We assume that when some studio executive first read the script for The Godfather or Seven Samurai, his eyes turned into cartoon dollar signs. Surely everyone must have known they struck gold with titles like those, right? Not always. In fact, plenty of cinema classics were treated like refried dog shit by the very people making them ...
Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather changed everything: It is the definitive mafia flick, plus it saved one guy from having his legs broken with a baseball bat. That guy was Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather book.
via The New School History Project
And possibly Danny DeVito's real father.
Back in 1968, Puzo was in the hole for $10,000 to his bookie, and he hoped to pay it off by selling the rights to his unfinished novel -- of which he had about 60 pages -- to a Paramount executive he met through a friend. The man bought the option "more out of pity than excitement," and immediately forgot about it ... until Puzo finished The Godfather and it became a best-seller. After that, Paramount was suddenly excited about the novel and eager to shoot a film adaptation of it, a feeling that nobody else shared.
Except marionette salesmen.
For starters, no director wanted to touch it, especially Coppola, who hated The Godfather book because of its graphic sex scenes. He only took the job because his own studio was in massive debt (seeing a pattern here?). Bankruptcy started to sound kind of appealing after Coppola started work, only to find he was constantly disrespected by his own film crew, and he even had to fake a heart attack to convince the studio to let him cast Marlon Brando in the title role. At the same time, the actual mafia was trying to convince Paramount to shut down production of the movie by shooting out a producer's car windows. Come on, they couldn't have the movie tarnish their stellar reputation by painting them as a bunch of violent thugs.
It's been said that you couldn't make a Mel Brooks movie today, but the truth is you could barely make a Mel Brooks movie back when Mel Brooks was making Mel Brooks movies. Just look at his classic comedy western, Blazing Saddles. First, Brooks himself once quit the production because Warner Bros. wouldn't let him cast Richard Pryor in the main role. After he got over that and finally test-screened the movie for dozens of studio executives in 1975, the feedback from 15 of them was that Blazing Saddles was un-releasable and that they should just write off the $2 million they had already spent on it.
Half of which went to the bean budget.
Two studio execs stood up for Brooks and offered to do a test release in one theater each in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. After one of those screenings, the president of Warner Bros. shoved a notebook into Brooks' hand and told him to write down all the changes that needed to be made to the piece of shit he was being forced to release, most notably: taking out the N-word. Brooks agreed to the demands until the president left, at which point he tossed all the notes in the garbage can, thus saving comedy history.
Bonnie And Clyde managed to make stuffy 1960s America root for a pair of mass-murdering bank robbers. A lot of it had to do with casting the two sexiest people at the time in the main roles: Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Not that casting was the studio's decision. They didn't want anything to do with the movie, only agreeing to let Beatty produce it himself after he reportedly fell to the floor and screamed that he'd lick the shoes of Jack Warner if he just let him do this one flick. The studio head eventually relented, but he gave Beatty a shoestring budget and wanted to pay him 40 percent of the gross profit in lieu of a real salary, which he expected to amount to 40 percent of jack shit.
The poor prop department could afford only one lens for the sunglasses.
In fact, Warner once even warned Beatty that if he went to take a piss during a screening of Bonnie And Clyde, it meant the movie was no good. He ultimately dubbed it a "three-piss picture." Then, to make sure his prediction came true, Warner buried the movie by releasing it in the worst month possible and not advertising it.
Warner shot the bullet holes into the poster personally.
On the one hand, the studio's concerns weren't completely baseless: In the 1960s, gangster movies were on the way out. But then again, Bonnie And Clyde wasn't just a "gangster" movie. It was essentially an exploitation flick, an aggressive testament to the dramatically changing social norms of its era. That's why, after the movie was re-released properly, it made more than $50 million domestic, or in WB accounting terms: "Wait, we owe Beatty HOW MUCH MONEY?"
My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a surprise hit about a Greek-American woman falling in love with a non-Greek and learning that even if your relatives are a bunch of overbearing crazies, you should be thankful for them, because they might buy you a house someday.
The movie was based on a one-woman theater show performed by Nia Vardalos (who later wrote and starred in the movie) who spoke about her own experiences with Greek nuptials, so maybe people just enjoyed how authentic her story was. Naturally, that was also the first thing that Hollywood tried to get rid of when Vardalos started shopping the film version of her play around town.
"And do we really need that slow wedding scene? What if it was a rap battle?"
The studios suggested everything from changes to the plot to turning the whole thing into a story about a Hispanic family because, hey, at least people are familiar with Latino stereotypes: tacos, sombreros, pinatas, etc. But what do the Greeks have?
"Wait, so they don't live in igloos?"
At one point Vardalos was told the movie should star Marisa Tomei -- it was only when Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson stepped in to produce the movie that Vardalos was considered for the main role. The movie then went on to become the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history, because Hanks didn't get to where he is just because he pees awesome.
American Graffiti is a movie about teenagers in the 1960s that launched George Lucas' career. But Universal Studios seemed to hate just about everything about the movie, especially the title, which they thought sounded like some "Italian movie about feet."
"And the teenagers in it want to have sex! Can you imagine how that will go over?"
The tension between the studio and Lucas came to a head in 1973, during the movie's first test screening. Despite overwhelmingly positive feedback, George Lucas and producer Francis Ford Coppola were approached by studio executive Ned Tanen, who told them: "I went to bat for you, and you let me down."
Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm
Sadly, not the last time either man would be told this.
This angers the Coppola.
Channeling all the frustration accumulated during the making of The Godfather, he got all up in Tanen's face and told him that Lucas had just saved Universal and that he should be kissing Lucas' feet. Although Tanen backed down at the time, he still decided to shelve American Graffiti indefinitely and turned down the rights to Lucas' next project: Star Wars. Both projects were eventually bought by 20th Century Fox. American Graffiti then became at the time the most profitable film in history in terms of cost-to-revenue, and Star Wars became Star Wars. We hear it did all right.
Bob Falfa was in it!
Seven Samurai is a film about a small group of mercenaries (we forgot how many) that today is remembered as a classic. But at the time they thought it was killing its studio. See, 1950s Japan was dirt poor, and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai was shaping up to be the most expensive movie in Japan's history, at a cost of *gasp* $350,000.
A lot of that was spent in post-production removing the color from the film for that vintage look.
At the same time, Toho Studios was also making another expensive movie that was pushing them into bankruptcy: Godzilla. Pretty soon they had to decide which of the two projects should get priority, and despite what Samurai Jack might have taught you, big, scary monsters tend to beat guys with swords. Toho Studios actually ended up shutting down the production of Seven Samurai two times, but whenever they did, Kurosawa would calmly go fishing and wait, because he knew the producers already sank too much money into the project to just scrap it.
"So, should we just ... chill ... here?"
He was right. Despite going four times over its budget and dragging out to 148 days of shooting, the movie was completed, went on to become a classic, and everybody started writing Kurosawa's name with the characters for "Stone" and "Cold."
Adam Koski had complete and utter faith in this short film. Why wouldn't he have?
Turns out more than a few pop culture staples were loathed by the people involved in them. Check out 6 Classics Despised By The People Who Created Them and learn why Kubrick regretted making A Clockwork Orange. Or read 5 Hilarious Reasons Publishers Rejected Classic Best-Sellers and see why publishers passed on the Harry Potter series.
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