Did Nightmare on Elm Street Originally Have a Happy Ending?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Wes Craven’s original ending for A Nightmare on Elm Street was dramatically different than what made it into theaters.

If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, you might not want to read this one. You are spoiler warned!

The low-budget horror film, written and directed by Wes Craven, was a massive success upon its release in 1984 and a sequel was quickly rushed out for release the next year (the series ultimately became a successful film franchise).

However, when Craven wrote the film, he never intended it as the beginning of a franchise, and in fact, Craven’s original ending for the film had a happy ending!

The film’s protagonist, Nancy Thompson, sees basically all of her friends and her mother killed by the evil Freddy Kruegger, who attacks you in your dreams and if you die in your dream you also die in real life. Craven wanted the film to end with Nancy defeating Freddy by basically refusing to believe in him.

The next day would then open with the revelation that it was ALL a dream, and Nancy’s mother and her friends were all still alive. Here are two screen shots of that original ending…

However, the head of New Line Cinema (who financed the film – the first time the independent movie distributor actually produced its own film) Robert Shaye insisted that the ending be done in such a way to set up a sequel. Shaye compelled Craven to have Craven’s original ending modified into a “twist” ending, where what Nancy THINKS is the next day is actually still part of the nightmare, with Kruegger pulling her mother into the house and having Kruegger posess the car she and her friends are driving in and having the film end in that shocking fashion.

They ultimately filmed four versions of the ending – the happy one, the twist one and two compromise versions (mostly the twist ending, but with slight changes). They went with the twist ending. Craven decided not to do the second film, although he later returned to the film franchise for a few of the sequels.

The legend) is….


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3 Responses to “Did Nightmare on Elm Street Originally Have a Happy Ending?”

  1. Neither ending works for me. “It was all just a dream” is of course one of the worst cliches in cinema, going all the way back to the Silent Era (the only time I think it ever worked was in Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window, where it actually made sense), but “It’s all just a dream…or is it?” isn’t far behind ( I can only think of two instances this time where it worked, in Back to the Future and the great British horror anthology Dead of Night).

  2. ParanoidObsessive on June 18th, 2016 at 8:25 am

    “It was all just a dream is of course one of the worst cliches in cinema, going all the way back to the Silent Era”

    To be fair, it’s at least somewhat more justifiable when you’re dealing with a movie entirely built around dreams, and what happens in them. At that point, it’s more like the usual slasher movie “WHAM” moment where it turns out the killer wasn’t really dead after all (like Michael Myers’s body disappearing at the end of Halloween).

    The movie as-is is saying “Hah hah, you thought you won, but you didn’t.” With Freddy, that pretty much HAS to mean “You’re still dreaming.”

    I’ll grant that “It was all a dream right from the very beginning!” always feels a bit cheaper, though. Mainly because it often translates into “You just wasted the last [insert movie run time here] minutes of your life, because none of it really mattered contextually!”

  3. I remember thinking as I watched the film’s ending that it was absolutely brilliant that it ended with it all having been a dream. Then, of course, it was utterly ruined by the cheap nonsense of the “twist” which was nothing but a cash grab for the sequel. And so I never watched another one of them in the “franchise.”

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