11 Movies That Changed Because of Test Audiences
While directors and producers have the last word when it comes to the movies you see in theaters, feedback and criticism from test screenings can go along way in determining how those movies are presented to the general public. Sometimes, audience feedback caused significant changes.
Martin Scorsese never went through the test screening process until 1990 for Goodfellas, at Warner Bros.’ request. It was reported that during the first test screening in California, about 40 people walked out on the movie during its first 10 minutes because of its level of bloody violence. Test audiences also found it very uncomfortable to sit through the final act, in which Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) spends his last day as a wise guy just before the FBI catches up with him. Viewers felt that the scenes were too long and too tense.
Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker went back to re-edit the final act with a series of quick jump cuts to move the narrative along faster. The jump cuts also managed to make the audience feel as though they were in the same manic, drug-induced state as the character on the big screen.
2. Little Shop of Horrors
The original ending of 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors had both Audrey (Ellen Greene) and Seymour (Rick Moranis) being killed by the evil alien plant Seymour had dubbed Audrey II. Although the ending was more faithful to its stage play source material, test audiences hated to see the loveable couple die at the end. "It was a complete disaster," director Frank Oz told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. "[Screenwriter] Howard [Ashman] and I knew what we had to do: We had to cut that ending and make it a happy ending, or a satisfying ending. We didn't want to, but we understood they couldn't release it with that kind of a reaction. [Audiences] loved the two leads so much that when we killed them, they felt bereft." Warner Bros. gave the production an additional $5 million to shoot a happier finale, and the original ending wound up on the cutting room floor (and, eventually, on YouTube, as you can see above).
3. Pretty Woman
Originally, Pretty Woman was titled 3,000 (based on the amount it cost to hire a prostitute for the week) and was meant to be a realistic dark drama about sex workers in Los Angeles. That film would have ended with Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) kicking Vivian (Julia Roberts) out of his car and driving off without her. Disney wanted to downplay the script’s darker tone and drug use and demanded the production shoot multiple endings to let test audiences decide. Audiences hated the original ending, so director Garry Marshall and Disney chose the happy, rags-to-riches finale, which tested very favorably. As for the title change? Studio executives felt 3,000 sounded too much like a science fiction flick.
4. Sunset Boulevard
During a preview screening of the drama Sunset Boulevard in Evanston, Ill., the audience laughed so much at the opening—which occurred in a morgue with the corpse of Joe Gillis (William Holden) recounting how he was murdered to the other cadavers—that director Billy Wilder walked out. And he wasn't the only one; many audience members walked out, too. When he asked one woman who was leaving what she thought of the film, she replied, "I never saw such a pile of s*** in all my life." (She presumably didn't know who she was talking to.)
The audience thought the opening was funny, but didn’t know how to react to the rest of the movie—was it a drama or a comedy?—so, Wilder shot another opening with Gillis’ lifeless body floating in a swimming pool while a voiceover recounted his murder. With a dramatic tone established at the beginning, Sunset Boulevard opened to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike in August 1950.
5. Fatal Attraction
Fatal Attraction follows Dan Gallagher, a married man who has a one-night stand with a woman who begins to stalk him and his family. The original version that was test-screened in 1987 included an ending that featured Alex (Glenn Close) slitting her throat with her ex-lover Dan’s (Michael Douglas) kitchen knife to make it look like he murdered her. Test audiences thought that ending was anticlimactic and lacked a meatier and more thrilling revenge. The film went back into production for an additional three weeks to shoot a more satisfying ending, which involved Alex’s violent death at the hands of Dan’s wife.
Glenn Close protested the changes; she felt her character would "self-destruct and commit suicide” because of her obsession with Dan. "The original ending was a gorgeous piece of film noir," Close told Movieline in 1996. "She kills herself, but makes sure that his prints are all over the knife, and he gets arrested. He knows he didn't do it, but he's going to jail anyway. But audiences wanted some kind of cathartic ending, so we went back months later and shot the ending that's in the movie now."
6. License To Kill
Well into post-production of the sixteenth film in the James Bond franchise in 1989, MGM changed the film’s title from License Revoked to License To Kill after American test audiences reacted unfavorably to the title. They believed it referred to Bond’s (Timothy Dalton) driver's license instead of his license to kill from the British intelligence agency MI6. Longtime Bond film producer Albert Broccoli had already commissioned posters and other movie memorabilia with the title License Revoked, which were scrapped before its release in American theaters.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The original ending of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World featured Scott (Michael Cera) choosing to be with his underage love interest Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) instead of his dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), after defeating her seven evil exes. Test audiences didn’t react favorably to the ending because Scott spent a majority of the movie fighting to be with Ramona, and they felt that he should’ve ended up with her instead, which, incidentally, was also the way the story ended in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original graphic novel series.
"The original ending, when we had test screenings, it would kind of divide people," director Edgar Wright told MTV News in 2010. "Over that kind of process, Bryan changed the endings of the books and I was aware that the ending we had wasn't quite as satisfying as it should be, so we had the chance—and Universal were totally behind the idea—of shooting something new. When we screened it again, the scores went hugely up."
8. Pretty in Pink
Test audiences didn’t like the original ending of Pretty in Pink, which featured Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) going to the prom together and dancing the night away to David Bowie’s "Heroes" with the implication that they’d be together forever. They wanted to see Andie end up with her high school crush Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) at the end of the movie instead—so the final cut of Pretty in Pink ends with Andie and Blaine passionately making out in front of his BMW.
"I thought the new ending was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking," admitted director Howard Deutch. "I thought it was unfair and wrong, and that’s not what the movie was intended to be. It felt immoral."
10. 28 Days Later
At the end of Danny Boyle’s original cut of his 2002 horror film, Jim (Cillian Murphy) gets shot in the stomach and slowly starts to die, while his two female companions try to revive him in a hospital. Jim ends up dying, while his would-be rescuers venture off into the zombie apocalypse to fight for survival. Test audiences felt the ending was too bleak, so the studio made Boyle alter the final scenes to make them more optimistic. The film now ends with Jim surviving his wounds and the zombie-like creatures starving to death.
10. Starship Troopers
In the original version of Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 science fiction satire Starship Troopers, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) breaks up with Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) while the two are separated during basic military training, then starts a love affair with her commanding officer Lt. Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon).
Test audiences hated that Carmen chose her career over her relationship with Rico. They also hated that she became romantically involved with her commanding officer. Additionally, test audiences felt that her character should have died instead of Rico’s new love interest Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer). Verhoeven downplayed the romance in the final version, changing Carmen's relationship with Lt. Barcalow from romantic to flirtatious, so audiences could empathize with her character. Verhoeven also cut a scene where Carmen and Johnny kiss after Barcalow’s death at the end of the film to make her more sympathetic to audiences.
The first version of James Cameron’s 1997 epic that was screened for test audiences featured a running time nearly four hours long. One of the sequences cut from the final version was a fight scene between Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner), Cal’s (Billy Zane) English valet and bodyguard. The scene took place after Rose (Kate Winslet) rescues Jack from the master-at-arms' office, where he was handcuffed to a pipe after being "caught" with the Heart of the Ocean jewel. Test audiences felt the fight scene slowed down the film’s pace, while some also believed that the scene was unrealistic in a life-and-death situation. Cameron ended up cutting 45 minutes out of Titanic to make it a digestible 194 minutes (and, thankfully, didn't go with this ending, which is pretty awful).
Bonus: The Little Mermaid
You know that song "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid? Well, it was almost cut from the movie before it was ever fully animated. Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg didn’t like how children in a very early testing group became rowdy and restless during the show-stopping number, so he wanted it completely cut. However, The Little Mermaid’s directors and producers urged Katzenberg to keep the song in the film and convinced him to screen the movie again with a finalized version of the sequence (they also reminded Katzenberg that "Over the Rainbow" was nearly cut from The Wizard of Oz —a pretty heavy-handed play). "Part of Your World" tested very favorably that time, and it was ultimately kept in the version we all know and love.