There’s an art to the “edited for television” movie. A good edit is a thing of precision, like brain surgery. A bad edit is a thing of significantly less precision, like cut-rate brain surgery performed under a bridge. In a good edit, the expletives or “adult” material of the original film are cleaned up so unobtrusively that even if you’ve seen the film before, you don’t notice that a change has been made. If you haven’t seen the film before, a well-edited TV version seems, for all intents and purposes, like the director or screenwriter’s original vision.
These are not those edits.
The TV edits in this list have become somewhat legendary in their awfulness, either because the dubbing is far below the acceptable standard, or because the choice of alternative dialogue is so fanciful and absurd that it completely takes you out of the cinematic experience. This isn’t to say these edits actually make the films less fun to watch—if anything, they add a head-scratching layer of meta comedy that make the films even more memorable.
1. Jackie Brown, 1997
To watch the Jackie Brown TV edit, you’d think that they must have somehow decided to commit to the project without ever having seen the film before. It’s hard enough to fix the dialogue of a film when it’s full of f-bombs, but practically every other word out of Samuel L. Jackson’s mouth in this film isn’t just “fucker” but “motherfucker,” which adds another degree of difficulty. And oh my, how they improvise. Seemingly any combination of two words that begin with “M” and “F” were deemed acceptable: “motor fingers,” “melon farmer,” “melon feeler,” “motor scooters” and plenty of “mother’s fathers.” At times, they almost seem to make sense, as when Jackson says “my mutual fundin’ money” —turns out he’s a conservatively invested gun smuggler! The edit almost makes his character completely incomprehensible, because it screws with the flow of his speech so much that he sounds like one of the “jive talkers” from Airplane.
It’s not just Jackson, either. Everyone gets the bad edit treatment in Jackie Brown, including blaxploitation star Pam Grier, who gets saddled with lots of resigned “mother lovers” and stresses she “isn’t saying another doggone word.”
2. The Matrix, 1999
The funny thing about The Matrix TV edit is that you would initially expect it to somehow be editing for violence, until you realize that, despite all the fists and gunshots, it’s a surprisingly bloodless film. No, the nature of The Matrix edit is largely for language, but unlike Jackie Brown, which you expect to have stripped of all its f-bombs, can you really name anything in advance that would need to be removed from The Matrix? No, right?
Perhaps that’s why it seems so incredibly awkward when exclamations of “Jesus!” are turned into “Jeepers creepers, that thing’s real!?” or “Judas Priest, he’s fast!” Yes, it seems that someone at AMC had a problem with the casual taking of the Lord’s name in vain, so you’ll see this version of the film every time they re-air it, which is often. The rest of the film is littered with other little language and profanity bonuses, all equally awkward. One of the best is when “Mr. Anderson” decides to grow a little backbone and stand up to the agents interrogating him by giving them the finger. Except in the TV edit, he tells them that they’re getting “the flipper,” complete with a digitally removed middle finger. Amazing.
3. The Big Lebowski, 1998
This one has gotten so much attention that you may well have seen it circulating around the internet before, but it’s too great to leave out. The whole movie is peppered with plenty of f-bombs and “shits” to replace, but it’s the scene of Walter smashing what he believes is high schooler Larry’s car that has become famous. If you’ve never seen the film, Walter is supposed to be showing Larry what happens when “you fuck a stranger in the ass.” That becomes the following:
“You see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps? This is what happens! This is what happens when you inaudible scrambled eggs!” Personally, I think it sounds like “when you feed a stroller scrambled eggs,” but that seems unlikely.
Imagine having no idea of the original line, in this context. You’re just some guy watching The Big Lebowski on cable for the first time, because you’ve heard it’s a cult classic. And suddenly you’ve got John Goodman screaming about finding a stranger in Europe’s most expansive mountain range, and cooking them eggs. It’s like they were so concerned about keeping the relative tempo of the original line that they just decided it didn’t matter one iota whether the replacement could be rationalized by the viewer. The blithe disregard for reality in this line makes me laugh every time.
4. Die Hard 2, 1990
The TV edit of Die Hard 2 is rightly famous for one line in particular, which comes in the big conclusion when John McClane uses a trail of fuel to blow up the escaping 747 filled with villains. The classic line is of course “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” in parody of his cowboy “Roy Rogers” nickname, but this time the climactic zinger is edited to “Yippee-ki-yay, Mr. Falcon!” It’s worse than any of the f-bomb replacements used in Jackie Brown because it’s more inherently confusing—it sounds like he’s addressing some character the audience has never met, named Mr. Falcon. There is of course no Mr. Falcon in the movie.
But despite the fact that this is the most famous edited line, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg in this TV edit. The attempts to match the tone/voice of Dennis Franz’s Captain Lorenzo and especially Willis himself are seemingly nonexistent—every time you hear one of the overdubbed lines, it sounds like some kind of audio error in the soundtrack. I mean really, who tells someone to go “joke off”? And at one point, there’s an incredible overdub of Willis saying all of the following: “Hey, forget Monday morning! My wife’s on one of these damn planes these guys are foolin’ with! That puts me on the playing field! And if you had moved your fat feet when I told you to, we wouldn’t be hip-deep in snow right now!”
Seriously, that’s an entire overdubbed paragraph of conversation, and the whole thing is delivered by a faux Bruce Willis voice that sounds like Grover the muppet, trying to choke back tears.
5. Casino, 1995
Everything we said about Jackie Brown pretty much goes double for Casino. You can understand why they’d want to be able to show it on TV—another Martin Scorsese gangster movie like Goodfellas, with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci will put those Dad butts in the seats! But good god, the language cleanup that they have to perform on this movie. Long, drawn out “FORGET YOU!” and “SCREW YOU!” montages from the likes of Pesci and Sharon Stone can be found on YouTube, and you have to love their use of “mother forgetter.”
But on a deeper level, this edit just mangles the flow of every single conversation in Casino. You don’t even realize how much profanity is in the film until you watch the edit, which makes it all the more conspicuous, thanks to the poor dubbing. Just look at this one scene above, with DeNiro and Pesci arguing in the desert. I’m not even going to try and count how many language edits they managed to cram into two minutes there.
If we’re all bound for hell, then surely Martin Scorsese’s punishment will be that he has to watch the TV edits of these films on repeat.
Bonus scene: The Usual Suspects
There are so many other individual scenes I could include, but the best instances of bad TV edits are the ones that call attention to the edit by repeatedly referencing it or making the edited phrases integral to the plot. That’s why the lineup scene of The Usual Suspects is so sublime. We don’t just get one “Hand me the keys, you fairy godmother,” we get it FIVE TIMES. It’s bowdlerization of the finest order.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and TV movie junkie. You can follow him on Twitter.