5 Beloved Movies That Changed Wildly Between Drafts
Many people assume that when it comes to movie scripts, they are essentially a direct representation of what ends up on-screen. That someone hands over the script to a director, and they set about making it as close as possible to that version. Obviously, though, it rarely ever works out this way, as a script goes through a million different gatekeepers, opinions, and layers of input and revision before it ever turns into a movie.
This can result in scripts and original pitches for movies that are incredibly different from what we ended up with on-screen ...
Con Air Had More Indy Drama Sensibilities
Close your eyes and picture what you remember about Con Air or, if you haven't seen it, take a really long walk and think about what the hell you're doing wrong with your life. You probably are taken back to a dogshit southern accent from Nic Cage? Or maybe John Malkovich holding a gun up to a stuffed bunny's head? Maybe still, you just remember a bunch of explosions and fighting on and around a plane full of convicts?
Every one of those Con Air memories hogging up precious space in your brain wouldn't exist if they stuck even remotely close to the original script.
Originally penned as an indie drama, the screenplay landed before the '90s biggest just blow shit up and put it on film guy, Jerry Bruckheimer. Huge tweaks were going to need to be made to get this one over the line. According to the director, they had to change just about everything in the script to bring it to those sweet, sweet Bruck levels of pure action insanity.
It's just hilarious to think of other scripts getting the same Bruckheimer treatment at the time. If the Shawshank Redemption script ended up with Jerry, would Andy have just taken a rocket launcher to the cell wall in the first act and spent the next two on a revenge-fueled ride across America with Ellis instead? Probably, and that movie would have kicked ass. Someone recommend this script called Good Will Hunting to Jerry? He read it, he likes it, but he thinks it'd be a lot better if Robin Williams drove a yellow Corvette with flamethrowers on the hood and that the genius janitor guy was actually just a regular janitor with a slightly below average intellect who didn't care at all about math but wanted to build his own flamethrower cars to go on a revenge-fueled ride across America with. Make those little changes, and you've got yourself a greenlit movie.
We should consider ourselves blessed that Con Air landed where it did. It's an absolutely horrific piece of fiction that is perfect in just about every conceivable way. Aside from a script that was nothing like the final product, Nic Cage also helped add in some flavor to push things over the top. Specifically, the accent and the bunny were both never mentioned on the original page, just little Cage additions made to spice things up. Throwing both Bruckheimer and Cage at your script is like taking the manuscript to the book you've just spent a decade perfecting to an Arby's for publishing. You might get lucky and find out that the person at the register is also a freelance publisher for Penguin, but you're more likely to leave without any ownership over your work and a shitty sandwich to show for it.
Commando Was Not Meant To Be Arnold
Moving from one of the most iconic pieces of batshit action cinema ever made to arguably the number one seed, Commando was initially a much different movie. According to the writer of the original screenplay, Commando was centered around an Israeli soldier who came home and decided to put violence behind him. After his daughter was kidnapped, he had to reconsider. For those who haven't seen what we actually ended up, Arnold Schwarzenegger's John Matrix not only hasn't put violence behind him, he is as close to a god damn video game character with infinite ammo that we have ever seen in a movie.
With one of the highest body counts ever put on screen, Commando is a lustful celebration of outright violence with a protagonist that seemingly runs on batteries that can only be recharged by throwing saw blades through dudes' heads or throwing pipes through their chest.
Even more absurd than this script originally featuring a more subdued, introspective tone, is who it was originally written for. The screenwriter thought his lead role would be perfect for a man who has since become one of the biggest movie stars of our lives: Kiss frontman Gene Simmons. But because this script started to gain traction just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was blowing up, things thankfully shifted just a tad. The thought of awful frontmen from even worse bands ruining great films is a brutal one.
I can't help but think there is some version of There Will Be Blood that was envisioned not with Daniel Day-Lewis at the helm, but a modern, bloated Vince Neil playing the part of the greedy oilman. You thought Tom Hanks was great in Philadelphia? Well, the original writer thought Jon Bon Jovi would have knocked your socks off. Even though I don't consider myself a religious man, I have to believe that whatever took place between this original, pensive script and the bombastic filth we ended up getting was some sort of divine intervention. Either that or cocaine. Probably more likely the cocaine angle.
Beverly Hills Cop Was Nearly A Stallone Action Flick
When you start to think about what makes Beverly Hills Cop such a great movie, you won't get too far down the list before you land on Eddie Murphy and his charisma.
It's the comedy that elevates that movie and makes it something beyond the standard action offering of the era. Now I want you to go ahead and wonder what that movie would be like if you took one of the most charismatic actors of that generation and replaced him with an actor with about as much personality as a toaster oven. That would have been the original Beverly Hills Cop, written, directed, and starring none other than comedic actor extraordinaire Sylvester Stallone. For some of these, we are lucky that the film itself underwent some serious tweaks in terms of plot, but this is a reminder of how much a script can change based on the actor's talent limitations.
Long before Murphy was brought on, the script for Beverly Hills Cop fell to Stallone. Stallone, unsurprisingly, was in but with just one catch. That stupid comedy would have to go. Stallone decided to hop on board under the condition that he would be allowed to rewrite the script to fit his more serious persona and take out just about everything that makes Beverly Hills Cop stand apart. Proud of his new baby, Stallone delivered his new script without comedy but with more action and a huge new price tag on top. The studio was pissed. Stallone was unwilling to budge, and they went separate ways. Stallone went off to make his version of the script in the form of that absolute piece of garbage, Cobra ...
... while the studio replaced him with Eddie Murphy and went on to have one of the biggest blockbusters of the '80s in any genre. So if you are out there sitting on a perfect script, some laughs, a little heart, just the right amount of action, offer that shit up to Stallone first, get his rewrites where he turns that stupid banana in a tailpipe gag into something way edgier like shooting bullets into the tailpipe until they snake all the way up through the air conditioning to get their target because that's how cars work. You may eventually have the biggest movie of the decade on your hands.
Star Wars: A New Hope Would Have Been Dumber Than The Prequels
You could easily do an entire piece about all of the ways that Star Wars: A New Hope didn't end up anything like its original script, so we will just focus on a few of the big ones. I like to picture George Lucas' writing process like this: first, he sits down, beardless, before one of those really small notepads with the metal spirals on top. He starts just thinking about aliens with dumbass names, and for each new alien, a beard hair grows. After pages and pages of scribbles and names like Taint Maxo and Cum Wingman, he both has the beard and the loose outline of a space opera at the same time. It turns out, my vision of his process may not be too different from the real thing when you look at some of the original ideas he had for his first movie.
Forget Han Solo as a swashbuckling space pirate cowboy; Lucas originally had envisioned this tentpole character as a big ass reptile just walking around in space. He would simply have to get past a Darth Vader that was, actually, some pretty standard dude without any powers and kind of only sat in a chair and gave orders around. The powers that he was missing out on were actually pretty shitty, too, it turns out. Lucas wrote The Force as a general sixth sense and some basic mental tricks in the original script, but not the whole moving shit around with your mind thing it turns out to be. Add to that a version of the Sith that are far less antagonistic, Wookies not being anything like the way we know them, and the entire planetary system is wildly different, and you have a vision for Star Wars that probably benefitted greatly from several rounds of edits. Something that, it seems, Lucas would ditch when working on the long-awaited follow-up movies, where he undoubtedly sprouted a beard down to his balls the second Jar Jar was ever scribbled onto his notepad.
Ghostbusters Had Less Comedy And Fewer Ghostbusters
We all remember Ghostbusters. Who could forget that they actually preferred to be called the Ghost Smashers. Everybody knows that there were actually only two of them, not the four you weirdly remember in your incorrect memories of the film. And yes, of course, our beloved Ghost Smashers romped around from planet to planet, zapping alien beings left and right. Wait, that didn't happen? That's just the outrageous first script and premise that Dan Akroyd had in mind? That makes more sense. According to Ivan Reitman, the film's eventual director, Akroyd's original pitch and concept had some issues:
"[I]t was all action. There was very little character work in it. The Ghostbusters were catching ghosts on the very first page -- and doing it on every single page after that, without respite -- just one sort of supernatural phenomenon after another. By the tenth page, I was exhausted. By the fortieth or fiftieth page -- however many there were -- I was counting the budget in hundreds of millions of dollars. And there really weren't very many laughs. Although I could detect a comic attitude, the whole thing was written rather seriously. In the end, I just kind of set it aside and forgot about it."
Akroyd then got to work on refining the script and sold Reitman on the project. From there, they worked on major story changes to reduce the script's massive budget demands and focused more on the comedy. What we ended up with is the lean, tight story set in New York City with a few set pieces of the ghosts and far more focus on the human characters trying to get things under control. What we got, obviously, is a legitimate classic that holds up decades later. What we could have gotten was closer to Star Wars from the mind of Dan Akroyd, with John Belushi by his side. Though both options sound alright with me, I'd like to think that this was a case of budgetary edits that actually worked out for once. If only the Ghost Smashers could have done all that ghost smashin' on two or three fewer planets, we could be having a very different conversation about this.
Top image: Buena Vista Pictures, Paramount Pictures