Up until the advent of DVD, alternate endings could only exist in the audience’s imagination or as the product of movie industry lore. Few were ever seen beyond the studio’s gates, the general public never knowing that Deckard was outed as a replicant in the final minutes of the original cut of “Blade Runner” or Duckie won the heart of Andie in one version of “Pretty in Pink.” Often times, it was better this way since alternate endings are usually discarded for a reason, only occasionally resulting in something more interesting like the snipped conclusion to “I Am Legend.” Good or bad, the common link between them is they completely change the tone of the film. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead for the five modern classics that could’ve ended quite badly, not only for the film’s characters in most instances, but also for the films themselves which might not be held in such esteem if they didn’t stick the landing. (And though we couldn’t bring ourselves to call “Eagle Eye” and “Sweet Home Alabama” contemporary classics, their would-be climaxes need to be seen to be believed, so appropriately, they’ve been tacked on at the end.)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Just this weekend, a reader of SlashFilm recently dug up the clip from a workprint of Alexander Payne’s high school-set comedy from an unmarked VHS tape bought at a flea market that doesn’t end with Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) leaving Nebraska. Instead, it plays upon a minor detail in Tom Perrotta’s original novel that Matthew Broderick’s disgraced teacher Mr. McAllister ultimately ended up as a car salesman rather than the docent gig he gets at the Museum of Natural History in New York in the version that became the final cut. Dropping the film’s satiric tone almost completely, a frightened Flick visits McAllister at the dealership where he works and asks to go on a test drive before she heads off to college.
Both make amends for their actions during the student body president election that drove each of them the school with McAllister offering an apology and Flick driving home to ask him to sign her empty yearbook — a sort of “love conquers all” ending, despite the fact it’s far sadder than the one Payne eventually went with since the characters show remorse, but no real growth. A possible sign of the melancholy feeling Payne would leave audiences with in his future films, “Election” simply proved to be the wrong film to go out on such a note. [UPDATE: The video below no longer works due to a copyright claim by Paramount.]
Directed by James Cameron
Whether one loves or hates James Cameron’s love story on the leaky ship, there’s likely common ground that this potential ending that played up the neuroses of Bill Paxton’s treasure hunter Brock Lovett would’ve sunk the film. Rather than seguing directly into Gloria Stuart’s elderly Rose recalling the glory and the grandeur of the Titanic after her younger self sees the love of her life (Leonardo DiCaprio) shiver to death in front of her, Cameron felt the scene needed a little comic relief in the form of Lovett panicking after discovering that Rose had kept the invaluable Heart of the Ocean necklace all along. In both versions of the film, Rose drops the Heart of the Ocean into the water, but in the final cut, it’s poignant since Rose is alone, paying tribute to her lost love, whereas with Lovett around, it becomes a parody of itself as it’s suggested Rose might be considering suicide before she’s caught and gives an unnecessary “Aw, shucks” explanation that love is far more valuable than money before flinging the Heart of the Ocean into the water so that Paxton can mug as a greedy bastard. Shifting the focus from the epic romance the audience just witnessed to a bad afterschool special was very much out of character for the film, which highlights Cameron’s notoriously bad dialogue. However, the filmmaker was probably using his eyes far more while whittling down the final cut, realizing that making a trim would excise another six minutes from an already unwieldy three-hour running time and sparing the audience a corny lecture in the process.
Directed by Kevin Smith
Back in 1994, Kevin Smith’s famously low-budget felt like a blast of irreverence, much in part to the first-time writer/director’s blisteringly funny dialogue and the fact that he brought a fresh perspective to filmmaking. But that inexperience came back to haunt Smith in the final act of the film where instead of leaving well enough alone with Dante and Randall, the two New Jersey counter jockeys whose repertee about subjects such as the feasibility of the Death Star construction powers the film along for 90 minutes. But in the form it originally premiered at Sundance, it was the final two that shocked audiences when out of nowhere, Dante is shot and robbed before the film cuts to black. If kept intact, the ending wouldn’t only have put a painful punctuation mark on one of the funniest comedies of the decade, but it would’ve cheated Smith out of a franchise that not only produced a sequel, but an animated series, countless toys and served as the basis for Smith’s entire View Askew universe.