25 best director’s cut movies
Sometimes the final cut isn’t the final cut. These movies were altered (for the better) by directors after their cinematic release
Often a film’s director and the studio go head-to-head over what the final cut should look like – and it’s usually the studio that has the last laugh. But the more bullish director can often turn that to his (or her) advantage by releasing a studio-face-reddening redux that paints those money-hungry suits in a less-than-flickering light. These films – in no particular order – are the 25 best director’s cut movies ever.
Note: All title dates refer to the movie’s original cinematic release, even where the title of the director’s cut differs from the original film
Oliver Stone decided his three-hour treatment of John F Kennedy’s assassination wasn’t long enough, and went back to the cutting room to pick a few extra scenes off the floor. The resulting edit may have added plenty of depth to the story, but did little to quell criticism of historical inaccuracy. Who cares? It was so good, the cinematic release was widely unavailable on home video in favour of the director’s cut.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
Sam Pekinpah and MGM came to blows during the making of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, with the studio re-editing the director’s film into a turkey. Its acclaimed 1988 re-release was of Pekinpah’s original, and it’s a classic with a fatal flaw – the director had cut star Bob Dylan’s soundtrack jewel, the much-covered Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
Betty Blue (1986)
Don’t get us wrong – the original two-hour version of Betty Blue was superb, but for the full intravenous hit of one of cinematic history’s most intense relationships, the extra hour in the director’s cut is sublime and makes an unmissable French classic even more unmissable. Call it love at second sight.
Death Proof (2007)
Tarantino’s Death Proof was double-billed with Planet Terror under the collective title Grindhouse in the US, but released seperately in an extended version overseas, allowing the slasher to stretch its legs under the dashboard, rev the engine and… well, we won’t spoil it here.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Originally scheduled for a 2002 release, legal disputes meant we didn’t see Blade Runner: The Final Cut until 2007. A good thing, too – as a result, we got special effects scanned at 8000fps – four times that used in normal restorations. A scene with a stripper running down the street was actually re-shot twenty years after the original film’s release – with the original actress.
Aliens: Director’s Cut (1986)
Seventeen minutes of footage James Cameron found it difficult to cut from the original Aliens is back in Aliens: The Director’s Cut. Originally released on Laserdisc on a limited run, many of us had to wait until the 1999 DVD release. Extra scenes include Ripley in a virtual reality garden, back story about Newt’s family, and a tunnel scene where automated gun turrets vainly try to fend off the alien threat.
Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut (2004)
Alexander the Great was a complicated man. To demonstrate the point Oliver Stone recut Alexander, giving it a longer name – Alexander Revisted: The Final Unrated Cut – and, at three and a half hours, a longer running time. It’s actually the third cut of the film, and thankfully features an interval.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Director’s Edition (1979)
Director Robert Wise “tightened up” the original with Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Director’s Edition, adding remastered special effects and new audio. Despite being just four minutes longer than the original, many critics argue it’s still too slow for most fast-living sci-fi fans.
Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
This prequel to the 1973’s The Exorcist is the second version of the third Exorcist sequel. Got that? Originally directed by Paul Schrader, the baton was passed to Renny Harlin who pretty much remade it as Exorcist: The Beginning. Fans didn’t like it and demanded Schrader’s version, which was then released. Yeah, it’s complicated.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles’ classic film noir was chopped to ribbons by Universal before its release – prompting Welles to write an impassioned 58-page memo detailing the changes he thought needed to be made to the film.
Welles never lived to see the film restored to his specifications – but editor Walter Murch used the memo as the basis for a restored version in 1998. It’s as close as we’re going to get to the original Welles cut.
The most extraordinary director’s cut on this list – Fritz Lang’s iconic sci-fi film was originally released in a 153-minute cut before being shredded by American distributors. Almost 80 years later, the original cut was rediscovered in an Argentinian museum – restoring vital subplots and characters excised from the original, including the creepy Thin Man.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980)
Superman II had a troubled production history. Original director Richard Donner was dropped from the film after a dispute with the producers, whereupon Richard Lester stepped in to finish the film – adding a more comedic tone.
Donner eventually returned to rework the film, using the footage he’d shot before being dropped from the film alongside some Lester footage – and even using shots from screen tests. The resulting patchwork is as close as we’re going to get to Donner’s original vision.
Luc Besson’s thriller about a hitman mentoring a young orphan was pretty dark in its original form. His extended Version Integrale goes to altogether darker places, adding a layer of sexual tension to the relationship between Leon and the 12-year-old Mathilda – and equally controversial sequences in which Leon trains up his protege as an assassin.
The Abyss (1989)
James Cameron was forced to drop some tidal wave shots that couldn’t be completed in time for his deep-sea adventure’s initial release. Building on its pioneering CGI work in Cameron’s Terminator 2, effects house Industrial Light and Magic was able to rework the missing shots – enabling the director to restore a missing subplot dealing with nuclear brinksmanship.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
George Lucas gets a lot of stick for the Star Wars Special Editions, shoehorning CGI Jabba the Hutts, mugging Boba Fetts and – most heinously – Hayden Christensen into the original films. But his extended cut of The Empire Strikes Back is an altogether different beast, with subtle additions that actually enhance the film – like the CGI windows in Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City, and an extended Wampa attack sequence that makes a good deal more sense than the original version. If only they’d all been like this.
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic gets 49 minutes of (sometimes surreal) extra footage in this slowed down director’s cut – there’s plenty of minor alterations for film buffs to spot and a new love scene for Willard on a French plantation. The Redux was first screened at Cannes 22 years after the original won the Palme d’Or as a work in progress – classy move.
The Big Red One (1980)
Seven years after director Samuel Fuller died, this heavily cut World War II film got a long overdue re-release with restored scenes, many of which were featured in Fuller’s companion novel. The Big Red One was the nickname of the US first infantry division and the extended cut delves deeper into the soldiers’ experiences, from catching German infiltrators to sneaking in time for a massage courtesy of a French widow.
Das Boot (1981)
This tense and realistic World War II submarine flick is one of the best German films ever made. The Director’s Cut added an hour of character development to the U-boat action – director Wolfgang Petersen had so much worthy footage that he also made a five-hour mini-series in 2004. And then thankfully left this masterpiece alone.
It’s not often that sci-fi and satire get on as well as they did in Terry Gilliam’s retro-futuristic Brazil. Gilliam crams even more imaginative visuals and headache inducing dystopian spoof into this slightly longer version of the 1985 film which first appeared in the special Criterion box set.
Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut (2000)
If you wish bands were still cool enough to go on tour with, chances are you’ll have fond feelings for Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe’s longer cut restores a scene in which Stillwater get interviewed by a stoned DJ, Lester Bangs and the Rolling Stone journos get more screen time and we get to see William pilfering freebies from motels. Can’t imagine Coldplay nicking the towels from the Wembley Travelodge.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The extended edition of The Two Towers adds an extra 43 minutes onto the already impressive three-hour minute running time of the original. Director Peter Jackson himself even makes an appearance, hurling a spear from the battlements of Helm’s Deep towards an onslaught of attacking Uruk-hai. Can’t say that we’d use our directional powers any differently, can you?
The director’s cut of Guillermo del Torro’s sci-fi slasher was recut closer to his intended version of the story after Disney sold Miramax. It doesn’t make it any more suitable for those who fear virus-laden cockroaches (or any cockroaches, for that matter).
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
The extended version of Ridley Scott’s epic crusade action extravaganza crams in an extra 45 minutes and is reportedly the version that Scott wanted shown in theatres. It was the usual story of a studio trimming the cinema release to spare moviegoers’ backsides – only to have them come out demanding their bucks back.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Spielberg’s Special Edition of his alien encounter masterpiece is actually three minutes shorter than the original, with seven minutes of extra footage replacing 10 minutes of culled material. Notably, you get to see inside the alien mothership. It netted an extra US$15.7 million at the box office – not too shabby, Mr Spielberg.
I Am Legend (2007)
The alternate ending of Francis Lawrence’s take on the 1964 novel The Last Man on Earth (we won’t spoil it here) is preferred by most movie fans, despite the Hollywood hunch that we’re all gluttons for cloying closure over original storylines. Worth watching again if you’ve only seen the original.