A-List | 15 Best Director’s Cuts in Cinematic History

A-List | 15 Best Director’s Cuts in Cinematic History

It seems both the cinephile and geckaphile worlds are in perfect sync as the long-awaited, much-ballyhooed “Snyder Cut” is coming to HBO Max in 2021. It was amazing news to get this enigmatic Director’s Cut…finally. Well, until we discovered that HBO Max haven’t connected with Roku. But I digress…

Now, we are debating getting the David Ayer’s Director Cut of Suicide Squad. And while we haven’t heard if HBO Max is sitting on this special film roll for a booster seat, it got us thinking about other celebrated versions of produced films. Most of the time, the “extended”, “special”, “extra”, or “discovered” Director’s Cut improves upon the story with a few extra scenes of plot discovery.

Then, there are these 15 alternative versions (or whatever some folks call their own “Director’s Cut”) that completely energized fan bases, recirculated a run in theaters, and greatly improved the movie.

If you love a good Director’s Cut, you need these 15 in your circulation:

15. Touch of Evil (1958)

Written, directed by, and even featuring the great Orson Welles, Touch of Evil had considerable star power in Charlton Heston and “Miss Shower Scene” Janet Leigh. Imagine this movie being celebrated when it came out in the late 1950s, applauded by critics, and is considered one of this master storyteller’s best. Then, he dies in 1985.

More than 20 years after that, this definitive cut is unearthed from every single director’s note that Universal ignored, following Welles’ discovery of a few extra scenes shot by another director without his permission or knowledge. (Shady!)

14. Das Boot (1981)

This is a Director’s Cut of which you may not be familiar, but if you like a gritty, realistic, and heart-racing war movie, this is the one for you. Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy) loves a good story. Fortunately, he makes them into pretty good films. Das Boot is all based inside the steel confines of a WWII submarine. So, he filmed. A lot.

The Director’s Cut adds a good hour of plot development, backstory, characterization, and much more U-boat action. If anything was missing from the original, this more than makes up for it. In fact, Petersen filmed so much, he had enough to make a five-hour TV miniseries that aired in Europe. That’s some detail.

13. Heaven’s Gate (1980)

This movie was as polarizing as it gets. United Artists released Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate to a harangue of vitriol. Fans and critics alike hated this film for a drawn-out tale of woe and overage of characterization. So, UA pulled it from theaters, and re-edited the film down to 149 minutes. And again, folk really didn’t get it. This is the guy who made The Deer Hunter. Dude has mad skills, but you wouldn’t know with this film.

The studio wouldn’t let Cimino touch it. The director and the studio came to fisticuffs over this, to the tune of Cimino changing the locks of the editing room so people would leave him alone! Slate wrote this about the final cut that is — ready for this — five hours and 25 minutes long:

The director who set out to create a new American myth instead wound up being best known for a mythic flop whose $44 million budget—among the largest in history at the time—bankrupted United Artists and, as the studio’s former head of production details in his superb book Final Cutchanged forever the relationship of business to art in Hollywood.

Can’t say his Director’s Cut wasn’t revolutionary and singular. The final product is still polarizing cinephiles. Some say, “Dumpster Fire.” Others say, “This is a seminal film to teach the art of cinematography.” Dang!

12. troy (2004)

Want to prove this movie can be received in completely different perspectives? Two words: Brad Pitt. Adapting the Homer epic was difficult enough but casting Pitt as the one-man Trojan wrecking crew Achilles took some brass. It wasn’t received that well, although it made a nice profit on a $175M budget — $500 million.

However, following a two hour and 43 minute theatrical version, why add to it? Petersen felt so strongly that the missing footage told a more complete story that he financed the $3 million extended version personally. In the movies, Achilles is hardly a fixture in the sack of Troy, but 35 extra minutes made all the difference to show him and better shape the stories of Paris, Priam, and Odysseus. The movie even seems to go faster for some reason. That’s why an epic narrative that flows matters. It did here for sure.

11. Almost Famous (2000)

When you think of perfect movie soundtracks, Almost Famous is usually at the top of the list. We follow the fictional band Stillwater across the country, so in stellar Cameron Crowe fashion, the Director’s Cut (known as the “Bootleg Cut”) make the road trip last longer.

We get more time with William (Patrick Fugit) and much needed minutes with Rolling Stone journalist and hippie lettuce connoisseur Lester Bangs (the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The movie alone is wonderful, but the Bootleg Cut makes it even better and even adds a few more classic rock greats for the soundtrack.

10. The Abyss (1989)

If you saw this James Cameron subterranean movie, you probably felt like the ending just cut off leaving you without closure. Guess what? That wasn’t intentional. Turns out he filmed so much material that he ran out of time before the movie was supposed to premiere.

A decade later, Cameron released his Director’s Cut — a “Special Edition” — and gave audiences the ending they should have seen all along — and it was worth it. As Virgil’s crew (Ed Harris) race against the clock to stop a nuclear warhead, it sinks into this abyss. It’s a one-way trip and everyone knew it, including these day-glo butterflies who lived there. We get much more detail in the plot and into the minds of these alien monarchs to provide an excellent film.

9. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The movie that built Zack Snyder‘s name (while 300 put him on the map to stay), this movie was beloved by horror fans. Namely, the bloodthirsty zombie aficionados out there. You know who you are. Most who are familiar with this film may believe there are better Director’s Cut films than this one. Well, yeah, if you are counting scenes, then you would be right. There is only one extra scene.

What is in the special “unrated extended version” is all the gore. The shots stay on the cannibalism and carnage. The retooled sound enhances it. And the special effects make it all last that much longer in your mind. The theatrical version is tame in comparison. This unrated cut makes 1980s slasher movies look G-rated. The slaughter is unmatched and people praise him for it. What a simple people we are.

8. Blood Simple (1984)

Leave it to the Coen Brothers to do something differently. The tandem is regarded now for their minimalist effort of making movies and telling stories, which is why the Director’s Cut of Blood Simple makes so much sense — it was shorter that the original. By three minutes. And this was their debut.

The idea of a shorter Director’s Cut actually began by making fun of other cuts out there with a fake narrator. This pompous film history teacher walks us through what we will see and enjoy. Nonetheless, this is a typical Coen Brothers’ film — structured storytelling, naturally flowing scenes, and prime characters with results.

P.S. If you like Carter Burwell scores, this was his first as well.

7. Watchmen (2009)

Call it “man-crushing.” Call it “delirium.” That damn Zack Snyder can tell a story to nerds! The only problem with the adaptation of arguably the “most celebrated graphic novel of all time,” there are three versions of it out there: theatrical, Director’s Cut, and the hallowed 215-minute “Ultimate Cut.” Theatrical was nice, but the other version unveil more of a complex story from Alan Moore.

Snyder is known for holding back on material, filming too much material, or just playing puzzles with all the material he has. Look how many times his name shows up in this story. And we didn’t even touch upon the “Ultimate Edition” for Batman V. Superman.

Both versions offer a cornucopia of smaller scenes, but each important to highlight the catharsis of each antihero — most importantly, the death of Hollis, the original Nite Owl. Nihilism is the thing, but if you need a definition (and a snoot full of some good old-fashioned fan service), watch either extended version.

6. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

They look even better in my DVD collection

This is the pre-eminent collection of Director’s Cut films any geckaphile can own. It seems time was always running out for Peter Jackson and team. Originally, this trilogy was only to be an original and a sequel, but of course, there’s so much story to tell from J.R.R. Tolkien. So we got three. The amazing thing about this trilogy is they all had missing footage, and not throw-away scenes. There was glorious footage that mattered to each story.

Fellowship of the Ring had 30 extra minutes that strengthen the plot and the reason for the quest. Many argue this is the best extended version of the three. The Two Towers contain 44 additional minutes of footage that are more fan service and minor aesthetics to the journey. The Return of the King adds a whopping 51 minutes of footage — and that was already the longest film of the three at 200 minutes. Including credits, The Return of the King is a massive, butt-fall-asleep 263 minutes.

Essentially, this trilogy defines what an “extended version” of a film looks like.

5. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Sergio Leone’s epic gangster film about a gang of Jewish ne’er-do-wells, specifically two lifelong friends (Robert DeNiro, James Woods) who reunited 35 years later during the Prohibition era demanded its full story. Complex writing and character development, namely when you are dealing with a generous helping of flashbacks.

The theatrical version was 139 minutes long, and when you see the Director’s Cut (also known as the “Cannes Cut,” which was home of its premiere) that lasts more than four hours (it’s worth it), you will understand why Sergio Leone was robbed in movie houses worldwide. The film, in a word, sucked. Because so many vital points were missing from that release, plotholes were left so big the entire cast could fall in and roll an ankle. The original walks through three time periods, two friend’s lives, and makes from one amazing trip that we all should have seen in the first place.

4. Superman II (1980)

The title almost looks incomplete without “:The Richard Donner Cut” after it, huh? That is how popular this mythic Director’s Cut has become. As the story goes, Richard Donner was unceremoniously fired midway through the production. Richard Lester took over and it kind of sucked, even though it’s still wonderful. (Yeah, WB does that time and time again.)

What makes this cut so great and depressing at the same time is you see how the continuation of one of the best origin CBMs should have been told. Lester left a ton on the floor, but in 2006, Michael Thua, Tom Mankiewicz, and Donner, put the band back together and this version of Reeve’s Superman the justice it richly deserved. A more adult perspective, not as ham-handed as the Lester version, and a detailed glimpse into the boy from Krypton.

3. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Ridley Scott has a particular panache for the epic period piece. Gladiator, The Martian, American Gangster, and the film next on this list are among his accolades and his films are never short of vision. Evidently, they can be short on tape, because if you saw Kingdom of Heaven in theaters or even on cable, you didn’t get what Scott prepared.

He wasn’t happy with the studio cuts so he put back more than hour’s worth of footage back into the Director’s Cut of this film, which tells a more complete and gripping tale about Balian of Ibelin and his plight during the Holy Crusades in the 12th century. This 210-minute version is fantastic and deserved to be seen — just as the man wanted it to in the first place.

2. Blade Runner (1982)

Usually when discussing a Director’s Cut, this and our top seed usually have to arm wrestle out back. Ridley Scott reimagined his own masterpiece to fill any plotholes full of wet concrete. Of course, Warner Bros stuck their nose where it didn’t belong here, as well as many DC Comics films, as their interference with this movie is the stuff of urban legend.

There are seven — yes, seven — versions of this film. None of them get it completely right until the “Final Cut,” which removes much of the narration and made this cult classic better. Don’t believe me? Wait for the final shot. It’s spectacular and shows us why this exploration of the human condition took 25 years to get it right.

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

This is the standard bearer when it comes to a Director’s Cut. The “Final Cut” is almost a different film because the crew studied the original and the “Redux” version” to create a better experience. And it’s so much better, which is saying something considering this Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam epic is considered one of the best movies of all time. With a revised sound mix and crisper cinematography, this is a must in any collection.

There is almost an hour of new material including fallout from the noted “French plantation scene” and more gripping scenes riverside following the chaotic USO concert. The extra footage makes this plot, story, and superb characterization stronger with a deeper vision and reason for parking your butt on a couch for the extra time.


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