Rejected movie titles for 25 popular films
Rejected movie titles for 25 popular films
Casual movie-goers might not realize the amount of revision that goes into a film before it’s released for audience consumption. On top of enduring countless drafts and rewrites, many films have initial titles that are scrapped, or placeholder titles used temporarily before a real title is officially decided upon. This can occur at any stage of the filmmaking process—even after a film has wrapped production and is slated to go out, sometimes dependent on test screenings.
A different title can drastically change how a film could be perceived by audiences. Take, for example, the clunky “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” in place of the slick “Blade Runner”; the bland “Twins” for Cronenberg’s psychological horror “Dead Ringers”; “The Lunch Bunch” over the much cooler-sounding “The Breakfast Club”; or the mouthful “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” before the far more sophisticated and suave “Casablanca”—much like the film’s leading man.
For this list, Stacker dug into film history to find 25 popular movies that originally had different titles. Here is a look at the creative process behind why some of our favorite films were almost named something entirely different.
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- Actual title: Parasite
Best Picture winner “Parasite” tells the story of a poor South Korean family who hustles their way into a rich family’s life making money off them—only to discover a ghastly secret lurking under the foundation of the massive home. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, director Bong Joon-ho explained that his first title, “The Décalcomanie,” came from the concept in fine art called “decalcomania,” in which an image is created with ink and folded over so it’s reflected on the other side, but isn’t identical. “This kind of explains something about these two families,” he said. “They look similar and maybe even identical, but they’re not.”
Red Sun, Black Sand
- Actual title: Letters From Iwo Jima
Clint Eastwood’s companion piece to his film “Flags of Our Fathers,” which depicts the American viewpoint of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, “Letters From Iwo Jima” offers the Japanese viewpoint of that same battle, telling the stories of the Japanese troops who fought and died there. There’s no official background story behind “Red Sun, Black Sand” as the film’s original title—though it was later recycled for a behind-the-scenes documentary short. It can be inferred, however, that the name referenced the conditions of the sandy beaches of the island of Iwo Jima, with the “red sun” being symbolic of death.
- Actual title: Cloverfield
A group of young New Yorkers partying one night falls prey to a massive, alien creature that descends upon the city. One of these partygoers uses a handheld video camera to document their fight for survival as the monster destroys the city. The film had a second working title during production—“Cheese”—while “Slusho” was the name of a fake soft drink company used previously in other J.J. Abrams projects. The multiple fake titles were used as a way to keep the content of the movie shrouded in secrecy.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
- Actual title: Blade Runner
In the far-off, dystopian year of 2019, former Los Angeles cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) reluctantly takes on the job of tracking down four “replicants,” synthetic humans who escaped from their space colony back to Earth in search of their creator. The original title of this film has straightforward origins, as it is the name of the 1968 science-fiction novel the film is loosely based on.
Story of Your Life
- Actual title: Arrival
When 12 gigantic spaceships touch down on Earth’s surface, harboring cephalopod-like extraterrestrials inside them, a linguistics professor is tasked with finding a way to communicate with the creatures as the world teeters on the brink of all-out global war. As with “Blade Runner,” the working title of “Arrival” stems directly from its literary source, a short story entitled “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.
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The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night
- Actual title: Saturday Night Fever
Brooklynite paint store clerk Tony Manero (John Travolta) is desperate to free himself from the monotonous cycle of his day-to-day life, only broken momentarily on the weekends when he becomes a disco-dancing king. Following the announcement of a big dance competition, Tony enlists a talented young woman to be his partner, and the two slowly fall in love. The film draws its roots from a 1976 New York Magazine article called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which was the working title and inspired the film’s characters and formed the foundation for the plot.
Not Tonight, Josephine
- Actual title: Some Like It Hot
Two jazz musicians witness a mafia hit and are forced to go on the run, disguising themselves as women and infiltrating an all-women’s jazz band. But just when they think they’re in the clear touching down in Florida, the mobsters arrive there, too. The working title of “Not Tonight, Josephine” comes from a line uttered by Jack Lemmon’s character Jerry, regarding Tony Curtis’s character Joe’s female alias.
- Actual title: Scream
In Wes Craven’s classic reinvention and satire of the slasher film, a masked serial killer terrorizes a group of high school kids by picking them off one by one, so they consider horror film conventions in the hopes that it’ll help them escape the one they’re suddenly in. Ironically given to the comedy film that parodied it in 2000, the film’s original title “Scary Movie” was meant to reflect the metatextual nature of the narrative and the characters’ love of horror films.
- Actual title: Back to the Future II
In this sequel, teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his mad scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) upset the fabric of time by traveling into the future to save Marty’s son—returning to a present that they no longer recognize and must now fix. “Paradox” was the name of an entirely different script for the proposed sequel to “Back to the Future,” which had combined elements of “II” and the eventual “III” into one. When the project was estimated to be too expensive, it was split in two, but “Back to the Future II” was still shot under the working title “Paradox.”
- Actual title: Pretty Woman
Los Angeles sex worker Vivian (Julia Roberts) and wealthy businessman Edward (Richard Gere) form an unlikely relationship, after Vivian is hired by Edward to be his escort, then to play his girlfriend over a series of business trips and social gatherings, and the two begin to fall for one another. At the beginning of the film, Edward offers Vivian $3,000 to get her a new wardrobe for their little charade, and this tiny detail is where the film’s original title came from.
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- Actual title: Return of the Jedi
In the epic conclusion to the original sci-fi trilogy, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia each do their part in saving the Rebel Alliance and disrupting the Galactic Empire to defeat Emperor Palpatine and stop Darth Vader from taking over the galaxy. The film utilized the fake title of “Blue Harvest” during production, leading journalists and fans of the series to believe Lucasfilm was working on a new horror film. This kept production on the film a secret, and kept the costs low as well.
- Actual title: Alien
The crew of a commercial starship named Nostramo are awakened from cyro-sleep and thrown off-course by a distress signal from a nearby alien ship. When they board the ship to discern the source of the signal, they discover a nest of mysterious eggs and are attacked, unknowingly bringing aboard a deadly lifeform onto their own ship. Named after the film’s alien monster—the Xenomorph—“Star Beast” became “Alien” after the filmmakers realized how many times the word appeared in the script.
How the Solar System Was Won
- Actual title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
A breathtaking voyage across the universe in the past and future, Stanley Kubrick’s seminal science fiction epic chronicles the discovery of a mysterious object found on Earth’s surface that predicates the future of human evolution and existence. The film’s original title was inspired by the Western “How the West Was Won,” and it was intended to be a documentary.
Everybody Comes to Rick's
- Actual title: Casablanca
In this classic Old Hollywood film, Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner in Casablanca, Morocco, whose old flame comes to town with her husband who just happens to be a fugitive Czech Resistance leader. Together, they’re seeking refuge from German officials as World War II rages on. “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” was originally “the world’s worst play,” bought unproduced by Warner Brothers, and was then adapted for film and retitled “Casablanca” during production.
- Actual title: Pulp Fiction
Told in a nonlinear storyline, the lauded crime-comedy from Quentin Tarantino follows two philosophically minded hitmen, a criminal couple, a has-been boxer, and a gangster and his young wife, all stories interlocking and anchored by a mysterious briefcase. The film’s working title was an homage to the crime fiction magazine that made the pulp fiction genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Eventually, the filmmakers went with a title which emphasized the genre as a whole.
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- Actual title: Goodfellas
One of Martin Scorsese’s most popular crime films takes a look at the rise and fall of real-life mobster Henry Hill—chronicled from 1955 to 1980—who works his way up in the ranks of the criminal underworld, then slowly becomes undone. “Wiseguy” came from the film’s source material, the 1985 nonfiction book by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi and Scorsese co-wrote the film’s script, changing the title to “Goodfellas” during production to avoid confusion with two other similarly titled projects around the same time.
The Real World
- Actual title: Reality Bites
An eclectic group of college graduates struggle to fit into adulthood following undergrad, and one of its members, aspiring videographer Lelaina (Winona Ryder), decides to film a documentary about them. The film’s original title of “The Real World” had to be scrapped when the reality TV series of the same name premiered in 1992.
The Lunch Bunch
- Actual title: The Breakfast Club
A brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal end up together one fateful Saturday morning to serve detention under the thumb of their overbearing principal. Over the course of the morning, the five kids discover that their walks of life aren’t all that different. Along with the initial title of “The Lunch Bunch”—the characters do have lunch together at one point—“The Breakfast Club” had another working title of “Library Revolution,” also fitting due to the setting of the film.
Take It Like a Man
- Actual title: Boys Don't Cry
A young transgender man has to leave his hometown under fear of violence, when his ex-girlfriend’s brother discovers his biological gender. He resettles in a small Nebraska town and falls for a local girl, but finds new threats to his life there as well. According to one of the film’s stars, Peter Sarsgaard, the working title was “Take It Like a Man.” Though he provided no official reasoning for it or the eventual change, it was clearly an ironic play on the context of the film surrounding a trans man.
- Actual title: Dead Ringers
Identical twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly (both played by Jeremy Irons) share their affairs with a number of patients without the women ever knowing there’s two of them. Beverly ends up falling hard for one patient in particular, and becomes unhinged when she deceives him. Loosely based on the highly fictionalized novel of the real-life brothers’ story entitled “Twins,” the film was originally titled “Gemini,” but the studio didn’t like it. Then, Ivan Reitman approached director David Cronenberg to purchase the rights to “Twins” for his own use, and “Dead Ringers” was settled on.
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- Actual title: Stand by Me
The lives of four Oregon boys are changed forever after they decide to go look at the body of a stranger who died near their homes. The trek they go on in order to get there becomes a defining event in their adolescence. Adapted from Stephen King’s novella “The Body,” the studio disliked the novella’s title for the film; the screenwriter even felt it sounded too much like an adult film or “bodybuilding film or another Stephen King horror.” Director Rob Reiner picked the new title based on the Ben E. King song of the same name.
- Actual title: Point Break
A group of bank robbers who call themselves the “Ex-Presidents” have been terrorizing Los Angeles, and a young FBI agent named Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is tasked with infiltrating the surfer gang they’re alleged to be a part of. But Utah ends up befriending the group’s ringleader, complicating his mission. Though the name of the lead character, the working title of “Johnny Utah” didn’t have enough to do with the film’s plot surrounding surfing. The eventually chosen title of “Point Break,” which is also a surfing term, solved that problem.
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- Actual title: American Pie
This raunchy sex comedy concerns a group of four high school virgins who are desperate to have sex before they head off to college, entering into pact to get it done by senior prom. The extremely long-winded and cheekily honest working title was slapped on the script by writer Adam Herz in order to attract attention when he was shopping it around studios in the ’90s. When it was eventually picked up, producers settled on a simpler title that references the film’s most infamous scene.
- Actual title: Drop Dead Gorgeous
A small Minnesota town hosts its annual beauty pageant, and competitiveness leads to chaos in this black comedy mockumentary documenting the pageant’s eccentric contestants. The original title worked as a fun joke towards the beauty queens, but ice cream chain Dairy Queen didn’t find it that funny. The company filed a lawsuit, and the film’s name was changed.
Fear and Trembling
- Actual title: Vertigo
Ex-cop John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers daily from his intense fear of heights, which is the reason he was forced into early retirement. But he’s called on to investigate the suspicious activities of his friend’s wife, and slowly becomes obsessed with her. The studio hated Hitchcock’s title of “Vertigo,” which he suggested after they passed on the English translation of the title of the French novel the film is based on (“From Among the Dead”). They offered him some alternatives—including “Fear and Trembling”—all of which he rejected, so “Vertigo” stuck.
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