Reel Releases: Despicable movie names don't always make the cut

Despicable Me might not have drawn as many viewers to the box office in 2010 if it had been named for it's main character Gru (right). The name should continue its pull. Theaters this summer have been showing previews for Despicable Me 2, set for release next July.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how things are named. No particular reason. Just something I’ve been thinking about. After all, the name or title assigned to something, say a book, song, movie or institution dedicated to higher education, will usually be the first perception people have of it. As an opening gambit, it’s pretty important.


It’s taken very seriously, as might be expected, in the film industry. Titles are carefully researched and often adjusted according to the market. In France, for instance, Jaws was known as Teeth of the Sea. It was deemed more menacing than Machoires – the literal translation of Jaws. With millions of dollars in the balance, such careful consideration makes sense.

Take the 2010 animated hit Despicable Me, for instance. Would it have done as well at the box office had it been named for its lead character? I doubt it. It would have been called Gru.

Here are the stories of a few well-known movies that were almost called something completely different.


BLADE RUNNER (1982) – This dystopian science fiction favorite went through a few names before landing on its odd but now iconic title. It was originally to go with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the title of the novel it is based on. That, not surprisingly, was vetoed on the grounds of weirdness.

After that it was called Android, Mechanismo and Dangerous Days before landing on Blade Runner. What’s interesting is Beat novelist William Burroughs owned the rights to the title – he had used it for one of his novels – and granted, after some fiscal compensation, permission to use it.


FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) – This gentle baseball parable was based on a novel titled Shoeless Joe, and carried that title throughout the shooting process. Focus-group results found that audiences thought Kevin Costner was playing the disgraced baseball player or, more interestingly, that it was about a homeless guy. The title was changed late in the ninth inning.


TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) – Rumor has it this one was a typo.

The story goes it was originally Tomorrow Never Lies, but a careless clerk typed up a memo with “Dies” instead. The studio thought it sounded stronger and so it stuck.


PRETTY WOMAN (1990) – The studio thought the original title for this film – 3000 – might confuse people. While it refers to the price Julia Roberts charges for a week of her call-girl time, there were those who thought it sounded like a movie about a prostitute from the future. Perhaps they are saving that idea for the sequel.


SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) – Based on a magazine article called Tribal Nights of the New Saturday Night, the original plan was to retain the title. But let’s be honest, it is unwieldy. Instead the producers opted to draw inspiration from the Bee Gees’ song Night Fever. The rest is history.

An interesting side note – Brooklyn Regents Disco was never considered. That would be silly.