When you’ve seen a classic movie countless times, it’s so easy to settle into the idea that it’s a cultural artifact that couldn’t have possibly turned out any other way. It’s the feeling—a certainty, really—that some higher power had actually decreed that Julia Roberts would star in Pretty Woman, that the villain in Scream would wear a mask inspired by Edvard Munch, and that Big would feature a large man-boy dancing across the keys of an enormous piano. I mean, it couldn’t have happened any other way, right?!
Well, what if I told you that those films almost turned out completely differently? And not only that, but there’s an alternate universe in which those movies aren’t even titled Pretty Woman, Scream, and Big—but actually go by $3,000, Scary Movie, and When I Grow Up, respectively? Pretty crazy, right? For those and more downright bad names for your favorite films that we’re so glad didn’t actually happen, read on, because we’ve compiled them all right here. And for more wildly entertaining Hollywood what-ifs, check out the 50 Iconic Movie Roles That Almost Went to Someone Else.
This phrase, which means “the inability to feel pleasure,” was the working title of what would become Annie Hall. As originally conceived, the relationship between Woody Allen’s and Diane Keaton’s characters would just be one of three threads in the storyline.
As cowriter Marshall Brickman described to Vanity Fair: “It was like being in the desert between two mirages. You walk toward one and it looks great from a distance, and then as you get closer it starts to disintegrate, so you start walking toward the other one. Finally, Woody said the thing that has a chance of getting a little notice is the thing that had never been done, the thing with the greater risk. So clearly that meant we would try to do the one that turned into Annie Hall. And he was right.”
Spaceman From Pluto
The studio execs would have wished they’d had a time machine to go back and change this title if they’d gone with Spaceman from Pluto as the name for the sci-fi classic Back to the Future. The weird name had been suggested by Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg, who felt the word “future” would be a turnoff for audiences. Steven Spielberg, a producer on the film, (maybe purposely) took the suggestion as a joke and told Sheinberg he “got a kick out of it” and Back to the Future stuck. And for more fascinating film knowledge, check out the 50 Famous Movie Lines That Were Definitely Ad-Libbed.
The Cut-Whore Killings
The development of the 1992 revisionist Western Unforgiven dates back to 1976, when David Webb Peoples titled his screenplay that starts with the maiming of a prostitute The Cut-Whore Killings. Wisely realizing that such a title might not attract too many viewers, it was, for a time, changed to The William Munny Killings before getting rebranded Unforgiven and going on to earn four Oscars, including Best Picture. And for more great film trivia, check out the 25 Funny Pranks from the Sets of Your Favorite Movies.
This is not some futuristic dystopian film, but the story of a hooker with a heart of gold, whose john agrees to pay her that amount of money for a week of her services. Fortunately, it became clear that putting the focus on the financial transaction at the center of the film was less likely to get people in the theater than getting audiences to focus on the Pretty Woman at its center. (Also, its dark ending was also wisely revised.)
The Real World
That was going to be the original title of Gen-X cornerstone Reality Bites, until MTV’s reality show of the same name debuted and the film was renamed. And if seeing Winona Ryder takes you back, check out these 30 Facts That Will Overwhelm You with 1990s Nostalgia.
Written as a spoof of action films of the 80s, the pair of college friends who came up with the story for Last Action Hero gave it the tongue-in-cheek title Extremely Violent. While original writers Zak Penn and Adam Leff imagined it as a witty meta-commentary on the genre—sort of like a Scream for action films—it went through the Hollywood sausage grinder and came out the other end a good bit more saccharine and less funny than originally planned, and that extended to its title.
Everybody Comes to Rick’s
That was the title of a stage play about an upscale Moroccan nightclub that becomes the center of tensions between members of Vichy French and German officers, refugees, and the titular tough-talking American that would eventually become Casablanca.
Though the play hadn’t been produced for the stage at the time, it sold to Warner Bros. for the at-the-time record-breaking sum of $20,000 and went on to be considered one of the greatest films ever made.
A disgusting title for a seriously unsettling movie, this was the original name Tobe Hooper gave to his gritty horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before going in a more literal direction.
Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Your Reader Will Love But The Executive Will Hate
A pretty goofy but at least accurate name for the movie that would eventually become American Pie. It’s a lot better than the much duller name it was temporarily given, East Great Falls High. And if you love comedies, then check out the 25 Hilarious Clichés in Every Rom-Com.
Before it was Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s interlocking stories of crime, drugs, and ball gags was named after the magazine of hardboiled detective crime stories, Black Mask (which Tarantino also intended as a reference to Mario Bava’s three-part Italian horror film Black Sabbath).
Instead, “the end result is indeed far from the hardboiled detective stories of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or Paul Cain (the stars of Black Mask’s lineup),” as film critic Geoffrey O’Brien puts it. “It does however connect rather powerfully to a parallel pulp tradition, the tales of terror and the uncanny.”
Martin Scorsese’s mob classic Goodfellas was originally going to be named after the book it was based on: Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. The film’s name was changed, not because it turned state’s evidence, but because Brian De Palma had made Wise Guys a few years before and a TV series called Wiseguy had been running from 1987–1990.
Revenge of the Jedi
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan originally named the third Star Wars movie the title it would eventually be released under—Return of the Jedi—but he says that for a period, creator George Lucas felt it was a “weak title” and instead opted for Revenge of the Jedi, capturing the more active tone.
Eventually the title returned to Return, but Lucas would eventually get his “revenge” in the title with the 2005 release of Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.
That was the original name given to the superhero Parr family and the movie about them. Perhaps because it might tamp down the audience’s excitement if they knew that the heroes could not be defeated, the title became The Incredibles. Another intriguing title was the codename the project was given internally at Pixar, which would have made a pretty good title, too: Tights.
The name of the hospital in Scorcese’s Shutter Island, this was originally going to be the film’s title before the name was changed, perhaps because it was easier for audiences to pronounce. And to this day, Shutter Island‘s ending is still one of The 15 Most Debated Movie Endings of All Time.
The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night
If this sounds more like a sociological investigation than a movie title, you’re on to something. This was the original title of a 1976 New York Magazine article by journalist Nik Cohn in which he toured the dance club scene of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It served as the basis for what would make John Travolta—and strutting down the sidewalk with a paint can in hand—undeniably cool: Saturday Night Fever.
Tonight, He Comes
This was the title of the script about a down-on-his-luck superhero that would eventually become the Will Smith vehicle Hancock. Rather than playing the anti-hero antics for laughs, the original script was “an overwrought melodrama about a nihilistic superhero who helps a schlubby man and his son stand up for themselves,” according to Gizmodo.
Not Tonight, Josephine
A reference to the name that Tony Curtis’ character assumes when he puts on drag in this raunchy screwball Billy Wilder comedy, it is also believed to be a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte’s response when Empress Josephine asked him for sex. It also proved to be a less desirable name than Some Like It Hot.
Affairs of the Heart
Yes, affairs were definitely happening in Fatal Attraction, but this original title sounded more like a bodice-ripping romance than a thriller. After weak responses from audiences, the film received a new title—and a new, more crowd-pleasing ending.
The original title of another Michael Douglas-in-peril sexy thriller, this one would go on to be renamed Basic Instinct—and change police interrogation scenes forever. And for more fascinating film tidbits, here are 30 Shocking Facts about Your Favorite Movies.
When I Grow Up
This movie about a teenager who suddenly gets his wish to be an adult was originally going to get this title until it was decided a simpler, shorter name would be more likely to appeal to audiences, leading it to be renamed Big.
Considering that plenty of the action of this film takes place on the U.S. Route 66, this title made sense as the name for the Pixar movie that would become the blockbuster Cars. But as the film was being developed, the title was changed to avoid any confusion with the 1960 TV show with the same name.
Batteries Not Included
That was the original title of creepy-doll horror classic Child’s Play. As creator Don Mancini explained, “I was living in a house off-campus with three other film students, one of whom had graduated and was working as an assistant to a producer at Orion Pictures. She passed it on to his boss, who read it and passed it on to an agent. He got wind Steven Spielberg was doing a movie with the same title and suggested I change it.”
It first went out as Blood Buddy before becoming Child’s Play. And if you love scary movies, then check out the 40 Best Horror Movies for Totally Freaking Yourself Out.
This was the original title of what would become the film Final Destination—though rather than a standalone film, it was the title of an episode of The X-Files, in which Agent Dana Scully’s brother cheats death when he has a vision that the flight he’s about to board will crash, and manages to cheat death. Instead of a TV episode, it got a new name and became a hit film franchise.
Pacific Air Flight 121
The Internet went crazy for the B-movie titled Snakes on a Plane and went even crazier when it learned that none other than Samuel L. Jackson would be starring as the snake-killing hero of the movie. So it’s hard to figure why the powers that be briefly tried to change the name to this generic disaster movie. Fortunately, Jackson stepped in and set them straight.
“The title was what got my attention,” he said during the film’s promotion. “I got on the set one day and heard they changed it, and I said, ‘What are you doing here? It’s not Gone with the Wind. It’s not On the Waterfront. It’s Snakes on a Plane!’ They were afraid it gave too much away, and I said, “That’s exactly what you should do. When audiences hear it, they say, ‘We are there!'”
The Lunch Bunch
The Breakfast Club was originally going to take place a little later in the day. Director and writer John Hughes had the idea for a group of high school kids stuck in detention, but hadn’t settled on a timeframe or title when it was first being developed, and both Library Revolution and Lunch Bunch were considered before he settled on the most important meal of the day. And if you love the ’80s, then check out these 30 Facts That Will Overwhelm You with 1980s Nostalgia.
Fear and Trembling
This nod to Danish existentialism (and a literal description of the symptoms of those suffering the sensation) was the working title of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
This title was one of several that were considered—including From Among the Dead and Darkling I Listen—before being tossed from the top of a proverbial bell tower.
Before Scary Movie was a parody of Scream, Scream was Scary Movie. That was the title screenwriter Kevin Williamson originally gave this self-aware slasher film, which held on to the name during the film’s early development and casting before producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein changed it to Scream, feeling that the new title better conveyed the humor and satire of the film.
Though both Williamson and director Wes Craven disliked the title change, they eventually came around to it.
The two words might mean the same thing, but it’s hard to imagine that Hunter would have become a title as iconic as Predator would when it was released in 1987.
Take It Like a Man
In 1999, the film that tells the real-life story of trans man Brandon Teena was first shown in snippets at the Sundance Film Festival in order to get funding. It did so, and went on to earn an Oscar at the Academy Awards, after changing its name to Boys Don’t Cry.
The Last First Kiss
This working title referred to a line that a “date doctor” played by Will Smith delivers to his schlubby client, played by Kevin James, about a woman he’s first starting to date: “This could be her last first kiss.” As poetic as this might sound, the studio opted to keep the focus on the star, naming it after Will Smith’s character, Hitch.
If you rename it, people will come. Shoeless Joe was the name of the novel on which Field of Dreams was based and that served as the working title of the movie as well.
However, the new name helped make it clear that this was about big ideas, and something even non-baseball fans could appreciate—and earned four stars from Roger Ebert, who said it was “the kind of movie Frank Capra might have directed, and James Stewart might have starred in—a movie about dreams.”
Well, at least you knew what the movie was all about with a title like that. This romantic comedy about a guy in a coma—and how his brother and the woman who saved his life fall in love—was also called Coma Girl before its writers opted for the more whimsical title of While You Were Sleeping.
Originally the title of a 1954 sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein, this became the title of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s horror movie about the members of a crew of a spaceship that are hunted and killed by a nasty extraterrestrial.
While Star Beast might have described the monster—though it sounds a bit cuter than the H.R. Geiger horror in the film—O’Bannon eventually lost interest in the title and opted to call it by a word that appeared many times throughout the script: Alien.
The idea for this movie came to Steven Spielberg while he was researching what would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind and came across a story of a family that claimed to have their own alien encounter.
He tapped screenwriter John Sayles to flesh out what would become Night Skies—then opted to just use the last scene of it and build his own “very personal story about the divorce of my parents,” as he describes it—what would become E.T.
Watch The Skies
Close Encounters of the Third Kind had its own name change. Spielberg liked this title not just because of its obvious relevance to the story of a man whose life is changed by encountering a UFO, but it also referenced the classic sci-fi film The Thing From Another World.
An 1980s comedy about a cool high school kid who has a bit too much fun and loses his driver’s license? Not quite.
This was the working title of License to Kill (in which Timothy Dalton’s James Bond is indeed suspended from MI6). But as test audiences reportedly associating the phrase with driving, it became clear that a name change was needed.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The title of the Philip K. Dick story on which Blade Runner was based does not exactly roll off the tongue—or convey the dark, futuristic noir vibe of the Harrison Ford vehicle.
A Long Night at Camp Blood
Though there was no Camp Blood in the film, there were plenty of bloody campers, making this an arguably more accurate title for what would become Friday the 13th.
Screenwriter Victor Miller used this as his working title while drafting the script, but director Sean Cunningham was adamant that it be called Friday the 13th (a title he wanted for the project before he’d even worked out what the movie would even be about).
The Babysitter Murders
This title tells you just what to expect from this horror movie about a psycho who is stalking and hunting babysitters.
But when the film’s producer pointed out that the film could be set on Halloween night and named after the holiday (which would ensure plenty of name recognition), cowriter and director John Carpenter agreed, and the horror classic Halloween was christened.
While it may not be a classic (or even a hit), the 2010 Russel Crowe movie Robin Hood was interesting precisely because it changed its name—or what that name change represented.
While Nottingham had originally been planned as a more sympathetic portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham with a less flattering depiction of Robin himself—and maybe having Crowe play both roles—director Ridley Scott grew dissatisfied with the script and ended up having it return to a more traditional dynamic. Audiences didn’t seem to see much point in seeing the same story again, and skipped it.
There’s Something About Sarah
It’s not a huge difference from There’s Something About Mary, but the Farrelly brothers opted at some point that “Mary” had a better ring to it for the name of Cameron Diaz’s character than the original “Sarah.”
I’m With Cancer
For much of the early development of this comedy-drama about a young man diagnosed with cancer and how he and his friend deal with it, this movie was renamed to the more ambiguous 50/50.
The title of the film Cloverfield never really had anything to do with what actually happens in the found-footage monster movie (the final title presumably came from the street on which the Bad Robot movie studio’s production office is set). But on set, a number of other, equally meaningless titles were tossed around, including Cheese, Chocolate Orange, and the totally meaningless word, Slusho.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito had nothing to do with this body horror movie about a pair of identical twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons, but it was based on a book of the title Twins. It would eventually be renamed with the more evocative title Dead Ringers.
The working title of Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg buddy cop movie was pretty much the same title but producers decided The Other Guys was slightly funnier.
The original title of the Stephen King short story on which the film was based, The Body was switched to the more family-friendly Stand by Me to help attract a wider audience and better convey the dramedy’s coming-of-age tale of a group of friends who discover a corpse.
The Ship of Dreams
There’s a lot about Titanic that’s cheesy, but at least the studio opted not to go full cheese with the movie’s title. While The Ship of Dreams was considered for the title (a reference to the slogan used to describe the doomed White Star Line ship), the creative team opted to keep things simple and stuck with naming it after the famed ship itself.
Oh No She Didn’t
This was the original (and some would argue much better) title for the Fatal Attraction-meets-Beyoncé thriller Obsessed. While the studio went with a more generic title, it still hit number one at the box office and scared up $11 million on its opening day.
This was one of a number of titles considered for what would become Toy Story. The final title was actually just a working title that stuck—a much simpler descriptor than some of the names revealed by Pixar director Lee Unkrich, which include To Infinity and Beyond, Spurs & Rockets, and even Bring Me the Arm of Buzz Lightyear.
Originally named after the FBI agent who goes undercover into a surfing community to investigate a string of bank robberies, played by Keanu Reeves, this action flick’s original title didn’t say much about the plot itself—and the studio felt like it needed to say more.
So the film was renamed with the surfing term Point Break. And if you consider yourself a movie buff, then brush up on the 37 Movies Every Man Over 40 Should Be Able to Quote.
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