It’s hard to get a film title right, but it’s essential that a classic movie bears the correct name. And in this list, we present a selection of films that are classics by almost any definition of the word.
When an audience member spies a worthy title, they are more than likely going to watch the picture, and when they see that the film holds up to the title, well, they walk away happy and chuffed with their ticket.
And while they feel happy, they start formulating their ideas for their own feature, featuring snappily written dialogue, breezily-produced set pieces, and fierily-charged silhouettes.
This list offers a smattering of film titles that were changed at some point during their creation, before becoming the stellar piece of cinema that we remember it as today.
10 original titles considered for iconic films:
10. ‘The Paddy Factor’ (The Long Good Friday)
This one might be a little too on the nose, considering that the mobster flick is about one man’s fight against the rise of the IRA, but it was the title Barrie Keefe gave to the project. Eventually, the film was re-titled The Long Good Friday, which corresponded with the film’s central premise, set at Easter.
Nevertheless, the film was an incendiary, albeit incredibly violent affair, and made George Harrison second guess his venture. He informed actor Bob Hoskins if he had known it was going to be so violent, he would never have taken it on.
The Beatle spend much of the 1980s producing films and is credited by many as the man who saved the British film industry. The Long Good Friday could have toppled that legacy if it had gone out under its original title.
9. ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s’ (Casablanca)
Did you know that Casablanca was originally a play? It seems inconceivable now, but it nearly appeared onstage before it was put to film. As it happens, writers Murray Burnett and Joan Alison couldn’t get their drama off the ground, so they sold it to Warner Bros for an impressive $20,000.
The screenwriters made some substantial changes: The American Lois Meredith was changed to the more European Ilsa, and some of the more polemical flavours were dialled up (they added the tune ‘As Time Goes By’). Somewhere in the process, the title was changed to Casablanca, probably as a way of making it seem more refined and worldly.
The film is a gorgeous feature, but the two playwrights felt a little hard done by. The duo sued Warner Bros. for royalties in the 1980s and said their script provided the “heart” of the film.
8. ‘Licence Revoked’ (Licence to Kill)
Nominally considered one of the best James Bond movies, Licence to Kill underperformed at the box, due in part to the stiff competition, and partly due to the producer’s decision to change the name of the film at the 11th hour.
They were informed that American audiences were unfamiliar with the term “revoked”, so they decided to change the name to the more conventional ‘Licence to Kill’. They went with the British ‘c’ over the American ‘s’, feeling that they owed the spelling to Bond’s innate Englishness.
Timothy Dalton wasn’t happy with the change of title. He told Empire in 2012: “They said people around the world – i.e. America – wouldn’t understand what ‘revoked’ meant. Well, let me tell you, it was a much better title, Licence to Kill is terrible!”. And when Empire suggested it was better than Octopussy, he replied: “Octopussy at least you could say was funny. Or memorable”.
7. ‘$3000’ (Pretty Woman)
Yes, you read that correctly: Pretty Woman was nearly named after a hefty price tag. Good thing too that it wasn’t, and it’s a better thing still that the filmmakers had the good grace to lighten what was said to be a very dark script indeed.
In its original form, the film that became Pretty Woman was about the darker, steamier side of prostitution, presenting an unrelentingly grim take on American values. Some of the darker elements, such as Vivian talking to a drug dealer, were filmed, but wisely left on the cutting-room floor.
And why was the film title changed? Because executives at Disney executives thought it sounded like a science fiction film. It’s thanks to Disney that the film was toned down from an uncompromising drama to a Pygmalion like fairy-tale that invoked the writings of Shaw.
6. ‘Black Mask’ (Pulp Fiction)
Quentin Tarantino is a very bright man, but sometimes he can be a little too clever for his own good. And with his 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction, Tarantino tried to go one further and salute the genre that channelled his best work with one of their more popular titles: ‘Black Mask’.
Inspired by Black Sabbath (the film, not the band), the end result features three disparate plot lines coming together as one incredible whole. And by putting these separate stories together, Tarantino unwittingly created a new genre of cinema that stemmed from an old genre of literature.
So, it made sense to name the film after the genre rather than celebrate a notable corner of the genre in question. What it offered was the context for the world that the characters inhabit, while ‘Black Mask’ simply sounds like another exploitation flick.
5. ‘Star Beast’ (Alien)
Great Scott! And now we can move on to Ridley’s greatest feature (sorry Blade Runner fans). And as much as we would love to credit the director with the change of title, it was writer Dan O’Bannon who called the film Alien when he noticed how often the word popped up in his script.
And it’s all the better for it. Pitched as “Jaws in space”, Alien has the type of ominous fear that a title like Star Beast could never conjure up. The poster carried a killer tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream”, which would have carried less weight if it had followed ‘Star Beast’.
The finished result is a triumph, proving that science fiction and horror could co-exist in a film universe, and that science fiction could be geared at discerning adults who were growing tired of Star Wars.
4. ‘Spaceman from Pluto’ (Back to the Future)
If Sidney Sheinberg had had his way, Back to the Future would be very different. It would have starred the actorly Eric Stoltz, who would have based his performance on a teenager caught between two disconnected time portals; and the film would have been released under the name Spaceman from Pluto.
We have Steven Spielberg to thank for both. He recognised that Stoltz wasn’t right for the role, and agreed with director Robert Zemeckis that he should be recast. Secondly, he rubbished Shenberg’s other idea by writing to him and telling him that they’d all had “a great laugh”.
So, while Spielberg might have directed some dreadful features (1941, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Tintin), the man also holds a strong sense of quality control, which was put to good use in 1985.
3. ‘The Lunch Bunch’ (The Breakfast Club)
“It was going to be called ‘The Lunch Bunch,'” costume designer Marilyn Vance said. “But a friend of John’s from another school had a detention class called ‘The Breakfast Club,’ so he decided to go with that.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with John Hughes’ excellent 1985 feature, the film is about five students who find themselves at an impasse in their lives. They share little in common but a taste for marijuana and the five become firm friends.
Why do they call detention ‘Breakfast Club’ in America? I guess it’s because these students don’t get to have a leisurely breakfast. After all, they have to go back to school on a Saturday.
2. ‘Headcheese’ (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Ouch, that’s a nasty title. Considering the mass slaughters that take place in the film, it’s also a very apt title if a little cheesy. The script was also known as ‘Leatherface’ at one point.
As The Bard once pointed out, a rose by any other name would still smell sweet, but we at Far Out feel like the filmmakers made the wiser choice, especially since it was marketed as a “real story”. This facade helped sell the movie to the general public.
But where it gets really interesting is that the film was actually marketed as “chain saw”, not “chainsaw”. We’re guessing they went with this to make the threat seem even scarier. Boy, was it!
1. ‘Wiseguy’ (Goodfellas)
Like Licence to Kill before it, this was going to be the name of the finished feature, but it was ultimately changed at the last minute when they realised that audiences might have confused it with Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys. Because the two films are very different: One spearheaded an entirely new movement of cinema, while the other is typical De Palma thrash, thrown out into the world with little interest in its audience.
Goodfellas is every bit as good as you remember it to be. If it isn’t Martin Scorsese’s greatest work, it’s easily in his top five. He knew how to film it: “To begin Goodfellas like a gunshot and have it get faster from there, almost like a two-and-a-half-hour trailer. I think it’s the only way you can really sense the exhilaration of the lifestyle, and to get a sense of why a lot of people are attracted to it.”
Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s 1985 novelisation of true-life criminals, Scorsese invested much of his intellectual energy in the script, awarding himself a co-write on the finished product. He had more than earned it.