14 Movie Characters Who Were Supposed To Die, But Didn't

Some of your favorite film characters were, at one point, on the chopping block. 

1. Han Solo // Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

During development, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan seriously considered killing off Han Solo in the middle of Return of the Jedi to raise its stakes. But George Lucas wasn't a fan of the idea: Han Solo's death would have cut into toy sales, so the character remained alive.

In an interview with ABC, Harrison Ford admitted, “I thought he should have died in the last one to give it some bottom … George didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.” 

2. Dr. Ian Malcolm // Jurassic Park

While Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, survived the dinosaur attack in Jurassic Park, he actually dies at the end of the novel on which it's based. Since Steven Spielberg cast the very charismatic and likeable Jeff Goldblum to play Malcolm, co-screenwriter Michael Crichton let the character survive. Malcolm is also the central character in the sequel novel, The Lost World. Crichton wrote that the character survived the Tyrannosaur attack because of skillful Costa Rican surgeons; Malcolm even boasts reports of his death were "greatly exaggerated." As a result of the attack, the character had a permanent leg injury that required him to walk with a cane. 

3. Deputy Dewey // Scream

In the original Scream screenplay, Deputy Sheriff Dewey Riley dies after being stabbed. But after director Wes Craven cast David Arquette in the role, the character became younger and more likeable. Craven felt that the audience wouldn't like seeing the character die in a horrific way, so he shot two versions of the ending—one with Dewey's death and another without it. Test audiences didn't react favorably to Dewey's death, so Craven let him live—and Deputy Dewey returned for the three Scream sequels.

4. Rambo // First Blood

In the novel First Blood, Rambo commits suicide at the end of a long battle with Sheriff Teasle. Rambo's death scene was filmed, but Sylvester Stallone saw the potential for a new franchise, so Rambo lived to fight another day in the final version.

5. Rocky Balboa // Rocky V

Rocky V was supposed to be the last movie in the franchise, and Stallone ended its screenplay accordingly, with Rocky Balboa dying at the hands of rival Tommy Gunn during a street fight. But during production, director John Avildsen got a call from executives telling him, "'Oh by the way, Rocky’s not going to die,'" he recalled in 2014. "'Batman doesn’t die, Superman, James Bond, these people don’t die." Stallone wrote a new ending featuring Rocky and his son Robert Balboa jogging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and looking over the city's skyline.

6. Katie // Paranormal Activity

Before Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights to Paranormal Activity, its original ending featured the police discovering Micah's dead body in the house, while a catatonic (and possessed) Katie sat with the knife she used to kill her boyfriend. The police tried to get her to drop the knife, but sudden movements provoked the cops to shoot her dead instead.

Paramount didn't like the original ending, so two endings were developed and filmed. The first featured Katie surviving the night, while her whereabouts remained unknown, and a second ending featured Katie slitting her throat with the knife that killed Micah. Paramount Pictures eventually used the former for the final version of Paranormal Activity.   

7. Dante Hicks // Clerks

In the original ending of Kevin Smith's debut film Clerks, the convenience store gets robbed, and clerk Dante Hicks is murdered. But after the movie screened for the first time at the Independent Feature Film Market, Smith's colleagues Bob Hawk and John Pierson advised him to end the film happily instead. Smith agreed, and now Clerks ends with Randall taking down Dante's "I Assure You We're Open" sign and telling him, "You're closed!" as the movie fades to black.

8. Dr. Will Rodman // Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes screenplay, Dr. Will Rodman (played by James Franco) was supposed to die in Caesar's arms just before the ape heads into Muir Woods at the end of the movie. Director Rupert Wyatt even shot the death scene, but it was scrapped for a new ending that was more bittersweet.

Despite the changes, Franco didn't return to the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—but his character makes a very brief cameo and is presumed to have died of the Simian Flu.  

9. Sergeant James T. "Joker" Davis // Full Metal Jacket

Actor Matthew Modine, who plays Sergeant James T. "Joker" Davis in Full Metal Jacket, revealed that Stanley Kubrick originally planned to kill off his character (who also dies in the book). According to Modine [PDF], "We never filmed it, but that was always the intention in the script, in the story: it was that Joker would die."

10. Happy Hogan // Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 storyboards revealed that Stark Industries' Head of Security, Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), was supposed to die during a hand-to-hand fistfight with one of the villain's henchmen at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. In the final version, Happy slips into a coma and awakens at the end of the movie.

11. Clarence Worley // True Romance

Although Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantino's first film, True Romance was his first major motion picture screenplay. Tarantino gave Tony Scott the scripts for both Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, and when Scott expressed interest in directing both of them, Tarantino said, “You can only do one.” Scott picked True Romance.

According to Tarantino's audio commentary, the final version of True Romance is pretty much the same as what's in the script—except its happy ending. In the movie, Clarence and Alabama (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) get away together with the money, but in the script, Clarence dies, and only Alabama gets away with the money. Scott changed the ending because he fell in love with the young couple and wanted to see them live happily ever after instead of separated.

If Tarantino had directed True Romance, he would have kept to his screenplay and given the film a darker tone. He admitted to Maxim, "When I watched the movie, I realized that Tony was right. He always saw it as a fairy tale love story, and in that capacity it works magnificently. But in my world Clarence is dead and Alabama is on her own. If she ever shows up in another one of my scripts, Clarence will still be dead."

12. Matt Hooper // Jaws

Although Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, lives at the end of Jaws, the character had a different outcome in the novel of the same name from author Peter Benchley. When Hooper is lowered into the open waters in a shark cage, the giant great white eats him. The book character was very unlikeable, so the movie character was rewritten to suit Dreyfuss (who, initially, turned the part down).

13. Martin Riggs // Lethal Weapon 2

During the final shootout in Lethal Weapon 2, Arjen Rudd, the Minister of Affairs for the South African Consulate, is armed with diplomatic immunity, so he shoots LAPD Sergeant Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, in the back. Screenwriter Shane Black originally planned to kill off the character, having him die in Sergeant Roger Murtaugh's (Danny Glover) arms. But the producers wanted to make more Lethal Weapon movies, so Riggs survived at the end. As a result, Black left the film series because of the changes to his screenplay.

14. Ellen Ripley // Alien

Science fiction historian David A. McIntee revealed in his book Beautiful Monsters that director Ridley Scott originally planned to kill off Ellen Ripley at the very end of Alien—by having the Xenomorph bite off Ripley's head. The alien would then have mimicked her voice to record one last entry in the Nostromo's log before the movie faded to black. The producers thought this ending was too dark for an already bleak movie, so they insisted that Ripley survive the ordeal and have the Xenomorph die at the end instead.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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