The 1987 film Fatal Attraction was equal parts lauded and criticized for its portrayal of a man who finds himself neck-deep in a sordid affair with his mistress. While the film helped make Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, and the rest of the cast the stars they are today, the movie also received some backlash for its violent ending. The ending people know, however, wasn’t the original concept. Initially going for a more redemptive ending, director Adrian Lyne accepted money to do one that pleased studio execs.
What is ‘Fatal Attraction’ about?
Fatal Attraction tells the story of Dan, played by Michael Douglas, who is caught up in a love triangle between his wife, played by Anne Archer, and his mistress, played by Glenn Close. Throughout the film, the standard affair quickly turns into something dramatic after Close’s Alex issues Dan an ultimatum — leave his wife, or she won’t leave him alone.
Throughout the film, Close tried to play Alex, not as a vindictive woman, but as a struggling woman with her mental health and being mistreated by a man who saw her more as an object than a person. Close stayed true to this. She did not want audiences to perceive her character as crazy. Instead, she wanted her to be a case study about what happens when someone’s mental health goes unchecked.
This paid off. The film received six Academy Award nominations, including one for Close. It could have been a standard psychological thriller but turned into something far bigger, thanks to everyone involved. The original ending, however, became a source of contention for everyone involved.
The original ending of ‘Fatal Attraction’
The film has a memorable ending, in which Alex fights both Dan and his wife. Wielding a knife, she threatens to kill Archer’s character before a struggle ensues.
By the end of the battle, Douglas dunks her head inside a tub and presumably drowns her. However, rather than go out like that, Alex fights back, running at them with a knife before Archer shoots her and the film ends with her embracing her husband.
The ending is memorable, but those on set were not fans. The studio executive spoke about the original ending in a book.
“We did about six screenings,” Lansing wrote (per The Hollywood Reporter. “And at every single screening, when Anne says, ‘If you come near my family again, I’ll kill you,’ the audience bursts into applause. [Paramount CEO] Frank Mancuso said, ‘I think they want Anne Archer to kill Glenn Close.’ And I looked at him, speechless, because I thought he was crazy.”
Eventually, they filmed a new ending, but that ending did not sit well for many people in the cast and behind the scenes. In fact, it was so unpopular that the studio had to bribe director Adrian Lyne to film a new one.
How they changed the ending
Why Glenn Close ‘Despised’ the Ending in ‘Fatal Attraction’
Studio executive Sherry Lansing spoke about the difficulties of running major Hollywood productions in a book called Leading Lady. According to Lansing, her boss, Ned Tanen, wanted Close’s Alex to get her comeuppance and demanded that they change the ending. Lyne did not like that.
“Adrian went nuts,” Lansing wrote (per Vanity Fair), “He felt that changing the ending was kowtowing to the lowest common denominator, and I agreed. Here was this wonderful film about how all your actions have consequences, and now they wanted to change the whole point. I felt it was morally wrong, and if I agreed to do it, I’d be selling out.”
Lyne, however, had a price tag. After Tanen offered $1.5 million, no strings attached, to film a new ending, the director and writers begrudgingly reshot the end to appease audiences. Despite the acclaim, the finale still gets criticized for its misogyny. Close and Lansing both are uneasy about the final scene, but it goes to show just how far Hollywood will go to get its movies off the ground.