12 Deleted Scenes That Made Their Movies Better

12 Deleted Scenes That Made Their Movies Better

There’s a flush of excitement among Muppets fans, and the real ones will know exactly what I’m talking about: After a couple of years of mucking around, Disney+ will finally be offering the complete version of The Muppets Christmas Carol on the streaming service starting Dec. 9. The addition involves a single scene, the “When Love is Gone” musical number. It was cut following the movie’s initial theatrical release, though it’s been sporadically part of VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray releases. I assume that execs just saw the slow number as a bit of a downer, but it also elevates the emotional connection between Scrooge and Belle amidst the usual Muppet silliness. The bit is currently on the Disney+ Extras tab as a bonus, which is where the full version of the movie will live come December (the main-screen version will remain the truncated cut).

Talk about magic in the air! For all sorts of reasons, movies frequently undergo alterations either shortly before or shortly after their initial releases, which often leads to efforts in later years to reassemble those films into something like the director’s original intention (sometimes well after the director has died). Those cuts can be a revelation — particularly when they’re truly a reflection of the original conception — or they can unnecessarily fiddle with a movie that was just fine as it was, thank you very much (looking at you, George Lucas). These films were all altered early on, and later “fixed,” and each includes at least one restored scene that recontextualizes and improves the film as a whole.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Restored Scene: Orthanc falls.

Peter Jackson has been clear that he considers the theatrical versions of the Lord of the Rings films to be definitive…but I’m not sure that the real ones agree. Especially in our collective binge-watch era, I can’t imagine ever choosing the original cuts when the extended versions are so much richer. There are any number of added moments for the longer cuts across the three films, but it’s the opening of Return of the King that most benefits from the extended treatment. Granted, the movie was always long, but it seemed vaguely indefensible that we never got closure on the story of Christopher Lee’s gleefully evil Saruman, the wizard just kind of disappearing in between films. There are extended scenes that are more poignant, emotional, or action-packed; but this relatively brief bit feels the most essential.

Aliens (1986)

Restored Scene: Lost daughter.

Cut down just prior to release, James Cameron prefers his 157-minute director’s cut. He’s mostly not wrong that it’s better, although the original drops us and the Colonial Marines into the devastated Hadley’s Hope colony cold, while the Special Edition shows us around the colony before the xenomorphs arrive; which I find less effective. Most everything else works, particularly the added character-building moments with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Only in the Special Edition do we learn that she had a daughter, Amanda, who grew up, lived a life, and died while her mum was drifting in hypersleep. It’s a moment that makes clear that she hadn’t merely awakened in the future; she’s lost an entire lifetime. It also adds emotional depth to her relationship with Newt, and furthers the movie’s unexpected themes around motherhood. (It also, decades later, lent a character to the flawless Alien: Isolation game, starring Amanda).

Metropolis (1927)

Restored Scene: Maria’s dance.

There are at least four major versions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: The first was the only available cut until about 2001, when new material was discovered and edited back in. Even after that, though, a treasure trove of footage that was cut shortly after the film’s theatrical release was rediscovered in Argentina and assembled as part of “The Complete Metropolis,” a version that brings the film to within five minutes of its original runtime. (I’m a big fan of the pared-down, New Wave-scored and utterly blasphemous Giorgio Moroder version from the ‘80s, but that’s definitely not to every taste). The current version is a revelation, elevating the movie from heady visual marvel to something that actually, for the first time, kinda makes sense, adding scenes that provide context while also restoring editing choices that bring the complicated plot more clearly into focus. One of the most memorable bits restores one of the movie’s more lascivious parts, in which the robot/clone version of Maria uses all of her talents to seduce a roomful of practically drooling men. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t have flown just a few years later.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Restored Scene: Cyborg’s origin (Cyborigin?).

You don’t have to be a Zack Snyder fan to appreciate the completion of his Justice League project. The original was a pared-down version assembled by Joss Whedon and rushed out to meet a deadline. In fairness, Snyder’s four-hour+ vision was never going to make it into theatres, so I’m not sure what the best case scenario was at that point, but the made-for-streaming version represents an altogether more satisfying experience, at least in that it feels like a unified film. The most significant single change is in the expanded role for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Almost everyone gets more detailed origin stories, but Cyborg goes from a character who feels like an afterthought to taking up a place at the movie’s emotional core.

A Star is Born (1954)

Restored Scene: “Lose That Long Face”

Following its release in theatres, Warner Bros. shaved something like 30 minutes from A Star is Born’s nearly three-and-a-half hour runtime (against director George Cukor’s wishes), most of which was promptly misplaced. Decades later, much of the excised footage was rediscovered and restored — alongside scenes that only exist in audio and still images. The new material provides a lot of extra emotional context for the doomed relationship between Garland’s character and James Mason’s, but there are also two complete musical numbers that would otherwise have been lost to history. The energetic, acrobatic “Lose That Long Face” is masterful.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Restored Scene: Crazy Lee’s grandfather revealed.

Both this and director Sam Peckinpah’s follow-up, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, were truncated by studios, but it’s The Wild Bunch where the changes make the most difference. Trimmed for no other reason than to ensure that it could play more times each day in theatres, the cut that American audiences saw on release is a classic, but robs the characters of any motivation whatsoever, the result being read as a near nihilistic portrait of violence. The character beats restored in the 1995 director’s cut (though Peckinpah was no longer alive) make clear that the main characters all have reasons for what they’re doing, even if the violence is not less meaningless. The key scene restores a family relationship between Bo Hopkins’ Crazy Lee and Edmund O’Brien’s Freddie Sykes, while also revealing that the film’s opening involved a double-cross.

Superman II (1980)

Restored Scene: Lois shoots Clark.

There’s a (very) long version of the story of the dual production of Superman: The Movie and Superman II, but suffice it to say that the producers weren’t thrilled with the first film’s director, Richard Donner, nor his vision for the movie. To save money, I & II were to be filmed back-to-back, but Donner was fired before the second was completed, and Richard Lester was brought in. Donner was vindicated when the first movie was released to blockbuster box office and pretty overwhelming critical and fan acclaim. Given than it swapped out directors partway through, II turned out pretty well but left questions as to what might have been. Donner returned to the film in 2006, reconstructing his original vision for the film through clever editing, previously deleted material, and even, as in the case of the movie’s best-restored scene, audition footage. The result is, by necessity, a little clunky, but ultimately a superior version of the film. The best restored scene uses early test footage of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder for one of the most compelling character moments in the series between Clark and Lois, and one that demonstrates that their all-time-great cinematic chemistry was there from the very beginning.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Restored Scene: Rogue rescue.

Any discussion of the X-Men film series is complicated by the ickiness surrounding producer/director Bryan Singer, but there’s no question that the movies paved the way for our modern Marvel era (for better or worse), and that Days of Future Past is among the very best of the idiosyncratic bunch. Bringing together the original team (lead by Patrick Stewart’s Professor X) with the younger, James McAvoy-lead group set in the 1960s, the movie was meant to both sum up and reinvigorate the film series — which it might have done had the subsequent films been such a mixed bag. Anna Paquin’s Rogue was at the heart of the original trilogy, but her character was entirely excised from Days. In the “Rogue Cut,” she gets an arc to herself in which she’s rescued and then takes over from Elliot Page’s Shadowcat in anchoring Wolverine in the past. It’s not essential stuff, but the new material ties the two X-eras together more closely. The rescue sequence sees some classic characters rescuing Rogue, and they don’t all make it out.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Restored Scene: F*cked-up Cleopatra.

Italian director Sergio Leone is certainly best remembered for his so-called “spaghetti westerns,” but also created one of the definitive Italian-American crime dramas — albeit one that was butchered almost immediately. An original 251 Cannes cut was trimmed to 229 minutes for the European release. For the American release, the movie was taken from Leone by the studio, re-cut, and trimmed by a further 90(!) minutes. A couple of the cuts involved removing scenes of (justifiably) controversial sexual violence, but almost all of the other changes were just dumb. The shortened version lost its narrative coherence, and what had been an acclaimed movie at longer lengths became a confusing box office bomb (Gene Siskel named the uncut version the best film of 1984, and the trimmed version the worst). The movie has since been mostly restored, and all for the better, with legal issues holding up a few scenes. Martin Scorsese, it seems, is working on it. There’s obviously a LOT that was put back here, but one of the most suggestive scenes involves Cleopatra stepping from a painting in the mind of Robert De Niro’s Noodles. It makes much more clear the kind of opium-fuelled fever-dream of a crime drama that Leone was going for.

I Am Legend (2007)

Restored Scene: Alternate ending.

Discussion here revolves around the ending, so beware of spoilers. In the theatrical cut of I Am Legend, Will Smith’s Robert Neville sacrifices his life so that Alice Braga’s Anna can escape with the cure for the vampire plague. Not a happy ending, exactly, but it misses the point of the original Richard Matheson entirely, and, relatedly, is much less interesting for it. In the book, Neville ultimately comes to realise that the vampires aren’t so much the enemy to be feared but the new face of humanity — he’s a throwback, and a legend not because he’s the last person on Earth, but because, in the eyes of the vampires, he’s a monster trying to wipe them out. That last-act change in perspective was lost from the film version prior to release, but is restored in the 99-minute version with an alternate ending when Neville realises that he might actually be the monster.

The Big Red One (1980)

Restored Scene: No smoking.

In our modern blockbuster era, studios have no trouble greenlighting action epics that run to three hours or more, but still struggle with more languidly paced films — it’s always been thus. Samuel Fuller’s 1980 WWII epic can hardly be called sleepy, but in its intended version, the movie is as much about camaraderie and character-building as it is about battle, with time devoted to the interactions that happen between big fights. Without Fuller’s permission, the movie was cut by nearly an hour before release and only restored to (nearly) its original length in 2004 (seven years after Fuller’s death). The theatrical cut was a great WWII movie, but the restoration tells a more complex story (based on Fuller’s own experiences) about humans in a time of war. A sequence restored to the film about fifteen minutes in makes clear what was lost: a conversation about the dangers of lit cigarettes in a war zone at night and imagined appearance of an enemy propaganda radio host builds to a combat sequence, where as the cut movie went from action to action without stopping for any human interaction.

Blade Runner (1982)

Restored Scene: Unicorn daydreams.

Ridley Scott films are never completed, it seems, merely temporarily abandoned, and none more than Blade Runner. The original theatrical release included an on-the-nose, studio-mandated voiceover from Harrison Ford’s Deckard character that feels silly and out of place, as well as a happy ending that makes the film’s whole neo-noir vibe feel like a total cheat. There have been multiple versions since, including TV cuts and fan edits, with a major moment coming in 1992 when the movie was restored more closely to Scott’s original vision, but without his participation. 2007 finally saw the release of Scott’s own “Final Cut,” one that tweaks the 1992 version further and is, fortunately, the superior version of the movie (not always a guarantee when directors fiddle with their older works). There are big changes and minor tweaks between the major versions, and it’s not all about adding; the runtimes are all very similar. Probably the biggest single moment in the Final Cut is an extended version of Deckard’s unicorn dream sequence. It doesn’t put a nail in any particular interpretation of the is-he-or-isn’t-he a replicant controversy, but it provides a bit more to chew on in that regard, and connects to the unicorn origami bit near the film’s close.

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