1978’s Dawn of the Dead is arguably horror legend George Romero’s best zombie film of all time, but its original ending was much, much bleaker. Now deceased, the late legend Romero effectively invented the modern zombie genre with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. Unfortunately, he didn’t profit much from that film, due to a copyright mistake landing it in the public domain. Thankfully, the same mistake didn’t happen with Dawn of the Dead, Night‘s sequel.

Dawn of the Dead began a Romero tradition of having his zombie films be centered on new characters in a new location, but still within the same established universe. Dawn of the Dead is further along in the zombie uprising, although not THAT far, as there still seems to be some debate about what exactly the zombies are and the level of threat they pose. While Night of the Living Dead focused on a ragtag group of survivors barricaded inside a Pennsylvania house, Dawn of the Dead centers on a group of four characters seeking shelter inside a large indoor shopping mall.

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While multiple cuts of Dawn of the Dead exist, one thing they all have in common is that two of the four main characters make it out alive, while the other two die and become zombies. In Romero’s original ending though, none of them survived the zombies overtaking the mall.

Dawn of the Dead’s Original Ending (& Why It Was Changed)

In Dawn of the Dead as we know it, the first member of the group to die is Roger (Scott Reiniger), who gets bitten by a zombie, turns into one, and is then mercy killed by his friend Peter (Ken Foree). Near the end of the film, helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), aka Flyboy, becomes a zombie as well, leading the other undead to where Fran (Gaylen Ross) and Peter are hiding. Peter puts Stephen out of his misery, while Fran escapes to the chopper on the roof, which by then Stephen had taught the others to fly. A cornered Peter considers shooting himself, but changes his mind, escaping to the roof and flying away with Fran.

While fans never got to find out what ultimately became of Peter and Fran after Dawn of the Dead ended, the movie at least concluded on a hopeful note. However, the ending Romero originally planned would’ve seen Peter’s brief suicide tease end with him actually committing suicide. Upon hearing the gunshot, and seeing zombies approaching the chopper, Fran would also lose hope, and off herself by sticking her head in the helicopter’s rotating blades. This ending was at least partially shot, although no footage is currently known to exist.

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During production though, George Romero took notice of how Dawn of the Dead‘s tone was often much more lighthearted and upbeat than anything in the relentlessly dour Night of the Living Dead, and came to the conclusion that a less bleak ending would be appropriate. Additionally, Romero had grown very attached to the core characters, and didn’t want them all to die. So, he made the decision to go with the ending as seen in the final cut of the film. It’s likely most Dawn of the Dead fans think he made the right move.

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