The perfect ending can make or break a movie. That’s why screenwriters and directors often work on a few different options before making their final decisions; it’s difficult to resolve a story cleanly, and minor details can make an enormous difference when the film finally hits theaters.
Most films go through a fairly steady stream of rewrites and re-shoots before they’re completed, and in some cases, the unused endings—alternate endings, if you will—are more interesting than what you’d see in the official release. In other cases, the alternate endings ruin the plot entirely.
We decided to look at a few of the most notable examples, and, in typical Urbo fashion, we also decided to speculate wildly over whether or not the alternate endings would have improved the final product.
Editorial note: Spoilers ahead.
Written by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky won a Best Picture Oscar for its gritty-yet-uplifting portrayal of a club boxer who gets an unlikely shot at the world heavyweight championship.
Stallone followed up Rocky with a series of progressively ridiculous sequels, and by Rocky IV, the titular character was ending the Soviet Union with the power of love. At one point, he also bought his manager a robot. It was…stupid.
The first film, however, was much more grounded in reality. Throughout the movie, it’s clear that Rocky Balboa doesn’t stand a chance against the champion, Apollo Creed (played brilliantly by Carl Weathers). When Rocky finally fights Creed, he loses—but he’s able to hang in for the final bell, proving that he’s capable of “going the distance” with the greatest fighter in the world. It’s a wonderful underdog story that shows that you don’t actually need to win in order to succeed.
In the last scene, Rocky’s love interest, Adrian, runs to the ring, embracing Rocky while he screams her name. It’s so iconic that you probably heard Stallone’s voice screaming “Adrian” in your head while reading that last sentence.
The Alternate Ending
At the end of the original script, Rocky takes money from the mob and throws the fight. He uses the money to help Adrian open a pet store.
“Not as dramatic, is it?” Stallone asked Entertainment Weekly in 2002, referring to the alternate ending.
— Denver McCord (@denvermccord) July 26, 2018
Uh, no. In fact, it flies in the face of everything that made the original film great. We should also mention that, in Stallone’s original script, Rocky’s coach is a huge racist. Thankfully, Stallone sought help from producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who helped him curb his wilder impulses (presumably, they told him to save the weird stuff for the sequels).
Would it have been better? Absolutely not. Sure, Rocky is a story about sacrifice, but if the main character had taken a dive and used mob money to open a pet shop, that would have been a bridge too far. With that said, we’d love to see a scene of Rocky playing with a dog or a snake or something.
Oh, wait, there actually was a scene like that in Rocky.
2. Get Out
The plot centers around Chris, a black man, meeting the parents of his girlfriend, Rose, a white woman, for the first time. Over the course of a weekend, Chris realizes that something’s wrong; Rose’s family is using some freaky science to control young black men in a sinister plot to steal their bodies. Think The Stepford Wives meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the film’s appeal.
Eventually, Chris realizes that Rose is in on the scheme. He escapes from the house, but in a violent struggle, he ends up as the sole survivor. Just after he dispatches Rose, a cop car apparently shows up on the scene…but the car belongs to his friend, an airport security agent. The two drive off together, presumably headed to safety.
The Alternate Ending
The cop car is actually a cop car, and Chris is arrested on the spot. Given that he’s surrounded by extreme violence, it’s clear to the audience that he’ll probably spend the rest of his life in prison.
Would it have been better?: That depends on your perspective. The alternate ending is certainly darker, and it’s a more upfront social statement, but the official ending is significantly less depressing. Ultimately, the creators felt that the “downer” ending was a mean trick to play on their audience.
I watched the alternate ending to Get Out and it depressed me so much that I had to rewatch the whole movie and then sat for a while.
— Shawn Alexander Allen (@ShawnDoubleA) March 13, 2018
“We tested the movie with the original ‘sad truth’ ending where, when the cop shows up, it’s an actual cop, and Chris goes to jail,” producer Sean McKittrick told The Playlist. “The audience was absolutely loving it, and then it was like we punched everybody in the gut. You could feel the air being sucked out of the room.”
The official ending still gets the same basic point across—Chris is terrified to see the police, since he believes that he’ll be unable to explain the grisly scene. However, Chris survives and is able to return to a relatively normal life, which is more immediately rewarding for the audience.
Marcus Henderson, who played groundskeeper Walter, saw the original ending as a direct reference to the real-world death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and he believes that the new ending was a necessary update.
“What the original ending said was, ‘No, you can’t catch a break,’ because that’s our reality,” he told The Playlist. “But the new ending gave us a break, and I think that’s why we enjoyed it so much, because we want it so badly.”
In any case, because the downer ending was filmed, you can watch it and decide for yourself.
3. I Am Legend
Will Smith stars in this 2007 science fiction film in which a lone scientist searches a post-apocalyptic wasteland for a cure to the virus that ended the world. He’s got a German Shepherd with him, but if you’re a dog person, you might want to skip this film—we’ll explain why in a moment.
The virus turns people into savage, vampire-like creatures, and they’re able to pass on the virus with a single bite. The scientist is mysteriously immune, but his dog isn’t, and, yeah, the dog dies.
That drives Will Smith crazy, and not in a fun, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air way. He attacks the infected, and just before he’s overwhelmed, he’s saved by a couple of immune survivors. They’re quickly surrounded, but Smith discovers a cure. To protect it, he sacrifices himself, taking out a bunch of the vampires in the process. Later, the other immune humans take the cure to a camp of survivors, and the world is presumably saved.
The Alternate Ending
While the vampires attack, the scientist realizes that they’re intelligent. They’re not trying to eat him—they just want him to stop abducting and experimenting on them. Realizing that he’s the true monster, Will Smith starts rapping about tolerance, at which point his stepfather throws DJ Jazzy Jeff out of the house.
Okay, we made that last part up. The scientist escapes unharmed, and everyone learns a valuable lesson about judging scary-looking vampires on appearance alone.
Woah my mind is blown, I've watched I am Legend probably like a hundred times over the years and I'm only now finding out that there's an alternate ending 😱 either way Will Smith's performance in this movie is incredible…
— Thashil Ramdass (@ThashilRB) April 3, 2018
Would it have been better?: Yes. The alternate ending has a horrifying twist that changes the entire context of the movie. By setting Smith as the “bad guy,” it forces the audience to think about their own motivations, and it’s an excellent meditation on the power of perspective. Maybe that’s why test audiences hated the original ending.
We should note that I Am Legend is based on a novel by the same name, and that novel was also the basis for 1971’s The Omega Man, which starred Charlton Heston. That film stays true to the book and includes the original twist ending.
4. Return of the Jedi
The original: The final film in the original Star Wars trilogy wasn’t as well received as its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back, but it was a solid conclusion to the epic space opera.
While his friends fight to bring down the second Death Star, Luke Skywalker allows himself to be captured. He’s brought to the Emperor’s throne room, where he tries to convince his father, Darth Vader, to turn back to the light side of the Force. That doesn’t work, and eventually, he strikes Vader down in anger. The Emperor sees this as a victory, but Luke refuses to join the evil Empire. That makes sense, since the Empire doesn’t have Ewoks or Wookies.
The Emperor then shoots Luke with lightning, because apparently he’s always had that ability, and Vader intervenes, saving his son and throwing the Emperor down the Death Star’s reactor (which is just, like, out in the open, without any signs or barriers or anything. That’s got to be an OSHA violation).
Luke takes off Vader’s helmet, and the father and son share a nice moment before Vader passes away. Luke escapes, the Rebels beat the Empire, and everyone has a big party with the Ewoks.
The Alternate Ending
Granted, this ending never made it past an initial pitch, but it’s so drastically different from the original that we’ve got to include it on this list.
Basically, everything would have happened the same way it happened in the final version of the film, but when Luke takes off Darth Vader’s helmet, he puts it on himself. Here’s how Lucas pitched it in an early story session, per a transcript from io9:
“Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing—and then Luke puts it on and says, ‘Now I am Vader.’ Surprise! The ultimate twist. ‘Now I will go and kill the [Rebel] fleet and I will rule the universe.'”
That explains why Luke saw himself as Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s a savage, dark turn for a fairly lighthearted science-fiction series. However, Lucas backed off the idea almost immediately after pitching it, noting that Star Wars is “for kids.”
The end of Return of the Jedi is the all-time best movie ending. Put that on my tombstone.
— Brandon Bird (@Brandon_Bird) May 7, 2016
Would it have been better?: Well, it would have been darker, that’s for sure. However, it wouldn’t really make any sense. While Luke had moments of anger throughout the Star Wars trilogy, he was always earnestly devoted to his friends. If he suddenly switched sides in the last 10 minutes of the movie, it wouldn’t be a satisfying conclusion to his character arc—it would be a random twist, thrown in for the sake of shock value.
Also, Lucasfilm couldn’t sell nearly as many toys.
James Cameron’s epic love story starts with treasure hunter Brock Lovett (played by Bill Paxton), who’s searching the wreckage of the titular ship for a rare diamond called the “Heart of the Ocean.” He brings a Titanic survivor, Rose, on board, then asks her to tell her story.
Most of the film is a flashback to the passionate affair of the wealthy Rose and destitute artist Jack Dawson. The two fall in love, at which point the ship docks at New York and they live happily ever after.
Nah, just kidding. The Titanic strikes an iceberg and sinks. While Rose is able to help Jack escape from her former fiance Cal Hockley, Jack ultimately gives his life to save Rose from the icy waters of the Atlantic. She floats on a wood panel—which looks big enough for two people, but apparently can only fit Rose—and tearfully tells Jack goodbye.
Back in the present, the elderly Rose reveals that she had the rare diamond the entire time. When no one is looking, she drops it into the ocean, then goes to her bed and dies. Sure, she’s romantic, but she’s not exactly charitable, is she?
The Alternate Ending
Rose still throws the necklace overboard, but first, Lovett sees her. He begs to hold the legendary “Heart of the Ocean,” if only for a moment, and Rose hands it to him. He’s overcome by its beauty, but Rose explains that “only life is precious,” and that Lovett has been “looking for treasure in the wrong place.”
Lovett, a professional freaking treasure hunter, gives it back to her. She tosses it overboard with a strange giggle while Paxton stares at his palm. He starts laughing like a maniac, then asks Roses’ granddaughter to dance.
Okay, so how did I not know there was an alternate ending to the Titanic movie floating around out there?!? 😳
— Amy Trueblood☮️ (@atruebooks) May 29, 2017
Meanwhile, Lovett’s crew freaks out, since they actually need to bring that jewel to shore in order to get paid. Again, they’re professional treasure hunters. “Let old ladies throw priceless artifacts into the ocean” isn’t exactly part of the job description.
“That really sucks, lady,” one of them exclaims, and we’re inclined to agree.
Would it have been better?: Of course not. The alternate ending basically takes the mystery and subtlety of the official ending, then beats the audience over the head with a big hammer with “THE TREASURE WAS ACTUALLY JUST A METAPHOR” written on the side. The only benefit: We got to see a few more minutes of Bill Paxton.
While its sequel, Aliens, was arguably more fun, the original Alien is easily the scariest movie in the franchise. Director Ridley Scott creates incredible tension in every single scene, and if you somehow haven’t watched Alien all the way through, we highly recommend doing so before continuing this article.
In the film, the crew of the commercial spaceship Nostromo investigates a strange distress signal, only to find evidence of a massive alien ship with hundreds of large eggs on it. A spider-like creature emerges from one of the eggs, attacking one of the crew members. Later, a tiny alien bursts from the man’s chest, horrifying the rest of the crew and absolutely ruining their dinner.
The alien quickly grows while the crew tries to track it down, and soon, it’s hunting them. It eliminates everyone but Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who manages to blast it out of the airlock. She transmits a distress signal of her own, then puts herself into cryosleep, hoping that a human ship will eventually find her.
The Alternate Ending
We’ll let Ridley Scott explain his original concept for the film’s conclusion.
“I thought that the alien should come in, and Ripley harpoons it and it makes no difference, so it slams through her mask and rips her head off,” the director told Entertainment Weekly. The xenomorph would then press buttons on the dashboard of the ship, then mimic Captain Dallas’ voice to sign off.
Fortunately, the film’s producers convinced Scott to change the ending, and by “convinced,” we mean that they threatened to fire him.
“The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott said. “So we didn’t do that [ending].”
Would it have been better?: If the alien were able to speak, it would be somewhat intelligent. To us, that makes it less horrifying. The Alien xenomorph is a savage creature that will do anything to survive and procreate; it’s not going to stop its murderous rampage to make a captain’s log entry.
Besides, if Ripley didn’t survive, we wouldn’t have Aliens, and that would be a great loss for cinema. On the other hand, we wouldn’t have Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection, so…this one’s a tossup.
7. The Shining
In Stanley Kubrick’s feel-good family film, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny, (some kid) to a mountain resort, where they bond over hot chocolates and address their family issues, eventually learning to love one another again.
Oh, and this happens.
Okay, The Shining isn’t exactly family friendly, but it is an amazing horror movie. While acting as the winter caretaker of the mysterious Overlook Hotel, Jack slowly goes insane. The hotel’s evil spirits convince him to attack his family, but they’re able to escape while Jack freezes in the snow. In the legendary final shot, the camera pans to an old photograph from 1921, where Jack can be seen partying with the hotel’s long-dead guests.
The Alternate Ending
Originally, the film had an extra scene in which Wendy and Danny recover at a hospital. A physician assures the mother that her son “seems to have adjusted very well, all things considered.”
He then remarks:
“Oh, about the things you saw at the hotel. He told me they’ve really gone over the place with a fine-tooth comb, and they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything out of the ordinary.”
Generally, ghosts don’t show up when you go over them with a fine-toothed comb, but we’re not exactly surprised at this little detail.
The physician then invites Wendy and Danny to come and live with him in Los Angeles for a while, and a final title card explains that the Overlook Hotel is still open every year—closing, of course, for the winters. If you’re interested, you can read the script for the final scene here, although there’s not much to it.
Why throw in this weirdly conventional scene? Diane Johnson, Kubrick’s co-writer, explained that Kubrick wanted to show audiences that Wendy and Danny would eventually recover from their horrific experience.
“Kubrick felt that we should see them in the hospital so we would know that they were all right,” she explained. “He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny and thought that, at the end of a horror film, the audience should be reassured that everything was back to normal.”
Would it have been better?: No way. While Kubrick might have had a “soft spot” for his protagonists, Jack Torrance’s journey from troubled family man to all-out psychopath is the real thrust behind The Shining.
By leaving some ambiguity, the original ending helps to establish the film as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. A completely unnecessary epilogue would have only diminished its power. Fortunately, Kubrick cut the scene after filming it, apparently destroying all copies.