Top 6: Movies Where the Cut You See Is Important

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

For Episode 22, our Top 6 list is about movies where it’s important which cut you see of it. These days, director’s cuts and special editions are getting more and more popular. For many of these, it doesn’t matter a whole lot which version you see. One version of a movie might give you more or less than another, but both versions are essentially the same experience. But there are several cases where different cuts of the same movie are vastly different experiences. Here are the six that matter most to each of us.

We missed a couple of high-profile examples, and surely there are others that are not as high-profile but make just as much difference. What are your favorites?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Touch of Evil (1958) (see the 112-minute, 1998 restored version)
  2. Blade Runner (1982) (see the director’s cut)
  3. The Big Sleep (1946) (see the theatrical cut, not the preview version)
  4. Cinema Paradiso (1989) (see the Miramax cut, running about 123 minutes, rather than the longer versions)
  5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (I, II, III) (see the Extended Editions)
  6. The Star Wars Trilogy (IV, V, VI) (see the Non-Special Editions)
  1. Once Upon a Time In America (1984) (see the 229-minute cut)
  2. The Star Wars Trilogy (IV, V, VI) (see the Non-Special Editions)
  3. 1776 (1972) (see the 166-minute DVD cut)
  4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (I, II, III) (see the Extended Editions)
  5. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) (see one of the 180+ minute versions)
  6. Frankenstein (1931) (see the 1986 restoration)


  1. famous (8) said,

    February 27, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    I just have to comment that I totally agree with Sam’s Frankenstein pick. For whatever reason the 1986 version was one of a handful of movies that my siblings and I saw over and over during our childhood. I vividly remember that scene with the little girl and I agree that it was very important to the character of Frankenstein. Without it the movie would definitely not have the same impact.

    Somewhat unrelated - A suggestion for another discussion to have on the site is a list of movies that as a child you watched over and over again. My list is quite surprising/odd, so I’m wondering about Sam’s, Stephen’s, and other’s lists.

  2. wintermute (157) said,

    February 27, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    I prefer the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. But they’re both very good.

  3. WarpNacelle (48) said,

    February 27, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    My top 3:

    1) Blade Runner - Directors Cut. This is my #1 favorite movie. The narration never sat well with me because it yanked what is a pure Sci-Fi movie out of that genre and forced it into the film noire/cop drama. Removing the narration and letting the audience think for themselves makes it a much more rewarding movie.

    2) Waterworld.- I’m not down on “Waterworld” as much as other people, but the Directors Cut actually makes it a good movie. All the edits and jumps that made no sense in the film release are filled in and it all makes sense.

    3) The Abyss. I love “The Abyss” and the ending never sat right with me, but it could over look it because the rest of the film was so good. If you love “The Abyss” and have never seen the Directors Cut, you owe it to yourself. You get to the see the ending Cameron intended and it makes so much more sense and is so much more powerful then the original - which came off as preachy. The Directors Cut ending is not preachy and far, far better.

    Honorable Mention: Terminator 2.

  4. jaime (13) said,

    February 27, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    The Donnie Darko Director`s Cut has a lot of more information and it makes it a lot more understable.

  5. Stephen (221) said,

    February 27, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Warp: I’ve got to disagree on The Abyss. I love the movie, and the director’s cut has tons of great stuff — until the end. I agree that the theatrical ending is disappointing, but I find the end of the director’s cut even preachier. The bit where Ed Harris has the long converation with the alien, and they watch the stuff with the tidal wave and it’s all a ripoff of The Day the Earth Stood Still, ugh. I just can’t stand it.

  6. WarpNacelle (48) said,

    February 28, 2007 at 2:22 am

    Stephen, here’s what I like about the Director’s Cut ending of “The Abyss”.

    ** SPOILER** (but who hasn’t seen it yet?)

    In the original movie it was a nice, sweet ending about Aliens who decided that they want to help us be better people because we just can’t get along, la la la, fluff and kisses.

    In the Directors Cut these Aliens have decided to play God and destroy our species because we are so self destructive and prove they can do it - by controlling the tidal wave - but they stop. Why? Because 1 man decided he would sacrifice his life to save all of theirs. Because of that one act of ultimate self-sacrifice, they resend their “judgment” and decided to reveal their existence. This adds a menace to the Aliens and makes their appearance to humans that much more meaningful. I don’t find that preachy because our fate - so to speak - had already been decided and it was rescinded due to the inherent goodness in one man..

    In the original cut it was just a bunch of Alien hippies -”Bad humans, we’ve got inter-galactic peace and love for you.”

  7. Jeffrey (84) said,

    February 28, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    ET theatrical version is better than the 20th anniversary edition due to the silly changes made. They replaced the puppet with a CGI version, changed the word ‘terrorist’ to ‘hippie’, and replaced the guns with walkie talkies.

    Brazil Director’s Cut as it retains the downbeat ending whereas the ‘Love Conquers All’ version completely butchers the film.

    King Kong (1933) restored version with more shots of people getting eaten/stepped on and Kong suggestively peeling off Ann’s dress.

    A Streetcar Name Desire 1993 Director’s Cut rerelease restores additional moments of sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley.

    Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut adds a lot of extra character moments and re-inserts the character of Sibylla’s son, making her a more sympathetic character.

    Legend Director’s Cut includes the original superior score by william Goldsmith and the increased running time makes it more epic in scope.

    New York, New York extended version includes the ‘Happy Endings’ number so the film actually contains somewhat of a climax.

    Kill Bill Vol 1 Japanese version (available on DVD import) is slightly more violent and the House of Blue Leaves fighting scene is shown in colour instead of black and white.

    The Wicker Man (1973) Director’s Cut gives the story a richer flavour and restores some additional erotic scenes. Apparently the original rough cut is a filmcan buried under a motor way.

  8. Sam (405) said,

    February 28, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Good summation. A lot of those were choices I considered for my Top 6 list. I think “A Streetcar Named Desire” came closest to making the cut.

    Kill Bill is interesting, because I was shocked when I learned Tarantino intended the sequence to be shown in color. When I first saw it, I figured he wanted it in black and white, because that’s what those old trashy 70s kung fu pics did to avoid censorship, and he wanted to throw in a nod to that practice, just like Kill Bill is essentially a collection of nods to quirky elements of exploitation film history.

    But no, turns out it’s in black and white to keep the R rating secure. IMHO, the scene is much, much more effective in black and white. In a movie that’s all about playing with styles, it’s one more style to play with.

  9. Stephen (221) said,

    February 28, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    Re: Kill Bill — I initially shared Sam’s thoughts, but after watching that sequence a few times I’m not convinced. I really want to see the sequence in color to know for sure, but I kind of think the transition to total B&W is a little too jarring and odd.

  10. Jeffrey (84) said,

    March 1, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I’m not sure if you guys are aware of this but there are plans for a re-release of the film titled ‘Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair’ combining the two parts together with an intermission in the middle. It sounds sorta like what he’s doing with Grindhouse but it’s been delayed due to arguments over who owns the rights to the film. It will be uncut at 4 hours long and with scenes as originally intended (like the aforementioned fight in the House of Blue Leaves), possibly released on a limited run in theaters and then on DVD.

    Stephen, here’s the scene on Youtube although you really need to see it in higher quality to really appreciate it:

  11. haole (1) said,

    March 3, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Some very good choices, though I have one more to add. The movie Shaolin Soccer. When I first heard of this movie, I found it for rent in a small chinese-run video store in Hawaii. Recently I rented it on Netflix, and the dvd had both the Chinese version and a US cut. Do not watch the US cut. They cut a lot out to make it translate better into America, but some of what they did just didn’t work.

  12. JoAnneThrax (4) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    While I prefer the director’s cut of “Blade Runner” to the Theatrical release, not all of the changes were good. Removing the voiceovers and the horrid tacked-on ending were great improvements. However, the unicorn dream sequence was pretty horrible, and…

    **possible spoiler alert*

    …when Roy kills Tyrell in the theatrical version of the film (or maybe it was just the European version I saw on video all the time as a kid), there is a lot more blood. In the Director’s cut it’s just a jump-cut from Roy putting his hands on Tyrell’s face to the deed being done. I’m not great fan of excessive gore in movies, but cutting all the blood out of this scene removes almost all of its impact.

    And as for “The Abyss”: The endings of both versions were horrible (after an otherwise very good movie), but the extended version is significantly worse. A much BETTER ending would have been…

    ***more spoiler alerts***

    …when whatshisname in the high-pressure suit floated his way down into the chasm, and the alien first touched his hand…cut to CREDITS. It would have been much better than the dreck (drek?) in the original ending, and EXTENDING the dreck was no improvement.

  13. rdesai (2) said,

    February 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Yesterday, I re-watched Big Sleep streaming on Netflix and three quarters into it I realized it was the original cut. I kept waiting and waiting for the Bogart and Bacall chemistry that had captivated me when I first saw it 10 years ago in college. I had kind of discovered it on my own because I found it on TMC while channel flicking. At the time, I had never heard of it and I was mesmerized watching the wordplay and the sizzle between the leads.

    I love Netflix but why would they put the preview version and not say anything. The original cut feels completely different and is kind of boring without the romance. I hope they put a notice or something to let the viewers know what they are going to see. Maybe they have it but I could not find it.

    I still haven’t seen Touch of Evil. I would appreciate it if someone can tell me which version they have on Netflix watch instantly before I do see it.

  14. Sam (405) said,

    February 25, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    rdesai: Weird. I’m not sure which version of Touch of Evil they have, but it should be immediately apparent which one it is. The opening shot is an overhead tracking shot down a busy street in a border town. If you hear Henry Mancini’s music and see credits over the shot, it’s the theatrical cut, and you should stop watching immediately. If you hear street sounds and don’t see any credits over the top (I think the credits appear over black before this shot begins, but I can’t remember), then you’re watching the reconstructed cut.

    If you rent the DVD, I’m pretty sure you get the reconstructed cut.

    This is a good point, though. I’ve noticed that a lot of what Netflix streams is the Criterion Collection restorations (complete with the Criterion logo at the beginning) for Criterion releases, but sometimes what you see streaming has nothing to do with what DVD they have. The instant version of Ben-Hur, for example, is horribly pan-and-scanned. I’m not sure why, except that it’s evident that the source of their digital copies isn’t always a direct rip of the DVDs they have. Probably they wouldn’t be allowed to rip an actual DVD in most cases and have to rely on what the studio provides to them.

    Open City (aka: Rome, Open City) is another one to watch out for. I haven’t checked to see if they’ve upgraded their Instant Watch version to the new Criterion release, but I gather they’ve upgraded their actual DVDs. The pre-Criterion DVD releases were pretty horrible, with bad and missing subtitles.

  15. rdesai (2) said,

    February 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I watched a couple of minutes of Touch of Evil and its the theatrical cut. I will add it to my dvd queue. Thanks for the info, Sam. By the way, you guys made a fantastic podcast! I recently discovered it and I ended up doing a 10 day marathon of all the episodes between work, jogging, and some chores. Its too bad the weekly episodes are over but I am looking forward to more specials.

  16. Sam (405) said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Thanks — glad you like it! But, wow, all the episodes in 10 days? I get sick of listening to me after editing a single episode.

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