At this point, every part of The Notebook has become famous enough that you don’t even need to have seen the movie or be that much of a fan to know its ending. This touching conclusion involves the reveal that the young couple in the 1930s (played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) that we’ve been following this whole movie is not what they seem. These two are also the elderly couple in the movie’s framing device, who’d been previously reading the period-era exploits of the film’s younger leads as if they were different fictional beings. However, did you know that a The Notebook alternate ending also exists?
In the proper theatrical cut, The Notebook ends with these older lovers passing away in each other’s arms. The notoriety of this ending means that, if somebody were to adjust it, that would cause quite a stir. So it was when Netflix UK uploaded an alternate version of The Notebook, one where an awkward shot of birds soaring above a lake closes out the feature instead. Considering how famous The Notebook is, not to mention that it hails from a high-profile American film studio, it may be baffling to realize there were multiple endings floating around for the movie in different markets. But it’s actually a common practice for certain films, albeit for wildly diverging reasons.
Even with the multitude of possibilities for why a movie can get a different ending, no concrete purpose for the existence of this alternate The Notebook ending has ever been revealed nor why it was just restricted to Netflix UK. However, given that the revised ending dilutes the original conclusion and makes it ambiguous whether or not the elderly couple passes away, it’s likely this tweak was done to make something more palatable to the general public. This is a common refrain across these altered endings, as most of them hinge on wanting to not disturb or alienate moviegoers.
Though a wildly different film from one like The Notebook where Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams smooch in the rain, the Neil Marshall horror film The Descent is another perfect example of how a movie’s downer ending can get tweaked for a certain territory. Hailing from the United Kingdom, the American version of The Descent concluded with Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald) seemingly escaping the caves she and her friends were trapped in, getting into her car, and then getting spooked by one final jump scare in the form of a hallucination of friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza). As she screams, the credits begin to roll.
The Descent‘s original ending from the United Kingdom, though, kept going, with this scream being followed by the reveal that Sarah never made it out of the caves, she’s still stuck down there with the ravenous monsters that lie inside. She would then see her dead daughter Jessica holding a birthday cake, paying off a recurring motif throughout the film before the audience sees Sarah surrounded by pitch-black darkness and hears noises indicating that she’s about to be devoured. It was a brutal conclusion…and one that was apparently deemed a no-go for U.S. audiences.
The primary reason for the alteration was relatively simple. The Descent got its ending changed simply because American audiences were not as enamored with such a downbeat conclusion. Even with its final jump-scare involving Juno, the American version of The Descent does at least end with Sarah explicitly surviving and getting out of the caves. There’s a sense of hope for the future here that’s wiped away in the original conclusion. Of course, going with the bubblier American ending has its share of drawbacks, including removing the pay-off to the recurring motif of Jessica’s spirit.
The Notebook and The Descent had alternate endings made for certain countries that mostly boiled down to cutting footage from the original cut. However, one can go in a more elaborate direction and create whole new conclusions for movie releases in certain countries. One of the more concrete, if obscure, examples of this phenomenon is from the 2013 raunchy comedy 21 & Over. An already largely forgotten Miles Teller vehicle, the film concerns a couple of buddies who decide to give their buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) a big party to celebrate turning 21 years old. No matter what country you live in, lots of nudity and drinking will ensue.
However, for 21 & Over‘s alternate version that was played in China, drastic tweaks were made, including making Chang Chinese instead of Chinese American. This was to inform a new alternate ending where Chang would return to China at the end of the film and having learned his lesson from so much Western indulgence, would become a better person. This was in sharp contrast to the theatrical conclusion of 21 & Over, in which Chang tells off his controlling father and informs him that he doesn’t actually want to become a doctor. By making these alterations, 21 & Over was given an alternate ending to make it more palatable to the customs of mainstream Chinese cinema norms.
A much less elaborate, but no less fascinating, version of creating new endings for movies for China also emerged through the theatrical re-release of Fight Club in 2022. This entailed not filming a new ending but rather abruptly stopping the movie in the third act to reveal on-screen text saying that local cops managed to foil a wicked plan to blow up buildings, sent all the adversaries to prison, while Brad Pitt got sent to an insane asylum. It’s unclear who was behind the altered finale (specifically if it was done on the part of the film’s financier, New Regency, or the Chinese government), but the intent behind the new finale seems to make for a more rule-abiding climax that didn’t suggest societal subversion of any kind.