The editing process of a feature film can prove precarious at the best of times. You can have the best script in the world, a great cast, and some impressive work in the can, but it’s only when the action heads to the edit suite that a film really starts to take shape.
It’s a time-consuming process and one fraught with difficult decisions – particularly in the modern era of ever-expanding movie franchises. Get it right and the results will engage and entertain audiences while leaving them wanting more of the same. Get it wrong, however, and a once-promising premise that could have paved the way for sequels, prequels, and an extended cinematic universe can crumble to dust.
The fine line between a good, bad, or decidedly indifferent edit has been highlighted time and time again through the release of extended and director’s cuts of films like Aliens and Blade Runner, with the former benefitting from the addition of previously excised footage and the latter from an entirely different approach to the material.
Since the dawn of DVD and Blu-ray, film fans have also been given an increased level of access to deleted and otherwise omitted scenes from some of the most famous movies in the world. These scenes may not have made the final cut, but they offer a fascinating glimpse into just how different a particular film or franchise could have panned out. Sometimes a director had a bold vision for a particular scene or sequence that just didn’t translate well onto film. Other times, changes in plotting or pacing saw it fall by the wayside. Either way, they are well worth revisiting, if just to wonder what might and possibly should have been.
Alien is the near-perfect pinnacle of sci-fi horror filmmaking, but Ridley Scott originally had an even more terrifying finale in mind for his 1979 masterpiece. After whittling down the unfortunate crew of the Nostromo to Sigourney Weaver’s sole survivor Ellen Ripley, Scott envisioned an ending that would have left audiences stunned long after the credits rolled.
“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,” he revealed to EW years later. To top things off, Scott wanted the hissing Xenomorph to then reveal its ability to mimic human speech, recording a message in the voice of Tom Skerritt’s Captain Dallas requesting rescue.
While such a plan may well have left things open for further installments, it would have done away with franchise stalwart Ripley and much of what helped make Aliens such a great follow-up. Scott was all set to film the finale only for fate or, more accurately the studio, to intervene. “The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott tells EW. A very rare example of studio interference proving beneficial.
Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Die Hard with a Vengeance is the best of the Die Hard sequels, with a plot that inverts the first film’s insular Nakatomi Plaza-based thrills in favor of a sprawling, citywide, action epic. Even so, director John McTiernan was far from happy with Vengeance’s ending, which sees McClane catch up with Jeremy Irons’ Simon Gruber at a Quebec truck stop, where the latter meets a sticky end via a helicopter and some poorly placed power lines. It’s not a patch on his brother “Hans, bubby” and his slow-motion descent off a high rise in the first film, yet the alternative is arguably even more contentious.
In scenes filmed yet ultimately scrapped, long after the heist, McClane tracks Simon down to a café in Hungary. Fired from the NYPD in the wake of the theft, the vengeful McClane forces Simon to play a game he calls “McClane Says,” which essentially amounts to Russian Roulette with an unmarked rocket launcher. Simon, unsurprisingly, loses and dies.
According to screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, the ending was dropped amid concerns it portrayed McClane in a negative light. The studio also felt it lacked spectacle. It certainly would have also hampered future instalments, with McClane depicted as a broken, borderline psychotic, murderer. Maybe that wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Several different cuts of Terminator 2: Judgment Day exist but one scene that has never made any version James Cameron’s seminal sci-fi action sequel involves Linda Hamilton, some “old lady” prosthetics, and an ending deemed a little too conclusive for some people’s liking.
Serving as an epilogue, the scene fast-forwards to three decades on from the events of the film where an older Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is happily living out her days in a version of the present where the dreaded robot apocalypse of 1997 never occurred. Narrating into a dictaphone in the year 2027, a visibly older Connor recalls how “there was no judgment day.”
“People went to work, as they always do, laughed, complained, watched TV, made love. I wanted to run through the street yelling, ‘Every day from this day on is a gift. Use it well.’ Instead, I got drunk.”
The scene even cuts to a grown-up John Connor, now a father and US senator, playing with his daughter in the park. It’s all rather pleasant. A little too pleasant, in fact, for a franchise where the threat of a robot-led nuclear apocalypse loomed large throughout.
It also would have also made retconning the franchise for any future sequels slightly tricky, which may go some way to explaining why it never made the final cut.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
One of the most fascinating things about the original Star Wars trilogy is the role of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi play in the proceedings. Rather than simply present the pair as venerated masters of the Force, the franchise depicts them as far more complex. After all, it’s Yoda and Obi-Wan who manipulate the impressionable Luke Skywalker into viewing Darth Vader as an enemy rather than former ally and father.
Not only does it serve the overarching narrative but also grants the battle between the Jedi and Sith more depth. Here are two supposed good guys willing to bend their ethics to the breaking point in order to harness Luke’s powers. They’re far from perfect and, in a strange way, more compelling for it.
Yet, in another galaxy far, far away, it might have worked out entirely differently. In a deleted scene found on the out-of-print LaserDisc of Return of the Jedi, it’s suggested Obi-Wan had his reservations about their plan.
Speaking to Luke from his death bed, Yoda claims: “Obi-Wan would have told you long ago, had I let him.” Absent from the finished film, it casts Obi-Wan in a better light while presenting Yoda in a darker one, disrupting the careful balance of both in the process.
The Silence of the Lambs was always going to be a tough act to follow but Hannibal director Ridley Scott was hardly helped by the source material. Thomas Harris’ follow-up novel arrived 11 years on from Hannibal Lecter’s most celebrated outing and was outlandish to say the least, with Lecter pitted against a mutilated former patient intent on feeding him to some wild boars. Arguably its most contentious aspect, however, came in the finale where a romance blossomed between Lecter and FBI adversary Clarice Starling.
It was a development that saw Jodie Foster balk at the chance of reprising the role of Starling, with Julianne Moore drafted in as her replacement alongside Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter. While Scott’s film didn’t quite go the whole hog – no pun intended – Lecter and Starling do share a brief unrequited kiss, but the director very nearly took things further.
In one deleted scene, Lecter shares an uninterrupted and entirely mutual embrace with Starling. It’s a scene that oscillates between sinister and sensual, with Hopkins licking Moore’s lips before making his escape. Yet, in a film featuring a sequence in which a man eats a sautéed part of his own brain, this was the scene deemed a touch too far for audiences.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines may not have hit the heights of its predecessors but it remains an enjoyable addition to the franchise, helped by lead actors Nick Stahl and Claire Danes, who add some dramatic weight to the film’s fun B-movie feel.
Arnold Schwarzenegger remains as reliable as ever too, even if the script does inject a double dose of humor into his time-travelling robot assassin. Thankfully, the laughs don’t come at the expense of the franchise – but it was a close-run thing.
At one stage, Terminator 3 looked set to answer one of the franchise’s biggest unanswered mysteries: why exactly the T-1000s ended up looking like Arnie. In a scene set within the Skynet headquarters, executives watch a video explaining how the robots are being modeled on a soldier called Sergeant Candy. Cut to a grinning Schwarzenegger as Candy describing, in a badly dubbed Texan accent, how he is delighted to have been chosen.
A watching exec expresses concern over Candy’s Texan twang only to be told by a co-worker, speaking in a thick German accent, that they “can fix it.” That gag may land perfectly but director Jonathan Mostow nevertheless opted to omit the scene, preferring to let the mystery be.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Jar Jar Binks holds the unenviable mantle of being the most unpopular character in the entire Star Wars franchise. Universally disliked, not even the potential presence of Michael Jackson would have salvaged the character from being branded an unfunny and potentially racist caricature.
Jackson was keen on the part, provided he could wear makeup and prosthetics rather than the motion capture gear Ahmed Best ended up with. In any case, the King of Pop wouldn’t have stopped Jar Jar from becoming the King of Star Wars flops – but another bit of stunt casting might.
At the behest of their daughters, Lucas and producer Rick McCallum invited boyband *NSYNC to appear as Jedi Knights in Attack of the Clones. The plan was to have the group feature in the Geonosis battle and at a meeting between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
Coming at a time when the internet was only just emerging as a news source, rumors of the cameos sparked an unhappy reaction among fans. Come the final cut, *NSYNC were nowhere to be seen, save for possibly in the background of one shot in the Geonosis battle with Lucas avoiding what could have been the most inglorious chapter in the Star Wars franchise yet.
Blade Runner (1982)
No fewer than seven different versions of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner have been shown to either test or theatrical audiences. While recent efforts like the fabled Final Cut go some way to clearing up some of the inconsistencies at the heart of the seminal 1982 sci-fi, the most significant concerns a long-omitted daydream sequence.
It sees Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard daydreaming about a unicorn. It’s a scene that, while omitted, takes on some significance when put alongside a scene later in the film when, during his escape with Rachel, Deckard finds an origami unicorn left behind for him by Edward James Olmos’ Gaff. Put the two scenes together and some fans will tell you the daydream’s link to Gaff’s origami is irrefutable proof that Deckard is a replicant.
Remove it, however, and the origami takes on a far more ambiguous tone – Gaff may have simply been highlighting the fact he was there but chose to let them escape. With the central mystery of whether Deckard is a replicant continuing to dominate discussions among Blade Runner fans to the point that both Scott and Ford have weighed in, the omission of the daydream actually serves to support this more ambiguous tone. Making it definitive would have proven problematic for Blade Runner 2049, too.
The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King threatened to delve into some decidedly dark territory in one scene storyboarded and recorded by Jeremy Irons and Moira Kelly, the voice actors behind the villainous Scar and Simba’s eventual love interest, Nala.
Showcased as part of the extras that feature on the Walt Disney Signature Collection Blu-ray, the scene depicts Scar as a far more despicable villain than viewers could have ever imagined. Eager to start his own family and boost his popularity with his subjects, Scar corners Nala, attempting to seduce her with a song that includes the line: “My cylinders are firing with fervour and you, my sweet thing, fit the part.”
Cornered in a cave by the aggressive romantic overtures of Scar, Nala lashes out against her aggressor, only for Scar to tell her: “You know, you really have no choice. I always get what I want.”
Eventually escaping, Nala is given the choice of becoming his queen or being banished forever. She chooses the latter in a decision that eventually leads her to Simba. Deleted from the original version of the film, it’s likely that the adult themes and surprisingly sexual nature of the scene saw it given the axe by the House of Mouse.
Kevin Smith is an enduring one-man force of nature on the Hollywood movie-scape, yet his status as an indie filmmaking darling owes much to the success of his slacker breakthrough Clerks. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it won him widespread critical acclaim and spawned its very own franchise of sorts with an animated series, several spin-offs, and soon-to-be-two film sequels. It could have been a very different story, however, had Smith stuck with his original plan for the film. Smith initially wanted to end Clerks with Brian O’Halloran’s Dante Hicks getting shot by a mystery armed robber at the Quick Stop. The final shot was that of Dante, lying stricken on the floor.
A feature on the 10th anniversary DVD release of Clerks reveals it was O’Halloran who convinced Smith to change it, telling him it was “too quick a twist” for the otherwise laid-back, dialogue heavy comedy. Smith relented, admitting he only included the scene as he didn’t know how to end the movie. Thankfully for fans of Clerks and all things Kevin, he took a different route, garnering a positive response from audiences and paving the way for more movies and lots of Jay and Silent Bob in the process.
Superman II (1980)
Superman II’s behind-the-scenes issues are well documented, with original director Richard Donner replaced by Jack Lester three-quarters of the way through filming. It’s a change that goes some way to explaining the uneven tone to certain aspects of the film, not least the big finale in which Superman takes on fellow Kryptonians General Zod, Ursa, and Non in his fortress of solitude. Using a rather handy on-site crystal chamber, Superman is able to remove their powers before sending the trio plunging down a seemingly bottomless icy crevice. This may be a kids’ film but, as anyone watching at home must have deduced, Superman just committed murder.
Or at least, that’s how the original cut plays. Another version exists in which Arctic police arrive on the scene and end up carting Zod et al away to live out their days behind bars. Now, while the whole Superman committing murder was an ending that might have troubled fans of Kal-El, having the three villains survive in such circumstances came off as clunky. It also undermines much of what follows in the future sequels. Why, for instance, does Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor return while three of Superman’s toughest foes remain out of sight? Also, is the Arctic police really a thing?
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing suffered at the box office upon its initial release in 1982, with audiences preferring the more family-friendly and significantly more optimistic alien-led adventure ET. Thankfully, it’s enjoyed a significant critical reappraisal in the years since, emerging as one of the best science fiction films of its kind, a movie that has influenced everything from Quentin Tarantino to Stranger Things.
Bolstered by the eye-popping gore of legendary special effects whiz Rob Bottin, The Thing is also remembered for its downbeat ending, which remains a source of much debate and online fan theories. After blowing up their Antarctic research station, MacReady (Kurt Russell) stumbles outside with a bottle of scotch only to find Childs (Keith David) alive and well. Suspicious and entirely out of options, the pair share a drink while waiting to “see what happens” – maybe they will freeze to death or maybe one of them will reveal themselves to be The Thing.
It could have been a lot bleaker and more conclusive had an alternative ending stayed in place, which finished with a Thing-infected huskie running off into the snow, ready to infect another unsuspecting group. More importantly, it would have rendered the efforts of MacReady and that brilliant stand-off with Childs entirely obsolete given that the alien escaped anyway.
Tim Burton’s Batman was the superhero movie that arguably started the entire comic-book movie craze, but it was also the mother of all headaches for the visionary director. A ballooning budget, studio interference, last-minute cast changes, fan revolts, and the demands from Jack Nicholson were just a few of the things Burton had to contend with. Then there was Robin.
Warner Bros. was desperate to have the Boy Wonder included in the film, given the merchandise opportunities it offered. Under duress, screenwriter Sam Hamm and Burton developed an angle to include Robin. They went as far as storyboarding a scene and even had Irish actor Ricky Addison Reed in mind for the part.
It would have seen Batman chasing the Joker through a travelling circus where, and in a cruel twist, the criminal mastermind inadvertently kills Robin’s parents. The scene paved the way for Dick Grayson to be taken under Batman’s wing before returning for the sequel. However, the film’s lengthy runtime saw the subplot falling by the wayside. Robin didn’t return for Batman Returns, with fans left waiting until Batman Forever for his first appearance. It was worth it though, just for that scene where he dries his wet clothes with karate alone.
Rambo: First Blood (1982)
Author David Morrell shopped his novel, First Blood, around Hollywood for close to a decade before Sylvester Stallone got involved, helping the project move forward in the process. Stallone’s involvement came at a price though: the original story about a Vietnam veteran with PTSD embarking on a killing spree that only ends when he is murdered by his old commanding officer was changed drastically.
Riding high on the success of the Rocky films, Stallone was given carte blanche to rewrite the film’s script and set about making Rambo a more sympathetic character. A previous version had seen Rambo kill as many as 16 people, but Stallone removed all of that bloodletting and changed the ending so that Rambo survived rather than died at the hands of Colonel Trautman.
It was a change that sparked anger with original co-star Kirk Douglas, who vacated the role of Colonel Trautman as a result, with Richard Crenna brought in instead. Stallone and director Ted Kotcheff toyed with the idea of killing of Rambo though and even went as far as filming a scene in which he committed suicide. Fortunately for fans of the franchise and ’80s action as we know it, the idea was dropped, with Rambo eventually emerging as far more cartoonish killing machine in the sequels.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffered from trying to do too much too soon. Multiple villains, a convoluted plot, and a blatant attempt at establishing a shared fictional universe hindered proceedings in a way not dissimilar to the issues Sam Raimi faced on Spider-Man 3 – Sony clearly learned nothing.
It’s a shame, because there’s much to admire, with Marc Webb proving a deft hand as director (would you expect anything else with that surname) and Andrew Garfield portraying a likeable Peter Parker. Jamie Foxx cuts a visually striking figure as classic Spidey villain Electro, while the denoument of Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Fox) death gives proceedings an emotional pull. It’s just a shame it ends at the moment Spider-Man goes head-to-head with Paul Giamatti’s Rhino.
It’s a frustrating conclusion, given that no third film followed. Yet it could have been fixed had Webb opted for the alternative ending. In a scene omitted from the final cut, Peter visits Gwen’s grave, months on from her death, only to be confronted by his father. Richard Parker explains he faked his death to protect Peter before offering words of encouragement to the conflicted hero, along with the classic line: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
A good twist that ends film on a more positive and conclusive note, it’s unclear why the scene was ditched but it would have surely been an upgrade from the Rhino half-finale.
James Cameron’s director’s cut of Aliens achieved the impossible in improving one of the greatest sequels of all time. Cameron’s cut added around 16 minutes of additional footage, helping flesh out Ellen Ripley’s backstory, the work of the Colonial Marines, and the world of the doomed colony LV-426.
Absent from the theatrical cut, these scenes helped explain the motivations of many characters, not least Ripley herself. In a key scene that takes place before Ripley blasts off for LV-426, she meets with Paul Reiser’s Carter Burke to ascertain the whereabouts of her daughter – a character essentially removed from the original version. Awaking 57 years after she first set off with the Nostromo promising to return in time for her 11th birthday, Ripley is shocked to discover that her daughter died while Ripley was in hypersleep.
A devastating and emotionally charged scene, its inclusion changes the perception of Ripley, painting her in a softer light and explaining her attachment to Carrie Henn’s Newt. Without it, Ripley’s emergence as a mother figure takes a slightly different tone, while the motivation behind her apparent suicide mission to rescue Newt from the alien hive at the end of the film is less prominent.