9 Great Films That Were Almost Really Awful

They are part of our cinematic language – film classics so ingrained in our culture that the mere mention of them results in quotes, re-enactments and, usually, terrible impressions. But for every stone cold classic of cinema we’ve come to cherish, little did we know how close these movies came to being disasters. A casting change here, a genre switch there – in an alternate universe, these were just awful…

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'Superman: The Movie' was originally a tongue-in-cheek comedy

'Godfather' scribe Mario Puzo wrote the first draft of what would eventually become the godfather of the superhero genre, but surprisingly, the author got the tone completely wrong – Puzo's screenplay, which was completely rewritten by Richard Donner, was a more tongue-in-cheek comedy affair. Example: one scene, excised from the final version, saw Lex Luthor bump into Telly Savalas playing Kojak in a railway station and offer him a lollipop. Marlon Brando did his best to ruin 'Superman: The Movie' too: he suggested Jor-El's physical form should have been a glowing green bagel. Oh, and let's not discount the fact that Richard Gere almost landed the title role. Shudder. Obviously the Superman films ended up becoming camp comedies anyway (see above), killing the franchise in the process, for a while at least.

Spielberg almost used monkeys for ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’
"The worst idea I ever heard." That’s an unnamed producer there, talking about the first draft of Steven Spielberg’s alien epic. ‘Close Encounters’ would end up being a genre classic, but it went through several disastrous iterations, with drafts from the likes of ‘Taxi Driver”s Paul Shrader unable to find the key to the story; at one point, the lead was an Air Force officer who debunked UFOs for a living; later, it resembled a James Bond movie with extra-terrestrials. Even conceptually, Spielberg was flying blind – at one point he was seriously considering using orangutans on rollerskates to portray his aliens (test footage unsurprisingly revealed that the apes weren’t too comfortable in wheeled footwear).

Ernest Borgnine could have played ‘The Godfather’

Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone is one of the all-time greatest movie performances, but it wasn’t such an obvious choice in retrospect. Though Brando was favoured by Francis Ford Coppola, Paramount thought he was too young and had a list of names they preferred. That list included great actors including George C Scott, Burt Lancaster and Anthony Quinn, some questionable names like Frank Sinatra (“Hey pally, I’m gonna make you an offer that’s gonna ring-a-ding-ding!”) and the downright odd suggestion of Ernest Borgnine, grizzled star of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure’. Borgnine was a brilliant actor but totally unsuited to the role of Don Corleone – he was just too smiley. Thankfully Coppola’s decision was the one Paramount landed on, and the rest was history.

'Toy Story”s Woody was originally a “sarcastic jerk”

The first draft of ‘Toy Story’, presented to Disney in November 1993, was disastrous. Part of the problem was how Woody was written: Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider described Woody as a “sarcastic jerk” who spent his time insulting all of the other toys. Pixar went back to the drawing board to rethink the entire picture, but this is not uncommon. Says Pixar co-creator Ed Catmull in his book, Creativity Inc.: “Every one of our films, when we start off, they suck… They all suck to begin with. But our job is to take it from something that sucks to something that doesn’t suck. That is the hard part.” Woody kept some of his cynical edge but was much less mean in the finished movie.

'Beverly Hills Cop' was almost a straight Stallone cop thriller

Though it didn’t yet go by the name ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, the first incarnation of the cop movie was way less comedic and was more of a generic police thriller, starring Sylvester Stallone of all people. Sly’s character would play a Pittsburgh detective relocated to the West Coast and the film was to be primarily an action vehicle. The ‘Rocky’ star requested a few changes that didn’t sit with the studio, so they went after Eddie Murphy instead, who brought a fresh flavour to the film with his relentless ad-libbing, essentially retooling it from top to bottom as an action comedy. Stallone ended up using his rejected ideas in ‘Cobra’… and look how that turned out.

'Star Wars' was almost a complete mess
George Lucas pretty much flew by the seat of his pants making ‘Star Wars’ the gigantic success it would become – at any turn, he narrowly avoided a great number of disastrous decisions that would have surely sunk the series (they’d later catch up with him during the making of ‘The Phantom Menace’). Early drafts of ‘The Star Wars’ saw Luke bear the surname ‘Starkiller’, with Han Solo a giant green lizard and Wookiees as short, furry creatures. Luke had several brothers and a father, which rather suggests the big twist in ‘Empire’ came later. The fourth and final draft was titled ‘The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars’, and the opening crawl was called “gibberish” by Lucas’s friend Brian De Palma, who rewrote it for him.

'Pretty Woman' was originally incredibly dark
The story of a rich man and the woman he pays for sex doesn’t exactly sound like a winning pitch for a romantic comedy, but the combined charm of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts made it work. It’s a minor miracle when you consider the first incarnation of ‘Pretty Woman’ was actually a dark drama about prostitution in LA in the 1980s, with Roberts’ character Vivan a hardcore drug user. Intended to be a harsh comment on the gulf in class between the haves and the have-nots, ‘Pretty Woman’ eventually morphed into a more saccharine love story, much to the chagrin of screenwriter John F. Lawton, who hated what his original story, titled $3,000, had become. He went on to write ‘Under Siege’.

'E.T.' was to feature an evil alien named Scar
Having just come off success from ‘Close Encounters’ – which, may we remind you, almost featured rollerskating apes in its climax – Steven Spielberg started working on another sci-fi tale, this one called ‘Night Skies’, which would eventually become ‘E.T.’. It was about a gang of ten evil aliens, led be a villain named Scar, who would kill cows with his long, bony finger. The alien we’d later learn to love as ‘E.T.’ would become estranged from his gang, where he’d meet young Elliot, who was autistic. Elements from this abandoned draft eventually ended up in ‘Poltergeist’, produced by Spielberg, leaving an unspoiled ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ to become the highest grossing movie of 1982.

'The Wizard Of Oz' was not at all magical and actually quite terrifying

It’s considered the greatest family movie ever made and is one of the most iconic films in history, but ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ was almost a different movie altogether. Fantasy movies of the time had not performed well at the box-office, so producer Mervyn LeRoy’s assistant turned in a four-page outline that all-but eliminated the fantastical elements of L. Frank Baum’s story. Instead, the script was dotted with singing contests, including a musical number of ‘The Jitterbug’ (which, to paraphrase Abe Simpson, was the style at the time). The scarecrow was a human, basically the village idiot, considered so thick he could only find work frightening birds – a romantic angle between Dorothy and the Scarecrow was mercifully dropped. The Tin Man, on the other hand, was also human, but was a violent and dangerous criminal who had been sentenced to life inside a metal suit for all eternity. Sleep well, children! For the scary ‘Oz’ film we could’ve had, check out the terrifying 1920s silent version on the internet instead (see above).

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