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5 Movie Endings Changed for the Better
By Matt Hoffman
May 27, 2010
The idea of a movie's ending being altered during production conjures up images of fat, blustering producers demanding that the conclusion be more box office-friendly--artistic integrity be damned! Conversely, filmmakers who refuse to back down from their own ideas, or who remain zealously faithful to their source material, are often seen as heroic defenders of the art of storytelling. In reality, however, bringing a story to the screen is a slippery, tricky process, and sometimes an idea that seems to work at one stage of that process doesn't turn out to be as appropriate in the final product. Hence, here are five movie endings that differed from either their source material or their creators' original intent--and were better off for having done so.
5. Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Ending: Katie, who has been continuously harassed by a demonic presence, sleepwalks out of her bedroom in the middle of the night. Boyfriend Micah wakes up to hear her screaming from downstairs and runs out of the room to help her. There is a moment of silence, followed by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. Suddenly Micah's body flies through the doorway at the camera. Katie enters the room, approaches the camera and seems to transform into a demon just before the footage cuts out.
The Original Ending: Director Oren Peli's original conclusion was lighter on effects. After Micah leaves the room there is a series of screams, following which Katie walks back into the room covered in blood. She sits down on the floor and rocks back and forth continuously into the morning and the following evening. Eventually a friend enters the home and is heard discovering Micah's body. The police arrive and end up shooting Katie when she charges at them with a knife.
Why the Change Was an Improvement: The first ending works well enough on its own, but the movie does such a great job at building tension that it's almost unhealthy for it to end without the release of a big shock. One imagines that audiences who viewed the original cut might have left the theater twitching.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The Ending: An attack by a biker gang releases hordes of zombies into the mall and leaves Peter and Fran as the only surviving human characters. As the walking dead advance, Fran flees to the helicopter on top of the roof. Peter puts a gun to his head and contemplates suicide, but then changes his mind, using his last bullet on a zombie and fighting his way up to the helicopter. He and Fran fly off into the sunset, low on fuel and unsure of their destination.
The Original Ending: In the screenplay Peter actually does shoot himself. Fran, hearing the gunshot, also offs herself by sticking her head into the spinning helicopter blades. Writer/director George A. Romero scrapped this version because he was unsatisfied with the splatter effects concocted for Fran's death.
Why the Change Was an Improvement: You could make the case that the suicide ending is more in keeping with the film's cynical view of American society. However, that dark tone--along with the brilliant but super-depressing ending of Dawn's predecessor, Night of the Living Dead (1968)--also serves to make the survival of Fran and Peter, both of whom the audience has come to sympathize with, less predictable, and therefore more affecting. In Romero's films a happy ending never seems inevitable, so it's hard not to cheer when two likable charactersescape, even if it's not clear that there's anywhere left for them to escape to.
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Ending: After a failed suicide attempt, sociopathic youth Alex awakens in a hospital to find that the anti-violence conditioning he underwent earlier in the film has worn off. A government official visits him and offers him a cushy job in exchange for his willingness to be used as an instrument of propaganda. As Beethoven's “Ninth” blasts out of a stereo system Alex begins to fantasize once again about graphic sex and violence. His voiceover narration states, "I was cured, all right!"
The Original Ending: The film version of A Clockwork Orange was based rather faithfully on the American publication of the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess. However, the original British version of the book contained an additional chapter which US publishers felt would not play well on their side of the Atlantic. In it, Alex has joined up with a new crew of ruffians but finds himself bored with their violent lifestyle. He wanders into a coffee shop where he encounters his old friend Pete, who has gotten married and seems to be comfortably ensconced in an average middle-class lifestyle. Alex admits in his narration that he would like to settle down with a nice woman, and waxes philosophical on the follies of youth.
Why the Change Was an Improvement: The novel's ending helps to clarify Burgess' authorial intent, but it also does a complete 180 in terms of tone and character. First, it drops the preceding chapters' pessimism in exchange for an incongruous attempt at wholesomeness. Second, it suggests that Alex could switch naturally and smoothly from devoting himself completely to acts of sadistic violence (which are even more graphic and despicable in the book) to pining for old-fashioned family values. A rehabilitation that radical is more far-fetched than the Ludovico technique.
2. Clerks (1994)
The Ending: Slacker clerks Dante and Randal reconcile with each other after getting into a fight. Randal leaves, then comes back and tosses in Dante's "I Assure You, We're Open!" sign, shouting, "You're closed!"
The Original Ending: After Randal leaves, a thief enters the store, shoots Dante to death, and empties the cash register.
Why the Change Was an Improvement: Smith was right to make this cut, since the robbery scene would have been a cop-out (no reference intended). Believing that the death of a protagonist is equivalent to the resolution of a story is a classic rookie filmmaker mistake. Clerks is an existential
comedy about the search for meaning in a stultifying 9-to-5 grind. Dante's murder, while interesting in some respects, adds little to the meaning of the film while throwing the tone of the story totally out of whack. The actual, abbreviated ending may be anticlimactic, but given what preceded it, that's exactly how it should be.
1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
The Ending: The US fails to halt a nuclear attack launched against the USSR by a deranged field commander. The attack triggers the activation of the Soviets' "Doomsday Machine," which is designed to destroy all life on Earth. The film closes with a montage of nuclear explosions famously set to the song "We'll Meet Again."
The Original Ending: Strangelove was based loosely on the 1958 novel "Red Alert," by British author Peter George. The book, which doesn't share its adaptation's satirical sensibility, ends not with Armageddon but rather with the American president offering to bomb Atlantic City as compensation for the destruction of Moscow. Even this relatively mild catastrophe is averted when the rogue US bombers end up missing their target.
Why the Change Was an Improvement: The ending of Strangelove is one of the boldest and most provocative conclusions in the history of cinema. The novel, by contrast, presents a much more sober and cautious view of the possibility of nuclear war. There's value in that perspective as well; Sidney Lumet made a great suspense thriller called Fail-Safe (also 1964) out of another book
with a suspiciously similar scenario and tone. However, it's hard to imagine how cathartic it must have been for audiences living through the Cold War to be allowed to laugh at a fictionalized presentation of their absolute worst fears.
(Side note: Also, the film originally ended with a War Room pie fight which was filmed but left on the cutting room floor because director Stanley Kubrick felt it was too farcical. He was probably right, but still, we kind of want to see what that would have looked like.)
Movie fans, you may want to take a gander at 10 Memorable Characters In Forgettable Movies and 10 Most Cathartic Movie Villain Defeats. f you like your bad guys going out with a bang, check out 12 Most Spectacular Villain Deaths. Ah, how we enjoy watching bad guys fall? You should check out 8 Gratuitously Sadistic Guilty Pleasure Movie Moments. Guaranteed more of the movie violence we as a numb society can tolerate. If these movie deaths seem strange, then try 5 WTF Moments In Movies.
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