You know those crazy fan theories about movies that totally change the way we look at a film? The hardest part of those to believe is that a writer had enough control to make them happen. Most movies feel like a “make it up as you go and hope people give you money” type of venture, not the meticulously-plotted code some people want them to be. For example, most films’ first drafts are hugely different from the final product. Just look at these crazy original ideas for famous movies that are almost unrecognizable:
When watching Toy Story, it;s hard to choose which character you love more, the veteran cowboy Woody or the space-age Buzz Lightyear. In an original draft of the movie, though, the characters were much easier to contrast. Woody was originally going to be a ventriloquist dummy that bullied the other toys and would have ruled over Andy’s room with an iron (read: wooden) fist. When Buzz showed up, he was going to help the toys rebel against Woody before being tossed out of Andy’s window. Flavors of the power crazy Woody character can be seen in the villain of Toy Story 3, but the entire franchise would have been changed had they stuck with the “Night of the Living Dummy”-style story form the original draft.
The original draft of Predator (the prequel to Alien Vs. Predator and Alien Vs. Predator II: Requiem) started out as kind of a joke in what was definitely not a cocaine-fueled brainstorming session in the ’80s. They laughed as they definitely didn’t do lines of blow off strippers that Rocky Balboa, of the Rocky franchise, had gone through so many powerful opponents that he’d have to fight an alien if they were going to make a Rocky V. Well, screenwriters Jim and John Thomas, who definitely weren’t wandering aimlessly through a mansion wearing silk kimonos and setting off fire works while also super high on coke, decided that joke was an excellent premise for a movie and wrote The Hunter, film that would later be made under the name Predator. I guess the moral of the story is, don’t get crazy high on cocaine and write an amazing screenplay, kids.
Live Free or Die Hard
The fourth installment of the “average-joe-cop who blows up helicopter with cop cars and is like ‘Whatever bitch I’m John McClane!'” franchise Die Hard was originally an entirely different movie. And I literally mean a different movie — back before 2001, David Marconi (screenwriter of Enemy of the State) wrote a script called WW3.com about a cyber-terrorist attack on the United States that would leave the country’s infrastructure in ruins. It featured exactly zero characters named John McClane and zero cameos by Kevin Smith. However, the script was shelved after 9/11 and then resurrected years later when the studio figured enough time had passed to depict a terrorist attack on the U.S. (provided said terrorist attack was thwarted by Bruce Willis and Justin Long). They also figured they should rename the film to the New Hampshire state motto since 100 percent of the film takes place in New Hampshire.
The Empire Strikes Back
Not to start a nerd fight, but Empire Strikes Back is definitely the best Star Wars film, and probably one of the greatest sequels of all time. However, it went through many drafts and changes before it ended up as we know it now. One of the biggest changes, though, was the pronounced love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han that was in the original script… including a tender love scene between Leia and Luke. Of course, this was before it was set in stone that Luke and Leia were related. In fact, in an early version of the script, Vader tells Luke that a totally different person is his sister. This was eventually scrapped and the love scene between Luke and Leia was dropped for just a kiss, but still… weird.
Stanley Kubrick’s famous black comedy Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learn to Make Really Long Movie Titles To Hit My Editor’s Word Count was supposed to end in an epic food fight. Down in the War Room, General Turgidson (George C. Scott if that name means anything to anyone) tackles the Russian Ambassador and throws a pie at him. Turgidson ducks and the pie hits the President of the United States instead, causing all hell to break loose. Why were their so many pies in the war room? Well, there was a buffet for one thing, and for another, these are the type of questions that would probably account for the reason this didn’t make the final cut of the film. But in reality, the scene was edited out for two main reasons — one was that President Kennedy was assassinated and a character in the film was going to yell that the “president had been struck down in his prime!” when hit with a pie. The other reason was that the whole thing felt too silly for Kubrick (god forbid a comedy be silly) and so he went with a ending where there is a montage of the entire world is blown up instead. Hilarious, Kubrick. Really just a knee-slapper.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how Ghostbuster is a classic, but in its original draft the story looked NOTHING like what ended up on the screen. Dan Aykroyd originally set the film in the near future and had tons of Ghostbuster groups fighting off spirits all across space and time — it was going to be an absolute epic. Originally, the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man appeared super early in the movie and was supposed to be one of 50 more equally large monsters for the Ghostbusters to fight at the climax. Then, someone pointed out to him that the film would cost a fortune to make, so Ghostbusters was scaled back. Thanks a lot, stingy movie execs!
No seriously. Thank you. I know it sounds like I am being sarcastic, but if it weren’t for your practical budgetary restrictions we might not have Ghostbusters today. So thank you.
Know of other movies that changed significantly from the script to the final film? And if so, why do you know about them? Are you a screenwriter? Did you write those movies? What’s up? We should get coffee sometime.