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The Alternate Endings of 28 Famous Movies

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BFI.org

Can you imagine a happy ending for Jason Bourne? Sarah Connor enjoying her grandchildren? Andie ending up with Ducky? Whether the directors simply changed their minds or were influenced by the reactions of test audiences, some of our favorite movies once had completely different endings. Here are 28 of them. Spoilers abound!

1. Dr. Strangelove

The ending to this one is so iconic it's almost impossible to fathom it ending any other way. The ending that was used, of course, was Major T.J. "King" Kong riding a nuclear bomb like it's a bucking bronco, followed by Dr. Strangelove miraculously regaining the ability to walk just as the Doomsday Machine activates and detonates nuclear bombs across the world. But all of this could have been replaced with a massive fight at the Pentagon—a piefight. Everyone in the war room, including the POTUS and the Russian Ambassador, cream each other in the face with pies like they're slapstick vaudevillians. Director Stanley Kubrick ended up cutting the scene because he "decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film." No kidding.

2. Terminator 2

The year is 2029, Sarah Connor is a happy grandmother, and her son John is a senator. Everyone lives happily ever after. That's great and all, but it didn't leave much room for sequels. The studio preferred dollar signs to happy endings.

3. Rocky

Stallone’s original screenplay had Rocky accepting money to throw the fight against Apollo Creed—who would have been Jamaican, by the way. Rocky then uses the cash to help Adrian open a pet store. So ... good script editing, there.

4. Clerks

Depressingly, Clerks originally ended with Dante getting shot and killed by a robber. Kevin Smith said he ended it that way because he didn't know how to end it otherwise, but when his two mentors informed him that the ending was just a giant downer, he decided to end the movie just before the scene where Dante is killed.

5. I Am Legend

Another hopeful ending here. At the end of the version that was released, Dr. Neville heroically blows himself and a bunch of Darkseekers up, saving Anna and Ethan, but giving them the cure before he goes. Critics didn't care for the ending, but perhaps they would have preferred the one where the Darkseekers break into Neville's lab because they're looking for the female Darkseeker he has been experimenting on. Once Neville realizes this and gives the female back, the rest of the mob backs off and Neville realizes that the infected just see him as a murderer of their kind.

6. Fatal Attraction

Audiences were bored to tears by the original ending, in which Dan is charged with murder while an Alex voice-over confesses suicide. Bad audience reaction prompted a change to the ending we know now: the famous bathtub shooting. But Glenn Close hated this ending and fought hard against it, arguing that her character was more likely to self-destruct and commit suicide. She even had psychiatrists analyze Alex. They agreed. After three weeks of resisting, she gave in and filmed the ending that was released. The original ending was kept for the Japanese release of the film, however.

7. Little Shop of Horrors

The 1986 version of this movie-musical was supposed to end with Audrey II killing Audrey and Seymour and taking over New York City. That's in keeping with the off-Broadway ending, which is what the movie was based on. It's said that Frank Oz and most of the actors, including Rick Moranis, much prefer this ending.

8. Thelma and Louise

Only a tiny tweak here, but a fairly significant one—the first ending showed Thelma and Louise's car tumbling all the way to the canyon floor, no doubt getting pulverized in the process. Harvey Keitel's character finds the Polaroid that blew out of the car and looks at it as a helicopter heads down into the Grand Canyon to survey the wreckage. As you probably know, the updated ending is a wee bit more hopeful—we see their car drive off the cliff, but not the aftermath. I suppose there's the chance that there's an awning halfway down the canyon that they bounce off of, cartoon-style.

9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

This one got the Thelma and Louise treatment. Or rather, I suppose, Thelma got the Butch Cassidy treatment. The way it ends now is with Butch and Sundance leaving the house with guns a'blazing, and we hear return fire. But we don't actually see anyone die, leaving the ending slightly more ambiguous than the original, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford got to test their acting chops on a gruesome death scene.

10. Clue

It had three alternate endings, but unlike these other movies, you could actually see all three of them when the movie was released—as long as you were willing to pay to see the movie three times. Originally, you didn't know what ending you were going to get until you got to that dividing point at the end of the movie, but eventually, theaters started advertising if ending A, B, or C was playing so patrons could see the endings they hadn't seen yet. Rumor has it there was actually a fourth ending as well, but the filmmakers decided enough was enough.

11. Rambo: First Blood

When the movie was released on DVD in 2004, it included an alternative ending where John Rambo commits suicide. That would have deprived the world of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo. You can see what could have been above.

12. The Butterfly Effect

In the theatrical ending, Evan travels back in time to prevent himself from growing up with his childhood sweetheart. There’s a “happy” ending where he does the same thing, but gets to ask her out for coffee when he runs into her later in life. There’s a third version of this ending where Evan doesn’t introduce himself when he later meets her, but does follow her down the street, leaving the viewer to wonder if they ever connected or not. And then there’s the ending above.

13. Seven

Studio execs preferred an ending that didn’t result in any heads in boxes—or at the very least, not any human ones: Instead of the ending they went with, they wanted to soften the blow by using the head of a beloved family dog instead. Brad Pitt stuck to his guns and said it was Gwyneth’s head or no head—and no film—at all.

14. Pretty in Pink

Everyone seems to want Andie to end up with Duckie at the end of this John Hughes classic, but the thing is... they tried that. Here’s how it went down: Duckie and Andie walk into the center of the room at prom, the DJ plays David Bowie’s “Heroes,” they dance, and, presumably, our favorite misunderstood misfits are together forever. Everyone involved with the film agreed that the ending was a little lackluster, and test audiences agreed. Hear Jon Cryer talk about the original ending in the clip above.

15. Return of the Jedi

According to producer Gary Kurtz, the first version of the script included the death of Han Solo during a raid on an Imperial base. Kurtz says that George Lucas was concerned about how Han’s demise would impact merchandising and refused to kill any of the main characters off, which is why the movie ended in a “a teddy bear luau” instead. Kurtz and Lucas went their separate ways after this film. 

16. The Princess Diaries

Would you have been disappointed if you hadn't seen the fabulous castle the new Princess Mia was headed off to live in? Garry Marshall's granddaughter was. When he showed his 5-year-old granddaughter the film, she was upset that it just ended with Mia agreeing to become a princess. The little girl really wanted to see the castle and the start of Mia's fabulous new life, so Marshall convinced Disney to buy some footage of a European castle, to which they digitally added the Genovian flag. Marshall said it made his granddaughter much happier.

17. Blade Runner

If you’ve always been disappointed in the voiceover that originally concluded Blade Runner, you’re not alone. Harrison Ford hated it, too. It was later removed from the Director’s Cut. You can see the original ending above, and here’s the alternate ending.

Other ending options included Deckard shooting Rachael, Deckard shooting Rachael because she asked him to, and Gaff chasing Deckard and Rachael as they drive.

18. Titanic

Instead of Aged Rose quietly dropping her priceless Heart of the Ocean bauble into the abyss, the original ending had her giving a seriously cheesy speech about life being the only thing that’s priceless. Then she launches that sucker overboard as Bill Paxton laughs maniacally, flashing some dangerously crazy eyes.

19. Pretty Woman

Everyone loves this Cinderella story because there’s a happily ever after. But what if there wasn’t? The original script called for Vivian to receive her envelope of cash as per the original agreement. No one falls in love, there’s no fire escape-climbing, and Vivian ends up back on the streets. “[It was] a really dark and depressing, horrible, terrible story about two horrible people and my character was this drug addict, a bad-tempered, foulmouthed, ill-humored, poorly educated hooker who had this weeklong experience with a foulmouthed, ill-tempered, bad-humored, very wealthy, handsome but horrible man and it was just a grisly, ugly story about these two people,” Julia Roberts has said.

20. Alien

Even after the movie had started production, no one knew exactly where Ripley would be when the credits rolled. The script went through multiple rewrites, and multiple finales were written up. One of Ridley Scott’s ideas was to have the xenomorph bite our heroine’s head off, then record a final entry in her log—using her voice. Producers thought it was too dark and would only provide additional money for filming if the alien bit it in the end instead.

21. Donnie Darko

Donnie still succumbs to his fate—but with this ending, you actually see it. And it’s heartbreaking.

22. The Bourne Identity

Poor Jason Bourne could have had a happy ending with Marie (until they inevitably killed her at the beginning of the sequel, anyway). Instead, execs decided to end the first film by adding one more tragic event to Bourne’s long history of tragic events.

23. The Birds

The ending of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is pretty iconic in its own right, but Hitch had intended it to be even more memorable: The script called for the final shot to show the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in feathered foes. When it became clear how expensive it would be to create, the scene was scrapped.

24. National Lampoon’s Vacation

Harold Ramis actually shot another ending to National Lampoon’s Vacation and showed it to audiences — and it tested terribly. “[It] bombed so badly that the audience was laughing for eighty minutes and then just stopped cold," he said. That ending? Clark takes his family to Walley’s home and forces him to entertain his family—at gunpoint.

25. The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King's hit novel originally ended with a two-minute hospital scene, a way to show us that Danny and Wendy had survived. But while they’re there, the manager of the Overlook Hotel comes in and tells Wendy that police have investigated, and they didn’t find a shred of paranormal evidence. As he leaves, the manager gives Danny a yellow ball—the same one that led him to the infamous room 237. Kubrick cut the scenes at the last minute after seeing audience reaction: “When I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the movie I decided the scene was unnecessary.” He actually had projectionists cut the scene from the film by hand and mail the strips back to Warner Bros.

26. Gone with the Wind

The script change to the end of Gone with the Wind is small, but it drastically changes the character of Scarlett O’Hara. Instead of it ending with Scarlett declaring, “After all tomorrow is another day,” she gets a little desperate: “Rhett! Rhett! You’ll come back. You’ll come back! I know you will!”

27. Heathers

If you weren’t a fan of the Heathers “quasi-happy ending,” take your pick from these three depressing versions:

  • The school blows up, and the movie ends with prom in heaven.
  • At real prom, the kids all enjoy blue drinks from the punchbowl — the same blue stuff that killed Heather Chandler.
  • Veronica asks Martha Dumptruck if she wants to hang out and rent a movie. Martha responds by stabbing Veronica in the stomach and calling her Heather. As she bleeds out, Veronica gasps, “My name’s not Heather, you bitch!”

28. The Lion King

Scar still meets his much-deserved end, but he burns to death instead of being ripped to pieces by hyenas. During their big battle, Scar throws Simba off of a cliff, saying, “Goodnight, sweet prince.” (A nod to Hamlet, one of the works that inspired the movie.) However, Simba’s fall is broken by a tree, and Scar is engulfed by the flames.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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