6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Apparently, Hollywood makes stuff up on the fly all the time. Here are some examples of memorable scenes (or even entire movies) that only happened because something went wrong.
6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Remember the awesome scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indy shoots the swordsman? Yeah, well, the only reason they put that in the movie is that Harrison Ford had the shits. As we've mentioned before, Ford had dysentery and didn't feel like performing the sword fight the script called for, so they improvised that joke on the set. Apparently, this sort of thing happens in Hollywood all the time. Here are some more examples of memorable scenes (or even entire movies) that only happened because something went wrong.

The Empire Strikes Back -- Han Solo Was Frozen Because They Didn't Know If Harrison Ford Would Play Him Again

The carbonite scene in The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the most iconic moment in the entire movie that doesn't include the words "I am your father." In it, Han Solo has been captured by Darth Vader and is frozen alive into a slab of carbonite to be turned over to Jabba the Hutt, all while the love of his life watches helplessly.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Princess Leia is there too.

The scene also includes the dialogue that defines Han Solo: When Leia says "I love you" to him for the first time ever, he just looks at her and says "I know." The man is being dragged by Stormtroopers into a machine that freezes people, and for all he knows these are his last living moments before Jabba uses him to refresh several hundred pina coladas, and somehow he still finds the time to be cooler than everyone else in the room.

But They Only Included It Because ...

That scene exists because Harrison Ford hated Han Solo and wasn't sure if he even wanted to come back for another Star Wars film. None of what we described was in the original script. The movie was supposed to end with Han and Chewie flying off in the Millennium Falcon, safe and sound.

This changed for practical, not artistic, reasons. See, unlike Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, Ford didn't sign up for two more movies after the success of the first Star Wars. He thought that Han should be killed off because he wasn't interesting to him. Since Ford was being such an indecisive Nancy (that's a saying, right? It sounds like it is), George Lucas needed to figure out a way to "freeze" the character for a while, in case they later had to explain why he never appeared again. And so Lucas, as one of the greatest creative minds of our time, decided to literally freeze the character.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

"Lower him into the convenient plot device!"

By the way, hardcore Star Wars fans know that the iconic "I know" line also almost didn't happen. According to the final script, Han was supposed to reply with a far less original "I love you too." Ford himself came up with the classic line on the set, not Lucas.

It's fascinating to think that if Ford didn't return, Han Solo would have stayed frozen or died off-screen in Return Of The Jedi, with Lando likely stepping into the sassy space pilot role. This is yet another example of how Star Wars wasn't planned from the beginning, no matter what Lucas keeps saying.

Apocalypse Now -- Marlon Brando's Weight Gain Changed The Entire Ending

In Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen is Capt. Willard, a U.S. officer in Vietnam who is sent on a special mission to find and kill Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Kurtz was a decorated officer who lost his mind and now lives deep in the jungle, where he's worshiped with Steve Jobsian devotion by the locals.

It's one of Brando's most memorable roles, and a great part of the mystique comes from the fact that we never get a good look at him. Kurtz is always partly covered in shadows, almost like they're part of him, as if at some point he'd stopped being a man and turned into some sort of demon made of darkness and insanity.

After two and a half hours of buildup, the final confrontation between Willard and Kurtz is short and anticlimactic. Willard simply grabs a machete and hacks Kurtz, who offers little resistance, having accepted his fate. And then Willard leaves the temple peacefully as Kurtz's followers bow before him, as if to underscore the pointlessness of war.

But They Only Included It Because ...

Pretty much everything about that classic ending was an accident. The whole final act of Apocalypse Now would have been completely different if Marlon Brando had laid off the Kit Kats and learned his lines. Director Francis Ford Coppola had envisioned Kurtz as a "lean and hungry" Green Beret, but when Brando showed up for filming, he was hungry, alright, but not so lean. It seems this is what Coppola was expecting when he cast Brando:

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

And this is what he got:

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments
Jake's Rolex World

There was no way they could plausibly fit him into a Green Beret uniform, and on top of that, the actor hadn't even read the script, and generally couldn't give less of a shit about the movie. So Coppola had to improvise. He dressed Brando in black and decided to shoot him in shadows and mostly in close-ups in an attempt to hide his enormous gut.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Coppola also reduced Kurtz's part to make it less physically demanding for Brando. The original climax called for an epic physical confrontation between Kurtz and Willard, but that didn't seem possible, unless Brando had some hidden moves. Like, maybe he could do a Hundred-Hand Slap like E. Honda in Street Fighter II (he couldn't).

Since Brando was being such a pain in the ass, in the end, Coppola let him make up his own lines, and then edited the resulting incoherent mess into the spooky, ethereal ending that went down in movie history.

Se7en -- The "Head In The Box" Happened Because The Director Read The Wrong Script

Of all the '90s crime thriller last scene plot twists featuring Kevin Spacey, Se7en's is definitely the creepiest. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are Mills and Somerset, two police detectives investigating a serial killer (Spacey) who bases his murders on the seven deadly sins. At the end, the killer turns himself in and agrees to lead the detectives to the location of the last two bodies, but when they reach the place, there's nothing there. Then a messenger arrives and delivers a box. Somerset looks inside and is horrified to find the head of Mills' wife. The killer reveals that he murdered her because he envied Mills, who in grief and anger shoots the killer dead. And so the killer and Mills become the last two sins: envy and wrath. All as the villain planned.

Even if the whole movie wasn't awesome, that moment alone would be enough to elevate Se7en from another generic serial killer flick to a classic, and David Fincher from "the guy who botched Alien 3" to "the future director of Fight Club."

But They Only Included It Because ...

Of course, "another generic serial killer flick" was exactly what the studio wanted when they bought the screenplay. The first thing they did was tell the writer to get rid of that ending to make the movie more marketable, and he did. And that's how it would have stayed, if they hadn't messed up and sent Fincher the wrong version.

According to Fincher, the draft of the screenplay New Line Cinema meant to send him included every cop movie cliche possible. Mills and Somerset were seen "driving on sidewalks to get to the woman, who's drawing a bath while the serial killer sneaks in the back window." That's the movie New Line wanted to make.

However, when Fincher was offered the script to direct, New Line accidentally sent him the old version they definitely had no intention of making, and he fell in love with the gut-wrenching ending. It took Pitt and Freeman siding with Fincher to finally convince the producers -- Pitt in particular said he wouldn't do the movie unless "the head stays in the box" and they didn't reedit the scene afterward.


"Come on, Mills. I'll buy you another hamster."

This whole thing does explain how the hell the studio thought it would be a good idea to do a sequel where Somerset had magic powers. They had no idea what they were doing in the first place. And speaking of amazingly depressing endings, there's another famous one that almost didn't happen ...

Chinatown -- "Forget It, Jake, It's Chinatown" Was Written Because The Screenwriter Left

The last scene in Roman Polanski's Chinatown is incredibly bleak, but that's the whole point of the movie. It's supposed to make you angry that some people can get away with anything, no matter how despicable, if they are sufficiently connected.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Oh hey, how did this get here?

Jack Nicholson is Jake Gittes, a private investigator in the 1930s who gets involved with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), the daughter of a powerful, corrupt businessman. Gittes learns that as a teenager, Evelyn was abused by her father and gave birth to a baby. In the last scene, Evelyn is shot dead by the cops who are protecting her father, and then we see the old man taking away her sister/daughter with impunity.

Earlier, Jake had told Evelyn that when he was a cop in Chinatown, he did "as little as possible." When everything goes to shit and Jake is the only one who looks horrified by what happened, a cop tells him, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."

But They Only Included It Because ...

In another case of "Why would they bother doing it," Chinatown originally had a happy ending. So how did the writer come up with that change? He didn't. Polanski made it up at the last minute after the guy quit. He wrote the ending a couple of nights before shooting it.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments
This Recording

"... and she has these really big boobs, you know, massive, and then ..."

The ending as intended by screenwriter Robert Towne was a lot more traditional: The bad guy dies, the love interest survives, and you forget about the movie by the time you reach the parking lot. It would have been a completely different movie, and as Polanski points out, we wouldn't be talking about it today.

As Polanski and Towne reworked the script together, their relationship deteriorated into mutual insults, and Towne ended up storming off before they could reach the last scene. And so the movie went into production without an ending -- a couple of days before wrapping up, Polanski improvised. Towne's decision to bail out and let others finish his script eventually earned him the film's only Oscar win.

Towne claims that his ending wasn't exactly happy, since Evelyn would have had to flee the country after killing her father in order to avoid going to trial. We know a lot of escaped criminals who think that isn't such a bad fate.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Seriously, who keeps putting these here?

Casablanca -- "As Time Goes By" Was Left In Because Of A Haircut

Casablanca is one of the most perfect movies ever. As far as we're concerned, the only people who have a legitimate reason to not like it are Nazis, and we're reasonably sure even Hitler got a little bit choked up during the classic scene in which Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) asks Sam the piano player (Dooley Wilson) to play the song "As Time Goes By."

The song, which we hear again during the most important moments in the film, fits Casablanca perfectly. Its lyrics don't just reflect the bittersweet love story between Ilsa and Rick (Humphrey Bogart), but they also seem to foreshadow the way their romance makes Rick realize it might be time to stop serving drinks to the Nazis and start serving ass-whoopings (because it's "a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die").

But They Only Included It Because ...

Casablanca's composer, Max Steiner, absolutely hated "As Time Goes By." He didn't merely want to cut it out of the film; he got the approval to replace it with something "better." The only reason they couldn't do that was that Ingrid Bergman got a haircut.

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments
No Surrender/Oscar Nerd

Nowadays, her CG hairdo would have its own line of action figures.

"As Time Goes By" was left over from the unproduced stage play which Casablanca was based on. No one made a conscious decision to include it in the movie. It was just there when they arrived, and since it was already in Warner's song catalog, they kept it. In fact, they cared so little about it that producer Hal Wallis agreed with Steiner and let him record a replacement song, even if that meant calling back the actors to reshoot some scenes.


"Play it, Sam. Play 'Max Steiner Has A Huge Cock.'"

There's no record of the director, the actors, or anyone else going, "Are you crazy? You can't cut that!" Steiner was already working on his new song when they found out that Bergman had cut her hair short for her role in For Whom The Bell Tolls. Since she didn't look like Ilsa anymore and no one in the entire studio was aware of the existence of wigs, they couldn't reshoot her scenes and they were stuck with the damn song.

Steiner figured that if he was forced to incorporate "As Time Goes By" into the movie's soundtrack, he might as well base the entire score on it, so that's precisely what he did. He was basically going, "Fine, have it your way, let's see if you like it," and he accidentally crapped out one of the most enduring soundtracks in movie history.

It's A Wonderful Life -- The Whole Movie Became A Classic Because Of A Clerical Error

Even if you've never seen It's A Wonderful Life all the way through, you can still probably reconstruct the entire plot from all the times you've caught five seconds of it on TV. For decades, it was shown a dozen times or so every Christmas, along with all of the other standards. You'd flip through TV in December, and it'd be "Scrooge, Claymation Frosty, Charlie Brown, that black-and-white movie about the guy who tries to kill himself ..."

6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments

Yeah, yeah.

But new Christmas movies come out every year. Why did this one become a timeless standard, when most of the rest were forgotten? It's because it's great, right? And not for some completely stupid reason?

But They Only Included It Because ...

Nope, the only reason TV channels played It's A Wonderful Life so often was that, for a while, it was free. Before that, no one cared about the film. We've heard about beloved movies that weren't appreciated in their time, but this is different, because It's A Wonderful Life wasn't rediscovered by audiences or critics. It was saved from obscurity by TV stations too cheap to pay for their programming.

When the film was released in 1946, it got mixed reviews and barely made back its budget. In contrast, the previous collaboration between director Frank Capra and actor Jimmy Stewart had made six times its budget. After this, Capra and Stewart never made a movie again. And because no one really gave much of a crap about the film, in 1974, someone forgot to renew the copyright (a "once every 28 years" task) and it accidentally fell into the public domain.

TV stations looking to fill airtime with inexpensive programming took this little-seen film by two well-known names and started playing it all the time, especially during the holidays, because, well, that's when the story takes place. Several companies started selling cheap video copies without having to pay royalties, and there was nothing the studio could do.

People figured that if they played the movie so often, it had to be a classic, so over the next couple of decades, that's what it became. Eventually, the paperwork was sorted out, and currently NBC has exclusive rights to air the film, but the damage has been done. Millions of people now worship a film they never would have heard of if some office clerk had done their job.

Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile, and you can bother him on Twitter. If you know Spanish, check out his articles at Flims.cl.

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