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7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies

Hollywood is full of screenwriters moaning about how the studio ruined their original vision. But what we never hear about is the opposite side of the tale, where some truly horrific piece of writing gets turned into an awesome film.

In fact, it turns out some of your favorite movies started out as truly awful screenplays that somebody had the good taste to rewrite before the cameras started rolling.

#7.
Alien

In 1976, screenwriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett expanded on an unfinished O'Bannon screenplay called Memory (about a spaceship crew answering a distress call on a desolate planetoid), adding an alien monster to the story and calling the new script Starbeast. Then, they immediately realized that Starbeast was a fucking terrible title and re-named it Alien.

The final 1979 shooting script was re-written by Walter Hill and David Giler, who added a subplot about an evil robot and tightened up some of the dialogue. They also fixed certain... uh...

What The Fuck Is This Shit?

As you may remember, the finished film featured a subtle undercurrent of sexual tension between the characters played by Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. Well, that's one story element that survived from the O'Bannon/Shusett draft almost entirely intact. Oh, and did we mention that all of the characters in the older draft are dudes?


"Look out, Bradley! Aliens, oh my God!"

That would be just fine and dandy with us, but the gay subtext here seems to have found its way into the script without its writers knowing, almost as if there was a little gay gnome sneaking up to the typewriter every night and replacing perfectly innocent phrases either with vaguely homoerotic innuendo...

Or with absolute filth.

However, the Gay Gnome Theory doesn't explain everything, like why characters are walking around with names like Chaz Standard, Jay Faust, and Cleave Hunter. And, in case you're wondering, the Ripley character was just called Martin Roby. That's not so bad. It could almost be a real name. The spaceship wasn't so lucky, though.

Also, the planet Earth is called the planet Irth, for some reason. We're pretty sure it's pronounced the same, though, so they could have been saying "Irth" in the finished movie, and we still wouldn't know the difference.

From reading this draft of the script, it would seem that O'Bannon and Shusett didn't really have a clear idea of what they wanted the monster to look like, but you can tell that they sure as hell knew they wanted it to have a shitload of tentacles!

So, in the conceptual art peppered through the above-linked script, you can see that one artist took this description, threw it away, and drew some sort of cross between a grasshopper and a flying squirrel instead.


Martin Roby and the Alien hang precariously from the back of their mom's minivan.

On the Other Hand...

To be fair, some of the scenes that were dropped would have been completely fucking awesome. For instance, when the full-grown alien is first introduced, it immediately rips a man's head off and carries away the still-wiggling body, prompting "Martin Roby" to react with a line that we're sure would have been gleefully quoted out of context to this very day:

Other awesome moments include a sequence where the monster uses a still-living victim to shield itself from a flame thrower and a grand finale that involves the alien being impaled, burnt to a crisp, and cast out into the vacuum of space, at which point it fucking explodes!

Also, the plot is more or less the same as what ended up in the finished film, which is more than we can say for...

#6.
Spider-Man

When James Cameron took over as writer/producer/director on the long-mooted Spider-Man project, his new bosses were worried that he was going to go way over-budget. So, they made a deal: He wouldn't get his $3 million writer's fee until he turned in a completed script that could be budgeted at $60 million or less. Cameron, who has been rumored to really like money a whole heck of a lot, almost immediately turned in a completed script that could indeed be budgeted at under $60 million. How did he get it done so quickly?

Well, earlier in the production, when a completely different film company was in charge, producer Menahem Golan had commisioned a script by John Brancato and Ted Newsom, which was then re-written by Barney Cohen, and then re-written again by Golan himself (under the pseudonym James Goldman), and then re-written some more by perhaps as many as six other screenwriters. All that was left for Cameron to do was make his own revisions and hand in the finished script.

By most accounts, his revisions consisted of adding his own name to the first page of the script and misspelling the names of two of the other credited writers.

What The Fuck Is This Shit?

Obviously, since Sam Raimi's 2002 movie wasn't based on any version of this script, there are significant differences in the story. For instance, the villain in this version is Doctor Octopus. And he's Peter Parker's college physics professor, so he's actually Professor Octopus. And Peter Parker and Professor Octopus are bitten by the same radioactive spider. And about 90% of the plot is about the villain trying to steal the hero's physics paper. And Professor Octopus keeps calling himself Spider-Man.

What we're saying is that all those rewrites were like dumping a script into a shredder and having a random hobo tape the pieces back together. Characters appear for a scene or two and then disappear, never to be heard from again, including Pete's Uncle Ben. Old Ben's grieving family gets over his death so easily that they forget he ever existed within a minute or two of his passing. They don't even bother with a funeral.


"I'm just saying, if we prop him up like this nobody'll notice."

Also, we may not know why a villain with six arms would need a sidekick in the first place, but we're downright bewildered that this sidekick has somehow been named Wiener.

Also in the bad names department, because of an obscure technical term, Professor Octopus's metal appendages end up saddled with the name Waldo.

Then, there's the dialogue. Fifteen times, Professor Octopus says "okey dokey," like it's supposed to be his catch phrase. Fifteen fucking times. You'd think that would be distracting, but it actually fits right in, seeing as how most of the Professor's lines are nigh-incomprehensible bullshit.

Other characters are written with the hip slang of 1993 in mind, as interpreted by clueless middle-aged men.

And every once in a while, the writers just completely lose their shit in the middle of describing something.

We're not sure which cartoon cat they're talking about, but we'd like to think it's Garfield.


Are his Waldos akimbo? We can't tell.

On the Other Hand...

Rumors at the time had Arnold Schwarzenegger as the director's first choice to play Doctor/Professor Octopus. That would have been fucking sweet.

#5.
Back to the Future

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first tried to sell this script, back at the start of the eighties, nobody wanted to touch it. Most sources point out that the production companies might have had reason to be a little hesitant to greenlight a movie about a kid who makes out with his own mom, but we think there may have been other considerations.

What The Fuck Is This Shit?

The 1981 draft is a decidedly more cynical take on the story, with almost none of the finished film's humor. For Zemeckis and Gale, modern life is like hell on earth, a bitter wasteland of broken dreams, boarded-up storefronts, and looming nuclear holocaust. If time travel hadn't entered into the plot, we think the story probably would have ended in mass suicide.

Take loveable old eccentric Doc Brown, or Professor Brown as this draft calls him. In this version, the only reason that Professor Brown is so loveably eccentric is that the last thirty years of failure and self-hatred have been slowly draining the life out of him, leaving him a pale shadow of the man he once was.

That's right, Marty and the Professor run a video bootlegging business together, selling illegally copied pornography to high school kids. Only Marty's unrelenting self-confidence keeps him from being crushed by the horror of the world that surrounds him. That, and his dream of one day seeing a nuclear explosion.

We know what you're thinking. "I will never feel joy again. Even Back to the fucking Future is depressing now. Nothing could possibly pull me out of this black pit of despair." Well, buck up, little camper, 'cause Coca-Cola is going to fix everything!

Yes, Marty pours Coke into one of the Professor's machines FOR NO FUCKING REASON, and it turns out to be the perfect chemical mixture to fuel some kind of energy converter. The converter, of course, is needed to turn atomic energy into even more energy and power the time machine. And when 1952's Professor Brown learns the secret of delicious, refreshing, electricity-generating Coca-Cola, he leads the world into a new Renaissance of Coke-powered sci-fi technologies.

When they do return to the future, thanks to Coke, the once-terrifying cesspool of the early 1980s is now somehow just like the early 1950s, only with robots and flying cars. Professor Brown is saved from ever having to become lovably eccentric. And, just like in the early 50s, there's no such thing as rock and roll.

How does that work, anyway? It's not like Marty went on some kind of killing spree, slaughtering Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Big Joe Turner all in one Coca-Cola-fueled rampage, unless we skipped over some pages without noticing. So, what happened to those guys?

Our guess is that Marty's performance at the "Springtime In Paris" Dance convinced the world at large that whatever the fuck this "rock and roll" shit is, they want no part of it.


We can kind of sympathize.

On the Other Hand...

The original version of Marty's return trip to the 1980s involved sneaking into a nuclear testing facility to use the force of a nuclear bomb to power the time machine. That would have kicked a whole lot of ass, in our opinion.

#4.
Gladiator

After the success of Amistad, DreamWorks was ready to give screenwriter David Franzoni a three-picture deal to write whatever the hell he felt like, and what he felt like writing first was a script called Gladiator. It needed work.

What The Fuck Is This Shit?

One major difference is that the hero of the story, Maximus Decimus Meridius in the finished film, is called Narcissus Meridas in this draft. We can understand why they changed it. Narcissus is a surprisingly Greek name for a Spanish general in the Roman army, and it's a surprisingly wussy name for a fucking gladiator.

This is only made worse when he starts his gladiatorial career and is given the nickname "Narcissus the Good," which sounds about as manly and imposing as "Sissypants the Adequate."

In all fairness, the real Emperor Commodus really was killed by a man named Narcissus, and there's something to be said for historical accuracy. Then again, the real Commodus was strangled to death in his bathtub, and Narcissus was his wrestling coach, so historical accuracy probably wasn't what Franzoni was going for here.

And that's good, because the script is full of what-the-fuck moments in the descriptions:

By the way, would it be terribly immature of us to point out an innocent typo and make a dick joke out of it?

Yeah, it probably would.

There's also a weird part where the Emperor tries to get Narcissus to take a dive in his big gladiator fight, and another part where Narcissus actually does take a dive, and then tries to slit his own wrists. Finally we have a really fucking weird part where Commodus has the entire Senate, along with his own sister, cooked alive inside a giant brass bull.


Sort of like this, but with fire.

Oh, and this draft has a happy ending, with Narcissus living out his years in Africa with his very-much-not-dead family. You know, after killing the Emperor of Rome. In front of about ten thousand witnesses.

On the Other Hand...

Sequences in the Coliseum feature a clown jumping over a bear, a naked midget riding an ostrich, and a bunch of chimpanzees dressed up as the Roman Senate. We don't need to tell you how awesome that would have been.

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