15 Great Films That Were Butchered In Their Original Release
Filmmaking has always been, and will always be, a process of collaboration and compromise, due to the meeting of art and commerce. Inevitably conflicts will arise between those involved, sometimes to the benefit, but often to the detriment of the works being created.
Hollywood’s history is rife with stories of behind-the-scenes’ ego clashing between producers, directors, actors, etc., for many of them there is an unspoken divide betwixt the creativeand financial forces on a film. The tendency is to defend the fragile artist, but sometimes an enemy, real or imagined, can bring out the best in certain filmmakers. And sometimes the limitations imposed on artists are necessary to focus their vision. Although other times profits take precedence over an artist’svision.
These are great films that were butchered for a variety of reasons, productions gone wild, over-budget or schedule,maverick directors run amuck, creative differences with the studio, or simply cutting the film to increase the number of showings they can get out of it in a day thereby increasing the grosses.
15. Alexander (2004)
The Movie: Oliver Stone’s almost opus chronicling the life of Alexander the Great. Despite having assembled a budget of $155 million (Stone’s largest to date) and a first-rate cast including Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Rosario Dawson, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer and lead by Colin Farrell, Alexander still manages to strike out. The film fails to illuminate the man behind the myth.
What Happened: Can’t blame the studio here, this one’s mostly on Oliver Stone, folks. Controversy arose in Greece due to the portrayal of Alexander as a bisexual, which at this point seems to be the only noteworthy aspect of the film, and Stone was content to use this and the prudishness of audiences as an excuse for the box office failure of the film. But frankly, the film sucks, plain and simple.
There are four versions: the theatrical release (175 min.), the ‘Director’s Cut’ DVD (167 min.), ‘Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut’ (214 min.) and the upcoming ‘Alexander the Ultimate Cut’ (206 min.) which will be released July 3, 2014.
Best Version: Here’s hoping ‘The Ultimate Cut’ is great because honestly this film isn’t worth sitting still for.
14. Waterworld (1995)
The Movie: Kevin Costner’s epic about a gilled-man, “The Mariner”, in a future where the polar ice caps have melted submerging the Earth, who must help a woman and her young daughter search for dry land. Directed by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), it is grand in scope. At times interesting and engaging, mostly Waterworld comes up dry.
What Happened: It was the most expensive film ever made at the time with a budget of $175 million (initially $100 million). Turns out filming in the Pacific Ocean is kind of pricey, especially when you have to use jet skis to get to the set. One of the multi-million dollar sets was destroyed by a hurricane, a stunt man was stranded for several hours when his jet ski ran out of fuel, Mark Isham’s score was rejected by Costner, 36 different drafts of the script were written by six different writers including Joss Whedon, who was brought in for seven weeks to do last minute rewrites, and director Kevin Reynolds was either a) fired by Kevin Costner or b) walked off the set, with 2-3 weeks of shooting left, leaving Costner to finish the film. In short, it was a disaster of epic proportion.
The film was released to mixed reviews. To date there are three versions of the film: the theatrical version (135 min.), the director’s cut (176 min.) which is nowhere to be found on dvd, and an two-disc extended edition dvd (303 min.) which apparently is only an extended cut that was aired on abc television (ehm, rip-off).
Best Version: The version with a one-eyed Dennis Hopper ruling the ocean. Oh, wait, that’s all of them.
13.Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
The Movie: MacLeod returns in Highlander II, dubbed by Roger Ebert as “the worst film of 1991”, and even with Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery reprising their roles and the addition of the great Michael Ironside and Virginia Madsen, Ebert could not be more right.
Set in 2024, MacLeod is now an aging old man, no longer immortal since there are no other immortals left. The Earth’s ozone layer has deteriorated and been replaced by an electromagnetic shield, that MacLeod helped build, and is owned by an evil corporation named (you guessed it) Shield. The film goes on to totally contradict the original by revealing that the Highlanders are actually from an alien planet called Zeist. I think that about sums it up.
What Happened: (Aside from an awful script) Shooting on location in Argentina turned out to be a terrible decision, the country was going through tough times economically and it had a negative effect on the film. The bonding company heavily interfered with the work of Director Russell Mulcahy so much that he walked out of the world premiere 15 minutes into the film. He and Christopher Lambert tried to quit during production, but were unable to contractually.
There are several versions of the film: theatrical version (100 min.), Mulcahy’s Director’s Cut aka “The Renegade Version” (109 min.) and a special edition cut (91 min.).
Best Version: The Renegade Version. This version of the film is actually bare-able and somewhat entertaining, plus the sets and special effects are kind of awesome and the bullshit alien backstory is excised.
12. Blade Runner (1982)
The Movie: Blade Runner is Ridley Scott’s second greatest achievement, aside from Alien (1979). Loosely based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, the film follows Rick Deckard as he reluctantly agrees to track down and ‘retire’ four escaped replicants.The film is all atmosphere, fairly light on plot and dialogue, it features possibly the best production design of any film ever with its dark, fiery, polluted, and deeply layered world of Los Angeles, 2019. The score by Vangelis is brilliantly evocative. I believe it to be a perfect film. However, it was met with mixed reviews in its original release.
What Happened: The producers briefly fired Scott during post-production due to the film going over-budget and though they eventually re-hired him, they retained final cut. Adding mind-numbingly bad narration to explain the plot because test audiences found the film confusing and tacking on a happy ending where Deckard and Rachel drive off into the sunset, they ruined the film. This led to it being misunderstood by critics and audiences in its original theatrical release.
There are seven versions of the film: the work print version (113 min.), the San Diego Sneak Preview version, the U.S. Theatrical release (116 min.), the International Cut (117 min.), the U.S. Broadcast version (114 min.), the Director’s Cut (116 min.), and The Final Cut (117 min.).
Best Version: The Final Cut. It’s beautiful.
11. Duck, You Sucker! (1971)
The Movie: Easily, the most forgotten of Sergio Leone’s films, Duck, You Sucker! is a revolutionary western being that it takes place in 1913 during the Mexican revolution. Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger), a Mexican bandit planning to rob a bank, meets John Mallory (James Coburn), an IRA explosives expert, whom Juan tries to enlists in his bank robbery. Meanwhile, John has agreed to lend his skills tothe revolutionaries, culminating in the amoral Juan fighting in the revolution.
What Happened: Originally Leone recruited Peter Bogdanovich to direct, then Sam Peckinpah, then his assistant Giancarlo Santi, and then finally, at the violent insistence of Rod Steiger, Leone himself agreed to direct. The film was mis-marketed as a light-hearted western, the title was changed to “A Fistful of Dynamite” to cash in on the popularity of the Man with No Name trilogy, and many scenes were cut shortening the movie’s running time to 121 minutes.
In the late ‘80’s a longer cut was released on Laser Disc (138 min.), then a UK dvd release (153 min.) and a U.S. Collector’s Edition dvd (157 min.).
Best Version: Collector’s Edition. It’s classic Sergio Leone stylistic action with offbeat performances by Coburn and Steiger, totally worth a look.