The Magnificent Ambersons (1942): As the oft-told story goes, RKO did not care for Orson Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane and had editor Robert Wise hack it up and tack on a happy ending. The elided footage has never been found. But! His truncated masterpiece is, in its mutilated form, a stone cold masterpiece and comparable to (and to some eyes better than) Kane. How about that?
A New Leaf (1971): Before the Godfather melee, ever-middling mega-producer Robert Evans locked Elaine May out of the editing room on her first picture: a black comedy starring her and, awesomely miscast as a murderous blueblood, Walter Matthau. But here’s the deal: May had spent a year messing with the footage, with no end in sight. May cried to the press and tried to have her name removed. The cut that emerged is a riot: a brilliant (and brilliantly weird) black comedy that, incidentally, is finally on DVD/Blu-Ray.
Superman II (1980): Midway through making their first S-man sequel, a fallout led rights holders Ilya and Alexander Salkind to replace director Richard Donner (The Toy, Radio Flyer) with Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, Petulia). But Donner had already shot the majority of II, meaning to legally claim sole credit, Lester had to reshoot half the picture. What emerged was a total Frankenstein cut, mature and shockingly together—more together, anyway, than the tonally flailing Superman: The Movie.
The Big Red One (1980): 2004’s The Big Red One: Reconstruction assembled something close to the full canvas of Samuel Fuller’s autumnal WWII epic, but the one that was hacked to under two hours is almost a masterpiece, too.
Donnie Darko (2001): Richard Kelly said he was forced to delete a chunk of his debut mindfuck; he used its belated cult stardom to put it back in. Big mistake: The missing chunks added to the film’s mystery, while anyone who thinks of replacing perfect opening song “The Killing Moon” with “Never Tear Us Apart” shouldn’t be making movies.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007): Director Andrew Dominik complained when his outlaw saga was commandeered by heartless execs, who proceeded to eviscerate it from three-plus hours to a “mere” 160 minutes.