Why do hollywood movies almost always end 'happy'?

Seeing the movie, and then the play “Little Shop of HOrrors”, I was surprised to see that in the play, the ending is sad. THe movie version however made the ending happy–completely changing the dramatic impact.

I’ve noticed that hollywood tends to do this sort of thing. WHy is it that they do so? My guess is that the average american would get depressed and tell others that the movie was a ‘downer’.

But that means all of our film ‘art’ will be super-happy optimistic Disney middle-class.

Are there any other reasons or justifications for the hollywood rewriting?

Depressing movies are only tolerable if they are thought provoking, and there isn’t a lot of money in appealing to that crowd.

Bad movies that are depressing are just torture. Who would watch that?

In short, Hollywood is in it for the money, and depressing movies don’t make any.

Moderator’s Note: Moving from Great Debates to Cafe Society.


It’s just common sense. People don’t want to pay money to be depressed.

Well, most people. There are some people who like depressing movies; there are far more that like ones with happy endings. Including me; I resolved never to watch The Mist, despite liking the story, because I heard about the ending. Hollywood is for profit, and therefore caters to those that like happy endings.

Same reason books usually have happy endings. Audiences want demonstrations of hope fulfilled.

It’s a bit more complicated, I think. Right now we’re in a period where the average person prefers happy endings to sad endings, to the point where popular dramaturgy forbids sad endings. There have been periods when the opposite was true.

scrambledeggs, we have an entire Forum dedicated to the examination and discussion of all things artisitic.

You could have read the Forum descriptions and recognized, easily, that this belonged in Cafe Society.

You have alrrady picked up one Warning for deliberately (or carelessly to a fault) making more work for tyhe staf.

This thread has been moved and you are Warned again. (You are going to wind up losing your posting prvileges if you keep this up.)

[ /Moderating ]

There was a ‘bad’ ending of “Little Shop…” filmed but test audiences didn’t like it so the upbeat ending was used in the final cut.

I’ve seen one theory about curtain calls making the difference. Hamlet, his whole family, and all his friends can die in the play, but they’ll all be back smiling and waving to the audience before the lights fall. When movies end badly, there’s no cathartic event that lets people know that everything is actually OK.

Obviously, people know that the actors in both plays and movies aren’t really dying, but actually seeing the proof … well, I do see how that could make a psychological difference.

As has been said, audiences don’t like Downers. Add to that the fact that movies are fabulously expensive to make – especially blockbusters, and the movie producers and financiers are consequently pretty conservative, and you have your reason – you want to be sure that audiences will continue to come. So The African Queen deep-sixes C.S. Forester’s anticlimactic ending for one in which the AQ does succeed, in a roundabout way, in blowing up the Louisa. The Little Mermaid doesn’t die of a broken heart and turn into sea foam. the characters in the movie based on Forester’s The Gun don’t come to depressing ends, Hester Prynne gets a happy ending in The Scarlet Letter, and so forth. (Truth be told, I like the happier ending in all but the last of those).

Of course, some stories would be ludicrous with a downbeat ending, something even the money crowd is aware of. So Spartacus dies, along with his gladiator army, but it’s a glorious death. Ditto for the Spartans in 300. The Bridge to Terebithia (filmed twice! ) is a sobering one, but with forward-looking features (goosed along by good FX).

Heck, if you chop the so-called “happy ending” from Blade Runner (as the director’s cut did), the ending makes no sense.

Good point: in the case of some movies, including the OP’s example, an ending is changed because test audiences didn’t like the original ending.

That’s an interesting theory, and it may well help to explain why the “unhappy” ending of “Little Shop” might well play better on stage than on screen.

Another point: Many Hollywood movies are designed to fit a particular genre or formula, and the happy ending is part of the formula. The “romantic comedy” formula, for example, goes “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl,” and audience members who go to see a romantic comedy and don’t get the resolution where the couple end up together may feel cheated.

This is an oversimplification. Keep in mind that:

There have been plenty of Hollywood movies whose endings have been downers.

A movie can have a happy ending and still be good art rather than saccharine “Disney middle-class.”

Instead of a strict dichotomy between the “super-happy” and the grim & hopeless, there is a wide range of possible “happiness levels” for movie endings.

Also, consider the large part of American film history created under the Hayes Code, where the bad had to be punished by the end of the feature. Not the same thing as a happy ending, but we have been conditioned to expect to see justice done. (The Postman Always Rings Twice was on TCM last night and halfway through my mom said “They’re not going to get away with it, are they?” and I had to remind her that they weren’t allowed to, so she could surely expect some comeuppance.)

I once saw a dramatization of Nicholas Nickleby on Masterpiece Theater. Nicholas, having joined a traveling theatrical company, plays Romeo, and the ending is changed so that he and Juliet only seemed dead . . . in fact, Mercutio is still alive . . . everybody’s alive but Tibault. Alistair Cooke came on at the end to explain that this bit was not in the book but was a kind of in-joke by the play’s director: Substitution of optimistic endings to tragedies was, in fact, often done in the Victorian British theater; and moreover, while Dickens’ novel was being released in serial form, theatrical companies were doing unauthorized dramatizations of it with their own fantastically happy endings; so this is something Dickens might have appreciated.

Of course, you expect nothing else from Disney.

Don’t forget that the original movie of Little Shop Of Horrors actually had a sad ending. It finished with Seymour being eaten.

As for the question, consider the following definition by Oscar Wilde : << The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means. >>

And another from Terry Pratchett, I don’t know the exact quote but from memory approximately : << The heroes must win against great odds, otherwise what would be the point? >>

It comes down to basic plot structure. You give your protagonist some sort of problem. Then you tell how he overcomes the problem. That is a story. But if you give your protagonist a problem, and he doesn’t solve it, then where’s the point? You might as well wrap it up after the introduction. See Open Water for an example.

Exceptions to this are if the failure is though provoking (1984) or funny (Inspector Clouseau) or the traditional Tragic Hero undone by his fatal flaw.

The original ending of Little Shop of Horrors has been uploaded to YouTube. It’s in black & white, and has the typical overcompressed YouTube quality, but it is interesting. You can watch it here.