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Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick and more: The 10 best alternate movie endings

“It was good, but I didn’t like the ending” is not just a quote found in the comments section of certain online massage tutorials left by unscrupulous innocent souls, it can be heard in the cacophonous melee of chat emerging from cinema screenings the world over. Having a glorious idea is all well and good but wrapping it up is the tricky part. Like a child who has overfilled a water balloon, it is often the case that movies (and TV series in particular) have bitten off more than they can chew and fail to tie it all together. First impressions count but last impressions are all the more vital, you can thrill an audience for an hour and a half, but if you leave a bitter taste in the mouth with the last ten minutes then it can be hard to wash away. 

The ending is where all roads lead and sometimes that can mean arriving at a crossroads. Sometimes the wrong road is taken, other times there is a path that suggests there was more to the highway than met the eye, and sometimes it all ends in a crash that could have been avoidable.

Below, we’re looking at all these alternatives with ten of the best alternative endings in cinema.

Let’s get to to it.

The 10 best alternative movie endings:

10. Alien (Ridley Scott – 1979)

Some alternative endings are titillating in the sense that they pique your curiosity of ‘what the hell would that have been like?’ and Alien’s berserk proposed ending is certainly one of those. It could have propelled the movie towards a maddening car crash, but boy is it something to think about.

The original proposed ending entailed Ripley escaping the exploding Nostromo, only to find that a xenomorph had snuck onto her shuttle. However, rather than being a tedious unending cascade of shock horrors and further skirmishes, the xenomorph was planned to bite her head off and then begin communicating through Earth via her voice. How brilliantly bad that would’ve been!

9. True Romance (Tony Scott – 1993)

True Romance is a fantastic motion picture and part of the reason for that is the sanguine soul that permeates the nitty-gritty throughout. Fortunately, on this occasion, director Tony Scott won out over an up-and-coming Quentin Tarantino when he overruled the screenplay to impart a rather more upbeat alternative ending. 

If Tarantino had his way, rather than being wounded Clarence would have been fatally shot in the grandstand shoot out, leaving Alabama alone in the last scene hitchhiking in Mexico. It might have been a more apt narrative that imparted a sort of biblical overture that you can’t just dip your toe in the sea of crime without getting wet, but in the end, the wholesome last shot proves matches Scott’s treatment of the script befittingly and shows that a happy ending can sometimes be simply more rewarding.  

8. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock – 1963)

The horror of The Birds reaches a dower end after the thrilling proposition simply fizzles out in a very literal sense. Our winged friends simply cease attacking, as the Brenner’s make their escape. 

The original end that Alfred Hitchcock would no doubt have left us with one of the most iconic shots in cinema history. The luminary director wanted to close the avian horror show with the stirring image of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge enshrined in a mass swarm of birds. 

7. Seven (David Fincher – 1995)

Alternate endings offer a fascinating insight into what could’ve been. The ending to Seven seems unchangeable. It ties up the narrative and the premise of the seven deadly sins with the sutured skill of a master story surgeon. The original, however, was somewhat different. 

The storyboarded version of the script sees Morgan Freeman’s Somerset kill John Doe in place of Brad Pitt. There is a poignancy to the idea of the reticent Somerset finally succumbing to wrath in his final days of the job as the weight of society finally caused an implosion, but… well it just doesn’t work! That would’ve been six deadly sins and a man at the end of his tether, and we can all be glad that it was changed at the last minute.   

6. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (Rawson Marshall Thurber – 2004)

The original planned ending to Dodgeball lent a little heavier on the ‘true’ in its title. Rather than have Vince Vaughan’s team of little guys defy the odds and trounce the villainous competition, the big corporation was set to win out.

There certainly would have been dark humour in an orchestral swell of disaster and slow shots of fools heroically taking a ball to the face, but many of the preteens who were in it for the free for all chaos and not the subtle ironic humour would certainly have been disappointed by the soul-crushing smash of realism. 

5. Ronin (John Frankenheimer – 1998)

The ending that John Frankenheimer had stripped from his film by studio executives is one that brings to mind quotes from literary greats about the need for fiction to be befitting of reality. The world of crime and espionage depicted in Ronin is one of blood, guts and double-crossings and thus a dark ending may have proved pertinent. 

The original story had Natascha McElhone’s character kidnapped by the IRA in the final shoot out. As fate would have it the studio got their way, and she made her escape as Robert De Niro took on all comers

4. The Lion King (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff – 1994)

The first storyboard of The Lion King followed the poetic pyrrhic victory of the Hamlet source material from whence it drew its inspiration a lot closer. 

Initial drafts had Scar defeating Simba in a bloody battle only to be consumed by the flames that ravaged around Pride Rock as the pair fought it out. It even had Scar uttering the fateful line, “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

The moral is certainly a lot more discerning, but the darkness might have proved a bit much for the age range of its intended audience.

3. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick – 1980)

The ending of The Shining is already fraught with fevered discussion and in a strange quirk of fate, it almost seems like Stanley Kubrick was stoking the flames of conspiracy himself. 

This alternate ending even made its way to cinemas before Kubrick demanded a recall of the reels and apparently destroyed them so nobody knows exactly what it entailed, but stories from the edit suite claim that the deleted footage involved the slow panning shot of a frozen Jack Torrance being interspersed with a scene where Wendy and Danny seemingly survived and are visited in hospital by the Overlook Hotel manager Stuart Ullman. He apparently tells Wendy that they found no evidence of anything supernatural in the hotel before cryptically handing her the infamous baseball bat. The footage has never surfaced so perhaps we will never know. 

2. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott – 1982)

There are that many alternate cuts and endings to Blade Runner that it’s easy to lose track of the original at this stage. 

There was a time, however, when the definitive end would explain everything in a literal sense. In the original studio cut, a Harrison Ford voice over ran throughout and repurposed shots from The Shining were used in a slow panning sweep at the end of the movie as he eviscerated all ambiguity in a stirring speech.

In an unusual twist of fate, the studio actually preferred Ridley Scott’s ambiguous cut the black and it won out. 

1. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle – 2002)

The original ending to Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic masterpiece had an undeniably poetic symmetry to it. The opening shot of Jim waking up in hospital alone, but have ended in a poignant mirror, whereby he died alone in that very same bed as Selena and Hannah failed to save him. 

This alternative might not provide the fist bump of an escape to the north, but it does have its own sense of depth and artistry. The final image in the available cut is haunting and memorable, but undeniably despairing, so I suppose it all comes down to mood more so than narrative in this case.