Hollywood is a tough town. Just ask a movie director. Whether it is for budgetary reasons, running time or commercial appeal, movie studio executives often take films away from the directors and edit them the way they see fit. This often ends up causing huge rifts between the directors and the studios. Lawsuits are filed, names are removed from the credits and the end product is known for being compromised. That is until a “director’s cut” of the movie surfaces. More and more, director’s cut of movies are surfacing these days, and with them, we get to see the moviemaker’s vision fully realized. Various movies are restored to their original version. Although not always successful (some times the studio is proven right to exercise “final cut” over a movie), often times a director’s cut improves upon a film. Here are 10 of the best director’s cut versions of movies ever salvaged from the cutting room floor.
10. Superman II (1980)
The first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve were shot back-to-back at the same time. This was meant to give the General Zod storyline continuity. It was also meant to save the studio bankrolling the films, Warner Bros., a lot of money. But when director Richard Donner went over budget and clashed with studio executives, they took the movie away from the acclaimed director and turned the duties of finishing the second film over to Richard Lester, who was best known for directing the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night. The majority of footage for Superman II had been shot when Richard Lester took over, but the director added a more comedic and campy tone in post production and while editing the film. The end result wasn’t a disaster. But Richard Donner, who went on to direct Lethal Weapon, always let it be known that Superman II didn’t meet his expectations. Fortunately, in 2006, Richard Donner was able to re-edit it and released a new version of the movie known as “The Richard Donner Cut.” It includes more action shots, including some taken from screen tests, as well as a darker, edgier tone that works really well.
9. Apocalypse Now Redux (1979)
The original Apocalypse Now can stand on its own and is rightly viewed as a cinematic masterpiece. However, that first version released in theaters excluded several scenes that director Francis Ford Coppola considered crucial to the movie’s plot, but which studio executives insisted on cutting to keep the movie’s length down. This included the famous “French plantation scene,” where actor Martin Sheen’s character visits a plantation that is still being run by a wealthy and civilized family who settled in Vietnam from France. There are also extended scenes along the river and following the mayhem at the USO concert. In all, Francis Ford Coppola added 49 minutes of additional footage to Apocalypse Now with his Redux version that was released in 2001, and critics and film historians say the additional footage only serves to deepen and strengthen the movie.
8. The Big Red One (1980)
Upon its release in 1980, The Big Red One was viewed as a decent war movie. The director’s cut of the film released in 2004 is considered one of the greatest movies ever made about war. Ironically, it was not director Samuel Fuller who presided over the extended version. It was noted film critic and historian Richard Schickel who was in charge of what became known as The Big Red One: The Reconstruction, seven years after director Samuel Fuller’s death. Armed with Fuller’s notes and a companion novel he wrote for the movie, Richard Schickel added back into the movie several key scenes that the studio had snipped to keep the running time of the movie under two hours. These included scenes showing the American GI’s catching German infiltrators, as well as taking time to sneak a massage courtesy of a French widow. The extended version of the film also expands on the complicated relationship between the movie’s two leads – actors Mark Hamill as a scared private and Lee Marvin as his crusty and demanding Sargent.
7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Steven Spielberg’s original version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was not too shabby. However, it did contain a few scenes that never quite worked – such as the sequence where actor Richard Dreyfuss digs up his yard. In a special edition of Close Encounters, Steven Spielberg manages to improve upon the movie by removing 10 minutes, adding in seven new minutes and enhancing the already formidable special effects. The end result is a movie that is actually three minutes shorter than the original version, but that is much better all around. Most impressive, Steven Spielberg adds in a scene where an ocean freighter is deposited in the Gobi Desert, a scene that better explain why the Richard Dreyfuss character feels compelled to meet the alien spacecraft in Wyoming, and a new ending that takes the viewer inside the alien spacecraft that has always been so impressive from the outside. These changes have helped to cement Close Encounters’ legacy as one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.
6. Almost Famous (2000)
Almost Famous is one of those movies you wish would never end. Viewers want to stay on tour with fictional band Stillwater forever. Well, in the “Bootleg Cut” of the movie, the road trip with the band lasts a little longer. Director Cameron Crowe’s longer cut of the iconic movie restores a scene in which Stillwater gets interviewed by stoned journalist Lester Bangs (played by actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the Rolling Stone newsroom and reporters get a lot more screen time than in the original version of the movie. We also get to see main character William (played by actor Patrick Fugit) stealing towels and other freebies from the motels where the band stays on tour. The Bootleg Cut adds more charm to this movie and keeps the good times rolling just a little bit longer.
5. Das Boot (1981)
The original Das Boot is commendable and one of the best German movies ever made. But the tense and hyper-realistic World War II submarine movie is only made better by the director’s cut, which adds a full hour of character development on top of the U-boat action that was put front-and-center in the initial cut of the movie. Acclaimed director Wolfgang Petersen revisited this movie to add rich character development on top of the action, and it works masterfully, making the audience care that much more about what happens to the soldiers on the U-boat. In fact, Wolfgang Peterson had so much leftover footage from filming Das Boot that he also made a five-hour television miniseries that aired in Europe in 2004.
4. THX 1138 (1971)
This was George Lucas’ first feature film, and the only one that the director managed to improve by adding modern special effects to. George Lucas famously took a lot of public flack for going back and re-editing the original Star Wars trilogy to add CGI special effects to those movies. In THX 1138 though, George Lucas’ tinkering works. This is for two reasons. First, this movie was made on a shoestring budget and the original version of THX 1138 contains some very cheap and not altogether convincing special effects. Secondly, those cheap special effects have dated horribly since 1971. By adding some modern effects and a sprinkling of CGI here and there, George Lucas manages to improve upon his movie – especially the escape scene and car chase at the end. The key is that George Lucas shows some restraint with the CGI and effects. He uses a subtle amount, mixed in seamlessly, to enhance the movie and help it age better. This was not the case with the Star Wars films.
3. The Abyss (1989)
James Cameron’s movie The Abyss initially suffered from a disappointing and inexplicable ending that left the audience’s feeling that the movie suddenly ended without being properly concluded. This was, in part, true. James Cameron had always intended to add in some tidal wave sequences at the end of the film to help fill out the ending and give the movie a more satisfying conclusion. But the director ran out of time heading into the movie’s release date in the summer of 1989, and so the film was released with the difficult original ending. Nearly 10 years later, James Cameron had the special effects whizzes at Industrial Light and Magic add in the tidal wave shots using CGI and the result is a conclusion befitting the rest of the motion picture. The special edition of The Abyss also adds some additional shots aboard the sunken nuclear submarine that deepens the plot too.
2. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
The knock on the first Star Trek movie, released in 1979, has always been that it is too slow and boring. Audiences found the plot and pacing of the film to be way too stilted. Director Robert Wise heard these complaints and responded by issuing a director’s cut of the movie that improved the special effects, enhanced the sound and removed four minutes of footage from the movie that helped to speed it up and accelerate the story. The result is a motion picture that holds up well and is better than the original cut of the movie. It still contains the characters everyone loves and keeps the story intact. But it helps the U.S.S. Enterprise reach its destination a lot faster, which we can all appreciate.
1. Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Director Ridley Scott fiddled with his masterpiece Blade Runner several times. In 1992, Scott released a director’s cut of the movie that removed actor Harrison Ford’s voiceover narration, which the studio insisted on adding to the original 1982 movie but that the director hated. Another ten years and Ridley Scott released what he called “The Final Cut” of the movie that adds the infamous “unicorn scene” at the film’s conclusion. Never in cinema has one brief scene so dramatically altered a movie, its meaning, or its ending as the scene where Harrison Ford’s character finds an origami unicorn at his apartment door. If you haven’t seen the Final Cut of Blade Runner, we won’t ruin the ending of it for you here. But suffice it to say that the director’s cut elevates this movie from cult favorite to landmark sci-fi event.