Whether it’s transforming a surreal philosophical odyssey into an iconic rom-com, or getting rid of massive celebrities and adding close-ups of water dripping off a leaf, some films end up completely different after post-production than they were during shooting.
Here are some of the most (in)famous.
‘Annie Hall’ (1977)
Woody Allen has always been slightly frustrated that ‘Annie Hall’ is called the greatest romcom of all-time, mostly because his original concept wasn’t a romcom at all.
In fact it was intended as a self-reflective film about turning 40, with a murder-mystery subplot and various surreal sequences. It even had a different title: ‘Anhedonia’, meaning the inability to feel pleasure.
Editor Ralph Rosenblum has said that the original footage was non-dramatic and too disparate, despite being hilarious and sophisticated.
In the end, Allen was convinced that the relationship with Annie (Diane Keaton) was the heart of the movie and while some meta stuff remains (fourth wall-breaking, the subtitles, Marshall McLuhan), the simplified, dare we say more romantic version, has rightly taken its place in comedy history.
‘I’ll Do Anything’ (1994)
If you were to stream this comedy-drama today, you’d see a straightforward film about an actor played by Nick Nolte who has to look after his young daughter.
But that’s not the way it was written and directed by James L. Brooks, the multi-Oscar-winning comedic genius behind ‘As Good As It Gets’.
In fact, Brooks filmed the movie as a musical with songs from Prince and Sinead O’Connor amongst others, but previews went so badly that the director returned to the editing suite and excised all the tunes.
No-one’s seen the original version since, though we’d love to watch Nick Nolte belt out a Squiggle song.
‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998)
Director Terrence Malick’s movies are notoriously ‘found’ in the editing room, sometimes ending up as completely different films to how it was originally written or shot.
That was certainly the case with this anti-war treatise, which spends more time on the nature of the Pacific islands and beautiful imagery than actual warfare. A young Adrien Brody signed on thinking he was going to be the star, only to find his role reduced to a tiny smattering of scenes and two lines.
One of the editors Leslie Jones said the concept of the movie changed significantly during post-production, which went on for about a year-and-a-half. Various stars, including Mickey Rourke and Billy Bob Thornton, were completely cut out, whilst the latter provided three hours of narration which was chopped.
The film ended up with six Oscar nominations, but didn’t win any.
‘First Blood’ (1982)
Ignore the cheesy (and often morally dubious) sequels – this first Rambo flick, adapted from a gritty bestseller, is a great, taut movie. But it could have been so different.
According to star Sylvester Stallone on the film’s DVD commentary, the original cut was a rather languid three-and-a-half hours, hardly the 93-minute action-thriller which was released.
“It was taking disastrous turns in the editing room,” remembered Sly. “I hated the film the first time I saw it, everyone did. Everyone was feeling it was a disaster. We even tried to buy the negative back and just get rid of it.”
The filmmakers did some fundamental re-editing, then put together a 40-minute taster reel, which Sly presented to critics and financial bods from around the world. He initially refused, saying he had thought would be lying about it being a good film.
But the final cut had had two hours hacked out of it, with Jerry Goldsmith’s great music added. Said Stallone, “This one worked on a more profound emotional level.”
‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (1942)
According to lore – mostly propagated and then perpetuated by Orson Welles himself – the icon’s follow-up to ‘Citizen Kane’ was a piece of genius high-art taken away from him by the studio and turned into a shadow of itself.
Some film historians have come to question that version of events, arguing Welles was at least involved in agreeing to severe cuts when the downbeat family melodrama did badly during test screenings.
Nevertheless, the studio did reshoot and recut significant portions of the movie, taking out about 40 minutes. Most importantly, they changed the ending, turning it into a happy conclusion, much to the anger of Welles.
Even as late as the mid-Sixties, the auteur was talking about finally releasing the version he intended, even though the deleted scenes had been destroyed years earlier in order to save space at a warehouse.
‘Once Upon A Time In America’ (1984)
Sergio Leone’s mobster epic is an example of a movie where the product you saw depended on your geographical location.
Starring Robert De Niro, James Woods and Jennifer Connelly as a young girl, Leone originally wanted to release the film as two three-hour movies. The film company didn’t agree and it was whittled down to a single 229 minutes – the form seen outside the US.
Unfortunately for the Yanks, that editing wasn’t judicious enough and the version eventually shown in the States was two hours and nineteen minutes.
Unsurprisingly, the results were very difficult to follow, with huge swathes of characterisation left on the cutting room floor, as well as a rejig of Leone’s initially more complex use of time.
While the performances are still great in the short version, it’s a totally different – and far inferior – film.
‘Swing Shift’ (1984)
The lost director’s cut of this dramedy helmed by Jonathan Demme has been called one of the best films of the 1980s, even though only a few critics have seen it.
Starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (the long-time couple fell in love on set), it has the actress playing a woman who signs up to work in an armaments factory during WWII.
Hawn and Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’) argued during production, with the latter wanting to make a serious film while his star desired a more light-hearted comedy. Hawn got her way and the film lost its overtly political elements, while there are also rumours that co-star Christine Lahti’s scenes were severely cut because of fears she was stealing the limelight from the heroine.