Harvey Weinstein, who co-founded Miramax with his brother Bob and is now head of The Weinstein Company, has never been the most popular man in the film industry, but lately he’s been getting more grief from film fans than usual. Weinstein made his fortune by distributing indie and foreign features in the late 1980s and 1990s. On one hand, that’s something every film fan should be thankful for because there are dozens of classic films that the Weinsteins have distributed. On the other hand, in many cases the films the directors made were not the films we ended up seeing. That’s because Weinstein has been described as a “bully” and labeled “Harvey Scissorhands” for his often heavy-handed demands on filmmakers to edit their movies to his specifications. In 2013 alone Weinstein came under heavy criticism for enforcing changes on the U.S. theatrical versions of The Grandmaster, August: Osage County and Snowpiercer… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s be clear: It’s not out of the ordinary for a major studio to request a director making a $100 million+ movie to make changes to the film since a director is hired under those circumstances in an employer-employee relationship. Nobody is going to complain about the director’s “artistic vision” when it comes to The Smurfs 2. After all, if a studio is investing millions of dollars into a project it will expect it to have the greatest potential return with general audiences, including contracting directors to bring in a film with a PG or PG-13 rating to maximize profit potential. However, in the case of Harvey Weinstein the movies he demands cuts to are often features produced independently or in another country seeking U.S. distribution. And while film fans want to see these movies in the U.S., they largely want to see the movies as the director intended them to be seen, not how Harvey Weinstein thinks they should be seen. Numerous filmmakers have gone on record saying that had they known that they would be forced to alter their films they would have sought a deal with other distributors. Alas, the changes were demanded once the deals had already been made.
There are a few things that cannot be denied about Harvey Weinstein (and to a lesser extent, his brother Bob). As an executive, he is incredibly successful financially. In some ways an absolute genius at promoting movies, as the dozens of Oscars his films have won can attest. He also is an obvious lover of film as an art form, and if not for Weinstein, many of the best-loved 1990s indie and foreign films would have likely never been released in any form and many indie filmmakers who went on to success would have never been discovered. However, there are changes that Weinstein has made to movies over his three and a half decades as an executive that really irk film fans. The most common complaints are:
1) Too much reliance on test screening scores, especially for movies that aren’t meant for general audiences. In some cases, this means giving a film a never-intended “happier ending” because test audiences responded poorly to the original.
2) Purchasing the distribution rights for foreign and indie films that are generating buzz and not releasing them for months or even years later, long after the buzz has subsided. Often these delayed releases are then only screened in a handful of theaters or released direct-to-video.
3) “Americanizing” foreign films (particularly martial arts films) by cutting, dubbing, and even changing entire storylines through purposely mistranslated subtitles and intertitles. This includes films that have already won major international film awards in their original forms.
4) Cutting the length of a film just to ensure it will have more showings in theaters (and by extension, probably more ticket sales).
5) Cutting the content in order to ensure a PG-13 or R rating, only to release the original cut later as an “unrated” version on DVD or Blu-ray. This is practically standard operating procedure for horror and teen comedy films released under the Dimension Films banner.
Here I have compiled a timeline of movies released under the Weinsteins’ Miramax, Dimension Films, and The Weinstein Company banners that had been altered before they were released or had other troubled circumstances surrounding their productions. I’ve also included commentary from key filmmakers about their experiences working with Weinstein. The idea behind this series is to present a record of these edits and perhaps bring attention to some forgotten releases that were buried by bad decisions or poor promotion. Thankfully, in some cases the directors’ originally intended version have been made available.
Of course, it’s also true that not all of the cuts and changes imposed by Weinstein have been bad decisions — in fact, more than you probably think have benefited films both artistically and financially. In some cases, negative publicity surrounding the cuts led to the original versions being released later. In many cases Weinstein’s cuts probably contributed to the success of the film in question (I have pointed out major box office and awards success when applicable).
Lastly, these are only examples of cuts that were made public or cuts I’ve guessed at because multiple versions of the film in question exists. For example, a number of Dimension straight-to-video releases have dozens of deleted scenes — but there’s way of telling if these were cut by the director or by Dimension executives.
This list would have been impossible to construct without IMDb, Box Office Mojo (for the box office figures), and Peter Biskind’s excellent book Down and Dirty Pictures. For corrections or additions to these lists, please let us know in the comments or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After purchasing the U.S. rights to UK charity concert film The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the Weinsteins cut it down to 55 minutes. 36 minutes from a UK sequel are added to make the U.S. release feature length. The film is the company’s first major hit, and also kicks off a thirty-plus year tradition of the Weinsteins editing movies for U.S. release.
The French sci-fi/fantasy animated film Gandahar (released as Light Years in the U.S.) has parts of its soundtrack replaced and sexually suggestive shots cut for the U.S. release. In total, the film is cut by about 6 and a half minutes.
Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore releases his Cinema Paradiso in Italy in a 155 minute version that fares poorly at the box office. Miramax prepares a 123 minute version for international release that is much better regarded and goes on to win the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and the 1989 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In 2002 a 173 minute “Director’s Cut” is released on DVD as Cinema Paradiso: The New Version, but the general consensus remains that the 123 minute cut is the best version.
Miramax cuts the 114 minute UK sex drama Scandal by 6 minutes for its U.S. release in order to avoid an X rating (which is undesirable because of its association with pornographic films). The uncut version is later released on DVD.
UK comedy The Tall Guy is “Americanized” for its U.S. release. The movie is dubbed to remove British slang and the film is shortened by 7 minutes.
Miramax releases the 124 minute French-British crime drama The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover in U.S. theaters unrated instead of with an X rating. However, when released on VHS Miramax offers a 95 minute version so it can be carried in family-friend video stores that refuse to carry unrated movies (the original cut is also made available on VHS).
Following the lead of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Miramax releases Spanish dark sex comedy Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! unrated in the U.S. instead of cutting it. In part because of the controversy surrounding these two unrated releases, the MPAA introduces the NC-17 rating to replace the X rating. While NC-17 movies still face problems with distribution, they are not immediately associated with pornographic movies, as movies rated X were.
The Weinsteins are unhappy with the cut of the James Ivory–Ismail Merchant film Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, which they are distributing. Years later, director James Ivory tells The Wrap, “When we first screened the film for them, both Bob and Harvey got up during the screening and left, and missed the last third entirely. Later on, they told us they’d had a family emergency, and then they told us the film wasn’t quite what they’d expected and that the ending was a letdown. So they were unhappy… We also felt that the ending wasn’t quite right, and ultimately we reordered the final scenes and it worked much better. But they wanted a focus group, and some of the questions on the cards were extraordinarily stupid.” Ultimately the original version is released. Ivory believes that star Paul Newman, who loved the original cut, told the Weinsteins that he would not promote it if they changed it. Future filmmakers will not be as lucky in their dealings with the Weinsteins.
Weinstein asks Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski to add an alternate ending to his film The Double Life of Véronique for U.S. release after the film’s U.S. premiere at the 1991 New York Film Festival. The American ending is a minute longer and ends the film on a happier note. The Criterion DVD features the original ending with the U.S. ending as an extra.
The thriller Love Crimes is cut by 7 minutes before its theatrical release, mostly of sexual content. The 91 minute “Unrated Director’s Cut” is released on VHS and later DVD.
Not only does Miramax retitle the animated James Bond parody Freddie as F.R.O.7. to Freddie the Frog for its U.S. release, but it is cut by several minutes and narration by James Earl Jones is added. Regardless, it becomes one of the biggest animation flops in film history, grossing just $1.1 million in the U.S.
After Mexican director Alfonso Arau‘s Like Water for Chocolate debuts at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, Miramax purchases the U.S. rights, trims 38 minutes from the film, and releases it at 105 minutes. The general international release edition is 123 minutes, which remains unavailable in the U.S. The result is a major hit for the Weinsteins, grossing $21.7 million from only 64 theaters.
Miramax retitles the Anthony Hopkins Australian comedy Spotswood as The Efficiency Expert for U.S. release. Regardless, it is only released in 24 theaters and grosses $179,469.
Dimension Films is formed to serve as the genre movie label of Miramax Films. It is initially overseen by Bob Weinstein. Its first release, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth receives numerous cuts to ensure an R rating in the U.S. An uncut version, which is 5 minutes longer, is later released on VHS. This will become a regular practice for Dimension releases, which are often cut to ensure a lower rating but released unrated on home media.
In May 1993 Miramax is purchased by Disney.
Though completed in December 1991, Dust Devil is trimmed from 120 minutes by director Richard Stanley to 110 minutes. However, in 1993 Miramax edits the film to 87 minutes without Stanley’s involvement for U.S. straight-to-video release, which is also redubbed and has an added voiceover. Stanley exhibits a 108 minute “final cut” later that year, and DVD releases have since included either this cut and/or a 115 minute “workprint” cut. Stanley has since claimed that Miramax even prepared a 68 minute cut for some markets.
Although it won the Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival (an honor it shared that year with another Miramax release, The Piano), Miramax cuts 10 minutes from the U.S. and U.K. release of the Chinese film Farewell My Concubine to much criticism (including from 1993 Cannes jury president, director Louis Malle). The film grosses $5.2 million from only 3 theaters and is nominated for two Oscars. The original 171 minute cut has since been released on DVD.
Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci‘s Little Buddha originally ran 140 minutes in its international release, but the U.S. release was cut to 123 minutes, reportedly to reduce the amount of religious imagery. In Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, Bertolucci recalls, “Harvey was brutal. He said ‘You have to cut at least twelve, thirteen minutes.’ The tone was threatening.” Bertolucci reveals that Weinstein threatened to send the film straight to video if it wasn’t trimmed. Even though Bertolucci accepts the cuts, the film never receives a wide U.S. release (139 theaters). It ends up a flop in the U.S., only grossing $4.9 million in 139 theaters. The full version remains unavailable in the U.S.
The U.S. version of Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice is released with different music than the international version.
The U.S. version of Fortess is cut to ensure an R rating and includes an alternate ending. The uncut version is later released on DVD.
After the Andie MacDowell and Liam Neeson thriller Ruby Cairo fails at the U.S. box office (grossing just $608,866), Miramax re-releases the film on VHS in a version that is 21 minutes longer and is aptly retitled Deception.
Director Peter Jackson trims his 109 minute Heavenly Creatures to 99 minutes for its U.S. release by Miramax. Jackson has since said he prefers the 99 minute version (which is ironic in retrospect considering how long his films are now!) The film receives an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and grosses a respectable $3 million in the U.S. from 57 theaters.
In a repeat of the year before, Miramax requests director French Patrice Chéreau trim his 161 minute La Reine Margot to 145 minutes for its U.S. release after it premieres to great acclaim at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. It is released as Queen Margot in the U.S. The new cut even includes a sequence that had been cut from the 161 minute original. Despite an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, the film only makes $1.2 million at the U.S. box office. The full version has never been released on DVD in the U.S.
The Crow is heavily edited by the filmmakers and Miramax, however it is mainly because of the death of lead actor Brandon Lee during filming. Undoubtedly in part because of the controversy surrounding Lee’s death, the film grosses $50.7 million in the U.S. and $144.7 million worldwide. Several different versions of the film have since been released, the longest running 122 minutes.
Miramax retitles Robert Altman‘s Prêt-à-Porter as Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) for the U.S. release.
In a profile on Weinstein in the October 10, 1994 edition of The New Yorker, it is mentioned that Weinstein “personally retitled, reshot, and rearranged” French comedy Fausto to release in the U.S. as À la mode. The cuts eliminate seven minutes from the film. It ultimately grosses just $236,090 in the U.S.
After purchasing the U.S. rights to French director Bertrand Tavernier‘s La fille de d’Artagnan (D’Artagnan’s Daughter), Weinstein demands cuts to the 125 minute film. According to Movie Wars, when Tavernier refuses, the film remains on the shelf for five years until being released direct-to-video under the title Revenge of the Musketeers in 1999.
Miramax purchases the U.S. rights to the Iranian film Through The Olive Trees after it is nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. In the U.S. it plays at both the New York Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival, but afterwards is only released in New York theaters in 1995 and grosses just $40,000. It has never been released on home media in the U.S.
Though known by now for cutting films, Miramax battles the MPAA over the rating for Clerks. The MPAA initially gives Kevin Smith‘s debut film an NC-17 rating because of its language, but a court battle with the MPAA leads to the film being released with an R rating with no cuts.
The 28 year production history of animator Richard Williams‘ The Thief and the Cobbler is a too convoluted to get into here, but suffice to say because of financial reasons a version is finally prepared for release in December 1994. Miramax purchases the U.S. rights and cuts the film by nearly 20 minutes, rewrites the dialogue, recasts the voices with name actors, and retitles it Arabian Knight to capitalize on its parent company’s (Disney) success with Aladdin the previous year. It grosses just $669,276 from only 510 theaters. When it is released on VHS in 1997, the original title is restored (as is the case with subsequent home media releases). A “recobbled” fan version was created in 2006, and Williams screened a full workprint version at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in December 2013.
The U.S. version of Highlander: The Final Dimension cuts a few seconds of violence and two sex scenes to ensure a PG-13 rating. The uncut version is later released as a “Director’s Cut” on VHS.
The U.S. video release of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain is 3 minutes shorter than the theatrical version.
The U.S. release of the British religious drama Priest is trimmed by 7 minutes. The controversial film is still a minor hit, grossing $4.2 million from 154 theaters.
Director Jim Jarmusch refuses to alter his black and white Western Dead Man (starring Johnny Depp) for Miramax after the company purchases the distribution rights after it is nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Afterwards, the film grosses just $1 million after being released in only 37 theaters. At the New York Film Critics Circle Awards the following year, Jarmusch publicly claims that his film was purposely buried by Miramax because of his refusal to edit it.
Miramax purchases the U.S. distribution rights to Hong Kong director Ann Hui‘s award winning Nu ren si shi (Summer Snow), but never release it. According to From Tian’anmen to Times Square: Transnational China and the Chinese Diaspora on Global Screens, 1989-1997, “when they did their homework they realized that by spending so much on advertising they will end up in the red. That film will never see the light of day.”
Dimension Films releases Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers in an 88 minute version, which cut a significant amount of violent material to avoid an NC-17 rating. A 96 minute “Producers Cut” (which has never been officially released) has major plot differences and over 40 minutes of alternate, more violent footage.
Weinstein rejects the score composed by Maurice Jarre for Two Bits and has the final one composed by Carter Burwell. Despite starring Al Pacino, the film is only released in two theaters and grosses $26,282.
Though Weinstein promises writer/director/star Billy Bob Thornton final cut on Sling Blade after buying the rights to it after only watching the first half hour, he later asks Thornton to cut the film by 20 minutes. When Thornton refuses, Weinstein in turn refuses to theatrically release the film. Thornton finally relents. Sling Blade grosses $24.4 million and Thornton goes on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film.
The American release of the UK comedy Brassed Off features title cards that define British slang and removes a scene that shows one of the main characters in a more villainous light.
The original opening 20 minutes of Danny Boyle‘s Transpotting are re-dialogued for the U.S. release to tone down the thick Scottish accents and slang and 2 seconds are removed in order to ensure an R rating: a needle penetrating the skin and a brief shot during the sex scene between Kelly Macdonald and Ewan McGregor. The original dialogue and seconds have since been restored on subsequent DVD releases. While the film grosses a respectable $16.5 million in its initial U.S. release, it goes on to even greater fame as a cult classic on DVD.
The UK sports film True Blue is retitled Miracle at Oxford for the U.S. DVD release.
The original cut of The Crow: City of Angels runs 160 minutes, but Miramax cuts the theatrical release to 84 minutes. The film grosses far less than its predecessor ($17.9 million), and the two subsequent Crow movies are released direct-to-video. There have subsequent home video releases of longer versions by about 10 minutes, but never a release of the original cut.
When Hellraiser: Bloodline is released to theaters it is 85 minutes long. However, this version had been altered so significantly that director Kevin Yagher quit and removed his name from the film and reshoots were shot by a new director, Joe Chappelle. A workprint version that is not commercially available is 112 minutes long. After grossing only $9.3 million, the next four Hellraiser films are released direct-to-video.
The U.S. release of the Dolph Lundgren film The Shooter is cut to 89 minutes. The international version is 104 minutes. The longer version is unavailable in the U.S.
The U.S. release of the Christopher Lambert/Natasha Henstridge film Adrenalin: Fear the Rush is only 76 minutes long. International versions run a variety of lengths, with the longest running 102 minutes.
Only weeks before the release of Scream, the Weinsteins change the title from its original, Scary Movie. About 20 seconds of violence are cut to ensure an R rating, which director Wes Craven highly criticizes. The film becomes Dimension’s biggest hit to date, grossing $103 million in the U.S. Craven’s uncut version is later released on laserdisc, but is not included on U.S. DVD & Blu-ray releases of the film (thanks to Sean for the correction!)
Following the lead of New Line Cinema’s release of Rumble in the Bronx (which is released internationally by Miramax), the Dimension Films release of Jackie Chan‘s Police Story 3 is retitled Super Cop, dubbed into English with original actors Chan and Michelle Yeoh, features a new score, and is cut by 10 minutes. The U.S. release of Yeoh’s Police Story spinoff is retitled Super Cop 2, trimmed by 8 minutes, and given a new score. Also, the U.S. release of Jackie Chan’s Crime Story is also dubbed in English and trimmed by 4 minutes. All three films are released in the U.S. within a month. Miramax/Dimension will continue to release several of Chan’s Hong Kong films in English dubs over the next several years with Chan doing the English dubbing of his characters himself, but the films are significantly altered from their original versions.
Our next segment of the timeline takes us through 2004 and will feature the Weinsteins winning a number of Oscars, but at the expense of clashing with directors like James Mangold, Guillermo del Toro, James Gray, Julie Taymor, Martin Scorsese, and many, many others.