Movie titles are ingrained in our heads and out hearts, and it is difficult to imagine our favorite films being called something other than what we’re used to. But in Hollywood, most movie scripts go through a number of name changes as they are being developed, before they get to the big screen. Some movies begin life with titles such as “Biography of George Washington” or “Terminator Sequel”, and some scripts start out without any title at all. Often times, a movie’s title isn’t finalized until the last stages of production, when the marketing team gets involved. And sometimes, movie titles change at the very last minute, leading to unique posters and other promotional materials which have leaked out over the years. Here are some classic movies whose original movie titles were absolutely terrible.
10. Revenge of the Jedi
How close did the Star Wars sequel Return of the Jedi come to having a different name? So close that you can now buy posters online with the title Revenge of the Jedi on them. That was the official title of the third movie in the original Star Wars trilogy, right up until mere months before it was released in 1983. During the Christmas season in 1982, while spending time with his kids, George Lucas suddenly decided that the word “Revenge” was not appropriate for the title, as Jedi Knights are too noble to seek revenge. He then renamed the movie Return of the Jedi, sending the marketing and promotional people involved with the film’s release scurrying to rename everything and reissue all the products being used to drive hype surrounding the film. However, some early promotional posters survived, and can now easily be found online.
9. Star Beast
The 1979 movie Alien has a nearly perfect title, which is both simple and accurately describes what the film is about. The title is also intriguing, foreboding, and portends the dangers and terror to come. However, throughout the making of the movie, director Ridley Scott, along with cast and crew, referred to the movie they were making as Star Beast. The movie’s writer Dan O’Bannon was fond of the word “Star” and used it in other movie’s he’d written, such as 1974’s Dark Star. The name Star Beast was thought to also capture the essence of what the movie was about. However, after seeing a cut of the movie, executives were impressed with how realistic and grounded Ridley Scott’s vision of futuristic space travel was, and felt the film also needed a more realistic-sounding name than the admittedly cartoonish Star Beast. The rest is cinematic history.
8. The Lunch Bunch
Speaking of literal names, the 1985 classic teen movie The Breakfast Club was initially called The Lunch Bunch. That may sound strange, but obviously the title The Breakfast Club is not too far removed from the original. In both instances, director John Hughes wanted the movie’s title to convey that this was about people coming together at a certain time of day. The film is, after all, about high school students from different social strata who come together for an all-day detention on a Saturday. There is even a funny scene in the movie where we actually get to see each student’s lunch, and what it says about them as people, which explains The Lunch Bunch title. However, producers of the movie eventually tired of the name, as they didn’t like the fact that it rhymed and thought it was too cheesy. After consulting with John Hughes, the name was changed to the more serious-sounding The Breakfast Club.
The 1990 gangster movie Goodfellas is based on a book called Wiseguy, which was written by notorious real life mob snitch Henry Hill (played by actor Ray Liotta in the film). As a result, the movie was also called Wiseguy throughout production and filming. In fact, director Martin Scorsese says he still prefers the original title to the one the film eventually released under. The issue in this case was that there was a popular television series airing in 1990 that also had the name Wiseguy, starring actors Ken Wahl and Jonathan Banks (as well as a young Kevin Spacey). Given the same name and mafia premise, lawyers and producers of the Martin Scorsese movie felt that the film’s name had to change to avoid confusion with the TV program. The search was on to find a similar sort of nickname that the mob would use. After much back-and-forth, the name Goodfellas was settled on.
6. When I Grow Up
As with the aforementioned Alien, the title of the 1988 Tom Hanks movie Big is seemingly perfect. It captures both what the movie is about, as well as its fun and whimsical tone. The movie title Big can be considered a slice of marketing genius, which explains why the title only came into being once the marketing experts got involved with the film. Until then, the movie had the working title of When I Grow Up. Apparently, the marketing folks hated that title, claiming it sounded like an essay kids were forced to write in school. The movie executives agreed, and the title of the movie was eventually simplified to Big. Apparently, director Penny Marshall hated the change and protested, but once the movie was released and became a smash hit, who could argue with the decision?
5. The William Munny Killings
The 1992 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, the western film Unforgiven is known for having a great screenplay (which was also nominated for an Oscar). However, the movie almost had an entirely different, and far less memorable name. Writer David Webb Peoples had initially called the film The William Munny Killings, after lead character William Munny, played by actor/director Clint Eastwood. This isn’t the worst movie title of all time, but the public relations and marketing folks felt it was too verbose. Plus, it implied that people needed to know who William Munny is to understand what the movie was about. In the end, the title was changed to the more creative and emotional Unforgiven. Since it walked away with the Oscar that year, we’d argue that the name change worked to its benefit.
4. Tribal Rites Of The New Saturday Night
The 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever, which helped to drive the disco craze of the late 1970s, was based on an article in New York Magazine titled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”. Producers of the movie were intent on keeping the film’s title the same as the magazine article, until the Bee Gees intervened. The Bee Gees (which is actually an acronym for “Brothers Gibb”) had been commissioned to produce the soundtrack to the movie about a young New Yorker who sells paint by day and spends his weekends dancing in local discos. The soundtrack delivered, but the Bee Gees refused to name it Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, for fear that it wouldn’t sell, due to the dry and lengthy title. Executives were intent on ensuring that the movie and soundtrack titles matched, and they asked the Bee Gees for suggestions. Barry Gibb came back with the title Saturday Night Fever, and both the movie and soundtrack were renamed.
Ghostbusters is an iconic movie title, and it is difficult to imagine that film being called anything else. But as it turns out, writer/actor Dan Aykroyd had originally called the script he wrote Ghostsmashers. The script, which would allegedly have made for a near seven-hour movie, needed a lot of rewriting, and so did the title. Long discussions were held about the film’s tone, which was meant to be light and fun, and about whether it was intended to be aimed at children and families (which, obviously, it was). In the end, producers of the movie felt the title Ghostsmashers was too violent and negative, and a title that was bouncier and fun was needed. In the end, Ghostbusters was decided on, and it helped propel the movie and hit song “Who Ya Gonna Call” to the top of the box office and music charts in 1984.
2. Scary Movie
In 1996, horror movie director Wes Craven was making a self-referential film about all the clichés found in horror movies. He and writer Kevin Williamson thought it would be cheeky to call their film Scary Movie. They felt that title captured both the subject matter and silly tone of the movie they were making. However, the marketing department found the title to be a little too silly and suggested that it be changed to Scream. After all, even though it parodied the horror movie genre, the movie wasn’t actually a straight-up comedy, and it did contain some scary elements to it. Of course, what’s even more interesting is that in 2000, the Wayans Brothers went on to make a movie parody of the Scream film franchise, which was a straight-up comedy, that they called, appropriately enough, Scary Movie. So, the original title of the horror parody Scream found a home with a movie series that parodied it. Weird.
1. Dangerous Days
The classic 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner is based on a novella by noted author Phillip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Naturally, that title was considered way too long and esoteric to slap on a movie poster, so producers were forced to come up with a shorter and pithier title. They settled on Dangerous Days, and all throughout production and filming, that’s what the movie was called. What’s interesting is that nobody involved in the film knows who changed the name to Blade Runner. Apparently, the script, by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, went through extensive rewrites during filming, and it was continually circulated and re-circulated among a gaggle of writers, producers and studio executives. At some point along the way, someone scratched out the title Dangerous Days and wrote Blade Runner, which refers to the police unit assigned to track down and exterminate rogue androids, in black marker, and it stuck. The rest is cinema gold.