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10 Director's Cuts That Change The Plot

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Whether because of a dispute with the studio or just a plethora of unused material, a director often feels the need to re-release a classic (or not-so-classic) film. Often these directors’ cuts or extended editions are just more bloated versions of the original, but on occasion they represent a departure from the entire original.

By the way, there are spoilers within for both versions of these movies. Proceed with caution.

1. Blade Runner

Blade Runner has actually gone through many iterations. There was the theatrical cut released in 1982 with a “happy ending” shoehorned in by the studio. Both director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford hated it, and Ford has even confessed that he wasn’t giving it his all when recording a voiceover that he called “not an organic part of the film.” Then came the “directors cut” in 1992 that Scott also disowned.

Finally, Warner Brothers worked with Scott in 2007 to release the Final Cut of Blade Runner, the only version which Scott had complete control over. It contained several changes (particularly to the score) and new scenes, but perhaps the most significant was the confirmation (or close to it) that Ford’s character Deckard actually was a replicant. Instead of the “happy ending” that shows Deckard and Rachel driving through a beautiful landscape, Scott’s ending is more ambiguous and simply shows them leaving Deckard's apartment. Plus the appearance of an origami unicorn in front of Deckard’s door hints that he is, in fact, a replicant (a similar calling card had been used earlier in the film to denote replicants). In interviews about the new release, Scott confirmed that Deckard was a replicant in his version, although Ford said he believed the character was human.

2. Donnie Darko

Despite the cult success of the mind-bending film, Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly repeatedly apologized for the theatrical release of the movie, stating it was not his original film. To make up for it, he convinced 20th Century Fox to release a directors cut in 2004 that he felt would be more cohesive and easier for viewers to understand. The most notable change he made was literally adding in text from the fictional The Philosophy of Time Travel, which had previously been a DVD extra. Fans were split: some loved the explanations that filled in previous plot holes, others hated the notion that they needed to be spoon-fed the story.

Of course, some fans never got past the fact that the directors cut replaces Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" with INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart” in the opening scene.

3. Metropolis

Although it’s considered a masterpiece of cinema, the plot of Metropolis can still be a bit difficult for some viewers to understand. But a recent extended version that uses footage from prints discovered after some 80 years in Argentina and New Zealand helps remedy that –- by filling in plot details as director Fritz Lang had intended. Film historians had long been looking for the extended footage from Metropolis, which was cut before its original release to ensure a 90-minute running time.


Mostly, the new footage (which is intercut with title cards and still images to fill in for damaged or missing frames) serves to smooth out plot details, including a crucial scene in which the sorcerer Rotwang explains his plan to use robots to stir a labor revolt. But historians said it also helped them learn about how the legendary film was made, including the fact that it had been tinted by hand.

4. Salt

For a movie released just last year, there sure are a lot of different versions floating around. On the DVD release, director Phillip Noyce included an extended version and a director's cut that adds more intrigue to the film. In the original, a Russian sleeper agent played by Live Liev Schreiber follows the U.S. President to his secure bunker, then knocks him unconscious. But in the director’s cut, Schreiber’s character goes even farther and assassinates the president. In a voiceover on the director's cut, it is revealed that the new president is also a Russian agent waiting to be activated, which would make a sequel a serious bummer.

5. Payback

In the theatrical release, almost the entire third act differs from director Brian Helgeland’s original vision, which was unresolved until the release of a 2006 director's cut. The most notable change, however, comes at the very end of the movie. In the theatrical release, Mel Gibson’s character kills two top mob figures, then drives off happily with the female lead, Rosie, and his dog. In Helgeland’s version, Gibson is shot in a train station showdown. Rather than driving off happily with Rosie, she picks him up while he is bleeding and his fate is left up in the air.

6. Leon (The Professional)

In the original film, the relationship between the hitman Leon and his 12-year-old neighbor Mathilda was already a little dicey, what with the two of them collaborating on a series of murders. But the directors cut adds a whole new level of discomfort. In it, Mathilda – played by Natalie Portman in her film debut – is shown to be far more involved in the assassinations of a crew of drug dealers. She also sexually propositions Leon and plays a game of Russian roulette to force Leon to say that he loves her. Those scenes were in the original European release, but were cut because producers were concerned about how American audiences would react.

7. Superman II

Due to a number of disputes between him and the film’s producers, director Richard Donner left the set of Superman II without completing filming (he had been filming both the original and the sequel simultaneously). Notably, the producers refused to include any footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the sequel because of the massive cut of the box office gross he was requesting. The studio then brought in Richard Lester to replace Donner, forcing him to reshoot some scenes, rewrite others and edit out most of Donner’s work. That left a movie with roughly 25 percent of Donner’s footage and 75 percent new work (and 0 percent Brando).

The 2006 “Richard Donner Cut” brought back the director’s original vision, although the editing was choppy and Donner had to use some unfinished test footage to fill in the holes. But fans generally agree it makes more sense. For example, the theatrical release never fully explains how Superman gets his powers back after voluntarily giving them up, but the Donner cut shows that Jor-El “dies” again to restore the powers. The new version of the sequel also ends with Superman flying around the world to undo the damage of the supervillains and purge Lois Lane’s memory of the fact that he is Clark Kent. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that scene was written into the end of the original once it became clear it wouldn’t be used in the sequel.

8. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

A 2003 “special edition” release of the much-lampooned Kevin Costner vehicle doesn’t contain many earth-shattering changes. But it does introduce a new backstory for the Sheriff of Nottingham by revealing that he is, in fact, the son of the evil witch Mortianna (who murdered the real son of the original sheriff and replaced him with her own). Sadly, the special edition doesn’t do anything to fix Costner’s uneven English accent.

9. Kingdom of Heaven

By adding some 50 minutes of footage, director Ridley Scott said his new cut of Kingdom of Heaven also adds a whole heap of context for the violence in his Crusades epic. For example, a priest that the blacksmith Balian kills at the beginning is revealed to be his half-brother, making their feud more about family relations than religion. The new cut also introduces an entirely new character, Baldwin V, who even becomes king before his family discovers that he has leprosy. Although the director’s cut was widely praised (unlike the theatrical release), at 3-and-a-half hours, it never really took off with viewers who already hated the original release.

10. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Exorcist: The Beginning

These aren’t directors cuts per se, so much as two directors using the same script and lead actor to make the different movies. Paul Schrader was hired to direct Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and managed to finish a final cut of the film. But producers at Morgan Creek weren’t happy with the result -– too much religion, not enough blood –- and decided to scrap that cut. But rather than get rid of the investment, they hired on Renny Harlin to retool the script and film a new version with star Stellan Skarsgård staying on board as Father Merrin.

Harlin’s version was released in theaters as Exorcist: The Beginning. But Schrader soon won the rights to release his own version, leaving audiences with two Exorcist prequels that both starred Stellan Skarsgard. Neither was well-received and both followed the same basic plot. But critics looked slightly more favorably on Schrader’s, which includes a love interest (that does not get possessed by a demon) and deals more with Merrin’s loss of faith.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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Keep Tabs on 100 Classic Films With This Scratch-Off Poster
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Pop Chart Lab

Do you get a weird kind of buzz from scratching off the silver foil coating on instant lotto tickets? Do you like watching movies? Then Pop Chart Lab has something for you. The company is set to release a 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart, an 18-inch by 24-inch wall hanging that lets you keep track of which classic films you’ve seen and which are still in the queue.

A look at a scratch-off poster featuring 100 classic films

The curated films are arranged in chronological order, from the works of Buster Keaton all the way to 2017’s Get Out. The silver foil obscures a portion of the artwork, which reveals more iconography from the movie when etched away with a coin. The $35 poster is due to begin shipping in September; you can purchase your copy now.

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