Six movies that were mediocre, but turned masterful via a director's cut

It’s not uncommon for a studio to mess around with a director’s movie. Some just take the abuse and don’t complain, while others wage a losing battle they know will never likely go their way. Greed triumps over artistry. It’s a sad state of affairs, but a reality that most filmmakers know all too well. Sure, some filmmakers are out of their depth in the studio system and need to be reined in, but on the other hand, some of the greatest filmmakers in cinema history have had to give in to the powerful Hollywood studio machine: Scorsese, Gilliam, Fincher, Welles, Leone, Scott etc. The list is endless and too frustrating to fully name. 

And yet, director's cuts have a redeeming quality about them that makes them important for the cinema. They are artistic statements through and through, whether it's Sergio Leone releasing his, once butchered, "Once Upon A Time In America" in its original narrative structure to, even, Zack Snyder trying to redeem himself with a "Batman vs Superman" director's cut. It's a chance for a director to show what he really wanted to achieve on-screen. Never have there been finer examples than these six films which started off as mediocre, but turned into grand, masterful, personal statements once fully reinstated to their original visions.

Blade Runner (1982)

Upon its release in 1982 "Blade Runner" had so much studio interference that its history is the stuff of legend. Receiving mixed reviews the film came and went upon release, but ended up receiving a cult following on home video - which got Scott amped up and screeing his own versions to audiences around the country for the next few years. There have been several versions of "Blade Runner", seven to be more specific, but the ultimate version will always be the "Final Cut" which got rid of the narration, left us with an extra final brilliant shot and fixed many of the plot holes present I'm the original.  It was the only time director Ridley Scott ever had total freedom in the editing room for the film and it would only come 25 years after its release.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

This might be the most butchered film by an American studio on the list. The original version ran for 229 minutes, an epic to say the least, and featured character development that got completely cut off and disjointed by the 139 minute American version. That's right, more than 1 hour and 30 minutes of footage gone. Some of the highlights of the original got completely cut off: A big chunk of the childhood scenes were not to be found, as was the famous garbage truck scene with Bailey which concludes the film on a more ambiguous, talked about note. Europeans got to see the final cut of Sergio Leone's classic, but Americans didn't. However,  time has been good to the film as most people now tend to seek the 4 hour version instead of the butchered 1984 version which is clearly and justifyingly hard to find.

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Heaven's Gate (1980)

The infamous movie that made United Artists declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood, "The Deer Hunter" cleaned up the Oscars and Cimino was thought to have had carte blanche for his next movie. Then "Heaven's Gate" happened. A monstrous failure who's backstage stories are the stuff of legend and of which we won't be able to get fully into here, maybe another list? One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn't interfere. His erratically insane behaviour concluded with a 5 hour and 25 minute cut of the film which Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 2 hour and 29 minute cut that was finally released in the fall of 1980 garnered terrible reviews.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

When Ridley Scott’s Crusades drama, “Kingdom of Heaven,” was originally released in the summer of 2005, the negative reviews were damning enough to make one steer far away from its direction. Scott was obviously not content with the cuts the studio made to the film and so he decided to add more than an hour's worth of deleted footage to fully flesh out the characters, clear-up obvious plot holes and make the action scenes breathe and sing in effective ways reminiscent of his own "Gladiator." The tragic part of it all was that this 210 minute cut was the version Scott wanted to release all along, but the studio wanted to hear none of it. "Kingdom of Heaven" deserves be known as one of the greatest director's cuts ever released. It will age like fine wine over time.

Superman II (1981)

The story behind "Superman II" is that of legend. Original director Richard Donner was replaced by Richard Lester after more than 90% of the film was already shot. To get full credit, the DGA rules stated that Lester had to shoot up to 51% percent of the movie. The Lester version was met with positive reviews, but was seen, by most folks, as not up to par with 1978's "Superman," that is until Donner was given permission to release his own version on DVD, which was met with critical acclaim and fans screaming "Best superhero movie ever!" Buy the hype, Donner's film is a vast improvement on the original cut, bringing about something mot superhero movies lack: an auteur's stamp.

Touch of Evil (1959)

The definitive cut of Orson Welles' masterpiece "Touch of Evil" only happened some 20 odd years after his death. When it was released back in 1958, Welles found out that a big chunk of the scenes were reshot with a different director. Welles also noticed that Universal had ignored nearly all the director's notes he had given them when it came the time to make final cut. The masterful opening shot, one of the greatest long-takes ever conceived, even had, in the earlier version, credits stamped on the screen, marirng its effect. In 1998, some 30 years later after its release, several filmmakers used Welles' notes to create a movie "that was as close to his vision as possible." The version, the definitive cut, is a masterful display of everything that was brilliant about the man.