10 Compelling Subplots Cut From Movies

Some classic movies could have been very different.
When it comes to film editing, hard choices must be made.
When it comes to film editing, hard choices must be made. / Malte Mueller/fStop via Getty Images

Mark Hamill feels Star Wars is missing something. In a 2021 interview, Hamill discussed his role as Luke Skywalker in 1977’s A New Hope and professed disappointment that a key character, Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon), ended up on the cutting room floor. Darklighter was part of the Empire but tells Skywalker he wants to switch allegiances; it’s information that would have made his subsequent death during the Death Star assault more impactful and would have, Hamill believed, fleshed out Luke’s motivations.

“The only reason that’s interesting to me is that Luke has no political persuasion,” Hamill said. “He thinks it’s great [Biggs] is in the Empire! Luke wants to be in the Empire if it will get him off the farm …He’s completely pure in that he is not politically motivated in any way, shape, or form.”

Star Wars is far from the only film that saw entire subplots omitted from the final cut. Take a look at 10 other movies that streamlined their running time by taking a heavy hand in the editing room.

1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

John Hughes wrote and directed this amiable road trip comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy. While humor typically means brevity, it’s been said that Hughes’s first cut of the movie was over four hours long. One subplot that wound up being excised from the final film: Martin’s wife (Laila Robins) believes he’s having an affair and plans to leave him. (In actuality, he’s simply experiencing travel delays with Candy.) If the scenes were left in, Candy coming to Martin’s home for Thanksgiving would have actually served two purposes: Giving his lonely character a happy ending as well as providing Robins with proof that Martin was telling the truth the entire time. (It would also explain why Robins appears to be so relieved.) The scenes—part of some 70 minutes of deleted footage—were included in a 2022 home video release of the movie.

2. Up (2009)

Pixar’s hit about a widower named Carl (Ed Asner) who takes off on a whole-house balloon ride to South America originally had Carl protecting a bird egg that harbored the secret to everlasting youth—a benefit sought after by his nemesis, Charles Muntz. “[Muntz] was after the bird and all that; it was really interesting,” director Pete Docter told MTV in 2009. “But it kind of got more bizarre … it was an element that we dropped out from the story.” Because Docter described the egg subplot as being “early on,” it’s likely it was omitted during the scripting rather than animation stage.

3. Star Trek (2009)

J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the popular sci-fi franchise features a character named Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with a desire to scrap the Enterprise and its crew. Originally, Nero’s backstory was fleshed out: He was a prisoner on a Klingon prison planet dubbed Rura Penthe before brokering a daring escape. Aside from a fleeting shot of Nero’s breakout—which lacks any context—the entire thread was discarded. “There was a big Klingon subplot in this, and we actually ended up having to pull it out because it confused the story in a way that I thought was very cool but unnecessary,” Abrams said. “So we have these beautiful designs that we’re going to have to wait and do elsewhere, I guess.”

4. Gremlins (1984)

Joe Dante directed this creature feature about the winsome Gizmo, a Mogwai who cannot get wet or be fed after midnight. When his caregiver Billy (Zach Galligan) breaks the rules, Gizmo spawns some hellbent offspring. Later in the film, when the tiny monsters go on a rampage, they attack the crotchety Mrs. Deagle. A subplot omitted from the film reveals that Deagle was actually conspiring to foreclose on several homes in Kingston Falls in order to resell them to a corporation. The information probably would have made Deagle’s demise more satisfying for viewers, but then again, the gremlins probably weren’t concerned with justifying their homicidal behavior.

5. Demolition Man (1993)

Sylvester Stallone stars in this sci-fi action epic about a man cryogenically frozen in 1996 and brought back in 2036 so he can stop a psychotic killer (Wesley Snipes) who is running amok. A deleted subplot involved Stallone encountering his now-adult daughter, who is actually older than he is. “We filmed a scene where … Elizabeth Ruscio … ends up playing Stallone’s daughter,” writer Daniel Waters said. “It’s a tender scene, [and it] just stopped the movie dead. So, [producer] Joel [Silver]’s like, ‘Cut it. Just cut it.’ And so we cut the scene out.”

While it may have helped the pacing, the omission led some audience members to imagine that Sandra Bullock’s character was going to be revealed as Stallone’s daughter—an uncomfortable proposition given that the two clearly have a romantic interest in one another.

6. The Goonies (1985)

Richard Donner’s kid adventure classic is focused on the search for the treasure of One-Eyed Willie. Strangely, the film originally included a subplot in which two gorillas (Bertha and Bonzo) escape from their zoo enclosure and appear throughout the film. At one point, they even steal a car. Donner himself wasn’t a fan of the gorilla subplot, but executive producer Steven Spielberg was. Donner suggested Spielberg direct the gorilla scenes himself, which he did. (The apes were actors in suits, not actual animals.) Ultimately, the suits were deemed unconvincing by Donner. To date, most of the footage has yet to surface.

7. Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

Reese Witherspoon and Patrick Dempsey co-starred in this romantic comedy about a fashion designer who returns to her Southern roots. A subplot in which Witherspoon’s assistant (Katherine Towne) pursues Dempsey romantically was trimmed after test audiences had a negative reaction to it. One scene in particular had some inferring the character had actually slept with Dempsey. The scenes are included on the DVD release.

8. The Room (2003)

Tommy Wiseau’s fever dream of a movie about a love triangle has achieved cult status for its impenetrable performances, including Wiseau’s Johnny. But it was at least realistic, which wasn’t always in Wiseau’s plans. Originally, he conceived of the Johnny character as “maybe” being a vampire. Wiseau was also plotting how to work a flying car into the film.

9. Daredevil (2003)

Ben Affleck’s take on the Marvel superhero originally had his alter ego, attorney Matt Murdock, defending a man (Coolio) from murder charges. The subplot appears in the director’s cut of the film that was released on home video. Reviewing that version, Decider’s Meghan O’Keefe dubbed the thread “boring” and one that “proves Matt Murdock is the worst lawyer in New York City” for opting to beat up crooks at night instead of preparing for court.

10. The Ring (2002)

The Ring remains one of the most effective horror movies of the 21st century, perhaps in part because director Gore Verbinski opted to delete a subplot about a creepy murderer. (No, not Samara.) The movie centers on a journalist’s (Naomi Watts) investigation of a cursed VHS tape that brings misfortune to anyone who views it. In the original edit, Watts visits a convicted murderer (Chris Cooper) in prison. At the end, she brings the tape to his cell knowing it’s going to deliver a justifiable bad end. Verbinski cut it because the murderer disappeared from most of the film, and his re-entry proved more confusing than scary.

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