The course of film production seldom runs smooth, and even the greatest films can suffer from all sorts of behind-the-scenes problems. For a very recent example, just look at Fantastic Four, a film with which suffered the kind of difficult production that will no doubt inspire books on the subject in the near future.
At any rate, 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 rather pioneering moment in cinema history.
In every instance, the changes are unusual, 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 a conclusion 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 M.R. James, Night of the Demon is a rightly 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.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the best-made and gripping sci-fi films of the ’50s. About a small town in the midst of a quiet invasion, Siegel’s film positively crackles with suspense and foreboding from beginning to end.
In fact, the ending the director and his screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring originally had in mind would have been absolutely bone-chilling: the scene where Kevin McCarthy’s Dr. Hill is seen crying, “They’re here already! You’re next!” would have been the movie’s last. But studio bosses at Allied Artists considered this conclusion to be too downbeat, and forced a wrap-around story on Siegel where the audience is reassured that everything will be fine in the end.
Philip Kaufman, who directed the similarly brilliant 1978 remake, had no such problems with his movie: His iteration ends on a singularly pessimistic and spine-tingling note.
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. Enemy Mine‘s 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 interplanetary 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, added in some teen-friendly rock music, and gave 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 in theaters – almost intact, but still missing 10 minutes of footage.
Nevertheless, a 94-minute version of Brazil, dubbed the Love Conquers All cut and which was assembled without Gilliam’s knowledge, was once put out for television. Unsurprisingly, it’s a travesty.
The production of Predator was famously challenging with its on-location jungle filming bringing about all manner of illnesses and technical problems (not least being 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 advertize 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 with a few of the same side characters from the original exploring their own chilling mystery, and its original title was Legion.
Despite 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 Jack Finney’s more famous novel The Body Snatchers, Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel The Puppet Masters sees its alien invaders take over the bodies of humans. But unlike The Body Snatchers, the aliens in The Puppet Masters are a race of slug-like parasites which control 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 that was perfect for a sci-fi movie. But the studio, Hollywood Pictures, 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 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.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
It’s fair to say that Sean Connery didn’t have the most pleasant experience while making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A flood engulfed Europe, destroying $7 million worth of sets and engulfing Connery’s hotel suite. As pressure on the production mounted, Connery reportedly had a furious row with director Stephen Norrington – over an elephant gun prop of all things. The process of making the movie was so grim that it appeared to contribute to Connery’s retirement; when he announced his plans to leave the industry, he said he’d grown weary of the “idiots now making films in Hollywood.”
Still, we should also spare a thought for actress Winter Ave Zoli. She was cast as a character named Eva, the daughter of a German scientist. It wasn’t a huge part, but she would have enjoyed a fight scene with one of the main characters in the film’s ensemble – the dashing Tom Sawyer, played by Shane West. Strangely, Zoli’s appearances were excised from the final cut entirely – despite her presence in the movie’s advertising.
More bizarrely still, Zoli’s fight with Tom Sawyer remained in the movie, but Zoli was digitally replaced by another actor. Zoli was another casualty, it seems, of an unusually fraught production.
Red Dawn (2012)
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 very expensive) use of digital effects to erase or alter various flags and slogans dotted throughout the film.
Despite the disruption this must have caused, producer Tripp 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. When Red Dawn finally emerged in 2012 after two years on the shelf (MGM’s financial woes being the culprit), audiences didn’t exactly agree with Vinson’s assessment. Where the original made around $38 million on a lean $4 million budget, the $65 million Red Dawn remake was a critical and financial misfire.
Inside Out (2015)
Here’s evidence that Pixar really does agonize over even the smallest details in its movies. In one brief scene in Inside Out, we see young protagonist Riley refusing to eat a bowl broccoli. But in the Japanese version of the movie, the vegetable Riley shrinks away from is a chopped up bell pepper. The reason for the change? Because kids in Japan actually really like broccoli, so the notion of a toddler throwing a tantrum over a bowl of the stuff wouldn’t have made sense.
“We learned that some of our content wouldn’t make sense in other countries,” explains director Pete Docter. “For example, in Japan, broccoli is not considered gross. Kids love it. So we asked them, ‘What’s gross to you?’ They said green bell peppers, so we remodelled and reanimated three separate scenes replacing our broccoli with green peppers.”
So green peppers it was. We suspect that, had Docter and his team consulted with British kids, Brussels Sprouts would have topped the list of tantrum-worthy vegetables.