There are many actors who are notorious for dying on screen. A joke is that every time Sean Bean appears in a movie, his character dies. But there are other actors who have bit the bullet on screen more than he. John Hurt, Billy Drago and Danny Trejo are just a few names of actors whose characters met their maker from something more than natural causes.
However, there have been times in which actors were saved having to film a death scene or their death scenes were cut from the final edit. Before you read any futher, I must note that there are a lot of spoilers ahead for movies.
Tom Hanks is saved a groady slasher death because he’s too gosh-darn likeable
There’s only two reasons to watch the 1980 cheap slasher He Knows You’re Alone. One is to see Tom Hanks in his first screen role. Two is to see his character die from his throat being slashed or a knife through the eyeball or something like that. Well, you can forget about a death scene. Hanks has died on screen in Saving Private Ryan but he survives this forgettable thriller for the simple fact that he’s just too nice of a guy.
In the 2006 documentary Going to Pieces, Hanks was a starving actor who appeared early to set one day as one of the producers was trying to grab a quick lunch. Noticing Hanks was eyeballing the other half of the sandwich, the producer let him have it and a bond was formed. You can’t just kill a man, even if it’s make believe, if you share a sandwhich with them. And originally written, Hanks character of Elliot was supposed to die, but since it’s only a small role, there’s no need to kill him off.
You can see Hanks’ performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGdYiqt2XQ0
A real great white shark caused problems for Jaws
Jaws, the 1975 horror blockbuster that made Steven Spielberg a household name, was so infamous with its problems that crewmembers called it “Flaws.” The mechanical sharks for the shoot hardly worked in the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean off of Martha’s Vineyard. Production was delayed so much that Richard Dreyfus would report people walking around with radios and all you could hear is “The shark is not working. Repeat. The shark is not working.”
Dreyfus, himself, was playing oceanogapher Matt Hooper, who in the movie’s climax climbs into a shark cage in an attempt to stab the great white shark with a poisonous spear. In the book written by Peter Benchley, Hooper is a cocky, arrogant person who also has an affair with the wife of the police chief played by Roy Scheider. This was left out of the movie and Hooper was toned down to be more likable where him and the chief’s wife, played by Lorraine Gary, just share a bottle of wine.
In the book, Hooper goes into the shark cage and is then killed when the shark is able to break through it. This was supposed to be in the shooting script as well. But there was a problem when Ron and Valerie Taylor, real-life shark divers and documentarians were tasked with filming a real-life great white near a shark cage. Because great whites are more like 15 feet long and rarely the 25-feet long the one was in the movie, they used a smaller actor to double for Dreyfus.
Filming off the waters of South Australia, a problem arose when a 16-foot shark got tangled in the boat winch that was connected to the cage and began to thrash briefly but violently before it got loose and swam away. Luckily, the actor who was to double for Dreyfus wasn’t in the cage. But this left Spielberg and producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown with a issue. Do they discard the footage of the real-life shark or filmed as it is written? Well, no one said Hooper has to die on screen as he did in the book.
In the finished movie, Hooper manages to get free of the cage and swim down to seek shelter from the shark. What we see in the final movie is in fact real footage which makes for some great terror on screen. You can see the footage along with what was shot with the mechanical shark here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wz2pk0PXIg
Little Shop of Horrors has an apocalytpic ending with leads being plant food
The 1986 musical/horror/romance/comedy is one of those rare movies that works on so many levels. There’s also the casting of Rick Moranis as the lead Seymour Krelboyne. Moranis just embodies the character so well. Also, his scenes with Ellen Greene, playing Audrey, the kind shy co-worker her crushes on are some of the best scenes in any movie in the past 40 years and makes us miss Moranis even more.
Based on the musical by Howard Ashman musical play and produced on a $25 million budget, the movie only made $39 million worldwide but it went on to find its cult status on the home video and cable markets. However, there was one issue in the transition from stage to screen – the ending. Unfortunately, Seymour and Audrey don’t survive and are eaten by the carnivorous Audrey II. Greene had performed the role on stage and even Moranis was on board with ending just like Ashman had written for the musical as well as for the movie.
However, test audiences detested the ending. Director Frank Oz said there was applause after every musical number except the ending. Audrey is seriously injured after being rescued by Seymour when realizing Audrey II is alive. She asks to be fed to Audrey II so Seymour can be successful, which he does. However, Seymour tries to attempt suicide but is stopped by a salesman played by Paul Dooley who says they can harvest little Audrey IIs to everyone and has already done so hisself.
Seymour goes back to confront Audrey II who performs the “Mean Green Mother” number with the chorus of little plants. In the end, Audrey II grabs Seymour and devours him, spitting out the glasses. Then there’s a more crazier version of “Don’t Feed the Plants” as we see many Audrey II plants terrorizing people and even going on top of the Statue of Liberty.
Oz said the testing by audiences in both Los Angeles and San Jose was “a complete disaster.” The movie got a 13 rating as a 55 is needed. “I learned a lesson: in a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow—in a movie, they don’t come out for a bow, they’re dead,” he later said in an interview. “They’re gone and so the audience lost the people they loved, as opposed to the theater audience where they knew the two people who played Audrey and Seymour were still alive. They loved those people, and they hated us for it.”
So Oz and Ashmon came up with a happier ending. This meant that Dooley had to be recast by Jim Belushi as he was unavailable for reshoots. A body double for Tisha Campbell who played Chiffon and some camera panning had to be added at the ending as Campbell was also unavailable. For more than a decade, the original ending, which cost about $5 million total to produce, was thought to be lost before a short black and white snippet was found.
Now, the entire original ending can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RjFvcw6ToQ&t=255s
Foot Clan member survives in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters in the spring of 1990, it was a surprise hit despite some negative reviews. However, there was some controversy. The turtles had already become popular in the cartoon series. However, they had been invented in the comic book format Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who had made them darker.
And that darker material mixed with the lighter Saturday morning cartoon vibes was what Steve Barron was going for in the adaptation. However, despite a PG rating, some people felt it was still too violent as Raphael is roughed up so bad by the Foot Clan it takes days for him to recover. This violence upset Jim Henson whose Creature Shop had done the work for the Turtles as well as Splinter. Judith Hoag who played April O’Neill in the movie also was reportedly upset with the level of violence in a movie aimed at kids and didn’t return for the two sequels, being replaced by Paige Turco.
Barron was reportedly fired before production ended and wasn’t involved in post. There is one scene that had to have a line added in post-production. When Master Tatsu (Toshishiro Obata) gets upset, he goes full Citizen Kane and starts throwing stuff around and hitting the young Foot Clan members. When one tries to calm him down, Tatsu goes ballistic and beats him senseless. Some people were left thinking that Tatsu killed him. But a line of dialogue was added in post to assure people he was still breathing.
Arachnophobia sheriff dies in cut scene, still alive as far as we know
I mentioned Spielberg earlier, so let’s look at Arachnophobia, the 1990 horror-comedy he helped produced with Frank Marshall first time directing. The movie, which is about an outbreak of very deadly spiders from Central America, who kill several people in a small town in northern California was a modest hit when released. It was an ode to the when animals attack movies of the 1960s and 1970s, most notably The Birds and Kingdom of Spiders.
The spiders, which are offspring hybrids of a big huge spider that hitches a ride with a corpse, have a deadly venom that can kill people within seconds. A doctor, Ross Jennings, played by Jeff Daniels, moves his family to the community and is the only one who seems to notice something off about the people dying, other than them dying after being treated by him. One of the characters critical of the new doctor is Sheriff Lloyd Parson (Stuart Pankin) who after being in touch with some other people including entomologist Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) begins to realize they have a problem.
After noticing some pictures of cobwebs taken by the doctor’s wife played by Harley Jane Kozak, Atherton deduces the deadly spider has actually built a nest near the barn at the Jennings household. Parson drives Atherton to the barn and then drives away. We’re guessing it’s to radio in for help or to go back to the sheriff’s station. Whatever reason, we’re not told.
But Pankin said years after the movie’s release, his character was supposed to die shortly after leaving the location. A spider has crawled into the car and is supposed to appear from undeneath a seat and bite Parsons as the scene cuts to the sheriff’s patrol car drives off the road. Why was this scene cut? It’s never been explained. My guess was for pacing. Arachnophobia is 110 minutes with credits so I’m guess Marshall felt since Parsons isn’t needed for the rest of the movie anyway, why kill him off? It should be noted that Atherton also gets bitten and dies shortly after going into the barn so it could have taken away the dramatics of Atherton’s death.
The Fugitive deputy marshal survives for the sequel
Joe Pantoliano is another actor who is known to die on screen as he plays sleazy and unlikeable characters. One of his most notable characters was on The Sopranos where he was killed by Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and then chopped up. But every now and again, Pantoliano will play a good guy as he did as Deputy Marshal Cosmo Renfro in The Fugitive. He was basically the right-hand man to Tommy Lee Jones Deputy Marshall Samuel Gerard.
Normally in movies like this, a character like Renfro is the one who gets killed in the final act. But The Fugitve is a diferent movie. Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) has deduced that his colleague and friend, Dr. Charles Nichols (Jeroen Krabbe) and a former Chicago police officer, Fredrick Sykes (Andreas Katsulas), is responsible for the murder of his wife, Helen (Sela Ward). He travels to a Chicago hotel where Dr. Nichols is giving a lecture but is confronted by Sykes on an L train. After a scuffle in which a cop is shot, Kimble is able to handcuff Sykes, who only has one arm, and leave ditching Sykes’ gun in the trah.
Being caught with a gun on suspicion of shooting a cop is a death sentence. In a laundry room where Gerard and Renfro have followed Kimble and Nichols, Renfro is knocked out and his gun is taken by Nichols. In the original script, Renfro was supposed to die. That was before Pantoliano talked with director Andrew Davis about how most of his characters die on screen. Since The Fugitive’s buzz was already how it was going to be a big hit, Pantoliano got Davis to reconsider Renfro’s fate. And sure enough, Renfro returns in the 1998 sequel U.S. Marshal.
The Mask saves actress for sequel that never gets made
The Mask helped catapult Jim Carrey to an A-lister in 1994. Based on the Dark Horse comic books series, the movie was very watered down from the violent source material. Despite this, some critics still took issue with the handful of goons who are actually killed in the PG-13 rated movie. Mainly this was because The Mask was geared toward children and I, myself, at 15, was surprised at how many kids in the single digits were at the theater when I saw it.
However, there was one character who was killed but their death was cut from the movie. Amy Yasbeck plays Peggy Brandt, the reporter, who seems that she might be an ally of Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey), until she double-crosses him so Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene) can get his hands on the mask. The scene ends with Tyrell giving Brandt some money and we assume she just leaves, never seen again in the movie.
Yet, she died a really horrible death. When he puts on the mask, Tyrell becomes a hulking massive creature who grabs Brandt and throws her body up into the printing press as Ipkiss watches in horror. In a what is supposed to be an absurd comical death, the paper prints out a front page with the headline REPORTER KILLED IN FREAK ACCIDENT where Brandt’s face and and hands smushed up against the photo. You can see the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihAczwNny-w
The scene was cut for two reasons. One, it was considered too dark for the movie already aimed at children.And two, it was to leave it open to have Brandt to come back in The Mask sequel. Even though the movie made about $350 million worldwide, Carrey wasn’t too keen on returning for a sequel as he isn’t a fan of them. It took 20 years for a Dumb and Dumber sequel and look what we got. Worse, we got the Son of the Mask in 2005.
Natural Born Killers get their comeuppence but director feels they’ve learned their lesson
Natural Born Killers was one of the most controversial movies of the 1990s if not all time. The mixture of hyper-kinetic gonzo style filmmaking where almost every few seconds we’re seeing something in a different format (film, video, black and white, Super 8) was from the mind of Oliver Stone. The movie about two young lovers, Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), who go on a killing spree of the American Southwest before they are caught and incarcerated angered people as well as having its fan base. Even worse, it was believed to have inspired copycat killings, one of which was a friend of John Grisham who kept Harrelson from being cast in A Time to Kill, opening the doorway for Harrelson’s friend and sometimes co-star, Matthew McConnaughey.
People weren’t exacly alright, alright, alright with the movie. Critics were divided. Roger Ebert loved it. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone hated it, calling it the worst movie of 1994. The movie was intended to be a satire of not just media sensations but as we romanticize people who awful just because we like them. Look at how people have looked past all the things Trump did or look at how they sidestepped all the sexual abuse allegations against Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Regardless of your political affiliation, the ending to NBK has Mickey and Mallory escaping the prison with an inmate, Owen (Arliss Howard), and tabloid journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) who they use as a hostage. Mickey and Mallory end up shooting Gale “for what he represents” leaving him to die as the camera records his death. The final version has Mickey and Mallory leaving to start a family together, on the run of course, in a RV.
However, Stone shot an alternate ending in which Owen guns down Mickey and Mallory when they try to ditch him after killing Gale. The scene has both Mickey and Mallory mocking Owen before Owen shoots Mickey first at point-blank range and then turns his shotgun toward Mallory who looks horrified before he pulls the trigger. Stone released an unrated director’s cut in 1997 on home video in this scene as other was included. As he says in the introduction, he felt that Mickey and Mallory had gotten reformed and their killing days were over so he cut the more karma ending of them being killed by Owen.
28 Days Later’s ending was intended to be more horrifying
The re-emergence of the zombie subgenre in the 21st Century owes a lot to the release of 28 Days Later. Even though the people in the movie aren’t dead but infected with a rage virus, the movie shares many similarities with apocalyptic zombie movies as well as images and themes that we’ve see in movies like Day of the Dead, George A. Romero’s 1985 movie. The movie involves a young man, Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up from a coma 28 days after a rage virus has infected the United Kingdom and possibly other countries.
He finds survivor Selena (Naomie Harris) and then Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns) and they head toward a military outpost. Only problem is after running from the people infected with the rage virus, they find a new problem at the outpost. Maj. Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) has intended for the military men to more or less have their way with Hannah and Selena.
So, the movie now becomes a story of Jim working to save Selena and Hannah from the horny, toxic masculinity. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex McDonald, the movie did have some great visuals as well as we see Jim so enraged by Maj. West and the soldiers that Selena can’t tell whether he is infected or just angry himself when he turns violent against them. I had some issues with it but I felt Boyle and McDonald had done a better job than I thought going in.
The movie ends with Jim suffering a gunshot wound as they try to escape. Time passes and Jim has recovered from his wound and him, Selena and Hannah are living out in the country trying to make signs to show they are survivors. A jet flies overhead with Selena wondering if they were seen.
However, originally, Jim was suppose to die from his injuries as they taken him to an abandoned hospital but are unable to save him. But an even more radical ending left out the military outpost altogether. Frank gets infected with a single drop of blood falls from a corpse above him into his eye socket. It’s a great shot and visual. But in the movie, Frank is then gunned down by the military. However, in the storyboards, an alternate ending was suggested they go to a hospital in which Jim offers up a blood transfusion to Frank. However, this idea was quickly discarded because the infected only take less than a minute to show signs. Even Boyle said there would be no way they could show every drop of blood would be fresh from Jim’s body. I’ve given blood several times in the past and one pint of blood usually takes 10-15 minutes.
Still the idea was shown in DVD extras as Frank is fully recovered while Jim is strapped to a gurney totally infected with the rage virus left to die alone.
In closing, I want to say, yes, I know about an alternate ending where Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) dies from his gunshot wound at the end of True Romance and Alabama (Patricia Aquette) leaving him as she takes the money. I also know about Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) being shot in a robbery at in the original ending of Clerks because Kevin Smith didn’t know how to end it. I was trying to focus more on horror/thrillers/fantasy movies. But I’m pretty sure I can find some more movies that had alternate endings or fates for its characters.
What do you think? Please comment.