20 Sad Movies That Almost Got Happy Endings
For some films, bleaker is better.
For some movies, the audience is already prepared for a sad ending, as the film itself doesn’t exactly warrant a hopeful and inspiring conclusion. For example, take a movie like The Descent, in which the main characters fight against a series of attacks from creatures dwelling within the caves that they had originally set out to explore—no matter how you look at it, there is no way that this ending is going to please those who are looking for a more upbeat flick.
But what if there was a way to give melancholy movies their happily ever afters? Believe it or not, some of the creepiest and most depressing films out there—flicks like It, The Gift, and 1408—came this close to ending on a positive note. Without further ado, we present the sad, dark, and depressing flicks that almost ended happily.
It’s hard to imagine a film in the Terminator franchise with any sort of happy conclusion—and yet, the second movie almost got one. In the movie’s peaceful alternate ending, audiences are treated to an epilogue set decades in the future in which a much older Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) details, via voiceover, how a robot apocalypse never happened and how everyone lived happily ever after.
But because this ideal ending left no room for any potential sequels (and therefore, money), the film’s creators decided to go with a much bleaker, ambiguous ending that so far has resulted in four more films. (Terminator 6 is scheduled to be released in 2019.)
If you saw 1408 for the first time either while abroad or on FX, then you saw it with its original, gloomy ending. In typical Stephen King fashion, the short story adaptation ends with John Cusack’s character Mike dying in the hotel fire he started and reuniting with his dead daughter. However, if you saw the film while it was in theaters in the U.S., then you might recall it having a slightly less dark ending, in which Mike survives the fire, reconnects with his estranged wife, and tries to figure out what the heck happened to him in Room 1408.
In describing the movie It, the traumatizing film adaptation of yet another Stephen King work, it’s difficult to use descriptors like light-hearted or funny—but that’s perhaps exactly how fans would’ve described the film had director Andy Muschietti chosen to include the alternate ending.
In this much tamer version of the horror flick, we see young Georgie reach into the drain for his sailboat—but instead of getting killed by Pennywise like in the film that made it into theaters, he simply takes the boat from the clown’s hand, thanks him, and leaves. Of course, it’s doubtful that this satirical scene was ever even considered for release, but it’s nice to imagine a world in which the kids of Derry, Maine lived happily ever after.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Image via YouTube
Though the conclusion to My Best Friend’s Wedding isn’t tragic, per se, it certainly isn’t ideal for Julia Roberts’ Julianne Potter, who ends up alone, watching her best friend and former fling Michael marry the girl of his dreams. This wasn’t always the case, though: In the original version of the film, Potter meets a new love interest at Michael’s wedding, and the film ends with the two of them dancing off into the night. So, why the change of heart?
“They wanted [Potter] dead,” director P.J. Hogan told Entertainment Weekly about the test audience’s visceral reaction to the film’s original ending. “They just couldn’t understand her motives.”
In what is now considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s most iconic scenes, the 1964 political satire Dr. Strangelove ends with Major J. T. Kong straddling a nuclear weapon and a montage of atomic bombs blowing up everywhere. However, Kubrick’s original vision for the film was slightly less dark: Though the world was always going to end, the original film concluded with a pie fight in the war room instead.
After careful consideration, the director decided that the pie fight scene was “a disaster of Homeric proportions” that was “not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film,” and so the dark nuclear ending that we know was born.
The Bourne Identity
Though Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne reunites with the love of his life, Marie, in both versions of The Bourne Identity, the alternate ending to the film features a much more extravagant embrace. In the ending that made it to the big screen, Bourne tracks down Marie and the two share a subtle embrace; in the ending that never made it into the film, Bourne and Marie make out on the beach while the sun sets in typical Hollywood fashion.
Highlander 2: The Quickening
True fans of Highlander 2: The Quickening have probably already heard of the film’s alternate “fairytale ending.” In it, Connor and Louise return to planet Zeist after a wonderful and well-earned victory for Earth, but not before kissing in front of a sky full of stars.
In the international version of this horror flick, remaining survivor Sarah escapes from the cave where she is being attacked by mysterious creatures—only to wake up once again in the cave as she realizes that her escape was all just a sick hallucination. The creators of this film felt that Sarah’s demise was too dark for an American audience, though, and so the U.S. version of the film featured Sarah escaping successfully (and it didn’t hurt that this allowed for The Descent 2).
Paths of Glory
It appears as if Kubrick has a problem with writing an ending and sticking to it. Case in point: Originally, the anti-war movie Paths of Glory ended with the three soldiers on trial for cowardice being freed, but after much objection from star Kirk Douglas, Kubrick and writer Jim Thompson altered the script so that the soldiers were sentenced to death and executed.
Though Easy Rider‘s Wyatt and Billy are just two laid back bikers with an unabashed love for the open road, they both have violent ends when they are shot and killed during their travels. However, according to screenwriter Terry Southern, this ending wasn’t received well by star Dennis Hopper, who hoped that the hippie bikers would make it to the end of the film unscathed.
“I think for a minute [Hopper] was still hoping they would somehow beat the system,” Southern told The Paris Review. “Sail into the sunset with a lot of loot and freedom. But of course, he was hip enough to realize, a minute later, that [their death] was more or less mandatory.”
Throughout this psychological thriller, the audience isn’t sure who to pity—the bullied teen enacting revenge (Joel Edgerton) on his former bully, or the bully (Jason Bateman) who, now grown up, is about to receive the cruelest form of karma. And, while audiences may have expected some kind of twisted ending to this story, they were in no way prepared for the real ending, in which Jason Bateman’s character receives a DVD on his front porch, showing his wife, played by Rebecca Hall, sexually abused by Edgerton’s character months earlier.
Then, it’s put into question whether his newborn son is really is own or the product of this sexual abuse. However, in the original ending, Edgerton instilled a bit more hope into the story: The audience sees a flashback to the assault, but Edgerton’s character decides not to go through with it—though there is still enough mystery to convince the audience that it may still have happened.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Despite the Star Wars franchise’s affinity for sequels, it does seem to enjoy killing off its main characters. Case in point: This 2016 tale, starring Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, where, in the version you might be familiar with, director Gareth Edwards feels no remorse as he kills off Felicity Jones’ ragtag group of heroes one by one as they attempt to invade the planet Scarif. At the very end of the film, the Death Star enters orbit above Scarif where the two main characters are still attempting to carry out their mission. When the Death Star makes a shot at the planet, it kills both main characters.
In the original version, however, the two main characters, along with the rest of the group, make it off the planet just in the nick of time, surviving the mission. Though, admittedly, expecting a happy ending from a Star Wars film at this point seems to be a foolish endeavor.
After an experiment gone wrong, scientist Seth Brundle, played by Jeff Goldblum, accidentally merges with one of his test subjects—a fly. Just as he’s turning from man to fly, his girlfriend, Veronica Quaife, played by Geena Davis, realizes that she’s pregnant with a child that is also sure to be part insect. The end of the movie witnesses Quaife killing Brundle and facing an uncertain future for her and the fly baby. In the alternate ending, though, things appear slightly less grim, with Quaife killing Brundle but realizing that she is pregnant with her former lover’s child, and not Brundle’s. However, despite wanting to keep the ending more uplifting, director David Cronenberg knew that the audience wasn’t likely to buy a happy ending after the death of the Brundle, and so he opted to go for a not-so-happily ever after.
Released in 1974, this film starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway may win the award for the most depressing movie ending of all time. Throughout the movie, a series of fates weave their way through the main character’s lives, and they all come together at the end of the movie to create a truly heart-wrenching finale. For one, the audience discovers that Evelyn (played by Dunaway) was actually sexually assaulted by her father, and that her daughter is the product of that assault.
At the end, Evelyn is murdered by the police after attempting to kill her father while her daughter is taken as prisoner. Then, Jack Gittes (played by Nicholson) stands alone in the middle of the street after witnessing the death and kidnapping of those that he had sworn to protect. However, in Robert Towne’s original screenplay, the heroes emerged victorious, with Gittes murdering Evelyn’s father and the trio forging a path to a new life without scheming and plotting.
Despite The Godfather’s ending remaining one of the most violent of all time, there isn’t a drop of blood to be seen as the credits roll on the screen. The ending was made to be even sweeter when Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) lies to his wife (played by Diane Keaton) and tells her that he hasn’t committed any crimes. Then, just as she realizes the lie, the door is slammed on her face, and the audience understands that this is only the beginning of the havoc wreaked by this Mafia family. Though, as it turns out, director Francis Ford Coppola actually shot an alternate ending, where the audience sees his wife, Kay, lighting candles at the church and praying for the recovering of her husband’s soul—though now it isn’t worth saving.
In the ending of this movie, about shape-shifting aliens attacking an Antarctic research base, director John Carpenter has the two main characters, played by Kurt Russell and Keith David, both fight their way to survival—though the film cuts out as the pair share a bottle of scotch, sure to freeze to death or kill each other over suspicion as to who is human and who is actually a shape-shifter. However, the film’s editor, Todd Ramsay, was so paranoid about this ending that he actually had another one shot, in which Russell’s character is saved and taken back to civilization, where it is definitively proven that he is human.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
At the close of this film, murderous psychopath Tom Ripley, played by Matt Damon, is on a boat with his male lover and a woman who knew him by another name, threatening to ruin his new assumed identity. Coming dangerously close to having his secret life revealed to his lover, he decides to strangle his lover, Peter, played by Jack Davenport, so as to keep his secrets to himself.
However, in the novel version by Patricia Highsmith, this scene never arises and Ripley is instead left with an infinite feeling of paranoia as to when his acts will finally be discovered. So, not exactly a happy ending, but one without any bloodshed.
While the original Chinese version of this film, Infernal Affairs, ended on a decidedly more happy note, director Martin Scorcese decided to add one more bloody twist to a movie already full of them.
In the Chinese version, the lead, portrayed by Andy Lau, manages to evade detection from those pursuing his criminal acts, and escapes into the sunset, while in the American version, the same character, portrayed by Matt Damon, is able to evade detection but still continues on the same criminal path, eventually leading to his killing at the end of the film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Apparently, the idea for this thriller was inspired by true events, in which victims perished while suffering from nightmares. And, if director Wes Craven would have gotten his way, the film would have simply ended with the main character, Nancy, returning to her normal life after being terrorized by Freddy Kruger. Instead, the producers of the film wanted the promise of another movie in the series, so they allowed Kruger to have one last scare before closing the curtain on the film.
The Astronaut’s Wife
As far as the original ending goes, a far more interesting fate befalls the main characters, played by Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron. In the version that you might have watched, Depp’s character returns from a space mission gone wrong, and his wife, Theron, begins to notice that something is not right with him. After finding out that an alien host has been controlling him, the movie ends with the host from Depp’s dead body (she was forced to kill him) jumping to Theron’s body; the audience sees her watching over her unsuspecting family as they head off to school. However, in the slightly more upbeat alternate ending, after she kills her husband, Theron begins to notice that her unborn baby may contain the alien host.
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