"It's not the ending we wanted, but we also weren't making the movie for two people. We were making the movie for a lot of people."If you think movies are art, we're going to have to disappoint you, especially if you're a filmmaker. Movies are products to be sold to consumers for the purpose of making a profit. At least, that's how studios see them. Therefore, studios are going to try to make their movies as appealing as possible to as broad an audience as possible. Enter the focus group. In film, they are called test audiences. The studio will call together a group of random strangers, screen the film and monitor their response. If the test audience isn't happy, then the studio will do whatever is necessary to make them happy. You can either blame them for ruining a lot of would-have-been-good movies, or improving would-have-been-crap movies. Probably a lot of both. This is closely related to Executive Meddling, but if it works, then the ending is better due to Quality by Popular Vote. Subtrope of Revised Ending. See also Democracy Is Bad and Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup. Since this is an Ending Trope, expect spoilers.
open/close all folders
- Parodied in Robert Altman's The Player. One minor subplot features the main character taking a movie pitch from an Auteur screenwriter about a wrongfully accused woman dying in the gas chamber. The screenwriter insists "no stars, just talent" and emphasizes that he refuses to change the Downer Ending because "That's reality". By the end of the movie, not only are the leads in this film being played by Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts, but the downer ending has been completely changed. The Screenwriter's justification? Test audiences hated it.
- The Simpsons:
- Parodied to the extreme by having Mel Gibson take Homer's suggestions for his remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in spite of everyone else in the focus screening giving praise because Mel thinks Homer is the only person brave enough to give him honest criticism. Not surprisingly, the Homer'd up version doesn't do so well (though, in a deleted scene available on the Season 11 DVD set, Apu and his brother, Sanjay, tell Homer that extremely violent American action movies are popular in India and that they actually liked it).
- Another episode has Bart and Lisa go digging for buried treasure and uncover an film can containing a Happy Ending for Casablanca where Rick and Elsa stay together. One of the retirement home residents says that he worked for the studio and they tried and failed to sell the happy ending. When Lisa says it should be in a museum, the old man offers her some money to rebury it — and the It's a Wonderful Life Killing Spree Ending.
- And another episode has the end of Gone with the Wind edited to appeal to seniors with the poorly dubbed: "Frankly my dear, I love you, let's get married."
Hans Moleman: Didn't that movie used to have a war in it?
- The Critic:
- Parodied in an episode where he reviews a remake of Pride of the Yankees. After Lou Gehrig delivers his famous speech, he is approached by the Yankees coach. Apparently, he and the boys have developed "Lou Gehrig's oil" — curing him instantly. Not only that, but a paperboy appears to announce, "Great Depression over! And Bill Cosby born!", whose comedy Lou Gehrig says he will look forward to watching. When Jay attempts to set the record straight, his show is pre-empted.
- Also parodied with Phillips' Vision, a means that Duke invents because "some artsy director ruins a classic movie with a Downer Ending." Duke intends to put it back "the way God intended" - allowing Spartacus to escape with his family and friend, and have Elsa return to Rick at the end of Casablanca (with Sam there, too!).
- Happens to Jay himself when he reconceils with his mother at the end of an episode of "Coming Attractions" after the two had a big falling out earlier. The audience complains that the ending isnt nice ENOUGH, and gives it a bad rating, forcing Duke to end the episode with a ridiculously extravagant spectacle. This only brings the ratings up a little.
Real Life examples:
Films — Animation
- Pocahontas lost its love duet "If I Never Knew You" (save for an end credits version) because kids found it too boring; it was later animated and reinserted into the film for its 10th anniversary DVD. Several critics felt it significantly improved the film. Ironically, "If I Never Knew You" was reinserted because so many Disney fans fell in love with it and called it one of Disney's very best love songs.
- WALL•E: Downplayed example, in that it was (presumably) intended to make the intended meaning of the ending more clear, rather than change the meaning entirely. The scenes of the Earth recovering that appear during the credits were added after test audiences said that they didn't think the people on the spaceship would survive.
- How to Train Your Dragon: Notably averted; the producers were concerned how audiences would react to the idea of Hiccup losing a foot in the battle against the Red Death dragon, but test audiences went up to them on their own account saying that they loved this powerful and daring twist for a family film and asked them to keep it.
Films — Live-Action
- Misery is a rare example of this trope making an ending harsher rather than softer. Focus groups were extremely unhappy with Paul walking normally at the end of the film, so the ending was re-shot with Paul needing a cane to walk.
- I Am Legend massively changed the original ending, which was closer to Richard Matheson's novella, to Neville's Last Stand. The DVD even boasts that it includes the "controversial" alternate ending. Apparently making peace with one's enemies is more controversial than a suicide bombing. Possibly because in the focus group ending he's committing a Heroic Sacrifice, but in the original ending he has a Heel Realization. A particularly odd example in that it essentially makes the title relevant in the exact opposite way it was intended in the novel and the original version of the film.
- In What Dreams May Come, the original ending was the main character loses himself in his wife's personal hell. Test audiences didn't like it, so it was replaced with a more upbeat ending where he saves her which is also how the original novel ends.
- The 2002 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Villefort is in the wagon and about to go to prison for life. The guard tells him that the gun on the seat was placed there as a "courtesy for a gentleman." The original version had the gun loaded, and he kills himself. The focus group didn't like that, feeling that the gun should've been loaded with a blank and Villefort should've spent the rest of his life in that awful prison. The creators were taken aback, but they had the alternate take with the empty gun, so all it took was a simple substitution to make the movie better.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol had the "When Love is Gone" number cut out of the theatrical release after negative audience response. They put it back in for the VHS and Laserdisc release, and fullscreen DVD releases. As such, the 2005 DVD, which contains both the fullscreen and widescreen version, omits the song in the latter, and the 2012 Blu-ray release also lacks the song, making the Laserdisc the only release of the film to feature the song in widescreen.
- Blade Runner: The original theatrical release featured Deckard and Rachael driving a car to happiness and freedom through lush green hills. This ending is a jarring non sequitur: implausible and theme-negating in a dystopian future-noir film. It's the direct product of a test audience screening. Oddly, the sequence is unused footage from the start of The Shining.
- Brazil: The omission of the original ending, in which Lowry's escape was revealed to be a delusion after he broke under torture.
- The movie version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors originally retained the Downer Ending in which Audrey and Seymour are killed and Audrey II begins its spectacular conquest of Earth to the tune of the song "Don't Feed the Plants". This went over so badly with test audiences that much of the final section of the film — from Audrey II trying to eat her onward — was reshot and recut to change things to a happier ending; the original finale had to be jettisoned altogether, until the Blu-ray release, which included a "Director's Cut" containing the original ending.
- Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness had its original ending (where Ash oversleeps after taking a sleeping potion and awakens in a post-apocalyptic future) changed after negative test audience reaction. A new ending was reshot and used for the theatrical release. Fortunately the new ending was just as silly and awesome as the rest of the movie.
- Fatal Attraction originally ended with Alex (Glenn Close) committing suicide and making it look like Dan (Michael Douglas) murdered her. American test audiences thought this wasn't a good enough punishment for the antagonist, so the ending was changed to Dan killing Alex by drowning her in the tub, but Alex doesn't stay dead — at least until Dan's wife shoots her. The original suicide ending has been shown in Japan.
- Pretty in Pink's female lead wound up with a different guy than the producers intended because test audiences favored the bad boy over the childhood friend—although cast members assert this happened because they complained the childhood friend came off as too Ambiguously Gay. Some Kind of Wonderful, by the same writer and producers, came out the next year and essentially followed the original plot and ending with the genders reversed (and was arguably a better movie, though less popular).
- Iranian film Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami ends with an idyllic scene featuring the production crew and some assorted others relaxing on a flowery hillside. It's lovely, but the footage seemed thrown in for no readily apparent reason. Test groups responded to it negatively and it was taken out of some theatrical runs, but restored for the DVD release. The director says he put it in there to remind us all that it's just a movie, and after the movie's depressing events he thought the audience deserved a break.
- Dawn of the Dead (2004) had extra footage shot and interspersed with the credits after test audiences complained about the original abrupt ending.
- Snake Eyes: Before the focus groups got their hands (er, eyes) on it, De Palma had a chase through a flooded tunnel and the bad guy getting run over by a globe which has been lying on the ground since the start of the movie. When it came to theaters, the chase doesn't go through a flooded tunnel (thus at odds with Nic Cage's reference to it in the epilogue), the globe gets washed off by a wave, and the bad guy kills himself.
- Star Trek: Generations: Captain Kirk's trope-naming ignoble death was actually an improvement over him getting unceremoniously shot in the back.
- In Deep Blue Sea, test audiences so despised the female scientist heroine (to the point of loudly screaming "Die, Bitch!" throughout the film), as well as the killing of LL Cool J's character, that the final ending was changed so that the Black Dude lives while the scientist lady gets munched on by a shark at the very end.
- The silent film of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) originally had an ending more in line with the original novel (where Christine kisses Erik (the Phantom) on the forehead and he dies in peace). Test audiences weren't pleased. In the replacement ending, he's chased down by an angry mob and drowned.
- The Saint (1997): Originally Elizabeth Shue's character was going to die but the test screening didn't like it.
- Originally Flight of the Intruder featured a court martial scene where Ed O'Neill played a JAG prosecutor. The test audience laughed at the sight of him and yelled "Al Bundy!". The scene had to be reshot with Fred Thompson playing the part.
- The original ending of Final Destination featured a somewhat happy ending. The hero sleeps with his love interest, gets her pregnant, then dies. The movie closes on the 2 survivors standing by his grave a year later. Test audiences hated it and said they wanted more Rube Goldberg deathtraps. Ironically, Final Destination 2 revolved around that plot point, just with different players involved.
- My Best Friend's Wedding originally ending with Julia Roberts' character hooking up with a random guy at the wedding reception, which audiences complained was an Ass Pull happy ending, so instead the ending was changed so that her gay friend George appears at the reception instead to comfort her.
- The original ending to the film of 1408 featured the main character dying and becoming a ghost. The writers continue to consider this the "true" ending and restored it for the DVD release. Nevertheless, the revised ending is also more true to the original story.
- Jaws: The Revenge: The original theatrical ending had Jake be eaten by the shark and the shark killed by impalement on the boat's prow. However, test audiences were very disturbed by Jake's death, so he (somehow) survives. They also changed the shark's death to massively exploding for no reason whatsoever when it's impaled. The former is ridiculous, but Word of God has it that while the studio demanded changes, they didn't give production appropriate money to re-shoot. (The original intent was the shark to be impaled, die and sink - taking much of the boat with it.)
- The Fly (1986). Fans were upset with the endings in which Veronica ended up with Stanis Boranz.
- Sweet Home Alabama originally had an ending that extended the Meaningful Echo of Melanie and Jake's kiss in the middle of the thunderstorm and had them zapped by lightning again. Cut to everyone waiting in Stella's bar, where Jake, cradling a limp Melanie in his arms, walks in and announces, "Melanie Carmichael is dead." We see the news start to sink in among the community, including Melanie's parents, before Jake adds, "Long live 'Felony Melanie!'" Melanie then drops the act, and everyone cheers for the happy couple and the rebirth of their hometown sweetheart. Test audiences cried, "Dude, Not Funny!," and the ending changed to have the couple playfully handcuffed together and escorted into the bar by their sheriff friend.
- Contemporary reviews indicate that the original ending to Downstairs had Alfred the good-guy butler drowning the evil chauffeur Karl in a vat of wine. Apparently exhibitors hated this ending, so MGM shot a different ending in which Alfred throws Karl out of the mansion but Karl goes on to continue his evil ways. The revised ending is the only one that survives.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was another positive example - the original ending to the film had Scott ending up with Knives as Ramona left on her own. After exposing it to test audiences, the ending was changed to its current form. Edgar Wright, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and most of the actors have all testified to being more satisfied with the new ending. Additionally, when the film script was being written, the last volume of the graphic novel hadn't been finished yet. When Bryan Lee O'Malley, the original writer, decided to have a happier ending than he originally planned, they also changed the film's ending to match.
- According to Lillian Gish's memoir, D.W. Griffith may be the Trope Codifier. She wrote that he went on the road and spoke to audiences when Intolerance made its premiere in several cities. He then took notes on which scenes got tepid responses and edited them out before going on the next city. That's why the Babylonian and modern stories are longer than the Jesus and Huguenot sections. (All four stories were originally roughly the same length.) In 1919, he released a new movie fashioned out of all the footage from the Babylon section with newly shot scenes that give the Mountain Girl a happier ending.
- The original ending for Eve's Bayou (and the one used for the Director's Edition) left ambiguous who started the infamous kiss between Louis and his daughter Cecily. When test audiences disliked this, the ending was changed to reveal a more definitive version of events.
- Dark City: Test screening audiences were "troubled" by the notion that the entire city wasn't sucked out into space once the Shell City Wall was breached. Thus, a last minute SFX addition of Bumstead and a Stranger drifting through a force field was created.
- Bad test audience reactions more or less shaped Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy into an entirely different movie. Originally, the film centered around a group of bank robbers calling themselves 'the Alarm Clock' - yes, the footage that became the direct-to-video film Wake Up, Ron Burgundy! When this story failed to strike a chord with audiences, all references to the Alarm Clock were removed, and a sizeable chunk of the film was reshot to include the familiar panda subplot. Also, Baxter (initially a large, masculine dog) became little, fuzzy and cute, adding another memorable element to the film.
- In the original ending of Freddy vs. Jason, after Freddy and Jason are defeated, Lori and Will are back at her home making love for the first time. Will becomes violent in the middle of it, and then grows blades out of his fingers. Lori screams as he slashes her to death. The test audiences thought the acting in the scene was terrible, and were confused about what it meant, asking questions like "Does this mean Freddy won? Where's Jason? Is this a dream? Is Will turning evil and is now some sort of Son-of-Freddy?" It was then replaced with the current ending, where Jason walks out of the water holding Freddy's decapitated head, and Freddy winking at the audience.
- Tremors originally ended with Val and Rhonda saying awkward goodbyes to each other and Val driving away, only for his friend Earl to change Val's mind halfway through and turn back for the Girl after all. Cue credits. The test audience however started chanting "Kiss Her!" during the awkward goodbye scene and so a new ending was shot, with a Big Damn Kiss and a Relationship Upgrade while credits start to roll. Definitely an improvement over original, which can be seen on the DVD.
- National Treasure had its ending changed due to test audiences, but not because they didn't like it: it was originally an And the Adventure Continues ending, and audiences mistook it for a Sequel Hook.
- Argo was criticized in its first airing at the Toronto International Film Festival for downplaying the role of Canadian diplomats during the hostage crisis and in its original postscript claimed that Canada's diplomat Ken Taylor took the credit for diplomatic purposes. After this initial wave, Ben Affleck called in the actual Ken Taylor to write the replacement postscript, which complimented the effort of the Canadians.
- The original ending of Layer Cake, the ending Sony Pictures wanted the director to use, shows the protagonist driving off into the sunset with his new girlfriend. The director secretly recorded the alternate ending, showing the protagonist being shot by Sidney to the screening audience and ended up using it based on popular vote, stating "It was not like other American movie endings".
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day had a Distant Finale coda showing Judgment Day had been prevented. Even if the producers had disapproved it, James Cameron only decided to cut it once test audiences reacted badly as well, instead finishing on a more open ending that also didn't have a vastly different tone from the rest of the movie.
- Terminator Salvation originally ended with John Connor dying, and his corpse was skinned and placed over Marcus so that Marcus would impersonate him from then on. Test audiences hated it. The "heart transplant" ending saving his life was a quickly filmed Author's Saving Throw re-shot to change the ending into one that audiences would accept.
- The film adaptation of RENT cut its original ending, in which the metaphor of the characters singing their lives together onstage was revisited. Focus groups shot that one down, as the reappearance of a certain beloved dead character apparently gave the impression that the whole movie had been a dream. Instead we're treated to a rousing climax of the entire cast sitting on a sofa trying not to cry. The original ending survives here.
- Major League originally ended with the Indians' owner revealing that her attempt to move the team and general obnoxious behavior had all been a ploy to motivate the team to win. That ending was cut because test audiences preferred her as a villain.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had test audiences negatively react to Spock's Deader Than Dead status in Nick Meyer's original theatrical cut, so Harve Bennett added the shot of the mind-meld (with a voice-over by Leonard Nimoy saying "Remember") and the long tracking shot of the Genesis planet that reveals Spock's casket resting intact on the surface, along with some serious Orchestral Bombing by James Horner.
- The original cut of Clerks shown to film festival audiences included a scene at the end in which Dante is shot and killed by a robber. Audiences, including a couple of Kevin Smith's personal mentors whose opinion he greatly respected, found it too depressing, so it was cut. Smith has since come around and agrees that the film is better without it, although the original cut is available on the "Clerks X" special-edition DVD so that audiences can judge for themselves.
- Not an ending, but a cameo from Tom Hiddleston as Loki was cut from Avengers: Age of Ultron after test audiences found it too confusing.
- The theatrical version of Disturbing Behavior ended on a cliffhanger revealing that Gavin, one of the brainwashed Blue Ribbon kids, had survived and is now working as a student teacher at an Inner City School, where it's implied that he will restart the Blue Ribbon program. The original ending, which was deemed by test audiences as too depressing, had Gavin take his former friends hostage on the ferry as they try to escape. They shoot him in self-defense, which breaks him out of his brainwashing before he dies. This was just one of many edits imposed on the film, to the point where the director almost had his name taken off of the credits as a result.
- The original version of Lights Out (2016) was about 10 minutes longer but was cut out due to negative audience reaction. In both versions, Sophie kills herself to sever Diana's only link to the physical world, but in the extended ending it didn't actually work so her family had to put Diana down another way. Focus groups rejected is as it made the suicide feel pointless, though with the unfortunate side effect of the new ending appearing to advocate people with depression killing themselves. Sandberg was so disturbed by this he promptly set out making a sequel to undo the Unfortunate Implications.
- The 1939 version of Wuthering Heights was originally going to end with a shot of Heathcliff's corpse in the snow, but at producer Samuel Goldwyn's insistence, this ending was replaced with a romantic shot of Heathcliff and Cathy's spirits wandering the moors together. By the time the new ending was filmed, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon had both moved on to other projects, so stand-ins took their place, which explains why the two ghosts are only seen from behind.
Live Action TV
- When the pilot for Justified was shown to focus groups, they loved the character of Boyd Crowder as portrayed by Walton Goggins and hated that he is killed at the end of the episode. Despite the fact that they tried to be very faithful to the Elmore Leonard short story the show is based on, a decision was made to reshoot the ending of the pilot and keep the character alive. The complicated relationship between the show's hero Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder has since become the keystone of the show and is responsible for much of its popularity and critical acclaim.
- Inverted on ER, which got a focus group beginning. The pilot episode was to feature Nurse Carol Hathaway committing suicide via a drug overdose. However, test audiences liked her character and were intrigued by the relationship hinted at between her and Dr. Doug Ross. As a result, Carol miraculously recovered and became one of the show's best known heroines.
- The Big Bang Theory is another inversion. The un-aired pilot features the character of Katie moving in with the main characters and taking the role of being Leonard's love interest. Test audiences hated Katie because she was so mean-spirited and ungrateful to Leonard and Sheldon's hospitality, forcing the writers to completely retool the character into Penny.
- For an after-the-fact non-movie version, look at A Chorus Line. The original ending featured the girl not getting the part because she was over-qualified. This more realistic version was jettisoned a few weeks into the run in exchange for a happier ending; ticket sales increased dramatically.
- Ayn Rand's play The Night of January 16th, deliberately employs an unusual variant of this trope by having the jury in the play empaneled from members of the audience. It's written with two different endings for both verdicts; they both express a value judgement of the jury.
- The Simpsons episode "Burns' Heir" originally had a scene where Homer, after trying to convince Bart to come home, is driven away from Burns' mansion by a "Robotic Richard Simmons" that plays KC and the Sunshine Band's "Shake Your Booty" (Simmons was "dying to do the show", but declined when he found out he'd be voicing a robot). It was cut because it often didn't get good reactions at table reads, and it was felt to be "well trod territory" and distracted from the story (there were disagreements as to whether they should joke about Simmons). To their surprise, the scene caused audiences at conventions and colleges to erupt with laughter, so they put in the "138th Episode Spectacular" and Season 5 DVD.
Smithers: His ass is gonna blow!!
- The ending to Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama originally had Kim kick Shego to her death. The test audience loathed killing off the Breakout Character so the ending was changed to have Shego somehow survive being knocked into a radio tower and having it fall on her. The show ended up returning for a Post-Script Season, so this ultimately worked out.