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The Original Titles of 11 Popular Films

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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)

Fair use, copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Wikimedia // Fair use, copyright Universal Pictures via Wikimedia

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 [1991]” (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.

Fair use, copyright Calendar International Pictures via Wikimedia // Copyright Generic Movies via IMDb// Copyright Dimension Films via IMDb // Copyright Dimension Films via Wikimedia


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.

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10 Highest Grossing Movie Franchises of All Time
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Just a few days into its release in American cinemas, Spectre—James Bond’s latest big-screen outing—is already poised to take a $75 million chunk out of the weekend box office. While it’s still got more than $1 billion to go to catch up to 2012’s Skyfall, the most profitable Bond film thus far, that entry alone was enough to make the James Bond series one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises of all time. Though 007 has both longevity (he’s been starring in movies for more than a half-century) and prolificacy (Spectre marks his 24th film), neither proved enough to nab him the top spot in the 10 highest grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office.

1. MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

Worldwide Gross: $9,060,537,598

Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—which includes The Avengers and Iron Man movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 12 (and counting) films in the past seven years, led (financially speaking) by The Avengers ($1,519,479,547), The Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,404,705,868), Iron Man 3 ($1,215,392,272), and Guardians of the Galaxy ($771,172,112).

2. HARRY POTTER

Worldwide Gross: $7,726,174,542

The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, eight movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them have approached the $1 billion mark, the series’ most recent entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, brought in the biggest profit, with a worldwide take of $1,341,511,219. With two more movies on the way in the next three years, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.

3. JAMES BOND

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Worldwide Gross: $6,297,332,445

Though that worldwide gross above was correct at press time, don’t be surprised to see it grow over the next several weeks. In its first week of release, Spectre—the latest film in the long-running Bond franchise—has already managed to take in more than $108 million. But the franchise’s high position on this list is largely thanks to 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1,110,526,981 around the world—which was just enough to give it a slight edge over the next entry on this list.

4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Worldwide Gross: $5,895,819,745

First, it’s important to note that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise includes not just The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but all three of The Hobbit movies as well. While the former series might be the more critically acclaimed of the two, when all is said and done, both series contributed to the franchise’s position here: Among the six films, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1,141,408,667) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.

5. STAR WARS

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Worldwide Gross: $4,486,158,822

Considering that just over $1.4 billion separates the Star Wars franchise from The Lord of the Rings, and that J. J. Abrams' hotly anticipated The Force Awakens is hitting theaters next month, it’s not impossible to imagine that George Lucas’ beloved space opera might well climb over Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth series in the near future, particularly considering the number of new Star Wars projects on the horizon.

6. SPIDER-MAN

Worldwide Gross: $3,963,173,282

Sam Rami’s 2002 Spider-Man kicked off a new era in comic book moviemaking with its audience-friendly mix of action, humor, and just a little camp. His final film for the series, Spider-Man 3, earned the most money of the bunch, with a box office intake of $890,875,303. Though the two reboots have not performed as well as the originals, they’ve both made more than $700 million worldwide, which isn’t too shabby.

7. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

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Worldwide Gross: $3,899,849,616

It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with seven adrenaline-fueled films that seem to grow more popular with each entry. While the first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, made a respectable $206,512,310, this year’s Furious 7 made more than seven times that amount—a grand total of $1,516,246,709. So it should come as no surprise that Furious 8 is in the works for 2017.

8. TRANSFORMERS

Worldwide Gross: $3,778,297,170

Technically, the Transformers franchise dates all the way back to 1986, when The Transformers: The Movie—an animated feature that marked Orson Welles’ final role—was released in theaters. But considering that it contributed just $5,849,647 to the series’ total worldwide gross, it’s a bit of a non-factor. What is worth noting is that when discussing films, and Transformers in particular, “critically panned” and “financially successful” can go hand in hand. The most popular film in the franchise, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which made $1,123,790,543 worldwide, currently holds a 35 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

9. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

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Worldwide Gross: $3,710,254,215

First it was a Disney theme park ride, then it was a box office smash success and one of the few times that Johnny Depp agreed to make a truly “commercial” film. But over the course of eight years, from 2003 to 2011, the swashbuckling series has managed to plunder more than $3.7 billion in ticket sales.

10. BATMAN

Worldwide Gross: $3,702,844,521

Though the final tally above represents more than a quarter-century of Batman movies—going back to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s 1989 original and spanning the less memorable Val Kilmer and George Clooney years—the real earnings in this franchise have come from Christopher Nolan’s reboots. In fact, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1,084,439,099 on its own, accounting for nearly one-third of the franchise's entire haul.

All figures courtesy of The Numbers.

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How One American Cinema Turned Four Weddings and a Funeral Into a Hit
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by Simon Brew

With four BAFTAs, two Oscar nominations (including one for Best Picture), and nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in the bank, the 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral more than rewarded its $4.5 million investment. And yet the fortunes of the low-budget film—which effectively launched Hugh Grant's career as a leading man—may just have hinged on a single cinema in New York City.

While the film proved to be a hit in the U.K., it was arguably its breakthrough at the U.S. box office that turned it into a bigger event. And yet its American distributor, Gramercy Pictures, barely had the promotional budget to put the film out.

As such, instead of paying for hundreds of prints up front and a big advertising campaign, it gambled on an initial release on just five American screens: two in New York, three in Los Angeles. If the film could sell those screenings out, then the figure for the average amount of money taken per individual screen would be high. As such, Gramercy figured, it would persuade more exhibitors to book the film, and Four Weddings and a Funeral could build toward a wider release.

The problem, as producer/distributor Michael Kuhn recounted in his book One Hundred Films and a Funeral, was that the early projections on the film's opening weekend in America were "soft." Kuhn and his team had only hours to turn these numbers around before the weekend was over, because by Saturday lunchtime, the movie was looking dead and buried.

Gramercy worked out that the problem centered on just one of the New York City cinemas: It was a multiplex that had programmed Four Weddings and a Funeral on its smallest screen. Showings of the film were sold out, but because there were no more seats available, the box office wasn't at the level that Kuhn and his team needed.

In spite of the fact that said multiplex's larger screen was booked to a rival film, the manager of the cinema agreed to move Four Weddings and a Funeral to the bigger auditorium. Which was a gamble on the manager's part, particularly if the studio behind the rival film found out.

It never did.

"On that single initiative hinged much of the subsequent history of Four Weddings and a Funeral," Kuhn wrote. A weekend gross that was set to be $18,566 across five screens was suddenly boosted to $176,000, "way ahead what we had hoped for." When the box office chart for the weekend came in, exhibitors took note, and Four Weddings and a Funeral secured the extra bookings it needed.

Gramercy Pictures had its first major hit.

Four Weddings and a Funeral would go on to earn more than $52 million at the U.S. box office, which, at the time, was an unheard of number for an independent British romantic comedy. Yet had one theater manager in New York made a different decision, the history of Four Weddings and a Funeral (and Hugh Grant's career) would likely be very, very different.

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