Screenshot: Alien 3

If you’re even a passing student of cinematic history, you likely know that it is littered with alternate versions, compromised studio versions, director’s cuts, bastardized director’s cuts, secret preferred re-edits, and so on. Take this as a natural outgrowth of the studio system, in which sometimes leagues of producers and writers and money-men keep a hand on the till, influencing a director’s decisions and sometimes ultimately altering the final product.

And, sure, you can rifle through Wikipedia or find some brazenly opinionated fan blog that’ll clue you in to the fact that, say, the director’s cut of The Wolfman is actually just a slightly longer version marketed by the studio, and that true Joe Johnston fans should in fact stick with the theatrical version. But that’s a pain in the ass, and you’re busy. Behold: A website called This Or That Edition is here, helpfully corralling all of the different versions of a film into one place, delineating their differences, and providing rigorously sourced evidence of which one is in fact the director’s preferred edition. It’s auteur theory as hell, but it’s also a lot of fun.

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A one-man passion project, the site has almost 200 entries, and they’re fun to rifle through whether or not you’re actually sitting down to watch something. For example, there are three versions of Terminator 2: Judgment Day out there—the theatrical cut, a special edition, and an ultimate cut. Director James Cameron had been ambiguous about which one was best, but deep on the special edition’s director’s commentary, while watching one of the added “dream” scenes, he says, “I think that the film is more powerful, the released version is so much powerful because it doesn’t have all that slow-motion running in the hospital.” Proof!

The selections lean toward action and sci-fi—Léon, The Handmaiden, Zodiac, and so on—but they’re uniformly well-executed write-ups on the various differences, as well as the director’s varying statements on them. Of course, it’s up for debate whether a director’s preferred edition is necessarily the best edition. But at the very least, the site serves as an interesting peek into the way films can dramatically shift and reform while being edited, even long after their release.