5 Famous Films Hollywood Had Zero Faith In
Studios are deeply overconfident about films that follow a set template, but any deviation at all leaves them fearing the worst. Audiences are unpredictable and quick to anger, they reason. And so they scramble to reassure the theater-going public any way they can. Such as when ...
Marvel Thought Kids Wouldn't Like Iron Man, So They Released "Iron Man Advertorials"
Iron Man is, at last count, the single most bankable character in the entire history of cinema. This was absolutely not the case before the 2008 movie came out. Hardly anyone had even heard of the comic book hero, so the studio did the responsible thing and held focus groups to see how much he'd interest people -- specifically, how much he'd interest children, the demo who truly controls everything. It turned out he did not interest them very much at all. Not so long as he appeared to be a flying robot, something kids had stopped finding cool some decades previously.
So Marvel had a mission to teach kids and potential ticket buyers that there was indeed a man in that metal suit. You'd think this would a fact easily teachable through trailers and the posters they were going to have to make anyway, but they went a step further and produced a set of animated shorts they called the Iron Man Advertorials. The cartoons also aimed to show Iron Man was just as powerful and cool as known heroes Hulk and Spider-Man. They released these on their websites, including their dedicated Marvel Kids site.
The shorts -- here are all three of them rolled into one -- were made by future Deadpool director Tim Miller and his mo-cap/animation team. Watching them, you might be struck by how weird it is that Marvel was able to put a video together teaming Iron Man and Spider-Man up, when they wouldn't be allowed to so on the big screen for another seven years. They didn't have the film rights to Spidey at this point, but they did still own the character. It's also surreal hearing Iron Man not voiced by Robert Downey Jr. It's just wrong. It's like the promo footage from that upcoming Avengers video game, where it looks like all the Avengers are being played by the actors' stunt doubles.
The really big takeaway here is, wow. The Avengers four years later steals this short's exact ending. Iron Man grabs a nuke and takes it out into space to save the city, it explodes out there, his suit's systems fail, he falls down back to the earth, and then Hulk suddenly appears to catch him -- even though there was zero mention of Hulk in this video at all till this exact second.
But it's also kind of funny to see them having to market Iron Man to kids as "he's strong, and he's best buds with the heroes you know," while they marketed him to adults as "this is Tony, he drinks and gets laid!" Kids or adults -- none of us are very mature.
To Avoid Predicted Catholic Backlash, H.R. Giger Made Alien Eggs Look Less Vaginal
Alien's set design was 85% genitalia. There may have been a time when audiences were naive enough that we had to tell them, breathlessly, "Did you know that this film actually has a sexual subtext?!" but today, it's clear: the whole movie is just rooms and rooms of peens and hoo-has. Even so, there's least a sort of layer of metaphor to it, right? For example, the second mouth of the alien is phallic, but it doesn't sprout from between the alien's legs, which would have been too explicit even for a film like this.
Also too explicit for them: the original design of the alien eggs. Most of the alien elements were just phallic/yonic, but the eggs looked like literal vulvas rather than just suggesting them. "I had lovingly endowed this egg with an inner and outer vulva," was how master crotchsmith H.R. Giger described it. Ridley Scott laughed on seeing the eggs, but the producers in the end decided that it was so obvious, it would be a problem with Catholic audiences and whole Catholic countries for some reason.
Giger responded by altering the design so rather than a single slit, there were four flaps, making it unlike any actual human orifice. Said Giger, "Seen from above, they would form the cross that people in Catholic countries are so fond of looking at." The sexual imagery was still there though, and he even privately called the new two-slit design doubly obscene.
"It's like a hot-cross bun," he'd later say, giving us all a useful line to repeat in bed. All these effects, by the way, may have been advanced when it comes to art, but they were still very low-tech. To form the innards of the egg, which had to look authentically organic, they threw in an actual cow stomach and sheep intestines. To make these innards throb, Scott himself stuffed his hand in there and pushed. Movie magic, people.
Fearing Audiences Wouldn't Understand What Anyone Was Talking About, Dune Distributed Glossaries Along With Tickets
Fantasy stories overflow with impenetrable jargon. This is why plenty of people stay far away from them, and also why nerds love them so much (it also reminds them of how, back in school, even if they weren't as cool as everyone else, they at least had far superior vocabulary). The producers behind Dune took a look at all of the words you had to learn and recall as you watched the film and found them to be more than you can expect anyone to put up with. Bene gesserit? Kwisatz haderach? Sardaukar? How were audiences supposed to deal with all that gibberish? Also, was it possible to rename the Thufir Hawat character Jack Clay or something catchy?
We mock studio execs for underestimating audiences, but when it comes to this kind of fantasy lingo, they have a point. It really is hard to learn all those words, and that's even when reading, when you can go as slow as you like maybe move your lips during the especially tricky parts. Picking up all those words in a movie is like trying to learn a language by watching a foreign film -- technically possible, but more than you should ask of anyone. So along with reels of the finished movie, the studio sent out printed glossaries to theaters to distribute to all moviegoers.
Cool, problem solved! Except wait. Did they expect audiences to refer to their cheat sheet whenever they heard a word they didn't understand in the movie? In the theater? In the dark theater? How was that supposed to work exactly? Were they supposed to take out their phones and shine a light on the page every time they were confused? That would ruin the moviegoing experience for everyone, and also this was 1984, so expecting everyone to carry smartphones on them demanded more time travel than the average person had access to. Maybe they were supposed to take out their lighters so they could read the glossaries? Sounds like a major fire hazard to us.
Or, did they expect everyone to intently read the glossary while still in the theater lobby, or before the lights went down? And commit the whole thing to memory? We're pretty sure that greatly overestimated people's ability and inclination to study. Yes, nerds like to study, we already established that, but nerds already read the book so they're the only ones who don't need this glossary.
The new adaptation of Dune, from Denis Villeneuve, is supposed to come out at the end of this year. We don't know what plans they have to cure the jargon problem. We're thinking some kind of Duolingo tie-in sent to everyone nationwide two weeks pre-release.
George Lucas Bet Against Star Wars
Steven Spielberg was making Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the same time as George Lucas was making Star Wars. Each believed the other's film would be more successful. They were still relatively young men, you see, years away from being buried under hundreds of millions of dollars and being told by everyone around them that they were infallible.
Lucas worried that his film was too immature, and he was awed by the huge sets Spielberg had built. As for Spielberg, well, given what you already know while reading this today, we don't really need to explain why Star Wars looked like a potential moneymaker. The two made a bet, whereby each would give up a few points on their film's profit to the other. Both films did end up being successful, but Star Wars was the more successful one by far, and it's estimated that Lucas lost $40 million by betting against his film.
That's not a crippling amount for someone as rich as Lucas, but still, that's 1 percent of the amount Disney would eventually pay for total ownership of all Star Wars movies past and future AFTER they'd proven themselves sources of infinite cash.
Lucas's modest doubts about his own film, however, were nothing compared the studio's. Fox was sure audiences would ignore Star Wars unless compelled to watch it, to the point that Fox forced theaters to screen the film. Not at gunpoint, but they said that theaters had to screen it if they wanted a chance at screening what everyone saw as a surer winner: a film called The Other Side of Midnight. This was an adaption of a Sidney Sheldon novel (totally one of his top two best books) starring Susan Sarandon, and it promised nudity and lifestyle porn. That was what people wanted to watch, not wizards and puppets! (Star Wars immediately outgrossed it ten times over.)
Miracle On 34th Street Didn't Want People To Know It Was A Christmas Movie
Wait, how do you possibly market this movie about believing in Santa without including Christmas? And why would you want to? Was Santa's appearance supposed to be some grand twist that would be ruined by any foreknowledge? Or, this being the 1940s, was this that War on Christmas we've heard so much about?
The issue was, back then, films wouldn't release nationwide simultaneously. They'd start in the biggest cities, so if a movie had to be absolutely everywhere by Christmas (as would make sense for a Christmas film), it had to release in NYC a while before that, in a season where no one was interested in watching Christmas movies. So Miracle On 34th Street was released in May, which meant they had to hide the Christmas elements if they wanted any New Yorkers to see it.
They were probably going a little overboard with the early release schedule, but the studio didn't care much since they didn't have much faith in the movie either way. So they put out a poster, which had to include the actor who plays Santa, but he isn't dressed as Santa, and he's tiny compared to the other actors:
As for the trailer, it didn't contain footage from the movie at all. Instead, they put out this weird meta trailer in which a studio exec complains about a proposed trailer being too vague. So he strolls through the 20th Century Fox backlot, conveniently passing a woman randomly wearing a 1940s two-piece bathing suit, and asks a bunch of different actors and actresses what they think of the film. None of them are part of Miracle on 34th Street, but all of them have good things to say about it -- wildly contradictory things, and they all flatly refuse to reveal the plot. Finally, the exec watches the film himself (he hadn't till this point watched the film that he calls his own, haha), and comes up with the exact vague trailer that his underlings made.
The film is "hilarious!" says the trailer-in-a-trailer. And "romantic!" and "tender!" and "exciting!" ... and "groovy," which a word you might not have known existed in 1947. There's not even the slightest suggestion of what the plot is, but compared to today's trailers, which are worse than Wikipedia summaries when it comes to spoiling the movie if you haven't seen it yet, this trailer is perfect.