Watching a movie is like playing roulette: we have no idea which ending we'll be seeing. Will it be the original, or another version inspired by a failed test screening, or "creative differences"? Sometimes the change is for the better; sometimes not. Here, we rank 13 alternate horror film endings from worst to best.
I Am Legend (2007): It's a Wonderful Apocalypse
This alternate ending is not only dreadful, but a betrayal of the source material, Richard Matheson's classic horror novel.
In the original ending, Neville realizes that the infected humans (the Hemocytes) are actually sentient, feeling beings. Glancing at the photos of the Hemocytes that he has killed over the years in his effort to "cure them," Neville realizes that he is the real monster.
That was the point of Matheson's book, where a virus transforms humanity into vampires. Neville came to realize that they had inherited the Earth, making him—the last of the Homo sapiens—the creature of legend who preys upon the innocent.
Instead, the ending shown in theaters has Neville detonating a grenade, which kills both himself and the Hemocytes who have broken into his lab. By doing so, he makes it possible for his two human friends, Anna and Ethan, to escape with a cure—the final scene shows them walking into a bucolic "survivors' camp" in Vermont that looks more like Stars Hollow than a post-apocalyptic refuge.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003): Unprotected Sex
The epic showdown between the two slasher-film legends ends as one might expect—in a draw. Jason survives and Freddy's decapitated head winks at the camera and laughs.
A couple of different endings were considered for the movie—one, unfilmed version, included Pinhead from the Hellraiser franchise, but failed because New Line didn't want to buy the rights to the character.
The alternate ending that was actually filmed is pointless and confusing. Lori and Will are having sex for the first time when he attacks her, holding her down by her throat while he sprouts Freddy claws. The credits roll just as he brings his hand down towards her. Was this going to be a setup for Son of Freddy?
Carrie (2013): Talk to the Hand
The 2013 remake of Carrie ends with Carrie's gravestone cracking (did she survive?), but things get a lot more graphic in the WTF? alternate ending released on Blu-Ray. That ending shows Sue Snell in the hospital delivering her baby—when suddenly, a bloody hand emerges from Sue's vagina and grabs her. It turns out that it's all a nightmare, but there's still a horrifying subliminal image of a blood-soaked Carrie holding Sue's infant daughter.
Final Destination (2000): Death Takes a Holiday
The ending shown in theaters has Alex, Carter and Clear visiting Paris, talking about how they cheated death. Clear theorizes that maybe, if they had been on Flight 180, they would have been the sole survivors of the plane crash. They were meant to live because "that was the design all along." But then, the Grim Reaper sets in motion one of his Rube Goldberg accidents that is about to kill Carter when the screen goes black.
In an eventful—and inferior—alternate ending, Clear and Alex have sex on a beach, which results in Clear getting pregnant. Alex saves her from a car—which in this ending results in his death. She gives birth and names the kid after him, and then he seems to manifest briefly as a comforting gust of wind. The film concludes with Clear and Carter at the Flight 180 memorial, where Clear tells Carter that the only thing they've won is a chance at a full life.
No thanks, I prefer a grimmer Grim Reaper.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986): Lady Liberty
The end that appears in the film is better than the alternate one—but that's a backhanded compliment. The movie itself had stripped away much of the dark tone of the off-Broadway musical. So, it's appropriate that the film has a happily-ever-after ending where Seymour and Audrey destroy Audrey II and survive.
Had the film been darker, then the original ending would have been perfect, and more faithful to the final scenes of the play: Audrey II eats Audrey and Seymour, conquers the U.S. and triumphantly ascends the Statue of Liberty.
The Descent (2005): Sarah Doesn't Escape
In the original ending, shown in UK theaters, Sarah escapes the cave and makes it to her car. As she's driving, she pulls over to vomit. After leaning back into the car, she screams at the vision of her dead friend Juno, sitting beside her. Suddenly, she wakes up—the entire escape sequence revealed as a dream. As Sarah lies on the cave floor, she watches her torch burn out.
OK, it's a mashup of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and Carrie—but, it's still better than the U.S. version, which ends with her screaming at the sight of Juno. Yes, Sarah is covered in blood and so traumatized that she's seeing dead people, but she'll live to descend another day.
Orphan (2009): Esther Lives
Murderous "orphan" Esther/Leena dies in the official ending, her neck broken from a kick to the face.
In the alternate ending, which is far more eerie, Leena survives. After Kate rescues her daughter Max, Leena heads back to the house and calmly reapplies her childlike makeup—tunelessly humming the whole time. As the police search the house, "Esther" walks to the stairs, introduces herself, curtseys and then daintily makes her way down the staircase. Who will be her next parents?
Army of Darkness (1992): Hail to the King
In the original ending—preferred by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi—Ash drinks too much of the magic potion that will return him to the future. He wakes up, with a long beard, confronted by a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape, with Big Ben in the foreground. Ash screams at the sky, "I've slept too long!"
I can see why this ending appealed to Campbell and Raimi, since Ash seems fated to lurch from one awful scenario to the next. (Also, bonus points for the Planet of the Apes homage.) Still, this ending just didn't fit the whimsical B-movie vibe.
So, instead, we find Ash back home, working his mundane job at S-Mart. But, evil has followed him, and he blows away an attacking witch. (Never screw with the guy in housewares.)
In a final display of Capmbell's trademark doofus-machismo, Ash concludes the movie saying, "Sure I could have stayed in the past. Could have even been king. But, in my own way, I am king. [Kisses co-worker] Hail to the king, baby." Groovy.
Hostel (2005): Train Ride
The actual ending of Hostel is absolutely brutal, with Paxton cutting off two of the Dutch Businessman's fingers, drowning him in a toilet and then cutting his throat.
The alternate ending is less brutal, and less viscerally satisfying, but arguably much creepier: Paxton kidnaps the Businessman's daughter and rides away with her in a train.
In an interview with MTV, filmmaker Eli Roth explained his decision to go with a different ending:
Roth: Yeah, I had shot an ending for "Hostel" that I was like, "This is going to be a perfect ending." Then we showed it to audiences, and out of 300 people, 10 people were like, "Yeah, that was sick!," and the other 290 people were like, "What?"
MTV: I thought you originally wanted Paxton to get revenge by killing his captor's daughter. But the "alternate ending" shows him simply riding away with her in the train. So does he kill her or what?
Roth: The implication is that he was saving her. In the original script that I wrote, Jay [Hernandez] slit the little girl's throat … I ultimately didn't buy that, that the character would do it … instead, by taking the little girl, he knew that would torture that guy. … But [test audiences] got caught up in the logic of what happens to the girl [after the train leaves], and that's what I didn't want to have happen."
Hannibal (2001): Brain Food
In this alternate ending, Hannibal doesn't have to lose a hand to escape. There's a gross (and sloppy) "kiss" between Hannibal and Clarice, and then, when he's on a plane and a boy asks him for some of his food (spoiler: it's totally brain), Hannibal asks if the boy's mother had ever warned him about taking food from strangers. When the kid replies that she has, Hannibal says that it doesn't matter because she's asleep, and then feeds him a few bites.
1408 (2007): We See Dead People
In the ending released for theaters, Mike survives after setting fire to the evil hotel room, where he had recorded an encounter with the spirit of his dead daughter, Katie. Afterwards, Mike moves back in with Lily, who finds a box filled with belongings that survived the fire. Mike repairs the tape recorder, and Lily hears her daughter's voice.
As is often the case, the original ending was better. Mike dies in the fire. At the funeral, the hotel manager, Olin, attempts to comfort Lily by telling her that Mike gave his life to prevent anyone else from being murdered by the room. He offers her the box of his belongings, and she refuses. Olin returns to his car, where he plays the tape, hearing the conversation between Katie and Mike—whom he then catches a glimpse of in his rearview mirror. The film ends back in room 1408, with ghost Mike looking out a window, smoking a cigarette. (Yes, ghosts smoke cigarettes.) He vanishes as he walks toward the door, making a truly final exit.
Paranormal Activity (2009): Smile for the Camera
I'm glad that they replaced the original ending, with Katie sitting catatonic in her bedroom until the police arrived and shot her. It dragged on way too long—diminishing the tension rather than increasing it.
But, I wasn't a fan of the alternate ending shown in theaters, where a demon-possessed Katie knocks over the camera and rushes toward it shrieking….The End. It was an over-the-top conclusion to a film that was so frightening precisely because the story unfolded in such a low-key manner.
The best ending—the one that should have been shown in theaters—still had Katie walking upstairs after killing Micah. But in this version, she grins at the video camera and slits her own throat. It still gives me shivers.
28 Days Later (2002): Jim Dies
The conclusion released in theaters showed Selena and Hannah desperately trying to save Jim's life in an empty hospital after he's been shot. Jim survives, and the three are later rescued after hiding out in the mountains, as the Infected die off.
But, there's also an ending where Jim dies. Distraught and grieving, Hannah asks Selena, "What do we do now?" Choking back tears, Selena answers, "We move," and the two walk off together.
The filmmakers preferred this version, since it brought Jim's saga full circle: the film begins and ends with him in a hospital bed.
I'm with the filmmakers on this one, especially since the ending is evocative of one of the movie's most memorable moments—when Jim finds a letter from his deceased mother: "With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now we're sleeping with you. Don't wake up." To me, it felt like Jim had been living on borrowed time, just long enough to rescue Hannah and Selena, so they could survive the catastrophe. The true measure of anyone's life is the ability to make a difference for others.