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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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Though it has yet to even open in U.S. theaters, box office analysts are already predicting that Black Panther is going to devour President's Day weekend, with an anticipated $170 million in ticket sales on the line. While it’s still got a ways to go to make the more than $1.51 billion that the original The Avengers film earned in 2012, this latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will only ensure the franchise's dominance of Hollywood's pockets well into 2018 and beyond. Here are the 10 highest grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office.

1. MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

Worldwide Gross: $13,508,505,227

Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—including The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 18 (and counting) films in the past 10 years, led (financially-speaking) by The Avengers ($1,519,479,547), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,408,218,722), and Captain America: Civil War ($1,153,304,495).

2. STAR WARS

Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm

Worldwide Gross: $8,926,689,927

Though it's been more than 40 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters and entranced moviegoers, since Disney purchased the franchise in 2012, they've been making up for lost time with new entries in the original space opera, plus a bunch of standalone series—including a recently announced new one courtesy of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. While it may take the Mouse House a couple of years to match Marvel's quantity of films, at the rate they're cranking them out, we probably won't have too long to wait.

3. HARRY POTTER

Worldwide Gross: $8,532,684,345

The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, nine movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them—including 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—have approached the $1 billion mark, 2011's 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 Fantastic Beasts movies on the way in the next two years, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.

4. JAMES BOND

Daniel Craig stars at James Bond in 'Spectre' (2015)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

Worldwide Gross: $7,077,929,291

While "Who will play the next James Bond?" is a question as old as this movie franchise itself, one thing that's never in question is 007's ability to attract an audience—and he only seems to be getting better with age. Bond's Daniel Craig era has seen some of its most critically acclaimed, and profitable, entries in the series, which kicked off in 1963 with Dr. No. 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.

5. THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Worldwide Gross: $5,895,804,182

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 ($1,141,403,341) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.

6. FAST AND THE FURIOUS

Worldwide Gross: $5,139,434,105

It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and the Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with eight 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, 2017's The Fate of the Furious made nearly six times that amount—a grand total of $1,237,466,026. So it should come as no surprise that two more are already in the works.

7. X-MEN

Stephen Merchant and Hugh Jackman in 'Logan' (2017)
Ben Rothstein - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Worldwide Gross: $5,016,911,347

Though the X-Men are a Marvel creation, they're treated as their very own (mutant) entity in the box office world. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that the franchise's 10 films (and counting) have generated enough dough on their own to compete at the same level as their cinematic parent. While 2017's Logan made an impressive $615,577,068 at the box office—and managed to be that rare comic book movie that scored an Oscar nomination for its script—it's Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool that's leading this series in box office dollars, with a worldwide gross of $801,029,249 on the first movie. Given the excitement that's already surrounding this May's sequel, expect that number to climb even higher.

8. SPIDER-MAN

Worldwide Gross: $4,858,770,389

Sam Raimi’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 total of $894,860,230. Two reboots later, audiences don't seem to be tiring of the ever-changing web-slinger; 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming took in a not-too-shabby $880,206,511 (and a sequel is already in production for 2019).

9. BATMAN


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Worldwide Gross: $4,572,000,197

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-quarter of the franchise's entire haul. And in case you're wondering: yes, 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is officially part of the franchise.

10. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

Worldwide Gross: $4,505,013,091

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 nearly 15 years, from 2003 to 2017, the swashbuckling series has managed to plunder more than $4.5 billion in ticket sales—even if its most recent entry, 2017's Dead Man Tell No Tales, was one of its least impressive earners with (a still-impressive) $794,758,876.

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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