It’s hard to stick the landing in any genre, but the stakes are often a little higher for sci-fi genre fare where there are both critics and avid fandoms to satisfy. Critics are quick to dismiss anything too implausible as typical sophomoric stuff from a genre which is often derided as silly, whilst fans want explosive action in far flung settings without sacrificing believable characters even when the action is set among alien civilizations.
Combined with the fact that these flicks often have pretty sizeable budgets which they need to recoup, it’s understandable that a lot of screenwriters and directors will opt for the safest ending available when penning a science fiction script. But this route can often result in an attempt at crowd pleasing which ends up more cringeworthy, and many of the film’s more complex themes can be lost to endings which are either too didactic or too obvious, hammering the moral of the story home with too much force at the expense of the narrative.
Here are just a few examples of flicks which had ambitious, ambiguous, or just plain risky endings—until the meddling hands of nervous executives and gormless test audiences got a hold of them, that is.
10. The Butterfly Effect
This twisty time-travelling flick starring then-rising star Ashton Kutcher suffered for opening alongside Richard Kelly’s undeniably superior Donnie Darko. Both are moody meditations on the passage of time with some faux-deep points to make about philosophy, morality, and existence, man, but only the latter flick managed to conjure the necessary cult appeal to be remembered as a flawed but clever classic decades later.
The Butterfly Effect unfortunately veered into more melodramatic and arguably exploitative territory than Kelly’s flick, dwelling on some brutally dark subplots without having the serious approach needed to ground such intensely downbeat material. Despite this, the sci-fi thriller could nonetheless have redeemed itself with a truly shocking ending, as outlined by the director in the years since.
In the cut we saw, Kutcher’s tortured protagonist eventually decides his intervention to save a friend from childhood abuse only lead to further trauma and he heads back in time to ensure they never meet. Compare this with the insane original ending, wherein he realizes his entire life has only had a net negative effect on those around him—so he decides to time travel back to his tenure in his mother’s womb, where he strangles himself with an umbilical cord.
Possible the world’s most intense case of a moody loner wishing they were never born.