Final cut privilege (also known as "Final Cutting Authority") is the right and/or entitlement of an individual to determine the final version of a motion picture for distribution and exhibition. The authority final cut on a film can be held by film studios, studio executives, executive producers, film producers, directors, screenwriters and sometimes actors. The authority can also be shared between any of the above parties.
Studios are typically reluctant to rely on an individual not financially vested in the property to make final decisions will often hold on to this authority or grant to studio executives. In some instances, a studio may have a subsidiary that is a production company. Studio executives such as Kevin Feige for Marvel Studios and Kathleen Kennedy for Lucasfilm will often have final cut authority. Actor Matt Damon, who was a producer on the 2016 film Manchester By The Sea, had final cut authority instead of the film's director, Kenneth Lonergan. Actors can also negotiate for final cut authority. Actor Kevin Costner had final cut on the 1999 film, For Love of The Game due to the worldwide success of Dances With Wolves. Costner and director Sam Raimi had creative disputes over the finished product. Although Universal Pictures sided with Raimi changes, Costner changes were made because he contractually held the authority.
Directors will seek final cut authority due to creative reasons, however the right is usually only granted to established directors who have been determined by their record to be bankable, such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, The Wachowskis or the Coen brothers). This authority is not absolute. If a director goes over budget, runtime, over schedule and/or otherwise does not stick to the agreed upon terms, they can lose it. Should the director no longer be an employee, the authority vested in the director is passed to a pre-deterimined individual that was approved by the director and the studio prior to production. Although all parties are obligated to meaningfully consult with each other on all aspects of the film, when it gets down to final cut, it can cause conflict, which usually occurs between the director and the studio.
Independent directors and those working outside of a major U.S. film studios have other metrics to determine if final cut authority is granted to the director. For instance in France, directors whose reputations are built on artistic merit, as opposed to bankability, frequently have final cut privilege for their films. In the United States there are directors that are considered acclaimed, but not necessarily bankable directors, such as Woody Allen, Alexander Payne and Terrence Malick, who enjoy final cut privilege.