As with any medium, a title is meant to capture, in as few words as possible, the essence of the story. These can be subtle hints or outright giveaways. Some of the best titles in the history of film are only one word—The Terminator, The Godfather and Glitter. Most films aren’t so lucky to have one word sum up everything necessary. These films need to include a bit more substance in their titles to create intrigue as well as make something marketable. Once a movie plants its feet in our cultural consciousness, it’s almost impossible to see them as anything else. It’s difficult to think of what another actor would look like in the starring role, and it’s tough to picture another director calling the shots. Well, this works doubly with a film’s title. To change the primary identifier of any film is to change its entire being. To do that with great films on this list is just plain wrong.
Some titles are perfect for their movies. The creator was successful in capturing everything about the film. They were able to summarize the concept with only a few words. But not every film started out with a great title. In some cases, a film’s title needed to be altered because it wasn’t clear enough. There are other cases where a title was changed last minute because it was misleading or not expressive enough. Yet, in almost every example of the title changes on this list, the early version looks weird. It feels alien. In almost every case on this list, the early title was flat out terrible—even if the nostalgia Kool-Aid is making us feel that way. For all the flack that Hollywood films take, making (or not making in the odd case) these last minute title changes were excellent decisions. Here are 15 movie titles that were changed last minute.
15. The Breakfast Club – The Lunch Bunch
It wasn’t until a fateful meeting with a friend of his that John Hughes came up with the title of The Breakfast Club. Prior to that, this classic teen flick was going by the name of The Lunch Bunch. I guess when you really think about it, the change isn’t all that dramatic, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Plus, the original rhyming sequence was a little silly. Other titles could have been The Dinner Gang, The Brunch Posse, The Supper Crew or The Snack Pack. Of course, none of these were actually in consideration, but The Snack Pack would have been divine.
14. Stand by Me – The Body
It makes sense that Stand by Me could have been called The Body since it is based on the Stephen King novella called The Body. But the studios and the filmmakers wanted to get a title that was a little clearer. Since “the body” isn’t really what the movie is about, they felt it would be misleading for audiences. It’s interesting to note as well that Raynold Gideon, the film’s screenwriter, felt it was necessary to distance the film from Stephen King a bit because it might be seen as a horror film, which it most certainly is not. Gideon said that the reasons for the change were because “It sounded like either a sex film, a bodybuilding film or another Stephen King horror film. Rob [Reiner] came up with Stand by Me, and it ended up being the least unpopular option,” which is coincidentally the same reason I got my prom date.
13. Snakes on a Plane – Pacific Air Flight 121
The ridiculous film Snakes on a Plane is probably best known for its title. Other than the hilarity of it and the angry Samuel L. Jackson character, there is almost nothing good about the movie. So what would ever entice someone to change the title? Well, word has it that Snakes on a Plane was just the working title. Once they got closer to release, it was announced that the title would be changed to Pacific Air Flight 121. There was, fortunately, a huge problem with this. Not only had the film been hyped to death online, almost entirely because of the snake title, the only reason Samuel L. Jackson signed on to do the movie at all was because he loved the title so much. As soon as he heard that news, he said nope, and they dropped the proposition entirely. Too bad the end movie wasn’t as great as the title.
12. Obsessed – Oh No, She Didn’t
Remember this movie? Of course you don’t. It was the one with Beyoncé. No, not Austin Powers in Goldmember. The one where Ali Larter goes crazy for Idris Elba. This movie has been made a thousand times. A crazed obsessive woman, often a mistress of some sort, stalks a man to no end. We’ve seen this movie many times before: Fatal Attraction, Play Misty for Me and Swimfan all come to mind. How in the world would the brilliant minds behind this new Beyoncé film separate their film from all the others? Their plan? Name the film, Oh No She Didn’t. What? In what world is that a good title? Of course Beyoncé would be the star in that movie. Damn you, Foxy Cleopatra.
11. Last Action Hero – Extremely Violent
The film Last Action Hero, is a casualty of bad luck really. The film deserved a much better fate, and the title really encompasses a lot of the energy of the film. That’s a lot more than what can be said of the original title, Extremely Violent. Title aside, it’s been said that of all his movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger loved the script for Last Action Hero the most. That’s not to say that it was perfect. Along with a title change, Arnold asked that the Shane Black script be spruced up a bit to involve more character development. I guess when you write a movie called Extremely Violent, you’re bound to cut some corners on character arcs.
10. Child’s Play – Batteries Not Included
The 1988 Tom Holland film, Child’s Play, wasn’t all that well received by the general public. We’re not talking about ratings here. We’re saying that people literally boycotted this movie because it was seemingly directed at children. The thought was that if children watched this, they would become murderous savages. Well, many did watch, and they didn’t become savages. Sure, some did, but that wasn’t the film’s fault that was the music industry’s fault. You do have admit though, the title is a bit misleading. I wonder how many people went into it thinking it was a kid’s movie. Heh. Child’s Play was the title the filmmakers landed on after they had thrown out their first two choices: Batteries Not Included, and my personal favorite, Blood Buddies.
9. Hancock – Tonight, He Comes
Technically, Hancock, the Will Smith flop, isn’t just a new title, it’s an entirely different movie. The original script, Tonight, He Comes was similar but it was much more dark and melodramatic. The self-loathing, alcoholic and sex-obsessed superhero in the original tries to help a boy who’s being bullied in school, all the while trying to steal the kid’s mom away from his downtrodden dad. It’s all very serious. It’s also awful. After the original script was leaked, the Internet had a field day ripping it to shreds. It turns out that what ended up being a bad movie, could have been, should have been, much worse. The original had discussions about puberty, some of the worst dialogue you could ever read and some very questionable antics from the antihero. It’s hard to be thankful for the mess that was Hancock, but, when you compare it to what it might have been, it’s a masterpiece.
8. Unforgiven – The Cut-Whore Killings
The 1992 film, Unforgiven, is a brilliant movie that sort of hung around in concept for many years before it finally got made. Originally, in 1976, the script was written under the name of The Cut-Whore Killings (or The William Munny Killings, depending on who you ask). Clint Eastwood, the star and the director, said that he first received the script in the early 80s but decided to wait on it for a little while. When he finally decided to pursue it, the title was changed to a more Western title to separate it from a true-crime or even horror-sounding name. The name change might have been a sign of the times, as the new name Unforgiven, asks viewers to critique the actions of Eastwood’s character and not just accept them as justified, a more modern twist on the classic Western genre, something that was much more fitting for the 90s than the 80s.
7. Scream – Scary Movie
The meta-horror film, Scream, had a number of challenges getting made in the early days. Originally Wes Craven read the script and loved it, but he was too busy to direct it when it came to him. After some other directors were approached (but unconvinced), the script came back to Craven and he went with it, changing the name from the original, Scary Movie, to Scream. The order of events here is a little confusing, though it does seem that there was a great amount of luck involved in naming the movie Scream. Apparently, the title was inspired by the Michael Jackson song, which is interesting because it would make sense that it was inspired by the Ghostface mask, based on the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” The story goes that the mask was chosen after the title had already been changed, which seems about as serendipitous as it gets.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Head Cheese
It’s unclear why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was, at one point, titled Head Cheese. We can make some guesses here. One, Leatherface’s head looks like a block of cheese when he’s wearing a mask made of human skin. Two, Leatherface’s head smells like a block of cheese when he’s wearing a mask made of human skin. Or three, Leatherface’s head contains more cheese than brains—or he just likes cheese, a lot. All of these are possible. There’s only one thing we can be sure of. The Head Cheese title is just the worst. Tobe Hooper, the director, was in charge of the name change. He said something to the effect of, no movie can sell when “head” is in the title, and no movie can sell when “cheese” is in the title. If you were to put those two no-nos together, your film will surely implode.
5. Alien – Star Beast
There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Alien, such as the concept, the story and certain elements accused of being unoriginal, but the writer, Dan O’Bannon has actually been quite open about the whole process. He said that he “didn’t steal Alien from anybody; [he] stole it from everybody.” The title Alien, originally called Star Beast, was made after a discussion about how often the word appeared in the script. O’Bannon was said to also love how the word acted as both a noun and an adjective. These types of simple titles are devoured by Hollywood, but this one is a little more ambiguous than most. It doesn’t necessarily have to refer to what you think it refers to. It was incredibly helpful for sequels as well.
4. Back to the Future – Spaceman from Pluto
Approaching the release of Back to the Future, one of the film’s executives, Sidney Sheinberg, got it into his head that no film has ever made money with the word “future” in the title. With this in mind, he asked for the name of the film to be changed to Spaceman from Pluto, referring to Marty McFly’s arrival in 1955 as a spaceman. This new terrible title suggestion got the director, Robert Zemeckis, into a tightly wound ball. He ran to his pal Steven Spielberg and asked for some help from the film giant. Spielberg developed a genius plan to send a mail to Sheinberg pretending that the suggested title was a hilarious joke. The goal was to embarrass him so much about it that he would forget the entire thing. Well, it worked. The title stayed the same, and our childhood was what it was.
3. Pulp Fiction – Black Mask
Pulp Fiction could have no other title today. It’s taken on a life of its own and people would not have it any other way. Initially, though, the movie was titled Black Mask, named for the 1920s pulp magazine which featured much of the style and substance that would inspire Quentin Tarantino for many of his movies. Conceived as part of trilogy, Pulp Fiction would include stories or concepts that the world had heard before, many of which were made into famous tropes by pulp magazines. Wanting to have multiple stories and characters intertwine throughout, Tarantino took these unoriginal concepts and twisted them. By doing this he created a story of havoc and tension by playing with hard-set audience expectations. Since contemporary audiences are more likely to understand the film’s connection to “pulp fiction” in general rather than the specific Black Mask magazine, the name change was necessary.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – How The Solar System Was Won
The creation of the space epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is perhaps as legendary as the film itself. Determined to make a science fiction masterpiece, director Stanley Kubrick enlisted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke to help him write the script. Using a couple of Clarke’s short stories as the basis, The Sentinel and Encounter in the Dawn namely, Kubrick and Clarke wrote a novel and a screenplay. The original title of How the Solar System Was Won, was based on the classic film, How the West Was Won, but the title was to be changed several times. The next big announcement was that the film would be called, Journey Beyond the Stars, a name that excited but never stuck. The decision to finally go with Odyssey was inspired by the Greek epic, Homer’s Odyssey, because the age-old fascination with the sea was seen as equal to our age’s fascination with the sky, environments both daunting and exhilarating.
1. E.T. the Extraterrestrial – Night Skies
The birth of E.T. the Extraterrestrial was a long and drawn out affair. After making Close Encounters of the Third Kind (originally titled Watch the Skies), Steven Spielberg was asked to make a sequel, something he did not want to do. Rather than hand over the rights to the studio and see it go to another director, Spielberg decided to make a horror alien story to appease them, calling it Night Skies. After putting a script together about malicious aliens who torment a family, Spielberg began having second thoughts. He read the script to a Melissa Mathison, a fellow screenwriter, and she fell in love with one of the aliens, Buddy, the one kind alien who befriended the family’s young son who had autism. From this, Spielberg asked Mathison to draw up a script, which she did, called E.T. and Me. This turned to E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Many of the other elements of the original Night Skies story were then filtered into other films that Spielberg was involved with such as Gremlins, Poltergeist, Critters, Mac and Me, Signs and War of the Worlds.