Whether it’s because of studio interference, a crazy director, racial sensitivity or international money – sometimes a movie isn’t finished even after it reaches cinemas.
‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’
This third instalment of the blockbuster franchise featured Hong Kong megastar Chow Yun-fat as Sao Feng, pirate lord of the South China Sea.
However, if you watch the film in China itself, you will see ten minutes less of the character than you would anywhere else.
While it’s never been officially confirmed by the Chinese censors, it’s thought certain scenes were chopped because, as local magazine Popular Cinema wrote, “Chow is bald, his face heavily scarred, he also wears a long beard and has long nails, images still in line with Hollywood’s old tradition of demonizing the Chinese.”
It may have ended up winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but this 1988 ode to European movie houses didn’t start out so successfully.
In fact, when it was initially shown in its native Italy with a two-hour-thirty-five-minute runtime, it was a flop.
When it was released internationally, it was cut to just over two hours and became one of the country’s most beloved exports with critics hailing it a masterpiece.
This 1992 drama set amongst a university American football team found itself at the centre of a dreadful real-life news story when two men were killed and several injured after they copied a scene from the film in which several students lie in the middle of a road to test their courage.
After the tragedies, the scene was forever excised and it’s thought the negatives themselves were burned.
‘Iron Man 3’
Parts of the threequel were filmed in China and Marvel have been quick to realise the potential of catering specifically to a Chinese audience.
Which is why Chinese audiences saw a different cut of the film when it was released in the country after its Western bow, including four more minutes of China-orientated material. This includes extra scenes with Tony’s surgeon Dr Wu and his assistant (played by Chinese superstars Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing), as well as geographically-focused product placement. Wu drinks a carton of Gu Li Duo, a popular local milk drink.
The ploy worked – earning £88million, it was the most successful American film in China in 2013.
Disney? Racist? So argued the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who said that two lines of the song ‘Arabian Nights’ from the 1992 Oscar-winner were offensive.
The original version of the tune featured the lyrics: “Where they cut off your ear/
If they don’t like your face/It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
After complaints, Disney – having sought permission from the estate of lyricist Howard Ashman who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991 – agreed to change the words for home video and any future theatrical releases, using an alternate verse written by Ashman.
The new lyrics are: “Where it’s flat and immense/And the heat is intense/It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
Pressure groups still balked at the use of the word barbaric and strove to have it altered, but Disney refused. “Barbaric refers to the land and the heat and not to the people,” Disney distribution president Dick Cook explained to the LA Times in 1993.
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
Stanley Kubrick’s classic was first released on two screens in Los Angeles and New York on 4 April, 1968. But by the time it was spread out to five other US cities and international a week later, the director had excised 19 minutes of the then-160-minute film after deciding the pacing needing tweaking.
Seventeen of these minutes – which included some shots from the Dawn of Man prologue, a sequence in which Dave looks for a replacement antenna and a scene when HAL breaks radio communication – were thought lost forever, but turned up in 2010 in a Warner Bros. Kansas vault.
‘The Brown Bunny’
Vincent Gallo’s 2003 indie is known for two reasons – for being amongst the most-hated premieres ever at the Cannes Film Festival and for the unsimulated oral sex scene between the director/star and actress Chloë Sevigny.
Slammed for being self-absorbed and meandering, Gallo went away after his French mauling and cut 26 minutes from his original 118-minute movie including long scenes of driving and music.
Terry Gilliam’s cult classic had a notoriously tangled production, with the mercurial director constantly at loggerheads with the production company over his vision.
Gilliam’s cut of the film, in all its baffling glory and with a downbeat ending, was released in the UK in February 1985, but Universal head Sid Sheinberg demanded a different version for the US, which has subsequent been dubbed the Love Conquers All edit (pretty self-explanatory how that ends).
However, that version was never actually released – Gilliam went behind his paymasters’ backs and showed his cut to students and critics, before taking a full-page ad out in Variety asking Sheinberg when he was going to finally let the American public see ‘Brazil’.
After seeing the critical raves the original had been attracting, Gilliam’s intended form of the movie was released in the US in December 1985.
This 1965 Western starring Richard Harris and Charlton Heston had a famously tumultuous shoot thanks to the wild drinking of controversial director Sam Peckinpah.
With Heston having given up his entire salary to stop Peckinpah being fired by the studio, the film was released in a two hour and sixteen minute version.
After it got criticised, another 13 minutes were chopped out, but it’s not until comparatively recently that ‘Major Dundee’ was given a critical reappraisal, mainly because of the recognition of Peckinpah as a pioneering talent.
One of Hollywood’s most infamous debacles, at one point director Michael Cimino showed a cut of his 1980 Western epic to the studio that lasted for five hours and twenty-five minutes.
Ultimately, having been delayed for months, the movie was released running three hours and thirty-nine minutes. It got a critical drubbing and no-one went to see it, prompting production company United Artists to pull it from cinemas.
Cimino cut it again to two hours and twenty-nine minutes and it was given a wide release in April 1981. It didn’t help.
Image credits: Rex_Shutterstock, Marvel, Disney, Buena Vista