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How Will Smith Fans Really Feel About I Am Legend's Alternate Ending

Robert Matheson's influential 1954 novel "I Am Legend" has long been a subject of reimagining and adaptation, inspiring films like 1964's Vincent Price-led "The Last Man on Earth" and 1971's Charlton Heston-led "The Omega Man." More than half a century after the book's publication, Will Smith's thrilling 2007 outing of the same name brought the text into the 21st century, spawning a new generation of "I Am Legend" fans. The film stars Smith as U.S. Army virologist Robert Neville. When the development of a vaccine to cure cancer goes wrong, the results are catastrophic, leaving billions dead and a new league of nocturnal mutants undead.

Neville, it would seem, is the last living human in New York, and he uses his scientific know-how and profound isolation to develop a cure for the hostile, zombie-esque Darkseekers. He spends most of his postapocalyptic days roaming an eerily empty Manhattan with his dog, Sam, capturing the infected for experimentation, and, above all else, surviving. Sadly, after years of surviving on his own, Neville is forced to give up his life to save any chance at a cure. The film's final moments are as hopeful as they are despairing, positioning Neville as a martyr for the cause of his species' survival. 

An alternate ending, however, reimagines the final act of "I Am Legend." Here's what fans really think of the film's shelved conclusion.

Fans largely prefer I Am Legend's alternate ending

In 2008, Warner Bros. released a Two-Disc Special Edition DVD of "I Am Legend," featuring a never-before-seen alternate ending that significantly changed the story and overarching themes. In Neville's final faceoff with the alpha Darkseeker, the zombified antagonist smudges a butterfly into the glass, matching the tattoo of his captured Darkseeker mate. Suddenly, Neville is able to recognize the creatures' humanity, and he opens the glass partition to free the cured Darkseeker. 

He looks over to the photos of countless Darkseekers who didn't survive his treatment, and it clicks: in the eyes of the Darkseekers, he's the monster who's been plaguing their community. Instead of Neville sacrificing himself to preserve the cure, he drives to Vermont with Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), content with the fundamental, if unknowable, shift in life on Earth as he knows it.  

The new material left the Reddit masses and critics alike to reassess the 2007 film. In the buzzing subreddit r/movies, u/vespera23 posited that the alternate ending was superior, and wondered if other fans felt the same way. Other redditors overwhelmingly agreed, noting that the unreleased version hewed more closely to Matheson's original novel. "I would think the movie would have been much better if they chose the ending that the title of the book and film came from," a since-deleted user chimed in. Indeed, the book ends with Neville's realization that he is, in a sense, a boogeyman to be feared by the dominant population. "[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever," Matheson concludes his book. "I am legend."

The original test audiences preferred the theatrical ending

If it were up to 2022 audiences, the ending of "I Am Legend" may have looked quite a bit different. Viewers in 2007, however, were partial to what ended up being the official conclusion. As a result, present-day Redditors have plenty of ire for the test audiences who apparently nixed the alternate ending. "We tested it twice and it got wildly rejected," director Francis Lawrence told Screen Rant, "which is why we came out with the other one." "I have never hated a group of moviegoers more," wrote u/NewbieTwo.

Critics tended to agree with fans, noting that the cloyingly optimistic ending positions Neville, as Richard Corliss put it in Time Magazine, as Jonas Salk meets Jesus. IGN's Todd Gilchrist and Christopher Monfette were in agreement, calling the theatrical release's ending a "congealed mess of palatable Hollywood mediocrity." Still, with an "I Am Legend" sequel on the horizon, it would seem there is an opportunity for the film's producers to embrace Matheson's original ending. In fact, the result could be the morally complex version of "I Am Legend" that fans have been after for years.