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The Working Titles of 14 Popular Movies

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MovieGoods.com/Erin McCarthy

Most Hollywood movies go by a different name—also known as a working title—until the film is released in theaters. These cinematic pseudonyms can be used to hide a film’s production from rampant fans or to keep costs low. Here are 14 working titles for popular Hollywood movies. 

1. Working Title: "Blue Harvest"

Actual Title: Return of the Jedi

By the time filming on Return of the Jedi started in 1982, Star Wars was a gigantic pop culture phenomenon. Lucasfilm decided to use a working title to mask the film’s production from fans and film journalists. “Blue Harvest” was used throughout the film’s production in the United States.

“Blue Harvest” was allegedly a horror film with the tagline “Horror Beyond Imagination.” It was used on almost every facet of the then-titled Revenge of the Jedi, including the crew's t-shirts, shipping crates, and invoices. The title Revenge of the Jedi was later changed to Return of the Jedi when George Lucas realized that a Jedi has no concept for the evils of revenge. 

Another reason why “Blue Harvest” was used for the film’s working title was to keep production costs low: Apparently, locations and services had increased their prices when Lucasfilm was filming The Empire Strikes Back a few years before.

2. Working Title: "Planet Ice"

Actual Title: Titanic

Before the epic film Titanic was announced, director James Cameron began to shoot footage of icebergs off the coast of Nova Scotia under the guise he was making a film called “Planet Ice.” The reasoning behind the working title was to throw off any rival movie studio from making a movie based on Titanic before Cameron’s movie was in theaters.

3. Working Title: "Rory’s First Kiss"

Actual Title: The Dark Knight

When he was filming The Dark Knight in Chicago in 2007, director Christopher Nolan attempted to hide the true identity of the movie using the working title “Rory’s First Kiss." But the fake title wasn't enough to fool Batfans: When a casting call went out for "real police officers, sheriffs, county guards and bagpipers to work in non-speaking roles in August," a film journalist sniffed out the subterfuge after a quick look on IMDB.com, which identified Nolan as the director of “Rory’s First Kiss,” which also starred Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. It was easy to see that Nolan was working on the sequel to the widely popular Batman Begins.

Christopher Nolan used the working title “The Intimidation Game” for Batman Begins and also used the working title “Magnus Rex” for The Dark Knight Rises. For Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, the British director used the working title “Oliver’s Arrow.”

4. Working Title: "Incident on 57th Street"

Actual Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

To avoid attention from Harry Potter fans, the filmmakers behind Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets used the strange working title “Incident on 57th Street” throughout the film’s London shoot. Their inspiration? A Bruce Springsteen song of the same name.

5. Working Title: "How the Solar System Was Won"

Actual Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arguably the greatest film ever made, director Stanley Kubrick and screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke secretly referred to their 1968 science fiction collaboration as “How the Solar System Was Won,” a reference to the 1962 Western from MGM titled How the West Was Won. When Warner Bros officially announced the sci-fi project in 1965, the press release called the film Journey Beyond the Stars.

Kubrick and Clarke eventually decided on the title 2001: A Space Odyssey 11 months into the film’s production. Other titles the pair considered were Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, and Planetfall.

6. Working Title: "Star Beast"

Actual Title: Alien

Screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett envisioned a new film that would be a science fiction and horror genre hybrid. Before settling on the title Alien, the pair’s screenplay was titled “Star Beast,” which was named after the terrifying Xenomorph alien in the movie. O’Bannon decided to change the title to simply Alien when he realized how many times the word was used in the screenplay.

7. Working Title: "The Seven Deadly Sins"

Actual Title: Se7en

In 1995, director David Fincher made a thriller called Se7en starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was originally titled “The Seven Deadly Sins” because the film featured a serial killer who used the capital vices as a way to murder his victims. The filmmakers changed the name of the film to build mystery and awareness of the movie before it opened in theaters.

8. Working Title: "Paradox"

Actual Title: Back To The Future Part II

“Paradox” was the title of the original pitch for the Back To The Future sequels. Originally, the film was conceived as one movie, but when the film’s budget grew too expensive, the film was split into two separate sequel films. Director Robert Zemeckis continued to use the working title as a way to lessen fan attention while shooting the films simultaneously.

9. Working Title: "Black Mask"

Actual Title: Pulp Fiction

When Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery were working on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction, they originally titled the film “Black Mask,” as a way to pay homage to the hardboiled crime fiction magazine that popularized the pulp fiction genre in the 1930s and '40s. Later, the pair changed the name to emphasize the genre rather than a particular magazine. 

10. Working Title: "Everybody Comes To Rick’s"

Actual Title: Casablanca 

The film Casablanca was based on a then-unproduced stage play called “Everybody Comes To Rick’s.” While the authors of the stage play, Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, couldn’t find funding to produce the play on Broadway, Warner Bros bought the film rights for $20,000 in 1942. The title was changed to Casablanca as a way to imitate the 1938 smash-hit film Algiers.

11. Working Title: "Group Hug"

Actual Title: The Avengers

Marvel has special codenames or working titles for all of their films (the codename of Captain America: The First Avenger, for example, was “Frostbite”—because Captain America was encased in ice at the end of the film). For The Avengers, Joss Whedon chose the working title “Group Hug” to throw off  eager fans. Tom Hiddleston told Elle magazine that the working title was fitting. “The Avengers was 'Group Hug,'" he said. "It felt very much like a group hug on set." 

12. Working Title: "A Boy’s Life"

Actual Title: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

During the production of E.T., director Steven Spielberg used the working title “A Boy’s Life” in order to keep the film’s premise a secret—he didn’t want a competing film to beat him to the market. Actors had to be supervised when reading the script and everyone on set had to wear security ID cards to make sure the film shoot was secure.

13. Working Title: "Corporate Headquarters"

Actual Title: Star Trek

J.J. Abrams has a penchant for secrecy and mystery. During the production of the first Star Trek reboot, he used the working title “Corporate Headquarters” to throw off the scent of any snooping film journalists or fans. Security during production was extremely tight; each actor was under supervision while reading the film’s script or rehearsing scenes. But when a suspicious casting call asking for actors who had a “Vulcan-type eyebrow shape” emerged, reporters and fans soon found out that J.J. Abrams' new film was, in fact, Star Trek.    

14. Working Title: "Changing Seasons"

Actual Title: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

In 1998, it was no secret that Peter Jackson was adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling epic of Middle Earth with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Jackson and his production team in New Zealand spent two long years making three movies simultaneously for the first film’s Christmas 2001 release date. When Fellowship of the Ring arrived at movie theaters around the world, the film canisters had the title “Changing Seasons” attached to them, so hardcore Tolkien fans would be fooled into thinking it was a different movie.

For the subsequent films—Two Towers and Return of the King—Peter Jackson used the titles “Grand Tour” and “Til Death, For Glory” respectively.

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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