Call me a glutton for punishment, but I don’t believe in Happy Endings quite as strongly as Hollywood seems to: the grimmer and more emotionally affecting an ending, the more enduring it is in the memory. There’s no chance Se7en would be as profound as it is if the final shot was a post-credits reveal of Gwyneth Paltrow with her head still attached, and I can’t help but shake the feeling that Buzz and Woody would have been better off melted, rather than being forced to face more future rejection when Bonny grows up. Adversity and depression inevitably lead to the most profound works of art, it’s just simple science. So it’s always deeply upsetting when Hollywood has the chance to make a statement with a grim ending and then drops it in favour of something more upbeat. Sometimes, the original, or alternate endings where everyone dies, or life doesn’t all turn up flowers and roses are far superior to the Hallmark-inspired garbage we end up being fed. So with that in mind, here we have 12 depressing movie endings that would have actually improved their movies, and why Hollywood probably wimped out of using them…
Fatal Attraction’s ending was never wholly satisfying, especially as Michael Douglas’ character is apparently able to get away Scot-free after betraying his wife, and shacking up with a mentally unstable sex-pot. Obviously, her actions are the implied punishment for his transgressions, but the film spends way too much time postulating on the dangers of hysterical femininity, rather than dealing with the real moral issues.
It wasn’t always that way though, as director Adrian Lyne’s initial version had Alex commit suicide, and frame Dan, though there is a glimmer of hope that his innocence could be preserved…
Despite that ambiguity, the suicide is far more powerful than the ludicrous rise from the dead moment that has gone down in cinematic history as one of the two most memorable parts of the movie.
There should always have been
The Problem: It was clearly all a bit too grim for Lyne, and the film ultimately went for a more definitive ending for Alex’s story when test audiences responded badly to the original ending.
Let’s face it, Dodgeball was never a “true underdog story” as it claimed in the tagline, because life’s not that great, and underdogs are usually classified as such because they are inferior. So inevitably, they lose – no matter how heroically you want to imagine it – they lose.
So seeing Peter victorious in both the Dodgeball final and over White when he reveals he has bet on the team to win, and is thus able to buy White out (in the most hostile and instantaneous buy-out in the history of business) and send him into a future of fried chicken and morbid obesity, it never rang true for me.
But then there was the ending that the writers actually wanted, which turned out an entirely different way…
Hancock had a lot of potential to be the post-superhero movie that everyone wanted to see. The casting of Will Smith might have made any darkness a little difficult to retain, but the original script would have been a vast improvement on how the film actually ended, with its confused identity and jarring shift in gear. And that’s not to mention the bloody heart he draws on the moon.
In the original version, Hancock can’t get over his obsession with Mary, but it isn’t because she’s his perfect match and a fellow superhero – instead she’s just a normal everyday hottie who he kidnaps and plots to force himself on.
That’s right, rape.
That in itself doesn’t make the film better – that would be fairly unforgivable – but the far darker tone, and the opportunity for Hancock to come to terms with his actions – though he never goes through with the attack, he does kill all of the cops who come to rescue her. At this stage Hancock decides to kill himself, somehow forgetting that he is invincible, so it doesn’t work, and the ending leaves him to an imagined future of miserable self-loathing that is perfectly suited to the character and a more satisfying experience than the BS candy-coated version that ended up happening.
The original was an opportunity to explore a realm of superhero lore that had never been done before, and Hancock would have been a remarkably brave, but hugely depressing film.
Will Smith might have made a massive mistake when he signed up for M Night Shymalan’s latest film, but he isn’t about to build his meticulously plotted career on movie rape and suicide, now is he?
Also, despite Chris Nolan’s best efforts, summer blockbuster audiences aren’t yet quite ready to embrace ambiguity when we’re exploring such murky moral waters, and there would be clamour to ret-con some scenes in to deal with Hancock’s naughtiness.
The Butterfly Effect:
The Butterfly Effect already has a pretty sorry ending, as Ashton Kutcher’s Evan realises that he can’t go back in time and save himself from past trauma, without costing his loved ones some grave results. Naturally, he eventually goes back and makes sure he never meets Kayleigh, his childhood sweetheart, which is clearly the key to fixing everything, and when we jump back to the future, we see she’s living a happy life without Ashton Kutcher (which some people could only dream of.)
Bit of a bummer, but nothing compared to the alternate ending, which was pretty much the single most harrowing moment to happen in any time travel movie ever, and must rate pretty high in the list of darkest Hollywood moments ever…
Yes, that’s right, realising that no matter what he does, he probably can’t fix all of the problems he’s caused, Evan instead decides to wipe the problem out at the source and strangles himself in the womb.
You really want to question the conscious depiction of in-utero infant suicide? What’s the matter with you?!
Rather than Marcus the part-robot giving up his heart for John Connor when the hero is mortally wounded, in the original version, it turns out that Connor is beyond saving, and that Marcus will also need a fixer-upper. Undeterred by her husband’s death, Connor’s wife hatches a plan, suggesting Marcus take on Connor’s identity for the good of the cause.
In a move very reminiscent of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises script, the original movie would have played on the fact that not many people actually knew what Connor looked like, and that his enduring symbol was more important to the Resistance than allowing him some dignity in death.
So Connor would be shuffled off inauspiciously while Marcus was transformed to look more like him (which is odd considering it’s suggested that noone even knows what Connor actually looks like) and everyone presumably ignores the fact that he is now basically a superhero.
Well, there wasn’t one – noone really wimped out of the story direction, because the Internet made the decision for them by leaking the ending and making the studio fly off in a rage, and change the ending to the one we got to see in the cinema, which was a shame, since the final cut was pretty boring, and the original ending might have saved it some face.
Return Of The Jedi:
Return Of The Jedi is a phenomenally successful film, and the ending is a nice little full-stop on the series, even if Darth Vader’s ultimate defection feels a bit misplaced and somewhat dilutes the impact of the character, but it could have been even better.
A lot more depressing, yes, but still better.
Apparently the first draft was a lot grimmer, as Han Solo was killed while attempting to destroy the shield generator – at the request of Harrison Ford – and Luke is mentally destroyed by his encounter with Vader to the extent that he leaves Leia to finish off the Alliance herself.
That downer ending would have been far more dramatically affecting, and we would have been spared the awkward Endor celebrations sequence.
Luckily for Solo fans, Lucas wimped out and we got a much more happy ending than the film’s predecessor.
However, George Lucas decided not to go with this ending, taking a firm stance against killing off any of the trilogy’s heroes. Not because of how depressing it would make the movie, mind you, but because he was worried about how it would affect toy sales. Both Kurtz and Ford have confirmed this, claiming that Lucas “didn’t see much of a future in ‘dead Han toys’.”
Killing off a hero was much less fashionable back then, and despite lots of suggestions to the contrary, George Lucas isn’t actually an idiot, and foresaw a dip in potential Han Solo toys if he was dead by the end of the movie. Because George could never have done without those extra merchandise dollars, since he was so famously frugal about giving out the rights to his property…
Everyone knows the Pretty Woman ending. It’s lovely: Edward arrives like a knight in shining armor to save his prostitute with a heart mistress, and sweeps her off her feet by climbing up a fire escape with some roses, as if being a high-paid, handsome business man with Richard Gere’s hair and face wasn’t enough of a “gesture.”
The original script was a lot darker though – in it Vivian was a drug addict quite infamously – and the originally scripted ending was much more of a grim full-stop on the romance.
Instead of driving up to rescue Vivian from a life of hawking her body bits around for cash, Edward instead turns up with a wedge of money to cover the cost of their not-at-all sordid week together, and drives away without sweeping her off her feet. So instead of redemption, we get the vision of Vivian forever condemned to a life of drugs, prostitution and probably doom, which would have been a much more biting commentary on the dangers of amorality, wrapped in a cautionary tale.
But then Disney came along, and thought the original script was too nasty, and turned it into a fairytale.
Romance used to sell movies, and the bleak notion that a man who is willing to pay a prostitute for her company wouldn’t fall in love with her because she sings badly in the bath, and would go back to his life to find a more suitable mate, obviously didn’t fly with the Disney execs who binned the original script.
Presumably, the frequent drug references didn’t help either.