Movie Talk

‘Fatal Attraction’ at 25: Inside the ending you didn’t see in theaters

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Fatal Attraction

Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction' (Photo: Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection)

It's been 25 years, and she still won't be ignored.

"Fatal Attraction" opened on September 18, 1987, and it dramatically shook up both the movie industry and the very institution of marriage. The story of a married man's affair with a seriously unhinged woman was not just a smash hit, but a conversation starter.  It went on to earn $156 million (nearly $320M adjusted for inflation) and six Academy Award nominations, cementing lead actors Michael Douglas and Glenn Close as A-list stars.  Plus, it spawned a cottage industry of "crazy stalker" knock-off films, from "Single White Female" to "Swimfan."

But would any of those successes have happened if the movie ended the way it was originally written?  The climactic scene in the theatrical version -- with Alex (Close) attacking Dan (Douglas) in his home, only to be finally killed by Dan's wife Beth (Anne Archer) -- was not the ending that was first filmed.  The first ending was darker and more downbeat, but after test audiences responded poorly to it, the final scene was completely reshot.

In the original ending -- available to view on the film's DVD and Blu-ray releases -- Dan is raking leaves when police detectives come to his home. They tell him that Alex is dead, her throat sliced with a kitchen knife in an apparent murder. Dan realizes Alex killed herself using the knife that had his fingerprints on it, thereby framing him. Dan gets carted away to jail as Beth looks on in tears.

Viewers were left with a ray of hope, since Beth finds a tape Alex made where she says she'll kill herself if she can't be with Dan. But the final image is a flashback of Alex sitting on the floor of her bathroom in her iconic white dress cutting her own throat as an aria from "Madame Butterfly" (also about a spurned woman killing herself) plays on the soundtrack.

When the film screened for focus groups, the viewers rejected the downer ending. The decision to rewrite and reshoot the ending became a source of tension for the cast. Michael Douglas told Entertainment Weekly that he understood why audiences wanted a more action-packed ending: "She had been so powerful and so evil in a Machiavellian psycho way that it left the audience frustrated... [they] wanted somebody to kill her."  Close, however, objected, having consulted with real psychiatrists about Alex's actions and deciding it was more likely she'd commit suicide.

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Glenn Close

A still from the original final scene (Photo: Everett Collection)

Eventually, Close did relent, and the crew spent another three weeks filming the fight scene.  Douglas later told the American Film Institute he didn't understand why there was such a stigma about reshooting movies to better please an audience. He said, "Are you making a film for the director, as an artist, or are you making a film for an audience to enjoy two hours of entertainment? To be as rewarding and pleasing as possible?"

Close said she feels she was right to object to the change, but that the movie was better served by the new ending. She even had Alex's famous knife framed and mounted in her own kitchen. She told Entertainment Weekly, "[The producers] were right as far as satisfying the audience, giving them catharsis: The bad person is dead. But she wasn't just a bad person." Close said she feels too much empathy with Alex to classify her as a villain: "When people say, 'You've played so many evil characters'...Alex is not on my list. The only evil person I've played as far as I'm concerned is Cruella De Vil."

While one ending might be more truthful, and the other is certainly more visceral, neither version makes infidelity look like a very smart idea. "Fatal Attraction" is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix instant streaming.

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