7 Classic Movies That Almost Had Absurdly Dark Endings
A movie's ending is the last chance it gets to leave an impression on us, whether that impression be "Boy, I'd like to see that again, and perhaps buy the DVD!" or "The combined weight of all my regrets is crushing my soul into powder, I should call my parents and tell them I love them before it is too late."
These movies all originally had that second type of ending, until the filmmakers, for better or worse, decided to change them to keep people from sobbing through several traffic lights on their way home from the theater.
Return of the Jedi -- Han Solo Dies and Luke Abandons the Rebels
In Return of the Jedi, Han Solo and Princess Leia manage to destroy the Death Star's shield generator on the forest moon of Endor just in time for Lando to swoop in and detonate the Imperial superweapon. Meanwhile, Darth Vader changes his mind about evil and tosses Emperor Palpatine down a shaft, then dies himself shortly thereafter. Everyone reunites for an Ewok dance party. The end.
The Original Ending
According to producer Gary Kurtz, the first draft of Jedi left the Star Wars universe even more bleak than it was at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. For starters, Han Solo is killed while trying to destroy the shield generator. The Death Star still gets destroyed, but Luke becomes so disturbed over his final encounter with Darth Vader that he decides to venture off on his own, leaving Princess Leia to lead the tattered remains of the Alliance by herself. We assume that, after all that, nobody wanted one goddamn thing to do with the Ewoks.
Chewie, about to suplex Wicket off a tree.
Apparently, Harrison Ford really wanted Han Solo to be killed off at some point during the trilogy. In fact, the whole reason he was frozen in carbonite at the end of Empire was because the producers weren't sure if Ford was going to return for the next film. If he had decided not to, at least they'd found a way to write him out of the series.
"Just put Han's clothes on Billy Dee Williams and no one will know the difference."
However, George Lucas decided not to go with this ending, taking a firm stance against killing off any of the trilogy's heroes. Not because of how depressing it would make the movie, mind you, but because he was worried about how it would affect toy sales. Both Kurtz and Ford have confirmed this, claiming that Lucas "didn't see much of a future in 'dead Han toys'."
"It's useless, sir! It's like he has some kind of force field made of greed!"
Rocky -- Rocky Throws the Climactic Fight
Rocky is an amateur boxer moonlighting as a low-level mob enforcer when the world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, selects him as a replacement opponent for the upcoming New Year's Day title bout, literally because Apollo likes the sound of Rocky's nickname.
"'The Italian Stallion'? Haha, that's great! People would love to see me beat the shit out of a guy called that."
Rocky spends the whole movie training for the fight with absolutely no illusion that he is actually going to win. He just wants to last all 15 rounds against the champion without getting knocked out, and when the day of the fight finally comes, he gets his wish -- he loses, but he goes the distance, and he gets his life together in the process.
The Original Ending
Rocky gets to the epic battle against Apollo Creed and throws the goddamn fight.
"Yo, Adrian! I'm kinda tired."
That's right -- among a baffling whirlwind of other major differences, Stallone's original script ended with a disillusioned Rocky deciding to lose to Apollo on purpose and leave the world of boxing behind him, because apparently he had a wealth of other untapped talents. After retiring, Rocky uses the money he earned from scamming the hell out of his once-in-a-lifetime title shot to open up a pet store for Adrian, which is possibly the least inspirational ending you could write for an underdog story.
In Rocky II, they burn the place down to collect the insurance money.
Stallone churned out his first draft of Rocky in three days, which explains why this version seems like it was created by somebody on the verge of seeing what color sounds make before passing out on a coffee table. With the help of a few producers who saw potential in the project, Stallone rewrote the script several times before they found a studio willing to greenlight it. Which is good, because if the movie had stayed the way Stallone originally envisioned it, there would have been no room for Rocky sequels, and the 1980s would've been a sad, barren wasteland.
A world without Rocky IV is a world we do not want to live in.
Pretty Woman -- Edward Abandons Vivian Back to Her Life of Prostitution
In Pretty Woman, ruthless corporate raider Edward pays a hooker named Vivian $3,000 to spend the entire week with him, because apparently that's the only way he can convince women to be around him despite looking like 1980s Richard Gere and commanding a six-figure annual income. He's planning to buy out a fledgling company from a sweet old man so he can liquidate it piecemeal, sort of like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, but his time with Vivian softens his heart, and she is similarly won over by Edward's ability to buy her anything she wants at any given moment.
Love is never having to say "We can't afford that."
At the end of the week, Edward drives to Vivian's apartment in a limousine, gives her a rose, and asks her to have sex with him for free for the foreseeable future. She agrees, they share a romantic kiss, and Roy Orbison sings us into the credits.
The Original Ending
We've previously talked about how Vivian was a drug addict in the original script. But that doesn't even scratch the surface of how dark this story used to be:
Then Edward burns down an orphanage.
Edward does indeed drive up to Vivian's rancid cocaine paddock, but instead of a rose, he leaves her an envelope full of boner cash to cover their week together and gets right back into his car. There's no sweet reconciliation, no heartfelt romantic gesture, and no limousine -- Edward just dumps Vivian's ass back on Hollywood Boulevard and drives out of her life forever, leaving her literally crawling on her hands and knees crying bitter tears into a pile of money.
That ending was just one of a million other desolately bleak things about the film's original screenplay, a cautionary drama about addiction and prostitution called $3,000. However, after it was purchased by Disney, their chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, looked at the script and somehow thought the story of a strung-out prostitute and her unscrupulous john would make a perfect romantic comedy. The film was extensively rewritten to force-feed us a spunky Julia Roberts in a feel-good modern fairy tale, which to date is the only R-rated movie about hookers ever filmed that doesn't have any nudity in it.
Believe us. We checked.
Terminator Salvation -- John Connor Dies, Is Replaced by a Cyborg
Terminator Salvation tells the story of cyborg kryptonite John Connor leading a war against an army of machinated overlords in a post-apocalyptic future. Partway through, he teams up with a guyborg named Marcus Wright, who used to be human until he was turned into a metal abomination by the nefarious robots, and he is having trouble adjusting. The two end up battling through a prison to rescue a bunch of captive Resistance fighters, but John is badly wounded and needs a new heart, because apparently furious murderbots can piston-fist you in the sternum without killing you instantly.
Knowing that the humans need John Connor in order to continue their fight, Marcus offers his own heart (one of the only parts of his anatomy that are still organic) up for transplant, heroically sacrificing himself so that the Resistance can live on.
"I should tell you my cholesterol is through the roof. I never could get enough chicken wings."
The Original Ending
John and Marcus invade the robo-prison to free their comrades, and once again, John gets horribly wounded. However, in this version, he has absolutely no chance of surviving, robot heart or no. Marcus has been badly damaged, too, and since he will need to be rebuilt, John's wife comes with up a solution:
Hang on, is she saying ...?
"You must become legend, Mr. Connor."
Yep, that's totally what she's saying. The film was supposed to end with the real John Connor getting rolled into an anonymous corpse hole while Marcus gets dolled up in John Connor battle makeup to take his place. He then goes on to lead the Resistance with nobody the wiser, at least until a squadron of robots runs a bioscan on him or until one of his keener-eyed troops notices his sudden boulder-juggling super strength.
Apparently, everyone involved was 100 percent behind this idea, and this was the version that was in production until the ending was leaked out onto the Internet before filming had been completed. The studio was reportedly so enraged at the Internet for doing precisely what it exists to do that they felt the need to dramatically change everything. Thus, a franchise built around the Marcus Wright character (which was their original intention) was completely aborted midway through, and the film was rewritten to keep John alive and sweep Marcus under the rug moments before the end credits. Luckily, the production of Terminator Salvation didn't have any more issues with things getting leaked out all over the Internet.
"Just start bellowing rage curses at the crew and they'll all think you're me."
Hancock -- Hancock Tries to Rape Mary, Murders a Bunch of Cops, and Tries to Kill Himself
The Will Smith action comedy Hancock is about an alcoholic superhero who causes considerable property damage every time he fights crime, because flinging yourself headlong through the air at 70 miles an hour like a drunken indestructible torpedo will occasionally break a few fences. Hancock saves the life of a public relations specialist, Ray Embrey, who makes it his mission to improve Hancock's public image. Ray's wife, Mary, is secretly a superbeing, too, and she and Hancock can't be in close proximity to each other or else their powers begin to deteriorate, because if you rewrite a script enough times, it just becomes unintelligible nonsense.
After Ray rescues both Hancock and Mary from a bank robber, who somehow managed to get the drop on them despite possessing the traditional bank robber allotment of zero superhuman abilities, Hancock agrees to live on the opposite side of the country. He then draws a heart on the moon to commemorate his friendship with Ray, a gesture that apparently made it unscathed through enough test screenings to justify its inclusion in the final release.
"And then Hancock writes their bromance across the sky! That's cool, right? We can end on that?"
The Original Ending
Hancock becomes obsessed with Mary, but there isn't some barely plausible twist where she also turns out to be a superhero. She's just a regular person, and Hancock exploits this weakness by kidnapping her for an evening of terrifying super-rape:
Hancock manages to stop himself before he harms Mary, but he vents his anger by heroically murdering an entire street full of police officers who were coming to her rescue:
After nearly getting Mary killed, Hancock decides to relieve himself of the burden of being an invincible asshole and tries to shoot himself in the head, because apparently he had been paying even less attention to the movie than the rest of us:
The ending leaves it ambiguous about what ultimately happens to Hancock, but since he can't die, we assume he's doomed to spend the rest of eternity wallowing in miserable self-loathing.
Needless to say, this is hardly the way to end a Hollywood blockbuster. Once the script was bought, it spent 12 years bouncing from director to director and going through countless rewrites until it became the instantly forgettable trivia question that is a Will Smith summer movie.
Little Shop of Horrors -- Audrey II Kills the Main Characters and Takes Over the World
Little Shop of Horrors is a musical version of a 1960 horror film about a plant named Audrey II that came from outer space to eat human flesh. Seymour, a nerdy clerk at a flower shop, feeds disreputable people to the killer plant until it grows out of control and tries to eat his girlfriend, Audrey. Rightly sensing that this is a stroke of ungrateful bullshit, Seymour electrocutes the plant until it explodes, and he and Audrey move to the suburbs and live happily ever after.
"If she'd just agreed to the three-way, this all would have worked out fine!"
The Original Ending
In the film's original ending (and in the stage musical on which the film is based), both Seymour and Audrey are killed by the hulking space plant, who then goes on a rampage with an army of his murderous offspring:
So Cloverfield got its story from an ending too absurd for a musical comedy starring a man-eating Venus' flytrap?
That sequence alone cost millions of dollars to produce, but was entirely scrapped after two test screenings of the film received the kind of intensely negative reception normally reserved for televised weddings. According to director Frank Oz, the preview screenings were going very well and the audiences were loving the film right up until Audrey and Seymour get eaten, at which point the theaters turned into vacuums of confused rage.
The film's release was immediately delayed, and a new ending was hastily re-shot to allow people to leave showings of the comic rock opera without feeling crushed by bewildering depression.
Because scenes like this weren't pitiable enough to begin with.
The Butterfly Effect -- Evan's Fetus Intentionally Strangles Itself With Its Own Umbilical Cord
In The Butterfly Effect, Ashton Kutcher plays a man named Evan who discovers that he has the ability to travel back in time and inhabit the body of his former self, allowing him to make different choices that will alter his destiny. He tries to go back and save himself from several horrific childhood traumas, but everything he changes in the past has disastrous effects on the future. Even when his intentions are good, terrible things happen to both him and the people he cares about as a result.
"I saw Demi Moore and Two and a Half Men and wanted to scream into the pitiless abyss of time itself."
Things become so catastrophic that the only way to save the life of his childhood sweetheart, Kayleigh, is for Evan to stay out of her life forever. He travels back to the day he met Kayleigh and prevents them from ever becoming friends. Back in the future, Evan passes Kayleigh on the street and sees that things have turned out well for her, even though he knows nothing about her new life and is seemingly basing this conclusion on the fact that she's wearing a white suit.
"That outfit looks expensive. Her life must be full of victory."
The Original Ending
The alternate ending of The Butterfly Effect is easily the most noteworthy thing about an otherwise completely forgettable film, because it is quite possibly the darkest conclusion in motion picture history. Ultimately realizing that the only way to undo all the damage he has caused with his time-traveling tomfoolery is to prevent himself from ever existing, Evan teleports back to the inside of his mother's womb and strangles himself to death with his umbilical cord:
In the words of the filmmakers, an unborn fetus murdering itself in utero "wasn't going to sell popcorn," even though that's the ending they had always wanted. So they decided to shoot another ending for the film's theatrical release, which isn't necessarily a "happy" ending, but in a movie that's already full of molestation and child pornography, it's about as sunny a denouement as the audience has any right to expect. And if they paid money to see an Ashton Kutcher movie, they deserve to leave the theater feeling more than a little depleted.
Just maybe not "infant suicide" depleted.
Robin Warder is the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row.
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