Ever see a movie called Sliding Doors? It was made in the late 90s, and starred Gwyneth Paltrow. The point of the film was to show how much a single choice can affect the outcome of your life. The movie wasn't all that great (for example: Gwyneth Paltrow is in it) but the concept is pretty powerful. It's been explored more successfully in movies like Run Lola Run, and makes up about 75 percent of every Bill Simmons article at ESPN. "What if Portland picked Jordan over Bowie? What if Bill Walton wasn't a gimpy towel boy with saltine crackers for feet? What if David Tyree didn't catch that football on his helmet why did he catch it WHY GOD WHY OH GOD I HAVE CLIPPERS SEASON TICKETS SHOOT MY FACE WITH GUNS!!!!"
Well, we'll be exploiting the Sliding Doors premise to travel back in time like Dr. Sam Beckett (Long Live the Bakula!) to fix some of cinema's most notable blockbusters, satires, even erotic thrillers, by changing one simple choice.
When it was released in 1991, most people didn't realize that T2 was set in 1995, four years in the future. Cameron doesn't even give us a time stamp when Arnold and the T-1000 arrive naked in their respective desolate alleys and truck stops in Los Angeles.
Even if your clothes are made of the same material as your body, they still make you travel naked.
In fact the only evidence we have that the film is set in the 1995 is a brief flash of John Connor's police record. So why set your movie in the future and bury that fact where nobody (who isn't paid to do this shit for a living) will find it?
We deserve a raise.
Because Cameron knew what Terminator 2's problem was heading in: John Connor. Since the savior of humanity was conceived on screen in a movie set in 1984, he would only be 7 years-old in 1991. Cameron realized that audiences wanted to see a Terminator sequel starring a 7 year-old about as much as they wanted to see a Star Wars prequel starring a 7 year-old.
Seriously, eat a dick kid.
His strategy was a ballsy sleight of hand, setting the film in a 1995 that looked exactly like 1991, which is to say, the most accurate rendering of the future in cinematic history. But he didn't go far enough. He arbitrarily stopped in 1995, giving us a 10 year old John Connor who, upon repeated viewing, is so obnoxious that you spend most of the movie wanting to see him shot in the face, fate of humanity be damned.
"If someone comes on to you with an attitude you say 'eat me.'" - The Savior of Humanity
Now let's imagine Cameron had moved Judgement Day to the year 2000, and set the film in the waning days of the millennium. Instead of Bart Simpson we get a 15 year-old John Connor. Casting director Mali Finn never has to fish for a male lead at a Pasadena Boys and Girls club, Edward Furlong never turns into a walking cautionary tale of childhood stardom and, more importantly for our purposes, Cameron never shits up a damn near timeless Terminator with botched attempts at taking the pulse of early 90s youth culture. Instead he would have given us a John Connor who, like his best movie, is too far into the future to touch any cultural touchstones, but still wouldn't have been too distant to listen to a kick ass Guns N Roses song.
We can't say who Cameron would have cast had he set T2 four more years into the future, but some pretty intriguing actors were the right age in 1991. Christian Bale was 16 at the time, clearing him to play a post-pubescent John Connor in our hypothetical 1999 T2. If Newsies era Bale wasn't striking his fancy, Cameron always had the option of a 15-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio circa What's Eating Gilbert Grape?.
But no matter who was cast, he would have saved one of the best action movies of all time from feeling like an obnoxious Nerf commercial.
"Hasta la vista, rad dudes!"
Both films were solidly directed gut-punches. Mean-spirited romps written by a young, unproven Quentin Tarantino. True Romance ended up getting filtered through the sensibilities of Tony Scott, the man who brought us such subtle pieces of filmmaking as Top Gun. On Natural Born Killers, Stone twisted Tarantino's sweetly nihilistic story into an anti-media polemic (leading to an angry Tarantino slapping the shit out of one of the producers). Neither was an artistic failure. Great scripts become good-to-great movies.
But think about Tarantino's career if he'd directed two of his finest scripts to get optioned. At this point, it's pretty obvious that Tarantino doesn't even make Tarantino movies anymore; he makes Tarantino flavored mash-ups of other people's films. He's a DJ, not a director--grabbing an influence here, a camera trick there, a swatch of film-score, a swoop of a crane shot. Like the Bomb Squad built Public Enemy out of 30,000 records, some tape and razor blades, Quentin Tarantino builds cinematic experiences out of his vast knowledge of pop culture.
But what if he squeezed two more films into his early era, with the same vibrancy and vision of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs? You think geeks already deify his balding ass now? Imagine a world where the Academy can't ignore Pulp Fiction for Best Picture because Tarantino's True Romance and Natural Born Killers had already cemented his ascension to Scorsese-level auteur. As a bonus, Tony Scott doesn't spiral out into his career of incoherent, try-too-hard ADD action-fests after Quentin spoils him, and Oliver Stone maybe doesn't fall in love with his own psychotically edited navel-gazing bullshit for about a decade and a half. Maybe.
OK, so Shyamalan has had an infuriating career. But the premise of his second film was pretty damned fantastic: Bruce Willis is Superman, but he doesn't know it. Samuel L. Jackson DOES know it, and in this flick, the L stands for "Luthor." The one and only thing keeping this from being a classic was that M. Night Shyamalan was being called a next-generation Spielberg, poised to stomp all over Hollywood. Unfortunately, this put his head six-miles up his own ass regarding his storytelling skills: He'd stumbled onto the gritty superhero movie ten years before Chrstopher Nolan, but he was too blinded by the hype surrounding The Sixth Sense's twist ending to do anything with it. Unbreakable spends most of it's time and energy hiding Willis's super powers from him, back loading all the bad ass potential of the idea into a twist ending.
If Shyamalan had realized what he had and said, "Fuck it, I'm moving the reveal to the middle," he not only keeps himself from falling into the "Twist Ending AT ALL COSTS" trap that hobbled his career harder than Annie Wilkes, but he gives himself an hour to go apeshit in the superhero playground. He gets to beat Christopher Nolan to the Dark Knight by almost a full decade. We don't have to wait until his career is in the shitter, adapting Nickelodeon cartoons, to see him get his action movie rocks off.
The sequels he had planned for Unbreakable actually get made after the film clears 300 million at the box office, sparing us shit like The Village and Ron Howard's Daughter Is Stuck In My Pool: The Movie. And best of all, with the reveal moved back an hour, you get to cut almost every excruciatingly, agonizingly boring scene where Willis and Robin Wright and Not-Haley Joel Osment stare at each other in a shitty, dingy apartment like they were told to pretend they were in a Death Cab video and not a motherfucking superhero movie.