We’ve all seen – and likely cried over – Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic about a boy’s friendship with a loveable alien. It broke box office records on its release and became the highest-grossing film of all time, until Jurassic Park dinosaur-stomped on that record. Who could forget that tear-jerking final scene when Elliott and his family watch E.T.’s spaceship soar into the skies? But the goose-bump-inducing climactic moment was almost never made.
In the original ending, reports have it, Elliot would’ve delivered a pretty mature monologue to an unknown adult, that goes like this, “We come in peace. We’ve been on this journey for many days. We are adventurous, searching for experience, and if we don’t got any, then we’re not going to be able to survive in this world. Goodbye, E.T.” In the next scene, Elliott is seen playing happily with other children. Not nearly as powerful perhaps, but a neat ending nonetheless.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror flick sees a psychotic alien xenomorph embark on a grisly killing spree aboard the spacecraft Nostromo. Even if you haven’t actually seen the movie, you’ll likely be familiar with its famous – and often parodied – scene where the killer creature bursts from the chest of one unfortunate crew member. Alien was the first big feature-film role for a young Sigourney Weaver, in the role of the movie’s heroine, Ripley.
In the actual ending, Ripley barely escapes with her life after a final-hour grapple to the death with the murderous beast. But the originally conceived ending saw things playing out a little differently. And it’s one for gore fans… Instead of coming off the loser after the previously mentioned battle to the death, the alien finishes off Ripley. It then imitates her while talking to Earth. Chilling? Yes. Crazy? Absolutely.
18. Die Hard With a Vengeance
In the third part of the Die Hard series, we find Bruce Willis’s undershirt-wearing protagonist John McClane battling to save New York City from bomber Simon Gruber. After successfully pulling off a major bank heist, Gruber and his accomplices flee with the loot. But McClane foils their escape in typically spectacular style: shooting down Gruber’s helicopter and killing him. But the alternate ending took a radically different direction.
In this version, Gruber escapes with the gold, and John McClane is blamed for the events in NYC. Angry and bitter, he chases down Gruber and suggests a game of Russian roulette – with a rocket launcher. Luckily he wins, and the villainous Gruber expires after shooting himself in the chest. It’s then revealed that McClane was wearing a flak jacket all along. We kinda like this mini-twist, and the fearless McClane, ready to risk his life and die. Hard.
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
This flick divided audiences but ultimately became a cult hit, thanks to its appealing mashup of martial arts and comic book-capers, slickly directed by Edgar Wright. The end of the film sees the eponymous Scott Pilgrim win the heart of his dream girl, Ramona, after successfully defeating her seven deadly exes. But it nearly went another way…
According to Den of Geek.com, Wright was undecided on the movie’s ending – partly due to the comic book series on which it was based, being unfinished at the time. So he shot an alternate ending in which Knives Chau – the poor schoolgirl Scott ditches for Ramona – ends up stealing his heart right back. Which in many ways restores the status quo, as Knives is actually more personable and loyal than the fickle and flighty Ramona.
16. I Am Legend
Will Smith plays a scientist in this 2007 action thriller, set in a post-apocalyptic world. Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) is battling to find a cure for the virus that has killed off most of humanity and turned the rest into mutants. As the zombie-like “Darkseekers” close in, Dr. Neville makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect his fellow survivors. At least, he does in the actual ending.
The Director’s Cut ending puts a very different, and arguably more satisfying, spin on the film. In this version, it turns out that the Alpha Male leading the attacking horde of Darkseekers has actually come for Neville’s female test subject. There is a moment of mutual respect as the scientist returns the female to the grateful Alpha Male, who then leaves with his gang. Sorry for the tests that he has done, Dr Neville leaves for the Vermont sanctuary, with fellow survivors Anna and Ethan. The end.
15. The Bourne Identity
The Bourne franchise sets itself apart from blockbusters of the same type, by putting the onus on brains over brawn, and restraint over all-out explosive action. This first installment sets the tone and standard for a slick, compelling series centering on CIA assassin Jason Bourne. Despite trying to escape his past as a trained killer, Bourne keeps getting drawn back.
As mentioned already, the franchise does a great job of avoiding the typical action-flick clichés. So thank goodness the alternate ending to Identity didn’t make the cut. In this version, instead of sharing a sweet embrace when they reunite at the end, Bourne and Marie get all hot and heavy to a sunset backdrop and cheesy soundtrack. Cringe.
14. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
This sports-comedy caper sees no-frills-gym-owner Peter (Vince Vaughn) face off against corporate villain White Goodman (Ben Stiller) in a dodgeball tournament with high stakes. The winners get $50,000 – enough to pay off the mortgage on Peter’s gym and save it from the clutches of rival fitness-centre boss Goodman.
It’s a classic tale of “good” – or the average, well-meaning guy – triumphing over “evil” – in this case the ruthless, corporate big shot. But in the original ending, this age-old confrontation gets turned on its head: with Goodman’s squad of tough bullies stealing victory from Pete’s troop of average Joes. We like the idea of flipping the audience’s expectations this way. Plus the way it’s executed – with slow-mo celebrations for the bad guys – is “a total hoot” according to U.K. newspaper The Guardian.
13. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
In the second installment of James Cameron’s highly successful Terminator series, Arnie Schwarzenegger returns as yet another cyborg killing machine. But this time, he’s been sent to protect Sarah Connor and her son John. The assailant hell-bent on doing the opposite is a cyborg with far more advanced capabilities. These include being able to morph into just about any form.
It’s a scary action-thriller that retains much of the tension and blood-soaked violence that the first film excels in. The actual ending is surprisingly emotive too, with the thumb… But Cameron almost ruined it, says The Guardian, by originally including a laughably bad scene where old lady-Sarah Connor remarks that, “Michael Jackson turned 40”, so Judgment Day must have been averted. Yikes.
This 1998 crime classic – featuring the stellar talent of Robert De Niro and Jean Reno – sees CIA agent Sam (De Niro) joined by a gang of special operatives-turned-mercenaries, hired to retrieve a mysterious briefcase. Briefing the team on the mission is doe-eyed Irish beauty Deidre (Natascha McElhone), for whom Sam develops romantic feelings. So begins a complex and action-packed race – including some high-speed car chases rivaling Bullitt – to procure the case.
It’s hard to call the better ending here. In the actual ending of the movie, Sam and Vincent (Reno) return to the Paris café that was the scene of their first meeting. Sam eagerly awaits the arrival of Deirdre, but she never turns up. In the alternate version, Deirdre does turn up but is grabbed from the street and hauled into a van before she can reach Sam. It’s disturbing and possibly leaves us even more wanting of explanation than her being a total no-show.
James Cameron did a top-notch job of directing this epic blockbuster. But as with Terminator 2, he almost blew it with the ending. As we know, the one that he used sees old Rose hurling the Heart of the Ocean diamond into the sea. The suggestion is that she then dies and is “reunited” with her true love Jack, aboard the Titanic. An aptly poignant, yet rather lovely conclusion.
What nearly happened was that old Rose gets seen climbing up onto the ship railings and is stopped in her tracks by Bill Pullman’s character and Rose’s daughter. As they go to stop her from “falling,” Rose confesses that she had the precious necklace all along. She then delivers the corny line, “Only life is priceless, and making each day count.” The movie ends shortly thereafter. Thank goodness Cameron saw sense.
Wesley Snipes is on kick-ass form – literally – in this action/horror flick, as half-human, half-vampire Blade. Born to a mortal mother shortly before she perished from a vampire bite, Blade’s mission is to slay all the bloodthirsty ghouls and avenge his mom’s death. Along the way he encounters Head Vampire – let’s call him that for the sake of argument – Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), and naturally the two become arch-nemeses.
The actual ending sees Frost transformed into La Magra, the Blood God. Blade then dispatches him in an explosion of blood, by unloading vials of vampire poison into the villain. In the far sillier alternate ending though, Frost turns into some kind of blood monster with a human face – courtesy of some pretty poor CGI – eventually weakening from the poison before being knifed by Blade. Oh dear.
9. To Live and Die in L.A.
In William Friedkin’s gritty neo-noir, L.A. Secret Service agent Richie Chance (William Petersen) vows to get revenge on the ruthless counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe) who killed his partner. Like many other lead characters in classic cop movies – Martin Riggs and John McClane, to name a couple – Chance will stop at nothing to bring the bad guy to justice. But his obsessive pursuit of the murderous Eric Masters inevitably leads him down a dark and dangerous path of his own.
According to The Guardian, it seems that studio execs got a little twitchy about the actual ending of the movie – in which Chance is gunned down during a final confrontation with Masters. Possibly because it was all just too depressing or violent – who knows? So they shot a crazy alternate ending in which a disgraced Chance and his partner are exiled to Alaska. Say what?
8. The Lion King
Arguably, the actual ending of Disney’s The Lion King is a little disturbing in itself. All is well as Simba becomes the rightful king of the pride lands, Nala takes her place alongside him and their little lion cub – the next king – is proudly shown off to the animal kingdom. But not before a pretty ominous scene in which it’s suggested that evil Scar has been torn apart by hyenas.
The proposed ending would surely have seen children running from the movie theater screaming. In this version – not dissimilar to the fate of Shere Khan in the 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book – Scar instead wins the fight with Simba. But he perishes in the fire that has now engulfed Pride Rock – laughing maniacally as he does so. Now that’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
7. The Birds
If you haven’t seen it, you probably already know of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror classic, about flocks of birds that go nuts and start attacking people in California. Like all of Hitchcock’s movies, it features some iconic imagery and stand-out shock moments – for the time.
The ending we know sees Melanie and the Brenners finally escape in their car, just as the winged menaces are gathering around them. In a sense, it feels at odds with the rest of the movie, as the birds don’t even try to attack at this point. The alternate ending would’ve featured an image of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds, making a much stronger visual statement.
Released to mixed reviews in 1985, Clue has since achieved cult popularity. It’s now considered a whodunnit classic, owing to its clever concept and great cast, including Tim Curry and Christopher Lloyd. The black comedy is based on the board game Clue, and the premise sees six characters at a dinner party assigned the pseudonyms of Mrs Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum etc.
As we might expect, a series of murders then takes place and “the game” becomes about trying to figure out whodunnit. But here’s the cool twist: the film makers actually shot three different endings and distributed them at random to movie theaters. So the audience had no idea which ending they would get. Clever huh? All three versions were included as extras on the DVD too. Nice.
5. Jurassic Park III
Some time after his Jurassic Park ordeal, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) tells a lecture audience that nothing would make him return to the dinosaur islands. Ha! Famous last words! Enter Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his wife Amanda (Téa Leoni), who lure the paleontologist onto a plane destined for – you guessed it – the dinosaur-inhabited Isla Sorna. Cue a battle to stay alive for Dr. Grant and his companions, as the plane crash-lands straight into dino-territory.
For many, the ending to Jurassic Park III disappoints. With the prehistoric predators in hot pursuit, Grant and the others stumble onto a beach where the military are turning up. The scene then cuts to the survivors being flown to safety. What should’ve happened, though, is that we witness the army unleashing its arsenal upon the attacking dinosaurs. Way cooler.
In David Fincher’s grisly crime neo-noir, two detectives investigate a serial killer whose murders are orchestrated around the seven deadly sins. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a veteran officer close to retirement, while Mills (Brad Pitt) is the hot-headed and impulsive newbie. In a haunting performance by Kevin Spacey, killer John Doe gradually reveals his grotesque murder “masterpiece,” which is building towards a horrifying conclusion.
After Mills receives a horrific shock, he then shoots Doe, whose murder completes the last deadly sin of “wrath.” In the alternate ending, though, it’s Somerset who fires the shot at Doe, to protect his partner and friend. Even though we like this idea, the completion of the seven deadly sins rounds off the film perfectly – albeit in the most bleak and disturbing way.
In a diversion from his usual horror/thriller form, Alfred Hitchcock directed this romantic psychological thriller about a shy young woman called Lina (Joan Fontaine), who falls for the charms of loveable rogue, Johnnie (Cary Grant). The couple elope, but it soon becomes apparent to Lina that her new husband is a criminal and possibly even a murderer…
Disappointingly, Hitchcock abandoned his original plan for the ending of this movie. Much more befitting of the director’s usual style, Grant’s character would indeed have been revealed as a killer. But studio bosses felt that the viewing public would object to Grant being portrayed as a villain, so insisted that Hitchcock change the ending. Much to the director’s chagrin, it’s reported.
It’s a tough call on the better ending here. In the alternate version, instead of lopping his own arm off to escape FBI agent Clarice Starling’s handcuffs, Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter kisses her in a creepy fashion. He then nonchalantly strolls out to a van, waving to some mothers with their children, before driving off.
Then in the final scene on the plane, when the boy asks to try some of Lecter’s food – which we understand to be sautéed brain – the murderer, with no small amount of irony, enquires if his mother has ever told him not to talk to strangers. He then starts feeding the lad his “food,” which symbolizes the corruption of the boy, according to director Ridley Scott. We like how creepy, grotesque and disturbing this other ending is. Very Lecter.
1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Partly based on fact, this classic American Western tells the story of charismatic Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the sharpshooting “Sundance Kid” (Robert Redford). After the two outlaws rob a couple of Union Pacific trains, they end up fleeing from a gang with orders to kill them, to Bolivia. But their criminal antics get them into deeper and deeper trouble.
The actual ending of the movie is one of the most iconic in cinematic history. The doomed duo emerge from the building they are hiding out in to a shower of bullets from the assembled Bolivian army. Their fate is implicit, as the final shot is a freeze-frame, with just the sound of the army’s shots ringing out. The other version actually showed the men being gunned down. We have one response to that. “Nooooooo!”