If there is one constant in all of film creation history, it's that a director does not often get the full vision he originally intended from a finished product. Home media has brought us a deluge of Special Features menus that showcase, often to an obscene amount, deleted scenes. So many days (sometimes weeks) of work goes into a shot, only to have it fall to the cutting room floor for what could ostensibly be any reason concocted by the production team. DVD's have given us (the audience) and the directors a chance at seeing these intended moments for their films, and a glimpse into what was originally intended.
But what about the ending? What happens when a director has a vision for how the story ends, it is firmly cemented in his mind and all of a sudden, the test audiences don't approve, or the producer doesn't approve, or his daughter doesn't approve, or he had a dream and suddenly he himself didn't approve?
Well that's when you get into the Alternate Endings area in your Special Features menu. They don't come around often, but when they do, they usually give us a major glimpse into the minds of the people involved. Through these unsung moments, we get to see what was supposed to happen originally, but for whatever half-cooked reason, we never did.
Here are the Top Ten Alternate Endings. WARNING: Spoilers follow for those who have not seen the films.
10) Independence Day (1996)
Originally, ID4, in all is special effects glory, ended with the dutiful father's last attempt to protect his children and show them how much he loved them. With the entire fleet out of missiles, Russell Casse valiantly flew his F-14, armed with a single armed rocket, into the massive energy beam of the alien ship causing a backfire and destroying the hostile invaders. Alternately, the character of Russell Casse was an established drunk and when the government starts pulling pilots to assist, Russell volunteers but is dropped due to his incessant drinking. The ending scene plays the same, everyone out of ammo, and no one to turn to, except Russell, who breaks the clouds with his crop duster, a missile strapped on ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.
9) The Wolfman (2010)
When The Wolfman was remade starring Benecio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, I was overjoyed to hear about it. After I saw the film, I was even more impressed. A huge fan of the film, I jumped when I heard there were several alternate endings included on the Blu-Ray edition. Theatrically, the film concludes with Louis battling his lycanthrope father, chases his love into the wilderness, and then summarily killed with a silver bullet, his human form dying in her arms. On the Blu-Ray we are treated to two alternate cuts of this ending, the 2nd being my favorite. In the first, Louis manages to bite the girl before she shoots and kills him, leaving her to ponder the bite and its ramifications. The second proves a bit more dark, as Louis manages to subdue and kill the girl and then turn to the camera and smile.
8) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
T2 will always be my favorite in the Terminator franchise. After destroying the T-1000 in the steelworks, Arnie's T-800 is then lowered into the molten metal by Sarah Connor destroying him as well. The concluding shot brings us the passing highway, yellow road dividers rushing by to an unknown destination as Sarah ponders in a voice over about how if a machine could learn the value of human life, perhaps humans themselves could as well. A solid ending. The alternate cut gave us much more to think about (though it would have effectively ended the franchise right there). Sarah, now advanced in age and a grandmother, sits at a playground, the futuristic cityscape of the U.S. Capitol in the background. She is speaking into a recorder about the uneventful passing of Judgment Day and how life has continued on normally. Her son John now fights for the people on the Senate floor spreading common sense and logic. But she is still haunted by the dreams of the end, her only real hope for humanity still resting upon the shoulders of a Terminator.
7) The Collector (2009)
One of those unprecedented horror gems that comes along, The Collector was the twisted product of the minds behind several of the Saw sequels. In the movie, professional thief Arkin is trapped in the house he was robbing by the deadly traps of a psychotic killer. Faced with saving the family still trapped inside by the madman and facing the brutal killer, Arkin eventually opts to escape after they are all killed. But when he sees the young daughter of the family still trapped inside, he reenters the house and faces off with the Collector in a terrific showdown of wits and skill. Though he saves the girl, Arkin sadly lives to be recaptured by the Collector, stuffed into a steamer trunk and carted off to god-knows-what hell that awaits him. The alternate ending, though it would have ended the film, made me feel pretty good. I like Arkin, he's a great anti-hero, and he deserved a break. On the DVD, we see Arkin in the same situation, spying the little girl trapped in the house, the Collector heading towards her. And in that moment, Arkin makes his choice, personified by the double middle-fingers he throws to the house before he runs off to his escape.
6) I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith's epic apocalypse movie based upon the novel by Richard Matheson, ended with the lone hero struggling to survive, but opting instead to save the lives of others at the cost of his own. After depositing the details of the cure for the disease that has ravaged the planet and turned most of humanity into ravening vampiric monsters, Dr. Nevil traps himself in his laboratory as the hordes of creatures surround him. At the last second, he blows up the entire lab, killing himself and the creatures around him, thus allowing the survivors currently protected in the laboratory blast furnace to escape with the cure intact. The DVD brought us a different conclusion, seeing Nevil in the same situation, but instead of massive death and destruction, we witness the vampiric creatures' actual motive: to retrieve one of their own that Nevil had used in experimentation. After they recapture the sedated creature, the monsters leave, showing us a glimpse that humanity does still exist somewhere within them, and giving us hope that they can all be saved.
5) 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle's incredible eye for terror and the frenetic performance of Cillian Murphy made this film the gold-standard of zombie horror. Originally, after Jim is shot by the insane Lieutenant West, Selena and Hannah rush him to a deserted hospital where they valiantly struggle to save his life. The ending brings us a scene of Jim recuperating in a bed as Selena and Hannah continue to work on a massive HELP sign to signal overhead aircraft that they are alive. Oh, but Danny Boyle didn't intend for this to be the end, so on the DVD and Blue-Ray releases we got several options. Firstly, though they fight to save Jim's life, unfortunately they are unable to revive him. He dies and is left on the bed in the deserted hospital, the exact way he began the film. In the second sequence, available on the Blu-Ray, as Jim lays dying on the hospital bed and the girls try to save him, he dreams about the last moments before he was in the accident that left him comatose at the beginning of the film. When the car hits him in the dream, Jim expires on the table the same moment. In the third option, the entire film is altered. From the point of the story when Frank is infected, there are no soldiers. Having restrained Frank, the survivors locate the medical complex where the cure is held. Jim offers his own life for Franks, in the form of a complete blood transfusion, so that he can survive with his daughter Hannah. Jim again dies and is left the same way he started the film.
4) Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Now this is an oldie. Frank Oz created an interpretation of the film in 1986 that was loosely based on the Broadway Musical, which was in turn based on Roger Corman's 1960 film. In Oz's version, the film ends with Seymour getting Audrey, the two marrying, getting a house and living happily ever after...save for a whimsical looking baby of Audrey II growing in their garden who shoots a cute smile to the camera before the credits roll. However, Oz did not intend for this happy-go-lucky version originally. Instead, the original ending was 23 minutes of mayhem, carnage, and sadness as Audrey II kills Audrey, Seymour feeds Audrey's remains to Audrey II, then attempts to kill himself, is convinced not to, only to be eaten himself by Audrey II, who then, with her babies, proceeds to take over the planet, the final scene being Audrey II crashing through the "film glass", it's open maw drawing ever closer to the audience as it laughs maniacally.
3) Blade Runner (1982)
The 3rd epic film that helped to further skyrocket Harrison Ford's career (after shooting Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark), Blade Runner was an incredibly intelligent film that asked what would happen if machines began to think and feel as humans do, addressing the ultimate fears of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and its inevitable conflict with its creators. Theatrically, the film ended on a studio-imposed "happy" note, as Deckard and replicant Rachael drive off into the countryside to attempt a life of normalcy and happiness. It left us with a bit of hope despite the darkness of the overall film. The voice-over narration also gave us a bit of a lift. However, Ridley Scott had different things in mind originally. Scrapping the voice-over, Ridley ended the film at the elevator sequence, as Deckard and Rachael enter and the doors close, leaving the answer to the mystery, was Deckard actually a replicant the whole time, ambiguous.
2) The Abyss (1989)
By far one of my favorite films of all time, James Cameron's The Abyss was an epic masterpiece. After the deep-sea oil rig crew encounters the deep-sea aliens, with the Navy upon the surface looking for any sign of life, the entire deepwater station is brought topside, as the aliens come out of the water and reveal themselves to all of mankind. The crew is reunited with their leader Bud and everyone leaves the theater grinning. It was a feel-good ending, but not quite epic enough for Cameron's taste. Originally, the ending of the film included an entire sequence of Bud discoursing with the aliens about humanity. The aliens, after reviewing human history over the past century, have begun to see humans as violent, unpredictable, judgmental, and brutal creatures who are terrified of anything they view as different, inequal, or strange. Fearing a war, the aliens decide to utilize their ability to control water to decimate the population of the Earth, by drowning it in it's own oceans. As the miles high tsunami's prepare to sweep down upon the continents, Bud, in a last ditch effort, convinces the aliens that the human capacity for acceptance is by far a greater asset, proving this by his own dedication to saving the aliens from a deep-sixed nuclear weapon, accepting that the effort would lead to him losing his own life in return. Seeing that Bud's sacrifice would have saved them all and deciding that humanity is worth saving, the aliens pull back the titanic waves and then proceed to reveal themselves to the world by rising to the surface and reuniting Bud with his beloved wife and his crew.
1) Clerks (1994)
For anyone who has not seen Kevin Smith's epic indie film that follows the adventures of hapless convenience store clerk Dante, you have missed a great deal. Beneath the incredibly crude humor, pervasive foul language, obscure nerdy references, and sexual perversions lies a golden film that examines the slow but accepted loss of humanity in the current generation. Dante is the forerunner for Generation X as it loses its grasp on what it means to be human amidst the miasma of corporation-influenced need, unfulfilled sexual necessities, and the acceptance that one cannot move farther than what he is told he can by society. Dante's conflicts begin when he is called into work on his day off and hilarity ensues as his best friend Randall proceeds to upend the status quo and teach Dante a valuable lesson on recognizing your own worth, seizing that which you desire, and living your life as you see fit and not through the eyes of those around you. The film concluded with Dante, having now learned his lesson, closing the store and preparing to move on to the next day, a bit more wise and alot more hopeful than when he began. The alternate ending however did not leave us with a sense of hopeful future prospects. As Randall tosses the open sign to Dante and announces "You're closed!", Dante smiles and walks back to the register to finish up. At that moment, a hooded person walks in and approaches the counter. Dante says that they are closed, but the man brandishes a revolver, shoots Dante at point blank range, and robs the register before running out of the store. Not even supposed to be there that day, Dante dies on the cold floor in solitude. Sadder still, was for anyone who remembered that Randall, earlier in the film, had disconnected the store camera so he could watch hermaphroditic porn on the security monitor, leaving virtually no chance of the killer being found. Though much darker than the original ending, Smith stated that the film ended this way because he "didn't know how to end a film". Many believe this ending was a throwback to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, being Dante's favorite of the trilogy, as it ended on such a down note and "that's all life really is, just a series of down notes".
Though many of these films achieved greatness in their own way with their released ending, the alternates exist for numerous reasons many of which we, as an audience, may never know. Nonetheless, when confronted with the same issues on your own project, whether it be time, funding, test audience, or personal preference, always remember to combine the gut instinct with the wisdom of those that came before you. After all, that's why Special Features menus exist.