Can you imagine a happy ending for Jason Bourne? Sarah Connor enjoying her grandchildren? Andie ending up with Ducky? Whether the directors simply changed their minds or were influenced by the reactions of test audiences, some of our favorite movies once had completely different endings. Here are 28 of them. Spoilers abound!
1. Dr. Strangelove
The ending to this one is so iconic it's almost impossible to fathom it ending any other way. The ending that was used, of course, was Major T.J. "King" Kong riding a nuclear bomb like it's a bucking bronco, followed by Dr. Strangelove miraculously regaining the ability to walk just as the Doomsday Machine activates and detonates nuclear bombs across the world. But all of this could have been replaced with a massive fight at the Pentagon—a piefight. Everyone in the war room, including the POTUS and the Russian Ambassador, cream each other in the face with pies like they're slapstick vaudevillians. Director Stanley Kubrick ended up cutting the scene because he "decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film." No kidding.
2. Terminator 2
The year is 2029, Sarah Connor is a happy grandmother, and her son John is a senator. Everyone lives happily ever after. That's great and all, but it didn't leave much room for sequels. The studio preferred dollar signs to happy endings.
Stallone’s original screenplay had Rocky accepting money to throw the fight against Apollo Creed—who would have been Jamaican, by the way. Rocky then uses the cash to help Adrian open a pet store. So ... good script editing, there.
Depressingly, Clerks originally ended with Dante getting shot and killed by a robber. Kevin Smith said he ended it that way because he didn't know how to end it otherwise, but when his two mentors informed him that the ending was just a giant downer, he decided to end the movie just before the scene where Dante is killed.
5. I Am Legend
Another hopeful ending here. At the end of the version that was released, Dr. Neville heroically blows himself and a bunch of Darkseekers up, saving Anna and Ethan, but giving them the cure before he goes. Critics didn't care for the ending, but perhaps they would have preferred the one where the Darkseekers break into Neville's lab because they're looking for the female Darkseeker he has been experimenting on. Once Neville realizes this and gives the female back, the rest of the mob backs off and Neville realizes that the infected just see him as a murderer of their kind.
6. Fatal Attraction
Audiences were bored to tears by the original ending, in which Dan is charged with murder while an Alex voice-over confesses suicide. Bad audience reaction prompted a change to the ending we know now: the famous bathtub shooting. But Glenn Close hated this ending and fought hard against it, arguing that her character was more likely to self-destruct and commit suicide. She even had psychiatrists analyze Alex. They agreed. After three weeks of resisting, she gave in and filmed the ending that was released. The original ending was kept for the Japanese release of the film, however.
7. Little Shop of Horrors
The 1986 version of this movie-musical was supposed to end with Audrey II killing Audrey and Seymour and taking over New York City. That's in keeping with the off-Broadway ending, which is what the movie was based on. It's said that Frank Oz and most of the actors, including Rick Moranis, much prefer this ending.
8. Thelma and Louise
Only a tiny tweak here, but a fairly significant one—the first ending showed Thelma and Louise's car tumbling all the way to the canyon floor, no doubt getting pulverized in the process. Harvey Keitel's character finds the Polaroid that blew out of the car and looks at it as a helicopter heads down into the Grand Canyon to survey the wreckage. As you probably know, the updated ending is a wee bit more hopeful—we see their car drive off the cliff, but not the aftermath. I suppose there's the chance that there's an awning halfway down the canyon that they bounce off of, cartoon-style.
9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This one got the Thelma and Louise treatment. Or rather, I suppose, Thelma got the Butch Cassidy treatment. The way it ends now is with Butch and Sundance leaving the house with guns a'blazing, and we hear return fire. But we don't actually see anyone die, leaving the ending slightly more ambiguous than the original, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford got to test their acting chops on a gruesome death scene.
It had three alternate endings, but unlike these other movies, you could actually see all three of them when the movie was released—as long as you were willing to pay to see the movie three times. Originally, you didn't know what ending you were going to get until you got to that dividing point at the end of the movie, but eventually, theaters started advertising if ending A, B, or C was playing so patrons could see the endings they hadn't seen yet. Rumor has it there was actually a fourth ending as well, but the filmmakers decided enough was enough.
11. Rambo: First Blood
When the movie was released on DVD in 2004, it included an alternative ending where John Rambo commits suicide. That would have deprived the world of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo. You can see what could have been above.
12. The Butterfly Effect
In the theatrical ending, Evan travels back in time to prevent himself from growing up with his childhood sweetheart. There’s a “happy” ending where he does the same thing, but gets to ask her out for coffee when he runs into her later in life. There’s a third version of this ending where Evan doesn’t introduce himself when he later meets her, but does follow her down the street, leaving the viewer to wonder if they ever connected or not. And then there’s the ending above.
Studio execs preferred an ending that didn’t result in any heads in boxes—or at the very least, not any human ones: Instead of the ending they went with, they wanted to soften the blow by using the head of a beloved family dog instead. Brad Pitt stuck to his guns and said it was Gwyneth’s head or no head—and no film—at all.
14. Pretty in Pink
Everyone seems to want Andie to end up with Duckie at the end of this John Hughes classic, but the thing is... they tried that. Here’s how it went down: Duckie and Andie walk into the center of the room at prom, the DJ plays David Bowie’s “Heroes,” they dance, and, presumably, our favorite misunderstood misfits are together forever. Everyone involved with the film agreed that the ending was a little lackluster, and test audiences agreed. Hear Jon Cryer talk about the original ending in the clip above.
15. Return of the Jedi
According to producer Gary Kurtz, the first version of the script included the death of Han Solo during a raid on an Imperial base. Kurtz says that George Lucas was concerned about how Han’s demise would impact merchandising and refused to kill any of the main characters off, which is why the movie ended in a “a teddy bear luau” instead. Kurtz and Lucas went their separate ways after this film.
16. The Princess Diaries
Would you have been disappointed if you hadn't seen the fabulous castle the new Princess Mia was headed off to live in? Garry Marshall's granddaughter was. When he showed his 5-year-old granddaughter the film, she was upset that it just ended with Mia agreeing to become a princess. The little girl really wanted to see the castle and the start of Mia's fabulous new life, so Marshall convinced Disney to buy some footage of a European castle, to which they digitally added the Genovian flag. Marshall said it made his granddaughter much happier.
17. Blade Runner
If you’ve always been disappointed in the voiceover that originally concluded Blade Runner, you’re not alone. Harrison Ford hated it, too. It was later removed from the Director’s Cut. You can see the original ending above, and here’s the alternate ending.
Other ending options included Deckard shooting Rachael, Deckard shooting Rachael because she asked him to, and Gaff chasing Deckard and Rachael as they drive.
Instead of Aged Rose quietly dropping her priceless Heart of the Ocean bauble into the abyss, the original ending had her giving a seriously cheesy speech about life being the only thing that’s priceless. Then she launches that sucker overboard as Bill Paxton laughs maniacally, flashing some dangerously crazy eyes.
19. Pretty Woman
Everyone loves this Cinderella story because there’s a happily ever after. But what if there wasn’t? The original script called for Vivian to receive her envelope of cash as per the original agreement. No one falls in love, there’s no fire escape-climbing, and Vivian ends up back on the streets. “[It was] a really dark and depressing, horrible, terrible story about two horrible people and my character was this drug addict, a bad-tempered, foulmouthed, ill-humored, poorly educated hooker who had this weeklong experience with a foulmouthed, ill-tempered, bad-humored, very wealthy, handsome but horrible man and it was just a grisly, ugly story about these two people,” Julia Roberts has said.
Even after the movie had started production, no one knew exactly where Ripley would be when the credits rolled. The script went through multiple rewrites, and multiple finales were written up. One of Ridley Scott’s ideas was to have the xenomorph bite our heroine’s head off, then record a final entry in her log—using her voice. Producers thought it was too dark and would only provide additional money for filming if the alien bit it in the end instead.
21. Donnie Darko
Donnie still succumbs to his fate—but with this ending, you actually see it. And it’s heartbreaking.
22. The Bourne Identity
Poor Jason Bourne could have had a happy ending with Marie (until they inevitably killed her at the beginning of the sequel, anyway). Instead, execs decided to end the first film by adding one more tragic event to Bourne’s long history of tragic events.
23. The Birds
The ending of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is pretty iconic in its own right, but Hitch had intended it to be even more memorable: The script called for the final shot to show the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in feathered foes. When it became clear how expensive it would be to create, the scene was scrapped.
24. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Harold Ramis actually shot another ending to National Lampoon’s Vacation and showed it to audiences — and it tested terribly. “[It] bombed so badly that the audience was laughing for eighty minutes and then just stopped cold," he said. That ending? Clark takes his family to Walley’s home and forces him to entertain his family—at gunpoint.
25. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King's hit novel originally ended with a two-minute hospital scene, a way to show us that Danny and Wendy had survived. But while they’re there, the manager of the Overlook Hotel comes in and tells Wendy that police have investigated, and they didn’t find a shred of paranormal evidence. As he leaves, the manager gives Danny a yellow ball—the same one that led him to the infamous room 237. Kubrick cut the scenes at the last minute after seeing audience reaction: “When I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the movie I decided the scene was unnecessary.” He actually had projectionists cut the scene from the film by hand and mail the strips back to Warner Bros.
26. Gone with the Wind
The script change to the end of Gone with the Wind is small, but it drastically changes the character of Scarlett O’Hara. Instead of it ending with Scarlett declaring, “After all tomorrow is another day,” she gets a little desperate: “Rhett! Rhett! You’ll come back. You’ll come back! I know you will!”
If you weren’t a fan of the Heathers “quasi-happy ending,” take your pick from these three depressing versions:
- The school blows up, and the movie ends with prom in heaven.
- At real prom, the kids all enjoy blue drinks from the punchbowl — the same blue stuff that killed Heather Chandler.
- Veronica asks Martha Dumptruck if she wants to hang out and rent a movie. Martha responds by stabbing Veronica in the stomach and calling her Heather. As she bleeds out, Veronica gasps, “My name’s not Heather, you bitch!”
28. The Lion King
Scar still meets his much-deserved end, but he burns to death instead of being ripped to pieces by hyenas. During their big battle, Scar throws Simba off of a cliff, saying, “Goodnight, sweet prince.” (A nod to Hamlet, one of the works that inspired the movie.) However, Simba’s fall is broken by a tree, and Scar is engulfed by the flames.