Great Movies That Sucked Before Reshoots
Ask a movie buff what's wrong with Hollywood, and at some point during the resulting feature-length rant, they'll mention "test screenings." Showing a movie to a random group of people without film studies diplomas and asking for their opinions is how these things end up all samey and sterile. There are countless examples of good, challenging films that were hated by test audiences, from Goodfellas to Se7en to Babe: Pig In The City.
However, there are even more examples of test audiences saving classics from one of the most dangerous things in cinema: a good director with a terrible idea. Sometimes, even the most talented filmmakers need a room full of average Joes to tell them they're wrong. For example ...
The Makers Of Anchorman Replaced Nearly Half The Movie After Test Screenings
Within a few years of its release, Anchorman quotes became about 10 percent of all online discussion. People were suddenly kind of a big deal, things were escalating quickly, etc. The movie popularized a new, improvisation-heavy form of movie comedy ... or, at least, the replacement movie did. That is, the one they made after throwing away half of the original.
Let's put it this way: They cut so many scenes out of Anchorman that they made a separate, much crappier direct-to-DVD movie out of the leftovers.
Spoilers: It was lost for a reason.
When director Adam McKay first test screened Anchorman, it was a huge bomb. Which must have made him especially nervous, since it was incredibly difficult to get a studio interested in a '70s pastiche starring the guy from Elf in the first place. One of the biggest things people disliked was a lengthy plot parodying hippie-era radicalism, featuring an extremist group called The Alarm Clock. Here's one scene from that subplot. While it's amusing enough on its own, you'll note that it has literally nothing to do with Anchorman.
Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph are in it, so it could pass for a fancily-shot SNL sketch. It also stars Chuck D from Public Enemy in what was probably supposed to be his big comedy acting break. And this wasn't merely a couple of scenes; it was the central running gag. Originally, nearly half the movie would have followed those assholes, until they kidnap Christina Applegate's character and the Channel 4 News Team rescues her.
Rescuing the movie itself proved trickier, though. After test audiences tore it apart, the studio ordered McKay to rewrite and reshoot a significant number of scenes to leave no trace whatsoever of the extremist group subplot. This changed 40 percent of the movie, and the result was a comedy classic.
We're not saying bears are funnier than Maya Rudolph, but ... OK, yeah.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan's Spock Cliffhanger Was Added By Audience Demand
Depending on who you ask, The Wrath Of Khan is either the best Star Trek movie or the only good Star Trek movie. It revitalized the entire franchise, not merely by not sucking, but also by setting up a plotline that would fuel the next two films. After Spock sacrifices himself to save his friends, the movie ends with a shot of his casket on the Genesis Planet, hinting that Leonard Nimoy shouldn't throw those space elf ears in the garbage quite yet.
This isn't Spock's casket, though. This is some guy called Mark.
It was a glorious return to Star Trek's serialized origins ... and of course, it wasn't supposed to happen. When director Nicholas Meyer turned in the movie, Spock died, had a funeral, and that was it. The end. Test audiences found this really jarring and uncomfortable, even though Spock's death had already been known to Star Trek fans for a while (ironically leading to death threats for Nimoy). Everyone at Paramount was caught off-guard by this -- except maybe Meyer, who was completely OK with having a dark ending, even if it meant pissing off every Trekkie in existence.
"I can probably take 'em all at the same time."
It was Paramount boss Michael "I saved Airplane!" Eisner who proposed a solution. As Eisner put it, they had the start of a Christ parable (Spock sacrificing himself), and now they simply needed to hint at the rest of it. For those of you who've never seen the best Jesus movie yet, Robocop, he was talking about resurrection.
And so, against Meyers' wishes, the casket scene was added, along with a final voiceover of Nimoy reading the "Space, the final frontier" monologue from the original series. They couldn't have made it more obvious that he was coming back if they'd had him say, "Hey, I'm coming back." As a result, the same fans who would have probably called for boycotts left the movie prepared to buy tickets for at least 20 more installments.
Titanic's Preview Audiences Slowly Pried Out A Dumb Action Scene
Titanic was (and still is) a pretty weird fit for James Cameron. How does someone go from directing movies about time-traveling kill-bots to a period piece about star-crossed lovers on a doomed ocean liner?
Or, to put it another way: How do you go from Guns N' Roses to Celine Dion?
Well, it turns out that Cameron did shoot a whole action sequence for Titanic ... and it was dumb as hell. Late in the film, rich douchebag Cal (Billy Zane) unintentionally gives a valuable gem to Rose (Kate Winslet) before she runs off into the bowels of the sinking ship with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). In the version everyone saw an average of ten times, Cal briefly chases them before realizing he's, you know, in a sinking ship and turns around. However, in a deleted scene, Cal tells his employee Lovejoy he can have the gem "if he can get it" -- at which point this 50-year-old manservant turns into a freaking Terminator.
It plays like the climax of a completely different movie, probably starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Lovejoy relentlessly follows Jack and Rose into a flooding dining room as sparks fall on them from the ceiling (it isn't a real action scene without inexplicable sparks). After a tense game of semi-underwater hide-and-seek, Lovejoy finds Rose and it looks like he's about to shoot her, but then Jack comes out of nowhere and tackles his ass.
The actor would get his revenge years later, when he played a bear.
More punching, shooting, running, and terrible one-liners ensue. Again, all of this happens while the Titanic is sinking. We already know the protagonists are in mortal danger. Having a previously sane man almost shoot their heads off as they try to escape is both silly and redundant at this point.
"Give me the gem, Dawson! It's the only way I can open the portal and free my master!"
Contrary to the popular notion that filmgoers love mindless action, preview audiences hated this scene. Cameron figured that it must have been too long, but nope -- he cut it in half and the people in the screenings were still bored. So he reluctantly took this expensive setpiece out of the movie, despite still thinking it was awesome. Presumably, he's now figuring out a way to turn everyone blue in post-production so he can shoehorn it into one of the Avatar sequels.
Spielberg Had To Be Convinced To Take Jiminy Cricket Out Of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
John Williams is such a goddamn treasure that it's hard to imagine any of his movies without his music. Can you picture Star Wars with funky electronic songs? Or Jurassic Park with '90s soft-rock guitars? Or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind with Disney tunes? Steven Spielberg definitely could, because he almost made that last one happen.
If you haven't seen the movie, Richard Dreyfuss plays the most deadbeat dad in the Universe. He ends up choosing to leave his family to go to space with some aliens he just met. Spielberg wanted to score the dramatic final scene of the alien spaceship taking off ...
... with this song from Pinocchio, of all things.
It was supposed to be that exact version, too, with Jiminy Cricket's voice and all. And this wasn't some wacky idea Spielberg pulled out of his ass at the last minute -- "When You Wish Upon A Star" is his "favorite song in the universe," and it actually inspired him to make this movie. He says he "hung [the] story on the mood the song created, the way it affected [him] emotionally." You know your kid has a great imagination when he sees fucking Pinocchio and imagines a sci-fi story about aliens who speak in synth noises.
A potential science fiction icon, according to Spielberg.
However, that sentimental connection clearly didn't come through to the audience, which snickered at the song choice during an early screening. It was like hearing "Hooked On A Feeling" in Guardians Of The Galaxy, except the hilarity wasn't intentional. The other people working in the movie weren't crazy about it, either. SFX genius Douglas Trumbull said it was "too cornball" and "diminished the film," and if we were John Williams, we wouldn't be entirely pleased with having our work brushed aside in favor of a cartoon song (he'd already scored an original theme for the ending).
Because of the audience response, Spielberg cut "When You Wish Upon A Star," but he still made Williams create a more dignified orchestral version of the song for the 1980 Special Edition ... making us wonder why they didn't go with that in the first place.
Now do "Hooked On A Feeling."
The Dark Crystal's Test Audiences Saved Us From Lots Of Incoherent Screeching
Jim Henson pulled off the amazing feat of making people care about puppets with his twin phenomena of Sesame Street and The Muppets, but his movie The Dark Crystal is considered his true masterpiece. It was a complex and moving fantasy epic that introduced great innovations in animatronics, pushing the boundaries of movie magic farther than anyone thought possible. Or at least, they never thought the guy who voiced Kermit would do it.
However, Henson almost ruined everything by forgetting one essential part of filmmaking: letting viewers understand what the characters are saying. This is what the movie almost sounded like:
The movie's ugly villains, the Skeksis, were supposed to speak in a made-up language. And we're using the word "speak" loosely here, because they mostly screeched and whined obnoxiously, like a dog choking on a still-alive parrot. Oh, and note that a fan added the subtitles on the video above (here's an official example without them). This is because, as producer Gary Kurtz explained in an early '80s interview, audiences didn't need to understand the dialogue to tell what was going on in the plot. Audiences disagreed; there were numerous walkouts during Dark Crystal's first test screenings.
"Skree? Skree skree, skreeeeeee!" (That was the funniest joke in Cracked history,
but you have to speak Skeksise to understand it.)
It didn't help that the actors playing the Skeksis never bothered to learn the fake language, being more interested in other details, like whether they could breathe inside those unwieldy costumes. So sometimes they'd be reading their "lines" from the script, and sometimes they'd make up random screeching noises as they went along (though we'll pay you $50 if you can tell the difference).
Henson eventually got the message and re-dubbed the Skeksis' dialogue in English, while adding other adjustments to make the story easier to follow. Dark Crystal was a success. It ended up grossing almost four times as much money as Henson's next fantasy movie, Labyrinth. And that one had David Bowie's giant crotch in it, so that's quite the achievement.
Escape From New York Dropped A Long Opening About How Snake Ended Up In Jail
Escape From New York inspired a whole generation of men to secretly wish they'd lose one eye in some horrible accident just so they could look as cool as the president-saving Snake Plissken. It seems impossible to imagine Kurt Russell's portrayal of the character as anything but a fairly stoic badass. But for writer/director John Carpenter, it was apparently so important to show Plissken being a wimp that he tried to devote the first ten minutes of his movie to it.
Here's Snake, practically peeing his pants upon seeing some cops in the distance:
Either they're very in the distance, or those are some little kids.
And here he is again, trying to catch a futuristic subway that looks like ... a subway:
You want your first look at an action hero to seem like they're trying to get to the big job interview on time.
The movie as we know it starts with Snake already in prison, when he's recruited to save the president. Originally, though, Carpenter wanted to show us how Snake got there, and in the process preemptively kill any mystique the character might ever have.
The movie would open with Plissken and a partner, disguised as a couple of techs, robbing a bank by hacking it. Then they'd escape by hacking a subway car -- which, this being the future, goes all the way across the USA. Seemingly not anticipating that anyone who noticed that the transcontinental subway was hacked would have access to that futuristic technology "the phone," Snake and his bud are surprised by cops almost as soon as they disembark.
At this point, Snake's friend is shot and we see our fearless antihero run away, then sort of awkwardly turn around, like he has no idea what to do, until he turns himself in. The idea was that Snake could have escaped, but tried to come back for his friend, but no one in the test screenings got that. He just looked like a big, indecisive weenie.
"I CAN MAKE IT TO THE BATH-- nope, too late."
It's only after ten minutes of this crap that we find out that, oh yeah, Manhattan has been turned into a giant prison, by the way. The test audience wanted to get to the good shit right away, and fortunately, Carpenter didn't have enough clout to ignore the screening's results back then, so he cut the whole introduction. Too bad no one forced him to do the same with the entirety of Escape From LA.
Adam Koski also wrote an exciting and hilarious fantasy novel called Forust: A Tale Of Magic Gone Wrong.