Test audiences are the bane of many a movie buff, and for good reason. In rare cases a test audience can identify potential problems and smooth out issues plaguing a film before it’s ready for release. However, the test screeners are fickle folk and if it weren’t for their interference, countless blockbusters would have retained a subtle political subtext which gave them something substantial to say beneath explosions and pounding scores.
Moreover, the dreaded test audience is famous for abhorring any ending which is less than Disney-tier cheery. As a result, countless dark and challenging films have hastily-shot and tonally misguided endings tacked on at the behest of the test audience. It’s a miracle Se7en didn’t end with a handshake between John Doe and his captors as Gwyneth Paltrow hopped out of the box with a smile.
It’s no wonder filmmakers complain about the meddling influence of producers too scared to let their vision speak for itself. Here at WhatCulture, we’ve compiled a rundown of the most egregious cases of Death By Test Audience, showing both why terrible films fell apart and, in some cases, how close your favourites were to being even better.
10. The Descent
None of the movies on this list came away from their encounter with the dreaded test audience better off for the experience, but none were as wholly ruined as Rob Marshall’s magnum opus. Fortunately, Marshall’s bleak, vicious vision made it to cinemas in his homeland of Britain unscathed.
The violent and dark—both literally and figuratively—tale of a spelunking trip which turns ultra-violent after an encounter with bloodthirsty subterranean creatures, the film was a brooding meditation on grief as well as an unrelentingly tense bloodbath. It’s understandable that test audiences wanted a little light relief, but this does nothing to justify the inexplicable decision to recut the film’s ending.
Where the director had hoped to have the heroine escape only to reveal she is lost in a hallucination and never actually made it out alive, the American release stopped right after her escape. The change makes the film marginally less cruel, but it also cuts a gut punch twist as well as setting the scene for a woeful sequel.