The course of film production seldom runs smooth, and even the greatest films can suffer from all sorts of behind-the-scenes problems. The movies on this list are all examples of strange (and sometimes last-minute) changes, often imposed by producers or executives. In some unfortunate cases, the changes haven’t been particularly beneficial, but one alteration turned out to be a pioneering moment in cinema history.
In every instance, the changes are strange, surprising, or sometimes downright baffling …
The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (1921)
A classic of German cinema, Robert Weine’s silent horror film is widely credited with having invented the twist ending. This ending, however, was not the one originally intended; its producers were concerned that the conclusion Weine originally envisioned, which suggested that the film’s murders were all carried out by the titular Dr Caligari, was too macabre. Instead, they had Weine film an ending where the film’s events were all the delusion of the narrator – creating one of the earliest (and at the time, original) rug-pull endings in the movies.
Night Of The Demon (1957)
Based on the short story Casting The Runes by MR James, Night Of The Demons is a celebrated 50s supernatural movie. Atmospherically shot by director Jacques Tourneur, its otherwise quite subtle story about ancient evil is marred (albeit only slightly) by the full-frontal appearance of the demon itself in two scenes – compared to the restraint displayed elsewhere in the film, these moments seem quite jarring.
These demon sequences, it turns out, were added after shooting had wrapped – producer Hal Chester decided to add them, much to Tourneur’s chagrin. “The scenes where you see the demon were shot without me,” Tourneur later said. “The audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon.”
Ray Harryhausen was originally approached to make the demon, but he was too busy – which explains the rather rubbery look of the thing that swoops out of the shadows at the beginning and end of the finished movie.
Enemy Mine (1985)
Although not a huge box office hit, this unusual 80s sci-fi, about a human pilot forced to cooperate with a reptilian alien after they’re stranded on a barren planet, is an enjoyable watch – not least for the lead performances from Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr (the latter under heavy lizard alien make-up).
The film’s production wasn’t an easy one, however, and having bankrolled the film to the tune of around $17 million, executives at 20th Century Fox began to worry about how they were going to market it. Its initial director was replaced by Wolfgang Petersen one week into production, and its budget spiralled to $30 million (perhaps mounting to as much as $40 million including marketing).
In the process of filming, executives began to panic about the title, taken from the original story written by Barry B Longyear. Worried that audiences wouldn’t understand the meaning of Enemy Mine (‘mine’ being possessive, as in ‘the alien is my enemy’), Fox decided to add in a new plot strand about cruel inter-planetary miners – thus giving the title two potential meanings, one involving a quarry on an alien planet.
Enemy Mine was also saddled with a spectacularly bad tagline: “Enemies because they were taught to be, allies because they had to be, brothers because they dared to be.”
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is commonly regarded as one of the most influential and intelligent sci-fi movies ever made. It also happens to be one of the most poorly-treated – which is really saying something, considering just how chopped around and mishandled movies such as Metropolis and Blade Runner were.
After filming had wrapped, studio heads tried to have Brazil cut down from just over two hours to a little over 90 minutes, add in some teen-friendly rock music, and give it a cheerier, romantic ending. Gilliam’s subsequent – and very public – battle with Universal is now the stuff of industry legend. Universal’s chairman, Sid Sheinberg, was eventually worn down by Gilliam, and a 132 minute version of Brazil was released to cinemas – almost intact, but still missing ten minutes of footage.
Nevertheless, a 94 minute version of Brazil – dubbed the Love Conquers All cut, and assembled without Gilliam’s knowledge – was once put out for television. Unsurprisingly, it’s a travesty.
The production of Predator was famously difficult, with its on-location jungle filming bringing about all manner of illnesses and production problems (not least an early alien outfit which looked awful). One of the finished film’s standout sequences, which sees its macho platoon of soldiers firing their machine guns at nothing but trees, could be taken as a sign of a cast and crew taking their frustrations out on the foliage – but actually, its inclusion was an indirect result of a request from producers.
Executives suggested that predator needed more images of guns firing, so McTiernan created a scene that gently subverted the idea – something designed to thwart what he saw as the “pornographic desire to market images of gunfire”.
“The whole point is the impotence of all the guns,” McTiernan later explained on Predator’s DVD commentary. “I didn’t want to advertise to little kids how wonderful guns were.”
The Exorcist III (1990)
Although directed by the writer of The Exorcist novel, William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist III was never originally planned to be a direct sequel. Instead, it was shot as a thriller rather than a horror, and its original title was Legion. In spite of the absence of any hint of an actual exorcism, executives at Morgan Creek sensed a sequel opportunity in the offing; last-minute reshoots were ordered (including an exorcism), and the title was changed to The Exorcist III.
“I foolishly thought: I can do a good exorcism,” Blatty later said of the studio-enforced addition. “I’ll turn this pig’s ear into a silk purse. So I did it.”
The resulting film wasn’t as big a disaster at the box office as the infamous Exorcist II: The Heretic, but it wasn’t a hit, either. Blatty blamed its failure on its attachment to the by-then tainted Exorcist name, insisting that a movie simply titled Legion may have fared better. A search for the deleted footage from Blatty’s original cut – which Morgan Creek says has long since been lost – is still ongoing.
The Puppet Masters (1994)
Like the more famous The Body Snatchers, Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel The Puppet Masters saw its alien invaders take over the bodies of humans. But unlike The Body Snatchers, the aliens in The Puppet Masters were a race of slug-like parasites which controlled humans by attaching themselves to their spines.
When it came to the 90s film adaptation, the novel was considered by screenwriter Terry Rossio to be a simple, lean and direct alien invasion story – perfect for a sci-fi movie. The studio – Hollywood Pictures – however, had never read the novel, and knew little about it other than it had something to do with an alien invasion. When Rossio turned in his script – a fairly accurate adaptation of the book’s characters and events – executives hated it.
Instead, the studio advised that the story’s setting be scaled down from a global scale to a small town, that its female lead be written as a male, that its flying saucer ships should be ditched, and that its slug aliens should be changed to floating spores – making it identical, in premise, to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
Numerous drafts were written by scriptwriters in the months that followed, as the location of the film changed from a small town to an airforce base, and then the American Midwest. The parasites were written back in, but the studio maintained its strange aversion to space ships – a scene from the book set on board a UFO was rewritten as a goo-filled hive a subsequent writer called ‘the brain coral’.
“I’ve come to believe that making a film is like a massive version of throwing a dinner party,” Terry Rossio later observed in his column, Building the Bomb. “You invite a lot of people and hope that it turns out good, but you can’t really control it.”
The Santa Clause (1994)
In the otherwise wholesome festive movie The Santa Clause, a throwaway line (“1-800-SPANK-ME? I know that number”) from Tim Allen resulted in a hurried edit. The story goes that a young boy decided to ring the number up, and reached a phone sex line. The boy’s angry mother complained, and the line was snipped out for subsequent releases.
Although the recently-released Director’s Cut of Mimic gave us a version of the film which was closer to Guillermo del Toro’s initial ideas, there are some elements which will remain forever lost. One was his initial notion of what the mutant creatures in the movie should be. Del Toro wanted a type of tiny tree beetle to ultimately transform and feed on humans in the New York underground. The studio’s executives, however, wanted cockroaches.
“I felt the world had exploded in a wave of horror for me and right then and there,” del Toro later recalled on the Director’s Cut commentary track. “I said, ‘Listen guys, we shouldn’t do that because from now on we’re going to be the giant cockroach movie and there is no way you can go past that absolutely Z-movie conceit.'”
The studio wouldn’t budge, and del Toro was “condemned to doing the best giant cockroach movie ever made.” But still, the demands for changes kept coming. After the animatronic creatures had already been built, executives complained that the mutant cockroaches looked “too much like bugs”. “Can you make them look more like aliens?” they asked. “Can you make their teeth bigger? Can you give them hair?”
The studio, it seems, just didn’t understand what del Toro was trying to make, and when second unit directors came in to shoot additional scenes without his involvement, the director disowned the resulting movie for several years. Considering just how much meddling went on throughout the production, it’s remarkable that the film – in either of its incarnations – is as good as it is.
Red Dawn (2012)
A recent and well-known movie change, this one, but it’s certainly strange enough to warrant inclusion. A remake of the 80s action film of the same name, Red Dawn caused controversy when it emerged that it depicted China as the invaders of America. As fears grew that the negative publicity could harm its box office potential in the far east, MGM began the process of changing the film’s invading army from Chinese to North Korean. This involved an extensive (and probably expensive) use of digital effects to erase or alter various flags and slogans dotted throughout the film.
In spite of the disruption this must have caused, producer Trip Vinson remained upbeat. “After careful consideration we constructed a way to make a scarier, smarter and more dangerous Red Dawn that we believe improves the movie,” he said back in 2011.
The alteration of flags, of course, was only one of the film’s problems; originally scheduled for release in 2011, financial problems at MGM saw Red Dawn‘s release delayed by a year.
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