8 Hit Movies That Were Originally Rejected by Studios

manetaki via YouTube
manetaki via YouTube / manetaki via YouTube

It's a good thing filmmakers subscribe to that old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again." Even after getting rejection after rejection, the people behind these eight films stuck with it until they found a studio willing to buy their scripts.

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary said that had it not been for Harvey and Bob Weinstein, John Travolta’s comeback film probably would never have been made. Here’s what happened when they took the script to TriStar:

“We turned it in and they said ‘this is the worst screenplay that this film company has ever been handed. This is awful. It’s not funny. It makes no sense. This guy’s dead, he’s alive. What’s going on?’ Thank god for Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who immediately picked it up out of turnaround and gave Quentin [Tarantino] the power to make the script as it was. Not a single thing was really changed. Some things were removed, there were a couple of scenes that were taken out in editing, but truth be told, Quentin was given complete and total command to make that movie exactly as he sees it in his head.”

2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Columbia Pictures had first dibs on Steven Spielberg’s smash hit about the cuddly little alien with the glowing finger, then called E.T. and Me, but they passed. The studio allegedly considered the film akin to “a wimpy Walt Disney movie,” and allowed Universal to bid on the script instead. Columbia made out anyway; part of the deal with Universal allowed them to keep 5 percent of the net profits from E.T.. One Columbia executive later said the small stake made the studio more money than any of the movies they released themselves that year.

3. Back to the Future (1985)

Another Columbia miss from the mid-1980s: passing on Back to the Future for not being "sexual enough.” The movie was shopped to Disney next, but the studio declared it too sexually perverse, according to co-writer Bob Gale: “They told us that a mother falling in love with her son was not appropriate for a family film under the Disney banner.” Universal eventually picked the movie up after director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis had a hit with Romancing the Stone. (Back to the Future went on to become the highest-grossing movie of 1985, by the way.)

4. Star Wars (1977)

Granted, an “epic space opera” was probably a bit of a hard sell back before Star Wars set the standard, but United Artists, Universal, and Disney no doubt kicked themselves pretty hard for saying no after the fact. Even Fox financed the project only because they thought George Lucas had another American Graffiti-esque film in him, and they saw Star Wars as sort of a good-faith agreement that they would get first crack at that.

5. Twilight (2008)

Regardless of your feelings about the books, it’s undeniable that the Twilight series has made Summit Entertainment a good chunk of change. But before they picked it up, the project was first sold to MTV, then to Paramount. After a script was drafted, Paramount decided to put the project in turnaround, which means they could sell the rights to another studio. “We went shopping to every studio around, but everyone passed. Every studio passed,” producer Mark Morgan said. Had the movie stayed with Paramount, though, it would have been a completely different picture. “One of their drafts literally had a Korean FBI agent who was hunting and tracking vampires across the coast. There was SWAT in the trees and literally it was like, ‘Red leader, red leader 1’ and the vampires were picking them out of the woods. It would have been a different movie.”

6. The Exorcist (1973)

It’s no surprise that the script for a controversial movie like The Exorcist was turned down more than a bedspread at the Hilton. “I could paper the walls of my bathroom with rejection slips,” William Peter Blatty, author of the screenplay and the novel upon which it was based, said. After Blatty’s last-minute appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, when a scheduled guest dropped out, however, the novel finally took off. Its sudden bestseller status made Warner Bros. sit up and take notice.

What’s more surprising is that the score for the film was also soundly rejected—by director William Friedkin. Friedkin hated it so much that he literally pitched composer Lalo Schifrin’s score out the window. Here’s what could have been:

7. Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Dumb and Dumber is one of the most quotable movies of all time now, but originally, agents wouldn’t even pitch the script to studios because they thought the title alone was so stupid. The Farrelly brothers temporarily changed the name to A Power Tool is Not a Toy just to generate some interest, but changed it back after the script was eventually purchased. Even after they found a buyer in New Line Cinema, the CEO said he wouldn’t finance it unless the Farrellys could get two comedic actors from a list of 25 provided by the studio. (Spoiler alert: They didn’t. The movie was made anyway.)

8. Boogie Nights (1997)

It’s not often that you actually get to peek behind the scenes, but this document from Fox explains exactly why they turned Paul Thomas Anderson porn epic down. They considered both the concept and the storyline to be “POOR,” while the characterization and dialogue rated only “FAIR.” Recommendation: “NO.”