yet, Robocop, he was talking about resurrection.
And so, against Meyers' wishes, the casket scene was added, along with a final voiceover of Nimoy reading the "Space, the final frontier" monologue from the original series. They couldn't have made it more obvious that he was coming back if they'd had him say, "Hey, I'm coming back." As a result, the same fans who would have probably called for boycotts left the movie prepared to buy tickets for at least 20 more installments.