According to the fine folk of Wikipedia (whoever they may be), “alternate ending is a term used (usually in movies) to describe the ending of a story that was planned or debated but ultimately unused in favor of the actual ending. Generally, alternate endings are considered to have no bearing on the canonical narrative” (“Alternate Ending”). (By “canonical,” the anonymous authors presumably mean the film as it was actually released.)
The online encyclopedia article offers a list of twenty eight alternate endings, including those of 1408, Army of Darkness, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
In 1408, “Mike Enslin dies in the fire he causes. At his burial, his wife is approached by the hotel manager, offering his personal belongings. She refuses [to accept them], and he lets her know that her husband did not die in vain. Back in his vehicle[,] he listens to the tape recorder, and screams in fear as he sees Enslin’s burned[,] deformed body in his back seat for only a moment. The film closes with an apparition of Mike Enslin still in 1408, muttering to himself, and finally exiting the room, hearing his daughters [sic] voice” (“1408 [film]”).
In Army of Darkness, “after Ash drinks the potion that would make him sleep long enough to wake up in his own time, he accidentally drinks too much and wakes up in the future. In the new time[,] it's a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a world and he screams ‘I slept too long!’” (“Army of Darkness”).
In I Know What You Did Last Summer, “Julie receives an invite [sic] to a pool party and read[s] an email that reads ‘I still know” ("I Know What You Did Last Summer [film]").
Those who have seen these films are likely to agree that their actual endings are more satisfying and integral to their stories than these alternate possibilities.
1408 ends with Enslin recovering “in a New York hospital, Lily at his bedside. He swears that he saw Katie, but Lily refuses to believe him. After his recovery[,] Enslin moves back in with Lily, beginning work on a new novel about his stay in 1408. While sorting through a box of items from his night in 1408[,] that [sic] Lily wants to discard, Enslin comes across his Mini Cassette recorder. After some difficulty[,] he manages to get the tape to play; it begins with Enslin's dictation of 1408’s appearance, but cuts in with audio from his interaction with the apparition of his daughter. [In shock,] Lily, who is standing by him[,] listening to the audio, drops a box she was holding. . . . The scene ends with Enslin staring at Lily's face” (Wikipedia, “1408 [film]”).
Army of Darkness concludes “with Ash back at the S-Mart store, telling a co-worker all about his adventure back in time, and how he could have been king. After this, a deadite starts wreaking havoc on the store (it is implied that he again raised the dead by saying the wrong words needed to travel through time), and Ash slays the creature. The film ends with Ash. . . saying, ‘Sure I could have been King, but in my own way, I am a king.’ He then says out loud, while kissing a female customer, ‘Hail to the King, baby!’” (Wikipedia, “Army of Darkness”).
In I Know What You Did Last Summer, Julie “receives a letter resembling the one she had got[ten] from Ben, but it. . . contains [only] a pool party invitation. Julie returns to the bathroom, which has filled with steam. On the shower door, ‘I STILL KNOW’ is written. Ben jumps through the shower door, attacking her” (Wikipedia, “I Know What You Did Last Summer [film]”).
The Wikipedia articles concerning the alternate endings of two of these movies explain why they were dropped and the movies’ existing endings were substituted. The reactions of test audiences at screenings of the movies before their public release did not favor the original (that is, the “alternate”) endings or studio executives ordered that a different ending be filmed:
“Director Mikael Håfström has stated that the ending for 1408 was reshot [sic] because test audiences felt that the original ending was too much of a ‘downer’”, [sic] and “when test audiences didn’t approve of [Sam] Raimi's original ending [to Army of Darkness], he cut the film down to the international cut that now exists on DVD. When it was again rejected by Universal, Raimi was forced to edit it again to the U.S. [sic] theatrical version.” (No explanation as to why the original ending to I Know What You Did Last Summer is provided by the authors of its Wikipedia article.)
In short stories and novels, which are usually produced by a lone author or, occasionally, a pair of collaborators, no advance audience reacts to the narratives’ endings before the stories or novels are published. The emphasis is upon the artwork, not the public’s reaction to it. In other words, the artists determine how and why their work should end the way that it does, and Aristotle and Poe, among others, provide the guidance that most such writers follow in ending their stories: the conclusion must both be logical and organic, as it were, flowing from the narrative’s structure, from the very beginning, and not tacked on for convenience’s sake or, these critics probably would have contended, their audience’s, readers’, or producers’ approval. Whose take is wiser, those of Aristotle and Poe or the Hollywood film industry’s? The filmmakers or their audiences? Or is the very question itself a false dilemma? Could the filmmakers be right in some cases and the test audiences’ reactions be correct in others? It’s impossible to say for certain, but devising several possible alternate endings may be useful as a tool for sustaining situational irony until the very end of a story, although, in the end, a writer should be more concerned with his or her art than with pleasing the reader (or the audience).