Almost all of us love to watch movies. Frankly, there are few things more exciting than going to the cinema to watch the latest blockbuster or Oscar favorite. But were you aware that many of your favorite motion pictures could have been so different if not for test audiences? The likes of Pretty Woman, Rambo and Goodfellas would have been almost unrecognizable from how we know and love them today. So, here are 20 classics that were significantly altered by those first viewers.
20. Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese’s celebrated gangster epic Goodfellas is regularly cited as one of the greatest films ever made. It was lavished with a number of awards – including a Silver Lion for Best Director and a Best Supporting Actor gong for Joe Pesci. But initially, the production fell foul of test audiences. Yes, those watching it in its first incarnation found the level of violence too high.
In particular, test audiences balked at the movie’s notorious opening gambit. As you’ll know if you’re a fan, it shows the volatile Tommy DeVito stabbing an enemy in the back of a trunk. The first version saw Pesci’s character knifing him ten times, but this was cut to four in the final edit following the feedback. Scorsese effectively lessened the brutality throughout in his re-cut, and he emphasized scenes depicting Tommy as something of a momma’s boy. Aww.
19. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Following up on what is often cited as the greatest movie of all time was never going to be an easy task. But Citizen Kane director Orson Welles was given an extra headache when test audiences gave a negative response to the first cut of his 1942 romantic drama The Magnificent Ambersons. So, what was wrong with it?
Well, essentially the test audience decided that the epic period drama was too long. According to Yahoo! Movies, an hour of the film was slashed off following the feedback – making its runtime 88 minutes. This was apparently all done without Welles’ permission, and a cheerier climax was added. No original-length DVD edition is available either, as most of the cut footage was lost.
18. Pretty Woman (1990)
Pretty Woman was the film that made Julia Roberts a star. The Garry Marshall-directed rom-com cast her sassy prostitute Vivian into the life of Richard Gere’s wealthy businessman Edward – leading to the most unlikely of romances. But it could have been so different had it not been for a test audience.
You see, in the original cut, Pretty Woman was a bleak drama about prostitutes. And Gere would ultimately dump the lady of the night he enlisted for their week of effective dating, according to Mental Floss. But the whole tone of the movie was ultimately altered due to the test audience falling in love with the unlikely couple.
17. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s wry examination of Hollywood’s dark underbelly is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest flicks. But the 1950 film noir Sunset Boulevard could have turned out quite different. Yahoo! Movies notes that a test audience laughed at Wilder’s original opening to the movie. This showed a surreal depiction of a corpse talking to the screen. They quickly assumed it was a comedy, and it wasn’t what the director had intended.
The new beginning would of course feature the floating dead body of Joe Gillis in a swimming pool, as the deceased man recalls the events that led to his homicide. But the beginning wasn’t all that Wilder changed. No, the ending was also altered to complement the movie’s intended mood. So – spoiler alert – we got Joe’s murder by the pool and Norma’s famous walk down the grand staircase.
16. Blade Runner (1982)
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is loved by so many. But did you know that the sci-fi caper could have been very different? Much to Harrison Ford’s chagrin, the film was drastically changed due to a test audience. Apparently, they had expected the initially gloomy motion picture to be a family friendly action caper in the vein of Ford’s Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
So, what was changed due to that test audience reaction? Well, quite a bit actually. One major addition to Blade Runner was a voice-over, which a furious Ford reportedly described as “a f***ing nightmare.” The contentious ending – which has the main character’s replicant hunter Rick Deckard inexplicably speeding off into the country with Sean Young’s replicant Rachael – was also appended to the movie. Oh, what might have been.
15. Heathers (1989)
High-school crime comedy Heathers hit the big screen way back in 1989. The edgy movie – which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater – follows a female teen looking to extricate herself from a snooty clan tarnishing her wholesome image, by, erm… having them murdered. Anyway, the cult classic could have been considerably different.
According to WhatCulture, director Michael Lehmann had to make a major change to the movie after the test audience rejected its original dark finale. That ending saw Ryder’s Veronica gun down J.D. and stop him bombing the school – only to plant the device herself. Instead, producers changed it so the female lead character achieved a redemption of sorts. Spoiler alert: it sees her stopping the sociopathic J.D. and preventing the explosive going off altogether.
14. Lost Horizon (1937)
Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon was a considerable success in the late 1930s – gaining seven Oscar nominations. The movie – which follows a diplomat whose plane crashes in snowy Tibet before he and the other survivors are guided to Shangri-La – was widely acclaimed. But the movie could have ended up differently if not for a test audience.
According to The New York Times, the November 1936 preview in the Californian city of Santa Barbara literally had patrons jeering Lost Horizon off the screen. Poor Capra was devastated, and he reportedly decided to torch the film’s first two reels – before assigning the title scene to the third. There were also re-shoots of scenes involving the High Lama, and the new bits emphasized the state of the world in that decade.
13. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is the perfect family movie. But the alien-stuck-on-Earth yarn was quite different initially. Sorry to break it to you, but a test audience influenced the ending of the film. WhatCulture notes that they didn’t like the adorably friendly E.T. passing away and not going home. And you suspect the poor kids watching in cinemas across America would have felt the same.
So, Spielberg had to make a change. After E.T. is quarantined by government agents, the lovable alien appears to pass away. But he quickly regains consciousness – leading to film boffins suggesting the tale was a metaphor for Jesus Christ. In essence, then, Spielberg’s desired “death” scene was sneaked in before the feel-good finish we know and love. Curiously, there was also a deleted scene with Harrison Ford, according to Entertainment Weekly.
12. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Prison drama The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most popular movies of all time. But the Frank Darabont film was something of a box-office bomb when it was first released. In fact, it only gained significant traction from 1997 onwards after near-daily repeats on TNT.
The final scene – spoiler alert – sees Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne meet up with his penitentiary pal Red in Central America. Though this was not what Darabont envisaged. The director preferred to focus on how Morgan Freeman’s character re-adjusted to normal life after so long inside. But, as ever, the test audiences got their way, according to WhatCulture. So we got the sentimental meet-up that melted moviegoers’ hearts.
11. Army of Darkness (1992)
Army of Darkness – the third entry in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise – was a success when it hit cinemas in February 1993. Yet the comedy laced horror movie starring Bruce Campbell could have been different from how fans know and love it. Yep, you’ve guessed right, that pesky test audience had something to say about it.
The Army of Darkness ending was actually altered. The original finale had Campbell’s Ash slumbering through his showdown and awaking to a post-apocalyptic world, according to WhatCulture. But instead, we got Ash waking up in the present and saving the day by annihilating the remaining Evil Dead with his Winchester rifle. Raimi and Campbell reportedly preferred the original ending, but as we have discovered, the test screening moviegoers usually win.
10. Pretty in Pink (1986)
A cult favorite, the John Hughes-penned Pretty in Pink is a landmark high-school romantic comedy. Howard Deutch directed the movie – which was released in 1986 – and Molly Ringwald took on the lead role. Essentially, her character Andie must decide whether to court her childhood sweetheart or elope with a wealthy yet sensitive playboy. But a test screening ensured a different ending than was first envisaged, Buzzfeed notes.
Yes, Hughes and Deutch wanted Andie to end up with her peculiar pal Duckie – rather than the well-heeled Blaine. Point the finger at the females in the test audience for this changing, though. As the film’s director later told HuffPost, “The girls in the test screening didn’t go for that… they wanted her to get the cute boy. And that was it. So we had to reshoot the ending.”
9. Fatal Attraction (1987)
Fatal Attraction is centered around a married man’s ill-judged one-night stand which comes back to bite him in a startling way. And it was one of the 1980s very best thrillers – starring the likes of Michael Douglas as Dan Gallagher. It took $320 million at the box office, garnered six Oscar nominations and effectively fired its lead Glenn Close to Hollywood stardom. Yet the movie’s ending could have been quite different.
The famous fight between Close’s crazed Alex Forrest and Dan’s wife Beth was actually added after the original finale was effectively vetoed. As Close revealed to Movieline in 1996, “The original ending was a gorgeous piece of film noir. She kills herself, but makes sure that his prints are all over the knife, and he gets arrested.” The star added, “But audiences wanted some kind of cathartic ending, so we went back months later and shot the ending that’s in the movie now.”
8. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors is a big-screen adaptation of the eponymous off-Broadway musical, and it’s a hoot. But the musical that expertly blends horror and comedy originally had a different ending. According to Looper, it was the same as the Broadway version. That means the killer plant Audrey II triumphs – munching her owner, his lover and then attempting to take over the world.
Interestingly, the Hollywood suits were against that ending. But Oz remained firm – until the test audience had the final say. According to Looper, the director later recalled, “For every musical number there was applause, they loved it, it was just fantastic… until we killed our two leads.” A second test screening confirmed the reaction was no accident. So – spoiler alert – the famous finale where Rick Moranis’ Seymour electrocutes the alien before marrying Audrey was shot instead.
7. First Blood (1982)
First Blood kicked off the hugely lucrative “Rambo” franchise. The 1982 action movie sees Sylvester Stallone’s Vietnam vet John Rambo retreat into the mountains and fight off the sheriff and deputies hunting him. The Ted Kotcheff-directed film was based on a novel by David Morrell. Like the book, it originally had Rambo committing suicide. But Stallone, and indeed the test audience, had other ideas.
Stallone apparently didn’t want Rambo to die. And during filming, he pitched a new ending, which was filmed at the same time. According to Looper, Kotcheff noted that the test audience “were all unanimous” in approving Stallone’s idea. He continued, “They all said, in different words, ‘This is the best action film I’ve ever seen. But the ending is horrible!’” In the face of this universal disapproval, they agreed to change the ending.
6. Election (1999)
Alexander Payne’s high-school drama Election hit cinemas in 1999 to critical acclaim. But did you know the movie once had a completely different ending? Originally, the enmity between Matthew Broderick’s vindictive teacher Mr. McAllister and Reese Witherspoon’s ambitious Tracy Flick was resolved in a post-school visit from the pupil to her former tutor. But the test audience was not impressed by this, according to Den of Geek.
A new ending was subsequently filmed over a year after principal photography was wrapped up. Spoiler alert: that finale features a fuming Mr. McAllister losing his rag at the sight of Ms. Flick working alongside a politician, while he is taking in the sights of Washington D.C. McAllister duly hurls his drink at their car before making a run for it – a perfect representation of his innate pettiness.
5. Misery (1990)
Adapted from a Stephen King novel, psychological thriller Misery still retains its power to shock decades on from its original release. Kathy Bates’ sadistic Annie abuses James Caan’s writer after she takes him captive following a car accident. But there was a subtly different ending to Rob Reiner’s movie in the first instance.
Den of Geek notes that Misery originally ended with author Paul Sheldon surviving his ordeal by killing Annie with a typewriter and escaping. Then, months later, the former visualizes her tracking him down while he’s eating lunch with his agent. But a pedantic test audience ensured Reiner reshot it – all for one minor detail. That being the fact Paul initially walked into the restaurant without a cane, which the people at the test screening found dubious.
4. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg’s thriller Jaws shouldn’t need any introduction. The 1975 blockbuster centered around a great white shark that is terrifying a beach community is one of the most well-known and lucrative movies of all time. But according to Listverse, one of its most iconic moments was not quite the same until a test audience intervened.
Yes, the famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line was initially drowned out by a test audience in Dallas. First-time viewers were evidently frightened by the shark’s water breach when Roy Scheider’s character was chumming off the boat’s bow. So, Spielberg apparently extended the scene to allow the screaming to subside and enable the comment to receive the attention it deserved.
3. The Shining (1980)
Anyone who has seen The Shining will know that it is one of the most terrifying horror movies ever made. Adapted from a Stephen King book, it was directed by Stanley Kubrick, who really made his own mark on the supernatural story. But were you aware that the 1980 motion picture starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall originally had a different ending? Though it wasn’t a test audience who changed the movie – it was a real one.
As a 1981 New York Times article explained, The Shining was not completed on schedule – so there was no time to test it. A trite and downright anticlimactic finale in a hospital wasn’t popular, and it arguably squandered the tension that had been expertly built up. So, three days after its release, Kubrick studied the public’s reaction to his motion picture and decided to cut the unpopular scene.
2. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s Alien was actually the victim of a late rethink. The iconic 1979 sci-fi horror was a huge critical and commercial success that spawned numerous sequels. But did you know there was an 11th-hour change to the movie? And it’s one we can’t blame the test audience for, either.
Former production vice president Gareth Wigan told The New York Times in 1981, “Too often previews are used to demonstrate how much an audience likes a film. Alien previewed very well. But, afterwards, we took out a whole sequence where Sigourney Weaver found Tom Skerritt in the Alien’s lair and he begged her to kill him. And we shortened and simplified the final sequence.”
1. Titanic (1997)
What more can you say about Titanic? The James Cameron epic is one of the most successful motion pictures in Hollywood history – bagging 11 Oscars. And at the time of writing, it is the third highest-grossing film of all time. But the movie we all know and love could have been significantly different were it not for the reaction of a test audience.
You see, the romantic drama once featured a notable extra scene where Spicer Lovejoy – the bodyguard of Caledon Hockley – chases after Jack and Rose. He then has a fight with DiCaprio’s character. Though according to Buzzfeed, Cameron later said, “Audiences accepted the jeopardy of the ship sinking so strongly that the idea of a guy chasing them around with a gun didn’t seem that plausible or scary.” So, we instead got Hockley chasing them before giving up as the steamship sank.