Ask your run-of-the-mill movie executive what the hardest part of her daily life is and she’ll tell you: Finding a safe place to store the piles upon piles of hundred dollar bills she made last Tuesday. Aside from that, life as a Hollywood big wig seems pretty sweet. Rubbing elbows with famous movie stars, swimming Scrooge McDuck-style through their vaults of gold coins, and, most importantly, making cinematic magic on a daily basis. This last one, however, comes fraught with challenges. Once the budgets are set, the rights obtained, and the cast and crew are signed on, there’s still one major obstacle standing in the way of Joe Executive and his next pair of diamond-clad overalls (rich people wear overalls, right…?): The film’s title.
Because it’s the very first thing that millions, if not billions, of people know about a given movie, the title has an almost unfair ability to profoundly influence the movie-going public. A title can literally make or break a film. Take, for instance, the 2013 Tom Cruise science fiction action film Edge of Tomorrow. Critics and (the admittedly sparse) audiences who saw the movie universally lauded the acting, the special effects, and the story. By all accounts it is a very good film. That doesn’t change the fact that only about 9 people actually saw the movie in theaters. Why? One theory for the film’s commercial failure was its vague title. No one knew what to expect going in. So, rather than be disappointed, they just stayed away. The film’s producers went so far as to change the movie’s name for the DVD release.
Movie-goers are by nature an easily swayed bunch and if their interests aren’t piqued early on, they’ll skip the unfamiliar movie and go see Transformers 8: Explosive Product Placements for the third time.
Some of the most famous movies ever were very nearly saddled with some of the stupidest names in Hollywood history. Luckily, common sense prevailed and the names were changed before release. But we can still take a certain sick pleasure in the following descriptive disasters that were almost unleashed on the unsuspecting public…
10. Star Beast (Alien)
Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien is undoubtedly one of the most influential movies ever made. Its 1979 release paved the way for countless science-fiction and horror films to come and it launched both Scott and lead actress Sigourney Weaver into mainstream stardom.
The movie’s success ushered in a new era of gritty, intense science-fiction movies and it served as the keystone for a successful film franchise that continues to this day. One wonders, however, if Alien would have been the rousing achievement it was had it been released under its original name: Star Beast.
The movie’s screenwriter came to his senses and gave Alien its eventual title during early pre-production. It’s a shame we’ll never get that Star Beast vs. Predator crossover we’ve all been waiting for.
9. Everybody Comes To Rick’s (Casablanca)
Speaking of wildly influential movies, Casablanca, released shortly after the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1943, has long been held up as a paragon of American cinema. The film stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and centers on the doomed romance between the impossibly cool Rick (Bogart) and his former lover Isla (Bergman).
The film is known for its sharp writing and its endlessly quotable dialogue. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the movie was given such a poignant and pithy title. But that wasn’t always the case.
Casablanca was based on an unproduced and clumsily titled play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Fortunately, the powers that be at Warner Bros. had the good sense to ditch the clunky title and a cinematic classic was born.
8. Spaceman From Pluto (Back to the Future)
It seems downright sacrilegious to criticize, even indirectly, a film as beloved as Back to the Future, but this one had it coming. Early in the production process, an executive at Universal Pictures had the brilliant idea of changing the script’s title, believing successful movies didn’t have the word “future” in them (cocaine’s a hell of a drug).
He repeatedly pressured Robert Zemeckis, the director, to change the title. His suggestion?
Spaceman from Pluto. Seriously! Thankfully, Steven Spielberg intervened on behalf of rational human beings everywhere and single-handedly saved the 1980s.
7. $3000 (Pretty Woman)
Of all the potential inspirations for romantic comedies that exist in the world, prostitution has to rank right up there with human trafficking and colonoscopies on the list of things that don’t exactly make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside…
You’ve got to hand it to the people who made Pretty Woman, then, because the film has managed to become a rom com staple despite the fact that it (in)directly glamorizes the world’s oldest profession. The film is so beloved because it emphasizes Julia Roberts character and downplays the significance of her unsavory occupation. The movie’s original title, however, would never have let viewers forget that the main character was a call girl.
The original title was $3000, a rather on-the-nose reference to the price that the film’s billionaire love interest was willing to pay for Julia Roberts’ – umm – services.
6. A Long Night At Camp Blood (Friday the 13th)
No one is ever going to accuse the creators of the Jason Voorhees’ franchise of being terribly original in the naming department. Still, the film that started it all, Friday the 13th, has a certain sinister ring to it that still strikes fear in the hearts of movie-goers the world over.
Would that be the case had the original film, not to mention the dozen or so sequels, been saddled with a title that sounds less like a horror film and more like a community college student’s failed creative writing assignment?
The project’s working title was A Long Night at Camp Blood and the world is eternally grateful that it didn’t make it past the planning stages.
5. Head Cheese (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Sticking with the horror genre for a spell longer, one of the most iconic slasher films ever made went through several name changes before producers finally settled on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The original script was titled Leatherface, named for the movie’s lovable chainsaw-wielding maniac with a heart of gold.
Leatherface would have been a perfectly acceptable title (one could argue it’s actually a better title than the one the film eventually wound up with). But, no…
The film was very nearly released under a much less iconic and much more insane name: Head Cheese. Why? Because Hollywood, that’s why.
4. Planet Ice (Titanic)
Titanic seems like it would have been a no brainer for director James Cameron when it came time to choose a title. But he had a little more trouble than you might think.
Here’s a snippet of Cameron’s inner-dialogue while trying to figure out what to call his opus: “Okay, so it’s a massive production with a huge budget. The film is about an enormous passenger liner with many larger-than-life characters embarking once-in-a-lifetime journey across one of longest expanses of open ocean in the world. The film’s central story is about young love torn asunder by a cruel twist of fate when the impossibly large vessel’s hull is ripped apart by a colossal iceberg. I’ve got it!
Planet Ice!!! Crushed it again, James!”
3. Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Your Reader Will Love But The Executive Will Hate. (…American Pie)
The American Pie films are not high-brow, sophisticated cinema. Rather, as the name would suggest, the film series speaks to the common man, the man for whom making love to pastries and seducing his best friend’s mom are as American as apple pie.
And in an effort to get the film made, the producers pitched the script to multiple Hollywood studios with about as dead on a title as they come: Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Your Reader Will Love But The Executive Will Hate.
There’s such thing as truth in advertising, but that might be overdoing it.
2. American Dog (Bolt)
While perhaps one of the lesser known films on this list, Bolt nonetheless signaled a return to form for Walt Disney Animation Studios after a string of middling efforts in the early 2000s.
The animated movie’s eponymous dog (who sincerely believed he had super powers), along with his furry compatriots, tugged at audiences’ heartstrings and made for a decidedly original story. But the movie was almost burdened by one of the most generic movie titles in history: American Dog.
Disney, sensing audiences would be more receptive to a film with a snazzier title, thankfully changed the movie’s name before production got too far underway.
1. Oh No She Didn’t (Obsessed)
There’s no denying that the world would be a better place if the 2009 thriller “starring” Stringer Bell and Beyonce‘s awful acting had never been made. It’s so bad, in fact, that it threatens to come full circle and become a cult classic.
It could have been worse, however. Much worse.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage what remained of their dignity, the filmmakers changed the movie’s working title. What ended up in theaters was a mercifully forgettable flop with a generic title. But what almost ended up in theaters was a public relations nightmare with a childish, vaguely racist title that would have lowered the nation’s collective IQ by at least a few points…
The film was almost titled (in all seriousness) Oh No She Didn’t. We dodged a bullet, guys.