RoboCop, Showgirls, The Big Lebowski and more – and how they’ve been mangled when it came time for the family-friendly TV version.

The days of waiting for a movie to debut on television are a thing of the past. In earlier years, if you missed a movie in the cinemas, you had to wait for it to appear on home video to watch it. If the video store was fresh out of VHS copies of RoboCop, well, then if you got lucky RoboCop would show up on television and you could watch it then.

Just with, er, ‘changes’.

Prior to the advent of prestige television, Sunday nights were usually given over to movies that were edited for suitability and to fit the time allowed where I grew up. What was acceptable also varied, both from channel to channel and from time period to time period. Certainly in the US, what flew on paid television after midnight might not fly on Saturday morning broadcast networks.

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Thus, we got the edited versions of movies. The sanitised versions. At least in theory.

There are thousands of edited-for-television movies, but some are more notorious than others. In some cases, the TV edit of a movie can change it from a drama to a comedy, or from an action movie into a comedy, or from a comedy into a less funny comedy.

Primarily, the best edits come from cuts made for US television, which include some of the internet’s most notorious memes. Even though TV movies are no longer appointment viewing in the age of streaming, they’re still worth checking out, if only for the laughs.

The Big Lebowski

Perhaps the movie most ‘improved’ by a television edit, the Coen Brothers’ stoned slacker version of Raymond Chandler is one of the most expletive-filled things to flit across the silver screen.

Rather than losing its punch when cleaned up for prime-time, Lebowski somehow becomes more quotable, funnier, and infinitely stranger than the shaggy original. It’s the sort of film that, if left off this list, would generate dozens of questioning comments about how something so obvious could be overlooked, so here it is. In its rightful place.

John Goodman’s crowbar-wielding Walter ranting “find a stranger in the Alps” gets a great deal of the attention, but the whole movie is loaded with absurdist dialog that is more about keeping the meter of the scene than making sense.

If nothing else, it’s successful at that. The oft-overlooked second line from that scene, “this is what happens when you feed a soldier scrambled eggs!” is also a proven winner, but doesn’t have quite the cultural cachet of Europe’s most famous mountain range.

Showgirls

The whole point of Paul Verhoeven’s maligned sexploitation film is to be a salacious expose of show business, with all the foul language, seedy clubs, nudity, and Kyle MacLachlan that entails.

Like Verhoeven’s magnum opus RoboCop, Showgirls was given the highest possible rating in the prudish United States. The NC-17 rating is a death sentence for any film hoping to be distributed theatrically or, at the time, in video stores, as Blockbuster and other major chains refused to stock NC-17 films. Ironically, unrated films were fine, so skip the MPAA and release an unrated cut and the movie is somehow less objectionable.

The naughtiness of the film didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most popular home video releases of all time, and the ensuing cult of Showgirls is strong enough that basic cable networks like VH1 and Pop in the US have taken to regularly showing the film, albeit with a few… subtle changes.

Gone are the acres of flesh on display and topless exposition moments in dressing rooms, replaced with drawn-on cartoon bikini tops. Where thongs once sufficed, widened bikini bottoms were animated into the film to add a little more coverage. Blurs are distracting, but an MS-Paint bikini top? Now we’re talking!

Perhaps that was the bit that inspired Disney for the next odd television edit.

Splash

There’s one shot of a bottom in Splash, as Daryl Hannah’s legged mermaid retreats back into the ocean. Is it salacious? No. Can you actually see anything during that moment? Again, no. Did that stop it being altered? Not at all.

Splash was the first movie released by Disney imprint Touchstone Pictures, which released movies aimed at a more mature audience.

Presumably, it’s an audience that could withstand seeing brief glimpses of cheekiness. Ironically, in the original film, mermaid Madison’s gluteal cleft is mostly obscured by hair. Disney, upon adding Splash to its Disney+ service, turned the tasteful moment Madison says goodbye to Tom Hanks’s Allen Bauer into a mockery by giving Madison a pair of bright yellow hair shorts that look like nothing found in nature, or on store shelves.

Disney should have taken a page from Showgirls and just drawn a cartoon bikini onto Hannah, given the Mouse’s background as an animation studio.

Mallrats

One of the strangest ones of this list, Mallrats has one of the most infamous television edits of all time. It’s not a good edit, it’s a laughably awful one that has persisted for the better part of three decades.

The Mallrats TV cut is a completely different beast from the theatrical cut, based solely off of just how much the film’s dialogue and plot are mangled in the process of turning it family friendly. Kevin Smith is a writer and director known for wordy, witty, foul-mouthed scripts, and Mallrats is no exception.

Perhaps, given time, Smith could have written a television friendlier version of his script that kept the tone of scenes intact, but not only does it seem Smith was not involved, none of the original actors were either. At various points, every character morphs, sometimes in mid-sentence, into a completely different person. Jay’s Jersey accent and distinctive delivery becomes someone with a generic California surfer accent trying to sound like Jay, spouting new lines that are either too short or too long to fit into the actual scene.

It’s absolutely shambolic, and a meme in my circle well before The Big Lebowski became an actual meme.

It’s more than just a sloppy dub. The TV version of Mallrats changes Brodie’s chocolate covered pretzel stink palm to moldy pretzels – “They’re a bit moldy, but man are they tempting!” – the references to backside frolics between Tricia and Shannon are removed entirely, and, curiously, rather than breaking wind during oral sex, Brodie now vomits in front of Shannen Doherty’s Rene, because… “when I’m relaxed, I’m sick.”

Smith’s later Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, another television staple, was also dubbed pretty significantly, but in that case it was dubbing by omission, rather than wholesale rewriting of the film. The best clips of the altered Mallrats are all available at the View Askew website, here: http://viewaskew.com/sounds/abcrats/

Scarface

The edit that spawned the genesis of this article when Film Stories’ award-losing editor Simon Brew responded to someone with the simple quip, “eating pineapple.” One of the most famous movies edited for television, Scarface is full of winners, like “a chicken waiting to be plucked,” “I don’t need that stuff,” and of course, that pineapple-eating facial scar Tony Montana picked up back home in Cuba.

Given the pointiness of pineapple, it’s both a funny mental image and entirely possible to end up with a scar due to carelessly indulging in tropical fruit. We’ve all done it.

Another gangster movie, Casino, suffers similar bowdlerization at the hands of the television censors, with people being told, “Freak you” and “Stuff you, you maggot!” among other interesting insults.

Funny in context, but even funnier when Joe Pesci repeats the lines back to Craig Vincent’s aggressive cowboy before beating him with the phone, or when Sharon Stone storms out of a room telling Robert De Niro’s Ace, “Freak you!” with as much anger as humanly possible.

Still, none of them are as funny as suggesting to someone that they should stick their head up their toilet.

Snakes On A Plane

The most famous line in the movie Snakes On A Plane, one written specifically for Samuel L. Jackson to deliver with his characteristic bluster: “I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane!”. Or at least a more profanity-led version of those words.

Interestingly, the line itself was added to the film, along with more violence and nudity, as a result of fan demand on the Internet. Much like the Snyder Cut of Justice League, New Line bowed to online pressure and delivered an R-rated action comedy by adding material to the approved PG-13 version that was ready for distribution.

As a result, Snakes On A Plane is the rare TV edit that restores the studio’s original vision. Snakes On A Plane was never meant to have an R rating in the first place, but the Internet demanded it; the TV edit returns the film to the way it was meant to be seen, with one additional hilarious line – a line performed by Jackson himself, in this case.

Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With A Vengeance

Another duo of great edits, if only for how bad they are.

Die Hard 2 suffers from several Mallrats moment for a start, as Bruce Willis’s iconic line is delivered by someone else speaking through Bruce’s lips, “Yippie-ki yay, Mister Falcon.”

However, the TV edit at least tries to make some sense out of Mr Falcon. Earlier, one of the soldiers on the plane refers to Franco Nero’s Esperanza (codename Falcon) directly as Mr Falcon after all.

That said, while the edits delivered by the faux Willis are notable at various points in the movie, Willis’s potty mouth is obscured by other actors: a noteworthy one is when Bruce says to Samantha, in William Sadler’s voice “joke off!. At various points, two completely different voice actors are in conversation, such as the moment when John McClane meets with Dennis Franz’s Carmine Lorenzo and both suddenly become wildly different people.

Making less sense is the Die Hard With A Vengeance cut, which neuters the language on the sandwich board McClane wears in Harlem from the objectionable original to ‘I Hate Everyone.’

Following along, the FX network cut of the film also chops out the moment where, when asked by Samuel L Jackson’s Zeus if he’s intentionally trying to hit people, McClane responds, “No! Well, maybe that mime…” FX bowed to the power of the mime industry on that one, after editing out most of the violence and blood. Similarly, the UK cinema version of Die Hard With A Vengeance was edited by 12 seconds and most of the profanity was overdubbed by the distributors to attain a more lucrative certificate. The original film was restored in the UK by the BBFC in 2008.

Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead

One of the funniest DVD extras in recent memory is the censored version of Hot Fuzz. Rather than an actual TV edit, it’s a highlight reel of the best TV edits, full of funking silt and barstools, and fuzzy busy-bodies that perfectly spoofs the cleaned-up versions of pretty much every 80’s and 90’s action movie the film itself lovingly spoofs. Ditto the brilliant Shaun of the Dead, in which Funky Pete tells Shaun and Ed in no uncertain terms to funk themselves even after being called a prink. Whatever a prink is. The extras, Hot Funk and Funky Pete, are brilliant editions to the DVD special features, and if you disagree, fudge off you funk-ugly pee-taker. It’s as much a meta commentary as it is actual editing, but that only serves to make it funnier.

The Usual Suspects

The most famous scene in The Usual Suspects is the line-up sequence. You have the titular Suspects together, and one after another they recite the one thing the robbed truck driver remembers being said to him during the hijacking.

One by one, the actors step forward, and announce, er, “hand me the keys, you fairy godmother.”

From Kevin Pollack’s exhausted take to Stephen Baldwin’s mania, the dubbing in these scenes works surprisingly well. When Benicio Del Toro’s Fred Fenster steps forward and laughs at the thought of saying the line, somehow it feels more real than the original.

Kudos to the actors, who deliver the new line with Samuel L Jackson levels of character-appropriateness and vigour.

RoboCop

Doubtless that Paul Verhoeven could take up almost every spot on this countdown, but the edited for TV versions plural of RoboCop are as good as anything in the rest of this list. It seems as though any line, no matter how innocuous, was at risk of being chopped up and recut into something else entirely.

Editing out violence makes sense. You can’t show Emil exploding after being hit by Boddicker’s car during family hours. But strangely enough, you can show him melting after being doused with toxic waste.

Softening the impact of Murphy’s murder scene also makes sense; even without showing the squibs and his hand getting blown off, Murphy’s screaming and the gang running out of bullets while shooting him make for a troubling scene. May as well soften that up with a little string music and clever editing! And the one scene of naked chestage in the police locker room? A Showgirls cartoon bikini top solves that problem.

But other cuts are stranger. For example, Robert DoQui’s Sergeant Reed no longer calls Boddicker’s lawyer a scumbag; now, he’s a crumbag, and his clients are crumbags.

ED-209 still guns down unfortunate OCP executive Kinney in the board room, but rather than explode outward in gouts of red, he just kind of jiggles around before falling backwards, with no blood.

Murphy, the volunteer, is no longer some poor schmuck, he’s now just a poor guy. RoboCop is now a bad “mother-crusher,” who Bob Morton now “really loves.”

And the first scene in which RoboCop stops a criminal? That liquor store robber goes from having a bad day to having an existential crisis, with his profanity changed to a Nancy Kerrigan-like string of “Why me? Why me?!”

At least Clarence Boddicker is now polite enough to respectfully say, “Ladies, leave” when chasing away Bob’s ladies of the evening prior to killing him with a hand-grenade…

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