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What is a Director's Cut?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 17, 2024
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A director's cut is a version of a film that typically is the version that the filmmaker thinks is the most true to the film that he or she intended to make. The original cutting or editing of the film for its release in theaters might have been taken out of the director's control for various reasons. The director's cut is released after the original cinema version has been shown, and it usually is available only in recorded versions instead of being shown in theaters. Most directors cuts are longer than the original versions of the same films, although some are shorter.

A Matter of Control

Many film studios give the director control over the final cut of a film. This means that the director ultimately determines what is shown in theaters. Even if the director thinks he or she has control over the final cut, a studio still might decide to cut down the film or to edit or add certain scenes. This might occur for a number of reasons.

Ratings a Factor

The organizations that give films ratings, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), are powerful because they determine the audiences that films will attract. An original release of a film might be edited to maximize viewership by earning a rating that is suitable for children or teenagers. A director's cut, however, might include additional material that is suitable only for adults.

Audience Opinions

When a film is finished, many studios run a test screening for an audience. The audience are given ratings cards, which have numbers that the audience chooses to grade the film. If the test screening is given a low grade, the studio might decide to edit the film to increase the ratings.

Many directors hate test screenings. They argue that a proper grading of a film cannot be taken from a single screening for a select amount of people. The studios, however, typically take these screenings very seriously. Low grades mean low performances in the theaters, which translates into lost revenue. Scenes might be re-shot, added or cut depending on the producer’s thoughts on the film.

Different Ending is Possible

The director's cut usually includes deleted scenes, and there might be a different ending to the film. Studios often want happy endings to films, and this can be directly opposed to the director's cuts. In many cases, director's cuts are released by studios to gain more revenue from the films. The cuts that were seen originally in theaters might not have been the director's intended version.

Deleted Scenes

When studios release director's cuts, they might add deleted scenes with the sole intention of making more money. Sometimes, placing deleted scenes back into films does not enhance the films at all. Those scenes might detract from the pace and storyline of the films. Nevertheless, if studios can make more money by marketing films as director's cuts, they typically will do so.

Which version of a film is superior is up to the viewer. A famous director's cut was made by Ridley Scott of his film Bladerunner. Scott shortened the film, changed some scenes and completely deleted a voiceover narration by Harrison Ford. Many critics think that the director's cut is superior, but audiences at the time were divided.

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Discussion Comments
By anon973108 — On Oct 08, 2014

Sometimes I get a little disappointed with a Director's Cut version, because it's really just the same movie with a few interesting scenes put back in. It doesn't add anything that different from the movie I saw in the theater. One notable exception is the director's cut of "Almost Famous", which added at least an hour of footage that cleared up a few plot holes.

The director's cut version of "Blade Runner" is also interesting to watch. I think the overall tone is much more sinister than the edited version shown in theaters.

By Crispety — On Feb 16, 2011

Anon79224 - I agree it was a well written article. I have to say that I love happy endings in movies so I can understand why studios would prefer this type of ending as well.

I could also see why a Director’s cut film may pose an alternative ending because they want to make their film stand out and not be predictable.

For example, the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” is supposed to be an inspirational film about a homeless man that becomes a leading stockbroker and eventually becomes wealthy.

In my opinion the movie focused so much on his struggle that it drained me. It was so hard to watch. The movie only spent about 10% of the time discussing his success and 90% of the time it focusing on his misery.

I personally would have liked to see a more balanced film because his story is very valuable and does offer a great lesson in perseverance and determination but it takes too long to get there. I would have made the movie shorter.

I think that the movie was not predictable at all and that was probably how the director wanted it.

By anon79224 — On Apr 21, 2010

thanks you very much for this informative information. I've always had mixed views about a "directors cut", and this has definitely cleared it up. For me I guess the version that hits the cinema would be most appealing, be it the director's version or not, since it usually has the most appeal for entertainment.

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