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Movies that originally had much darker endings

Everybody loves a nice grim ending, but not every film needs to be a downer. That's a lesson quite a few filmmakers have learned the hard way. A surprising number of classic films and modern-day blockbusters initially came equipped with far bleaker finales, but those sad scenes were stripped away for something a little more lighthearted—or, at least, a little less depressing. From 21st century superhero flicks to 1970s sports dramas, here are a few films that originally had much darker endings.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Generally speaking, Marvel movies tend to end on an upbeat note. Sure, Captain America: The First Avenger is pretty depressing, but other than that, the MCU usually likes to keep things cheery (or, at least, hopeful). And perhaps the happiest ending of all comes in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. After defeating Ronan the Accuser, we see our merry band of space pirates dancing to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as they set off on a new adventure. And so we don't feel too sad about Groot's devastating sacrifice, we get a glimpse of an adorable young sapling who'll one day sound just like Vin Diesel.

It's an ending specifically designed to let moviegoers leave with a smile. True, there's one bittersweet moment when Star-Lord remembers his mom, but hey, at least he's got a new family now. But do you know who's still all sad and alone? Peter Quill's grandfather. And originally, the old man was supposed to show up in the film's final moments, which would've totally killed the Marvin Gaye mood. You see, James Gunn planned on including Nebula, the Collector, and Grandpa Quill in that "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" montage (similar to Yondu's appearance). However, Gunn decided to drop Nebula and the Collector because they were bad guys, and he scrapped Grandpa Quill because the scene would've been too much of a tearjerker.

So what did Gunn initially have in mind for Star-Lord's granddad? Well, the director planned on cutting back to Earth, where we'd see actor Gregg Henry in old man makeup. It would be nighttime, and Grandpa Quill would be holding a photo of his dead daughter and missing grandson. He'd then look up into the stars, implying he saw Peter's abduction and was still hoping his grandchild would come home someday. Yeah, talk about a buzzkill. As the director said himself, it's just too "freaking sad."

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

While 10 Cloverfield Lane was successful with audiences and critics alike, many people were upset with the film's final moments. After spending most of the film locked in a bunker, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finally escapes, only to find herself face-to-face with an alien invader. Many moviegoers found the ending out of place with the rest of the movie, but film critic Tasha Robinson argues the climax is essential to the hero's growth as a character.

As Robinson explains, 10 Cloverfield Lane is really a film about domestic abuse, and Michelle is a victim who's constantly running from her problems. Up until the last few seconds of the movie, she's been facing some terrifying threats (Howard and the space worm) because she's had no other choice. But as Robinson writes, "Her first actual choice, and the resolution of her arc, comes in the final shot, when she decides to drive to Houston to fight the alien invasion, rather than…hole up in the 'safe zone.'"

However, before she makes that decision, she has to fight the aliens and understand what she's getting into. "In the bunker," Robinson notes, "fleeing initially wasn't an option, then was the only option. Outside the bunker, the aliens don't give her a choice any more than Howard did. But both experiences leave her wanting to fight back—and to finally stand up for someone beside herself…" Thanks to the controversial ending, Michelle overcomes her "habit of running" and the "long-term effects of abuse." The ending is a major victory for Michelle…and one that wasn't in the original screenplay.

In the first script (which was originally titled The Cellar), Michelle shoots Howard in the knees and makes a break for freedom. After stealing her captor's truck, she drives to Chicago, hoping to find her family. But when she finally arrives, she discovers the city has been mysteriously destroyed. She never knows if the city was obliterated by aliens or nuked by the Russians, and neither do we. The film ends right there, with the Windy City nothing but a big pile of ashes. Robinson calls this an "impersonal and cynical ending," and evidently the producers at Bad Robot agreed. After buying the script, they hired Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) to punch up the script and give Michelle a happier ending, one in which she defeats both her literal and figurative demons.

Rocky (1976) and Rocky V (1990)

The Rocky movies are some of the most uplifting films ever made. They're all about finding love, chasing your dreams, and proving you're someone special. On top of that, this franchise is absolutely jam-packed with inspirational montage after inspirational montage. But for a series that's so dadgum positive, Sylvester Stallone initially planned on taking these films in some pretty dark directions.

Take the 1976 Rocky, for example. According to Entertainment Weekly, Stallone wrote the sleeper hit in just three days, and his original ending was downright depressing. Not only does Rocky lose, but in this version, he actually throws the fight. True, he does use his prize money to open a pet store, but that just doesn't pack the same punch as the Italian Stallion going toe-to-toe with the champ for 15 straight rounds.

Things got even more upsetting for Rocky V: Rocky was actually supposed to retire from the ring…permanently. According to director John Avildsen, Rocky was supposed to fight his upstart apprentice, Tommy Gunn, and take a "great beating" from the younger fighter. And since our hero is suffering from brain damage, the film ends with Rocky being rushed to the hospital, his head resting on Adrian's lap. Shortly after arriving at the ER, Balboa passes away from his injuries, and Adrian gives a speech about how his spirit will continue to live on.

Avildsen thought this was a "beautiful ending," but the studio executives weren't buying it. They told the director that people like Rocky—Batman, Superman, James Bond—don't die, so Balboa was spared his bloody beat-down. Fortunately, this decision allowed Rocky to return in Creed, one of the best films of the franchise. Who says studio meddling is always a bad thing?

The Shootist (1976)

After working on more than 170 movies, John Wayne capped off his career with The Shootist. Directed by Don Siegel, the western sees Wayne as an aging gunfighter, dying of cancer, who decides to go out in a blaze of glory. (In real life, Wayne would pass away from cancer just a few years later.) The critically acclaimed film was possibly the finest swan song the Duke could ask for, and it was also one of the few instances of John Wayne dying on film.

In the movie's climax, Wayne's character, the legendary J.B. Books, has challenged three desperadoes to a gunfight at the local saloon, hoping one of them will kill him in the shootout. But hey, this is John Wayne we're talking about, and he dispatches his foes with relative ease. However, when Books isn't looking, a bartender shoots him in the back. That's when Books's young friend, Gillom (Ron Howard), goes into Hulk mode, picking up the shootist's six-shooter and killing the bartender.

Horrified by what he's done, Gillom tosses the revolver away, turning his back on a life of violence. Books nods his head in approval, right before he slips into eternity. Sure, it sounds kind of grim, but in the original version of the screenplay, things got a whole lot darker. Instead of the bartender showing up, Books would ask young Gillom to perform the coup de grace. "Take my gun," Books would say, "but first kill me." Ron Howard would then murder John Wayne, forever ruining the "aw shucks" image of Richie Cunningham.

Wayne, however, wasn't having it. Worried audiences would hate the ending, the Duke demanded a change. Thanks to Wayne, the mercy killing was dropped, but Howard still got to shoot someone. So in a way, everybody won. Except for the poor bartender.

Get Out (2017)

The ending of Jordan Peele's Get Out is one of the greatest fake-outs in horror movie history. After going full Rambo and absolutely annihilating his white kidnappers, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself in a rather tricky situation. Standing over the bloodied body of his evil ex-girlfriend (Allison Williams), Chris suddenly sees a cop car coming down the road. As the audience flashes back to the racist police officer Chris encountered earlier in the film, our hero raises his hands in the air, ready to be arrested. Fortunately, it's soon revealed this isn't a cop, after all. Instead, it's Chris's TSA buddy, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), come to save the day.

It's a triumphant ending for a creepy film, and one that Peele only came up with toward the end of development. Talking on Buzzfeed's Another Round podcast, the writer-director admitted that originally, a real cop was supposed to roll up and mistake Chris for a criminal, giving the film a darker (and more realistic) ending. After all, Peele's whole point was to show audiences that racism was still very much a problem in 21st century America, even in a world where Barack Obama was president. But after the widely-publicized shootings of young black men like Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, Peele concluded that society was "much more woke" about racial issues and perhaps it was okay to end his film on a happier note.

"It was very clear," Peele explained, "that the ending needed to transform into something that gives us a hero, that gives us an escape, gives us a positive feeling when we leave the movie." And really, in a genre full of last-minute murders (Night of the Living Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Stepford Wives), the ending of Get Out is fist-pumpingly awesome. As Peele himself put it, "There's nothing more satisfying than seeing the audience go crazy when Rod shows up."

American Sniper (2014)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Chris Kyle and those who don't. Some view him as a patriotic hero, honoring the man with his own holiday and petitioning the government to award the sniper a posthumous Medal of Honor. Others are a little more critical of the Navy SEAL, drawing attention to his inflammatory comments and his penchant for making stuff up. Still, regardless of your opinion, we can all agree his death at the hands of Eddie Ray Routh was a tragedy. But since the shooting was such a pivotal part of the Chris Kyle story, why didn't it make the final cut of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper?

Well, according to screenwriter Jason Hall, we were supposed to see the murder, but a few days after the incident, Kyle's widow called Eastwood and actor Bradley Cooper with a favor. As Hall explained, "[She] called and said, 'This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right." Hoping to honor her request, the creative group behind the movie considered five different endings before finally deciding to show Kyle heading to the infamous shooting range with Routh before fading to black.

"In the end," Hall said, "I think we felt that this was a film about Chris's life and not about his death." So while American Sniper isn't exactly what you'd call upbeat, the film would feel a whole lot bleaker if we saw Bradley Cooper take a bullet onscreen.

Training Day (2001)

Denzel Washington picked up his second Oscar for his furious performance as Detective Alonzo Harris. One of the most corrupt cops to ever grace the silver screen, Harris was declared the 50th greatest villain of all time by the American Film Institute. After all, he tries to murder his rookie partner, keeps an entire community under his thumb, and treats the Bill of Rights like a doormat for his muddy combat boots. So at the end of the film, when Harris is finally gunned down by the Russian Mafia, moviegoers knew he'd gotten his just desserts. But shockingly, in the first draft of the screenplay, Lady Justice wasn't so swift, and Harris was one step ahead of the mob.

Written by David Ayer, the original Training Day screenplay actually had Harris surviving the movie, living to terrorize Snoop Dogg another day. But after Washington accepted the part, he decided that Alonzo had to bite the bullet…like a whole lot of bullets. In an interview with Dr. Todd Boyd of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Washington explained that when he read the ending, he "was not having it." After all, this nasty narc needed to pay for his sins, and David Ayer swiftly complied with Washington's demands. After all, he was the star, and King Kong ain't got nothing on Denzel.

True Romance (1993)

Written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance tells the story of Clarence (Christian Slater), a lonely film geek who falls in love with a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette). Unfortunately, their romance is interrupted after Clarence mistakenly winds up with a bag full of cocaine. With the mob hot on their trail, the couple makes their way to L.A., where they attempt to sell the drugs to a movie producer…and as you might expect, this does not end well. Soon, Clarence and Alabama find themselves in the middle of a gunfight, with the Mafia on one side and the cops on the other.

While Clarence does take a bullet, our heroes manage to take the money and run, settling in Mexico and giving audiences an upbeat ending. However, this wasn't Tarantino's original vision. At first, the young screenwriter had Clarence die in the climactic bloodbath, forcing Alabama to grab the money and leave her husband's body behind. But director Tony Scott was so enamored with these two characters that he asked Tarantino to let Clarence survive. The writer was initially reluctant, so Scott agreed to film two separate endings—one happy, one sad—and see which one worked better.

And, of course, when it comes down to director versus screenwriter, the director always wins.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Sophisticated, intelligent, and always hungry, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) sent a chill through our collective spine at the end of The Silence of the Lambs. After turning a security guard into wall décor, the psycho psychiatrist makes his way to a tropical island, where he gives Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) a phone call before stalking after Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), the doctor who tormented him for so many years. As Lecter puts it, he's "having an old friend for dinner."

It's the perfect way to close the show, with a bit of wit and a side of macabre. But Ted Tally's screenplay originally had a far more ghoulish ending. We still had the infamous phone call, only this time, Lecter is hiding out in somebody's office, cutting oranges with a paring knife. After saying goodbye to Agent Starling, he puts down the phone and turns to Dr. Chilton…who's tied up in a chair. Lecter then approaches his ex-warden, blade in hand, and menacingly asks, "Shall we begin?"

Tally was quite pleased with this grisly ending, but director Jonathan Demme thought it was "kind of icky." As Demme explained to Deadline, "It was too horrifying a way to close the proceedings.…I thought this story deserved more to it than the crude, trussed-up Dr. Chilton about to be carved by Dr. Lecter." So taking a cue from the director, Tally rewrote the scene and put Hannibal in the Caribbean so audiences could see him "out in the world."

Plus, the ending allowed the filmmakers to have a little vacation. Unfortunately, Tally couldn't make it due to a scheduling conflict, and on top of that, the weather was just rotten, spoiling the cast and crew's island getaway. Of course, the film won a truckload of Oscars, which probably made up for any disappointments.

Interstellar (2014)

Love it or hate it, you've got to admit Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is a pretty ambitious project with a lot of great visuals and some interesting ideas. Of course, there's also the whole "love is the one thing that transcends time and space" bit. Some fans appreciated the film's sentimental ending, while others weren't so crazy about the sappy message. And if you're someone who likes your sci-fi served cold, then you probably would've preferred the ending found in the original screenplay.

In the finished film, Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) desperately needs to return to Earth, so he risks flying straight into a black hole. However, his timey-wimey trip sends him straight into a tesseract where he can view events in the past, present, and future. Coop uses his fifth-dimensional abilities to communicate with his daughter and save mankind. However, this wasn't what Jonathan Nolan intended. According to Nerdist, the uplifting ending was Christopher's doing. As for Jonathan, he wanted something a bit darker.

As the screenwriter explained at a media event, after Cooper enters the black hole, "the Einstein-Rosen bridge [colloquially, a wormhole] (would) collapse when Cooper tries to send the data back." In layman's terms, the astronaut would've perished in his efforts to rescue mankind. Unfortunately, Nolan didn't elaborate on whether the data ever made it back to Earth or if mankind would just slowly starve into extinction. Either way, Coop's death would've made the film one big galactic drag.

Groundhog Day (1993)

One of the greatest comedies ever made, Groundhog Day was written by Danny Rubin and directed by Harold Ramis—and as is often the case, the two filmmakers had very different ideas about where their movie should go. For example, according to The Boston Globe, Rubin wanted the character of Rita (Andie MacDowell) to come off as "coarse and world-weary," a far cry from the chipper news producer that ultimately wound up onscreen. They also disagreed about the ending, with Ramis wanting something lighthearted and Rubin wanting something that felt more like the closing scene of a Charlie Kaufman film.

In Rubin's script, weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is stuck in a never-ending time loop, forced to relive February 2 over and over again. In the meantime, the obnoxious newscaster slowly but surely becomes a better person, finally breaking the mysterious curse after winning the love of his coworker. So far it sounds pretty familiar, right? Well, this is where things take a sinister turn. In the screenplay, Phil wakes up the next day, finally free from his Groundhog Day hell, only to discover that Rita is trapped in a time loop of her own, stuck in February 3 for the foreseeable future.

As The New Yorker put it, this is a pretty "bleak" ending, and we've got to say, Ramis definitely made the right choice by altering the screenplay. But sadly, Groundhog Day in and of itself was something of a dark ending, signaling the last time that Ramis and Murray would ever work together. In fact, the two fought so badly while making the film that the duo (responsible for hits like Stripes, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters) wouldn't speak to one another for over 20 years.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy vs. Jason isn't what you'd call a critical darling, but it does feature two great slasher icons duking it out for the heavyweight horror crown. Of course, the creative team behind the film faced a dilemma when deciding who'd win the battle royale. If Freddy walked away victorious, you'd tick off Friday the 13th fans. And if Jason came out on top, that would be a nightmare for Elm Street audiences. So the filmmakers compromised, ending the film with Jason emerging from Crystal Lake, clutching Freddy's decapitated head—which then winks at the audience, letting moviegoers know he'll be seeing them in their dreams.

However, it took the screenwriters quite a while to come up with the final ending. According to scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, they originally wanted Pinhead to show up in the final shot, but production studio New Line didn't want to spend the money to acquire rights to the Cenobite. Shannon and Swift also considered sending Krueger and Voorhees to Hell where they'd fight for all eternity, but they realized the whole underworld thing probably wouldn't look that cool onscreen. After constant rewrites, the two finally closed the show with a draw, but if some studio executive had gotten his way, the film would've had a much weirder—and bloodier—ending.

In this alternate ending, our heroes Lori (Monica Keena) and Will (Jason Ritter) decide to get it on after the villains are vanquished. But as their evening turns intimate, Will starts acting kind of weird. Suddenly, he attacks his girlfriend, holding her down as Freddy Krueger claws inexplicably sprout from his fingers. You can probably guess what happens next, and it left Shannon and Swift completely confused. Talking to Bloody Disgusting, the duo admitted they had "no idea what the intention of that scene was. Will is now a killer? Freddy is inside him? It made absolutely no sense to us, and we never stopped complaining about it." Fortunately for the screenwriters, test audiences gave this freaky finale a big thumbs down.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

When it comes to dark endings, it's really hard to beat the original Planet of the Apes series. Of course, it's not like the recent reboots have been all that uplifting, either. Take 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, for example. While most of the good guys survive, that ending will still leave you reaching for your hankies. However, the original screenplay actually was far more depressing, as the script killed off the character of Will Rodman (James Franco), the scientist who befriended Caesar (Andy Serkis) and gave the chimp his super-intelligence.

In the film, the two part ways in the woods, after the climactic Golden Gate Bridge battle. But on the page, things take a much more tragic turn: a group of angry humans have chased Caesar into the woods, and when they finally catch up with the apes, they open fire. According to producer Dylan Clark, the character of John Landon (Brian Cox), the guy who runs the primate prison, actually shoots Rodman before the ape army descends upon the gun-toting humans and rips them limb from limb. But this ending didn't sit well with Clark, who described the scene as "idiotic," adding, "It just made you feel bad. It was just like, 'Oh my God, this is the worst movie ever.'"

Hoping to turn things around, about a month before the film premiered, Franco was called back for reshoots, and they filmed an entirely new scene over a weekend. This time, Will Rodman survived the movie, and with just a few weeks before the grand opening, a team of animators was called in to complete the scene. Talk about working overtime.

Sicario (2015)

As a movie that focuses on the bloody war between the U.S. government and Mexican cartels, Sicario isn't what you'd call lighthearted fare. Instead, this white-knuckle thriller goes to some pretty grim places, although director Denis Villeneuve made a number of interesting departures from Taylor Sheridan's screenplay. For example, in the movie, the enigmatic Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) executes a drug lord's entire family, but in the script, the assassin spares everyone except the kingpin himself. However, when it comes to the showdown between Alejandro and FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), Sheridan's screenplay is far more disturbing than what we see in the finished film.

In Villeneuve's version, Alejandro forces Kate to sign a legal document saying that he and his CIA buddy (Josh Brolin) followed the letter of the law while trying to bring down the Mexican mob boss. (They didn't.) To prompt Kate along, Alejandro puts a gun to her head, but that's as far as it goes. But things play out differently in Sheridan's version. Instead of showing up with paperwork, Alejandro simply wants to intimidate Kate, which he accomplishes by grabbing the FBI agent, pulling her shirt up, and exposing her breasts. As Sheridan wrote in his script, Kate "has never felt so powerless, and that is [Alejandro's] point."

True, while this certainly feels like something the assassin might do (he just murdered some kids, for crying out loud), we're glad Villeneuve decided to take a less icky route, as watching our hero be humiliated like this would honestly be too much.

Split (2017)

Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) has got a few problems—23, to be exact. A man suffering from dissociative identity disorder, Kevin is host to multiple personalities, some of which are friendly…and some of which aren't. Unfortunately, the latter group is incredibly powerful, and they force Kevin to kidnap three teenage girls as a sacrifice for the Beast, a 24th personality that can climb walls and deflect bullets with his bare skin. The Beast also has a thing for human flesh, and at the end of the film, he savagely murders two of his captives before promising to show the world just how powerful he can be.

Yeah, that's not exactly the most upbeat ending, but as it turns out, Split could've gone in an even darker direction. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan originally intended to wrap things up with Kevin sitting outside a school, waiting for all the children to come running outside. According to Screen Rant, as the kiddies prepared to go home for the day, the ultra-aggressive personality of Dennis would say, "Look at all those unbroken souls." In response, the uber-creepy persona of Patricia would answer, "Such a waste." That's when the credits would roll, strongly implying the Beast was about to feast.

However, Shyamalan said this was "just too dark," adding "it made [the end] kind of feel one note for me about what [the Beast's] intentions were." Shyamalan went on to explain that, "I just didn't want the Beast's motivations to be reduced to just killing, that kind of thing. So that's why I wrote the ending you see in the movie….So it was more of showing the world what we were capable of…."

Well, what he's capable of until David gets Dunn with him, anyway.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Over 20 years after Robin Williams escaped from the wild world of Jumanji, the mystical game made its big return in 2017. Only this time, the teenage players were sucked into a video game cartridge where they morphed into grown-up avatars—avatars that looked a lot like Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. Fortunately, after dodging a whole host of animals and besting a big game hunter, our heroes escape from the video game world and return to their teenage bodies.

However, filmmakers were actually considering a couple of alternative endings. According to Karen Gillan (via The Hollywood Reporter), one possible finale involved Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff in the form of Dwayne Johnson) staying in the game with Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner in the form of Gillan) while the rest of the crew returned to the real world. Obviously, that would've been a far happier ending for Spencer, as everybody wants to look like the Rock.

The second alternate ending, though, was a bit more menacing—and far more franchise-friendly. In the movie, the kids destroy the game so no one will ever get dragged back inside, but according to actor Ser'Darius Blain (the guy who plays Anthony "Fridge" Johnson), there was a version where Jumanji gets the last laugh. "Originally," Blain explained, "when [Spencer] and [Martha] kiss, we start hearing the drums again and then everyone gets the game downloaded on their phones. Then it's like, 'Oh, shoot! We're all going to be sucked in!' That would have been a cool way to go."