11 Movies That Changed Because of Test Audiences

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

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.

1. Goodfellas

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. 

11. Titanic

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.

10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook On Its 15th Anniversary

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams's breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance, which arrived in theaters 15 years ago today.

1. It was based on a true story.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. Nicholas Sparks thinks the book was successful because it was relatable.


Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. The screenwriter had to work hard to make the characters seem real.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling didn't get along—at first.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. McAdams and Gosling's on-screen chemistry probably wasn't real.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. Jessica Biel was bummed she didn't get to play Allie.


Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. McAdams felt a lot of pressure to deliver a great performance.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. James Marsden thought the movie was going to be "schmaltzy."


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. Nick Cassavetes was the fourth choice to direct the movie.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbel almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. James Garner ruined his first take shooting with Gena Rowlands.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Alexander Skarsgård Could Have Played Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Marvel fans may have trouble imagining Thor played by anyone other than Chris Hemsworth, but apparently, Alexander Skarsgård was pretty darn close to getting the role. How close, you ask? He tried on the costume, held the hammer, and even filmed an audition in the garb.

In 2009—just a year after True Blood premiered—the actor told MTV that he met with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Thor director Kenneth Branagh about the part. “Yeah, I met with Kevin [Feige] a few times and the director,” he said. “There was definitely some truth in that, yeah.”

When the MTV interviewer said he thought the actor had the perfect look to bring Thor to life, Skarsgård simply replied, “So did I.”

But before you start to feel too sorry for Skarsgård, let's not forget the number of impressive roles the True Blood alum has landed. At the moment, he’s playing Perry Wright in HBO’s Big Little Lies, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

As for the Thor role, Hemsworth went on to play the God of Thunder in multiple films, and although his future in the MCU is not certain after Avengers: Endgame, the Australian actor confirmed he’d love to keep playing the character.

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