The Original Titles of 11 Popular Films
As Shakespeare pointed out, roses and other woody perennials will likely keep their signature scents if ever the world’s botanists go on a big renaming kick. When it comes to movies, though, titles can do a lot to establish whether the tone will be sweet, sour, or something else entirely (e.g. we might view the whole Montague-Capulet rivalry a bit differently if we’d met the two houses in a play called Family Feud instead).
Behold, then, just a few of the many popular films that almost hit theaters with very different titles from the seemingly inseparable ones we've come to know and, perhaps, even love.
1. RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
With two hit installments of the original Star Wars trilogy already behind him, in late 1982 George Lucas announced the upcoming release of Revenge of the Jedi. After making a teaser trailer and printing up thousands of posters and other merchandise bearing that title, though, Lucas finally decided "that revenge was an inappropriate word for Luke’s reclamation of Vader from the dark side of the Force," and so he subbed in "Return" for the film's 1983 release instead. The nastier word eventually found a home, however, with 2005's Revenge of the Sith.
2. AMERICAN PIE (1999)
The Atlantic observes that American Pie's original title, Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love (possibly ending “...That Your Reader Will Love But The Executive Will Hate”) certainly represented “a cheeky move for a young screenwriter.” Nevertheless, screenwriter Adam Herz's 1999 “modest little homage to the movies of his youth, and to his youth itself” became an enormous hit after a couple title changes and “ended up grossing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide, spawning three theatrical sequels and four straight-to-video sequels, and providing the primary source of income for comic actor Eugene Levy for the past 13 years.”
3. PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
As Vanity Fair noted for the 1990 film’s silver anniversary earlier this year, screenwriter J.F. Lawton’s original late-’80s script, 3000, didn’t have the fairytale lilt of the final version; rather, it was “a dark drama that drew inspiration from films like Wall Street and The Last Detail” and an attempt branch out from his previous work and “do something new to get a gig.” The original title referenced the amount of money that Vivian (Julia Roberts) would be paid for her week of work, but it was one of several details to be sloughed off for the sake of a slightly more upbeat film—a tonal change that Lawton feels was ultimately for the best.
4. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
As production was wrapping up on the 1989 soon-to-be classic, writer-director Phil Alden Robinson was frustrated that Universal Pictures insisted on changing the title to Field of Dreams from its original one, Shoeless Joe, which was taken from the magical realist novel by W.P. Kinsella upon which the movie was based. "I loved the title [Shoeless Joe]," Robinson told The Los Angeles Times. "It's a title for a movie about dreams deferred."
And though Robinson "fought and fought," Universal ultimately "wouldn't budge on the title change," and the director "felt sick" while at last dialing up the author to "break the bad news." It turned out, however, that Shoeless Joe had been chosen by Kinsella's publisher because the company "thought it would sell better," the Times reports, while the author had actually "always wanted to call his book The Dream Field."
5. LICENCE TO KILL
Fans of Timothy Dalton's second and (sadly) final Bond flick might've wondered why the film's title doesn't fit so well with its plot, which actually sees 007 going rogue with his revenge mission after being stripped of his license to kill. TIME explains that the film's original title of Licence Revoked was quashed "because polled American audiences said the phrase reminded them of the DMV." The final film title in the U.S. and U.K. ended up keeping the British spelling of "license," but Japanese audiences got a combination of both title versions with their 1989 Bond movie, The Cancelled License.
6. TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)
Coming up with the name of a Bond installment isn’t always so complex, though. As the UK’s The Telegraph notes, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein was listening to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” when he penned the original title, Tomorrow Never Lies, and chose to adapt the song name as a reference to Tomorrow, the fictitious newspaper that gives the film’s villain and his sinister media empire their start. Changing a Bond title can also be quite simple, it seems: widespread legend has it that a typing or printing goof on a document faxed to MGM studio bigwigs resulted in the title being read—and decidedly preferred—as Tomorrow Never Dies.
7. SCREAM (1996)
Critic Kim Newman points out that 1996's Scream lost its original title, Scary Movie, "after a complaint from Daniel Erickson, director of Scary Movie ” (fortunately, the director of the 1981 film Scream/The Outing “kept quiet”).
8. SCARY MOVIE (2000)
When it came time for the Wayans Brothers to name their own 2000 horror spoof, Newman says, Erickson’s “objection [had] evaporated,” and producing studio Dimension Films “persuaded the Wayans Brothers not to call their slasher spoof Last Summer I Screamed Because Halloween Fell on Friday the 13th or Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween,” but Scary Movie instead.
9. WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995)
The 1995 romantic dramedy was already being screened for test audiences under the name Coma Guy when up-and-coming producer Jonathan Glickman (now the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Film Division) pitched it to his superiors at Caravan Pictures. The film became a hit, possibly thanks in part to the new, slightly more romantic title it gained before sweeping audiences nationwide (the new title also made for a pat wrap-up line in the movie, while Coma Guy might not have had the same panache).
10. ANNIE HALL (1977)
As The New York Times reported, the preferred title for Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar-winner was Anhedonia until the eleventh hour of the film's production. Allen explained that the term refers to a "psychological state where nothing gives a person pleasure," and that he and his team "diagnosed that as Alvy's problem; nothing gives him any pleasure." However, "hardly anyone knew what the word meant, so it was jettisoned," and Annie Hall, combining co-star Diane Keaton's nickname and the surname she was born with, sufficed instead.
11. PREDATOR (1987)
The 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle almost emerged from the production jungle bearing the alternate title Hunter, which just might've robbed its titular alien character of some of the sinister deadliness that the final title evokes (its 2004 sequel and crossover with the Alien franchise might have lacked a certain je ne sais quoi as Alien vs. Hunter, too). The filmmakers reportedly shot much of the film under this earlier title but decided to make the change when the production design for the alien itself headed in a new, perhaps more predatory direction.