While the basic plot is the same, Donner’s version captures more of the mythic flavor of the first film and tones down the campiness that crept into the franchise under Lester. It also clarifies several plot points (like how Superman gets his powers back after giving them up to be with Lois Lane) and restores the original time-altering ending, which was initially grafted onto the first film. While both versions of Superman II are great fun, Donner’s cut almost certainly retains the original intent and themes.
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) / Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)
Every movie in the film series based around The Exorcist seems to exist in different versions, but none were as radical as the two different takes of the fourth entry in the series. This infamous mess began with Dominion, a prequel meant to explore the back story of the first film’s aged Father Merrin (played by Max von Sydow in the original movie and Stellan Skarsgard here) and his previous encounters with the demon Pazuzu–a force much scarier in the original film when it was referred to only as “the Devil.” Paul Schrader (Raging Bull, First Reformed) directed and in typical Schrader fashion, he delivered a brooding, existential meditation on faith and evil that did not sit well with studio execs.
Said studio, Morgan Creek Productions, worried about the movie’s prospects, so it enlisted action director Renny Harlin to retool the movie into a somewhat more conventional if bland horror thriller. When that version, Exorcist: The Beginning, came out first and died at the box office, Morgan Creek allowed Schrader to complete his cut. But the studio seemed intent on sabotaging it, only providing the director with meager funds to finish the picture and then releasing it on just 110 screens. As a result, neither version is very good, but there’s no question that Schrader’s more cerebral take is the better one.
Blade Runner (1982)
The mother of all director’s cuts is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which went through at least three major iterations (and other less significant ones) before Scott finally got the version he wanted. The original theatrical release was infamous for its terrible voiceover narration and “happy ending” in which Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard and his replicant lover Rachel (Sean Young) got to escape and live happily ever after. The 1992 “director’s cut,” made with Scott’s participation, made some changes but still was not satisfactory.
Then came the 2007 “final cut,” for which Scott had complete control and additional resources, in which numerous visual fixes were made, scenes that appeared or disappeared over the years were properly reinserted, the “unicorn dream” was fully restored and, most controversially, the ending tweaked to make it seemingly apparent–after years of debate–that Deckard was a replicant as well. While your mileage may vary on that last point (it did for Villeneuve, who ignored it in his 2017 sequel), the “final cut” is otherwise the best version of Blade Runner there is–the moody, subtle, atmospheric future noir that Scott first envisioned.