20 Happy Movies That Almost Got Sad Endings
Rest assured knowing that your favorite character fared better in the final cut.
In Tinseltown, every movie has to go through several rounds of edits and cuts before it makes it to a mass audience. And though, for the most part, this process results in little more than a line or two of deleted dialogue, sometimes, the team behind a major motion picture will reshoot the ending until their art conveys another message entirely. (Just consider, for instance, that Clerks—yes, the comedy—almost ended in one of the main characters getting murdered.)
Curious to find out which of your favorite happy-go-lucky flicks were almost sad stories? Keep reading to learn about some of the alternate movie endings that could’ve changed movie history as you know it.
Originally, director Kevin Smith intended for the main character of Clerks, Dante Hicks, to die at the end of the film after a struggle with a robber who held up the convenience store where he worked. But while Smith liked the direction of the film, Brian O’Halloran, who played Hicks, thought that the ending was too out of place in the film.
“I hated that ending. I just thought it was too quick of a twist,” O’Halloran told Rolling Stone. As it turns out, this sentiment was felt by many people, prompting Smith to end the film at the point right before Hicks is murdered.
Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon might be an action film, but it really centers around the beautiful friendship between cops Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. By the end of the film, the two cops realize that they’ve formed a lifelong bond, and we see a formerly suicidal Riggs spend the holidays with Murtaugh’s family in a truly touching ending.
However, Lethal Weapon didn’t always end with a happily ever after. In the film’s alternate ending, Murtaugh talks about quitting the force, Riggs calls Murtaugh old, and the two acquaintances part ways forever. Yes, the film world was almost robbed of one of the greatest franchises in history—but thankfully, Donner saw the light before it was too late.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s original finale featured a small change that would have left the audience with a slightly darker message. In the known version of the film, Paul Newman and Robert Redford leave the house with a vengeance, and although the audience hears the gunfire and can rightfully assuming that a fight to the death is occurring, they never actually see what is taking place. However, in the original version, the pair test their acting chops in a cinematic and gruesome death scene, leaving nothing to the imagination.
What happens when you take away a triumphantly happy ending from a movie that desperately calls for one? Well, for one, you get an incredibly unhappy group of moviegoers. Unsurprisingly, the first viewers of this original ending of Pretty Woman weren’t happy about the original ending, which witnessed the two main characters, played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, simply completing the transaction—without falling in love or the climbing of any fire escapes.
For those of you who may have not been a fan of the original happy ending of Heathers, you can rest assured knowing that director Michael Lehmann didn’t originally intend to make the ending all sunshine and rainbows—but instead to capture the more sinister essence that the film was building to since the opening credits. In just one of the alternate endings, the entire school is blown to pieces, and the movie closes with a shot of the prom taking place in heaven.
Dawn of the Dead
In this zombie classic, director George A. Romero originally intended for the ending of Dawn of the Dead to be just a bit more hopeful, with the main characters flying away to an uncertain future amidst a zombie takeover. In the alternate version, however, the three survivors each kill themselves in a series of gory acts before the impending crush of zombies surround them. So, while the original isn’t a happy ending exactly, the alternate option would have been even more horrifying.
Though it may seem strange to consider a depressing end to this feel-good movie, underdogs are underdogs for a reason—meaning that there will eventually come a time when they are beaten by the true champion. So it should come as no surprise that underdog Peter lost to White in the alternate version of this film—though it was inevitably changed to appeal to the audience of underdogs (aren’t we all) that would be contributing to its box office numbers.
As it turns out, young writer Quentin Tarantino was overruled by director Tony Scott when it came time to pick which ending they would ultimately use to sum up of the tragic story of the lawless Alabama and Clarence. If Tarantino had gotten his way, the movie would have ended with Clarence succumbing to a gunshot wound and his love, Alabama, hitchhiking to Mexico and wondering about all that could have been if they had both made it out alive.
28 Days Later
While the ending audiences got saw the film’s protagonist, Jim, convalescing in a cottage with fellow survivors, director Danny Boyle’s alternate version is much more heartrending. In it, the group finds the original laboratory where the virus was created, where a scientist tells them that the only way infected father Frank is going to survive is if he is given a complete blood transfusion from a person who is healthy. So, in a move to save Frank, Jim sacrifices himself, raging full of the virus at the close of the film.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Though the premiere of this movie witnessed a divided reception from audiences, there was one element about the film that many agreed upon: that the ending seemed rushed. However, when the original version, in which Scott (played by Michael Cera) gets back together with his ex-girlfriend Knives, and not Ramona (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), was shown to indifferent test audiences, the response was negative enough that director Edgar Wright made the decision to pair Scott with Ramona at the final conclusion of the film instead.
Army of Darkness
In the theatrical cut of Army of Darkness, the third installment in the Evil Dead franchise, the film’s unexpected time-traveling hero, Ash, returns to his own time from the Middle Ages and brilliantly fights a deadite while on the job at S-Mart. Originally, though, Ash’s finale was a bit bleaker: After taking too much of the potion that would return him back to his time, the main character ends up in a post-apocalypic London where everything—and everyone—is destroyed.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
If you went to the theaters in the mid-1990s to see Die Hard with a Vengeance, the third film in the Bruce Willis action series, then you’ll recall that the movie ended with Willis’ character, John McClane, tracking down bad guy Simon Gruber and shooting down his helicopter in typical hero fashion. However, this wasn’t always the way that the third film in the franchise ended. Originally, the bad guy was supposed to escape, McClane was supposed to get fired from the police department, and the two were supposed to meet in a European cafe where they were to play a rather intense game of Russian roulette featuring—we kid you not—a rocket launcher. Talk about high stakes.
The Butterfly Effect
The original Butterfly Effect starring Ashton Kutcher has not one, not two, but three alternate endings—and in the most depressing ending of them all, Evan, Kutcher’s time-traveling character, ends up traveling all the way back to the womb and strangling himself with his umbilical cord so as not to inflict pain on the people he loves. Though the makers of the film loved this version of the story, they ultimately decided that it wouldn’t bode well with mainstream audiences, and so they stuck to a much safer storyline in which Evan sees the love of his life on the street and, instead of introducing himself, just keeps on walking.
In the original ending to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film Blade Runner, things are kept rather ambiguous. Yes, former police officer Rick Deckard and bioengineered human being Rachael are able to escape the folks hunting them down, but the audience is never told for sure whether or not the duo actually makes it out alive. However, test audiences in Denver and Dallas found the movie plot to be confusing, and so Scott decided to give the film a “happy ending,” in which Deckard and Rachael are seen riding off into a forest. This seemed to please audiences enough, but evidently the film’s star, Harrison Forest, “wasn’t keen on the idea.” Oh well.
Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors probably wouldn’t have quite the cult following it does today had director Frank Oz gone with the film’s sad alternate ending. Evidently, the 1986 musical comedy about an alien plant hungry for human flesh was supposed to end not with Seymour and Audrey getting married and moving to their dream house, but with the two main characters getting killed by Audrey II, the alien plant.
“The audiences loved [the movie]. I felt like I was on a wonderful Hawaiian island lying on the sand… until the two characters they love dearly get killed,” Oz told USA Today. “And then it was an icebox. It was palpable. Killing them was a disaster.”
Though Earth’s future doesn’t look all that promising in most of Wall-E, the end credits of the film reassure viewers that the planet is being rebuilt slowly but steadily. However, these happy end credits were only added into the film at the last minute after test audiences decided that, without them, the film was far too bleak and scary, especially for a children’s film.
When Get Out hit theaters in 2017, it quickly made waves thanks to its messages about racism, marginalization, and segregation, and critics and fans alike cheered when film’s main character Chris, portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, was able to escape his girlfriend’s crazy family with the help of his friend Rod. But would viewers have reacted the same way had the film kept its original ending?
In the other version of the Oscar-winning tale, it’s not Rod who shows up to rescue Chris, but two white police officers. They escort the innocent man off to prison, and he later reveals to Rod that he can’t remember anything about what happened that night, which means that he’ll never be able to prove that he was only acting in self-defense. According to writer-director Jordan Peele, this original ending was “meant to call out the fact that racism is still simmering underneath the surface,” but ultimately, he chose the happy ending over the sadly realistic one.
I Am Legend
If there’s one thing that’s clear after watching I Am Legend the way it is, it’s that army scientist Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) is the good guy, doing everything he can to find a cure for a virus that’s made the population into vampire-resembling mutants called Darkseekers (and even sacrificing himself in the process). Watch the film with its alternate ending, though, and you might start to second-guess your beliefs about Neville’s character. Why? In this version, the scientist comes face-to-face with some of the Darkseekers and learns that, after all his efforts to thwart them off, they actually aren’t all that different from the remaining humans.
“I agree it’s the better ending,” director Francis Lawrence told Screen Rant about the original ending that never made the cut. “It’s the more philosophical version of the end, but in terms of story math we’re doing everything you’re not supposed to do, right? The hero doesn’t find the cure. They drive off into the unknown and the creatures you’ve been saying are the bad ones the whole time you learn actually have humanity and aren’t the bad ones—the hero’s the bad one. We tested it twice and it got wildly rejected… which is why we came out with the other one.”
If you recently hit theaters to catch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s action flick Rampage, then you already know what happens at the end of the film: George, the mutant albino gorilla friend of Johnson’s Davis Okoye, helps defeat the other mutant animals wreaking havoc on Chicago. But when the film was originally proposed, the plan was for George to die along with the other mutant animals—that is, until Johnson objected.
“I don’t like a sad ending,” Johnson said. “I don’t want it in my movies. When the credits roll, I want to feel great. George sacrifices himself like a brave soldier. OK. But this is a movie! There’s a crocodile the size of a football stadium—we’re not making Saving Private Ryan.”
In the U.S. version of sci-fi fantasy thriller Brazil, viewers are treated to a rather happy ending: After a long and complicated battle with a corrupt bureaucracy, the movie’s main character, Sam, is able to escape alongside his love interest, Jill. However, this ending only came to be after execs at Universal made changes to the final product without writer-director Terry Gilliam‘s approval. Initially, the film’s ending involved a happily ever after that turns out to be all a delusion in Sam’s head, and the studio heads felt that this just didn’t jive with American audiences. Reluctantly, Gilliam allowed the studio to use the alternate, happy ending for U.S. distribution—but only after using the original version behind the studio’s back to win three L.A. Critics awards.
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