Making an enduring slice of pop culture is harder than it looks. About a billion different things have to come together in exactly the right way. If just one of those elements is slightly wrong, you go from having a classic like Avengers Assemble to a not-so-classic like Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But some decisions wouldn’t have given us lesser versions of the movies, shows, and games we love today. They would have ruined them completely.
Warning: A ridiculous number of spoilers for old films are below.
10 GoldenEye 007
Bond To ‘Shake Hands’ With Enemies
GoldenEye 007 defined the Nintendo 64. As James Bond, players got to blast a succession of bad guys to oblivion, all while having more fun than should legally be allowed. Things were nearly very different. In the early days of development, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t want Bond killing anyone. Instead, he thought Bond should “shake hands” with his enemies.
At the time, Nintendo was trading heavily on its family-friendly image. Killing multiple goons in a villain’s lair didn’t quite square with that. It also didn’t help that early builds of GoldenEye were so gory that it was compared to “that moment in The Shining where the lift doors open.” So Miyamoto came up with what seemed like a compromise. Bond could “kill” his enemies in the game. But once players reached the end, they’d be treated to a scene with 007 visiting them in the hospital, shaking their hands, and telling them to get better soon.
Needless to say, if that scene had made it in, it would’ve been one of the strangest sequences in video game history. Aside from being completely unlike Bond, it would’ve just been laughable. Thankfully for all our childhoods, developer Rare got around the issue by toning down the gore to almost nonexistent levels.
9 Toy Story
Buzz Knew He Was A Toy
Toy Story is such a part of our cultural landscape that you’d be hard-pressed to imagine a 2015 without it. Seriously. It changed animation from the 2-D, singing-and-dancing Disney version into the kind you see in cinemas today. This seismic shift nearly didn’t happen, for the very good reason that early Toy Story scripts sucked.
According to Joss Whedon, who was drafted to do an emergency rewrite, they were dire. There were Disney-style musical numbers, Woody was a bitter narcissist who insulted and abused the other toys, and the two leads hated each other. Even worse were the early treatments of Buzz. Instead of the iconic, deluded space ranger he eventually became, he was conceived as being dim-witted but self-aware. Worst of all, he knew he was a toy.
Anyone who has seen the original Toy Story knows that a huge part of the plot and much of the comedy derives from Buzz thinking he’s a real space ranger. Even the sequels portray him as still faintly (and occasionally, utterly) deluded on this point. It wasn’t until Whedon came onboard that Pixar finally realized the potential in this setup. Strangely enough, it’s not the only time they nearly screwed up their greatest franchise.
8 Toy Story 2
Nearly Deleted By Accident
Not every near-miss decision in pop culture involves the creative process. Sometimes, it can be as simple as accidentally hitting the “undo” key when you don’t have decent backups. In 1999, this exact thing happened at Pixar. After editing Toy Story 2 (but before it was rendered for theaters), someone deleted the master copy. It was at this point that Pixar discovered that their backups hadn’t been working for months.
In other words, the team had effectively just deleted one of the most beloved sequels in pop culture history. Although plenty of random bits from the film had survived, the master copies of the sets, characters, and animations had all gone down the drain, leaving an error-ridden mess that was completely unwatchable.
At a bare minimum, the team estimated that they would have to roll the clock back two months before they could recover a workable version. At the absolute worst . . . well, let’s just say our inner children don’t even want to think about a world without a Toy Story franchise.
Luckily, a member of the animation team just happened to have taken a copy home with her. When she found out about the debacle, she brought it in, and the people at Pixar breathed a collective sigh of relief.
7 The Shining
Originally Had A Happy Ending
Gory, grim, and unremittingly bleak, The Shining is one of the most perfect horror films ever made. Even its arguably nonsensical ending can chill viewers to the core with its suggestion that Jack Nicholson’s character has always lived at the cursed hotel. But Kubrick originally had something else in mind. He wanted The Shining to have a happy ending.
That’s right. Stanley Kubrick—the man who tortured more actresses than all horror movie villains combined and created some of the world’s bleakest films about the human condition—wanted to end The Shining with a smile.
And what a smile. The earliest version released in theaters had the hotel manager from the opening scene visit Shelley Duvall’s Wendy in the hospital. There, he offers her a room in his downtown Los Angeles pad before happily playing ball with the kid Danny, as if the preceding months of mental torture and extreme violence had never happened.
Weirdest of all, the hotel itself was given a happy ending. After the upbeat hospital scene, a card appeared on-screen assuring viewers that “the Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had many others.”
6 Doctor Who
Nearly Featured A Talking Cabbage
Thanks to the famously bad special effects of Doctor Who’s first 26 years, you might assume that we meant “talking cabbage” as a snide remark, our way of describing a particularly awful alien design. No such luck. In the 1970s, the show’s then-star Tom Baker decided to mix up the casting a bit. Instead of a female actress as the Doctor’s companion, he begged the producers to let him have a literal talking vegetable.
In later interviews, Baker explained that the cabbage would have sat on his shoulder, presumably commenting on his adventures like the old guys in The Muppets. When Baker was told no, the famously eccentric actor went on to suggest adding costars as insane as a parrot, a frog, a fox, a badger, and an enormously fat woman who would spend each episode “wheezing around” after the Doctor.
Baker was a megastar at the time, so it’s not clear if the producers ever seriously thought about granting his wish. However, considering that the 1980s’ Doctor Who once cast Bertie Bassett as the villain (see the video above), we honestly wouldn’t put it past them.
Originally Threw The Fight
Rocky Balboa is the ultimate underdog. Before the sequels got increasingly ridiculous, Stallone’s “Italian Stallion” was the patron saint of taking your best shot. He didn’t win his fight against Apollo Creed, but Rocky won in a more important way by simply trying. It’s one of the most inspiring messages in cinema. And it was nearly ruined when Stallone’s original script had Rocky taking a bribe to throw the fight.
Just imagine that for a second. You’ve watched Rocky train for weeks on end. You’ve seen him punching slabs of meat in a freezer. You’ve seen him running up the courthouse steps. You’ve seen him push himself to the very limit in the name of chasing his dream . . . and then you see him pretend to get knocked out, take the money, and use it to open a pet store.
Yeah, instead of going on to fight Hulk Hogan and Mr. T and single-handedly end the Cold War (see the video above), Rocky originally opened a pet store for Adrian and spent the rest of his life working there. As Stallone himself once noted in an interview: “Not as dramatic, is it?”
4 Back To The Future
Doc Brown Encourages Incest
As you may have heard, we recently reached the day in 2015 that Doc and Marty traveled to in Back to the Future Part II. The trillion or so articles that followed proved just how beloved the trilogy still is 30 years after its release.
So now seems the perfect time to talk about one scene that could have ruined the whole thing. The first movie in the trilogy originally contained a scene where Doc encourages Marty to engage in a moment of incest with his mother.
For those who haven’t seen it, the first film involves Marty traveling back in time from the 1980s to the 1950s. There, he accidentally stops his teenage mom from meeting his dad, and then Marty has to deal with his own mom getting a crush on him. The released film keeps this plotline just the right side of creepy. But the original version is a different matter. When Marty expresses nervousness about his mother’s feelings for him, Doc responds with a saucy wink and advises him to “take a few liberties with her.”
If that wasn’t enough, Marty then freaks out, worried that copping a feel off his mother will mess him up in the future and somehow turn him gay. So originally, Back to the Future managed to squeeze incest jokes and homophobia into a single scene. We’re really glad they cut it.
3 The Thing
A Happy Ending
John Carpenter’s base-under-siege horror movie The Thing is one of the goriest, bleakest films out there. Especially the ending. The base is destroyed, nearly everyone is dead, and Kurt Russell has been left to freeze to death in the snow. Worst of all, the only other survivor of the climax may be a shape-shifting alien in disguise. It’s a master class in downbeat horror. And it could have been replaced with an upbeat ending.
To be fair, this is “upbeat” compared to the actual ending, so it’s not like they were originally meant to break into song or anything. Instead, the film would have ended with Kurt Russell being rescued, taken to a hospital, and given a blood test to prove that he’s not secretly a shape-shifting alien. The hero survives, the bad guy dies, and Earth is saved.
While not utterly terrible, this would have undermined exactly what made The Thing so great in the first place. Gone would be that sense of helplessness, of nihilistic despair. In its place would be just another horror-thriller (albeit a well-made one). Fortunately, Carpenter only filmed this ending to satisfy the producers. When the downbeat version tested well, he canned the upbeat ending. It hasn’t been seen since.
2 Sesame Street
A Character Really Dies
Imagine the most traumatic thing that might have happened in your childhood. Now multiply that by a factor of 10, and you’ll come close to what kids growing up in 1986 nearly experienced. That was the year that the space shuttle Challenger exploded, scarring a nation. Had things gone a bit differently, one of its victims would have been Sesame Street’s Big Bird.
Hard as it is to believe now, 1980s NASA was planning to blast celebrities into space to show off its shuttle capabilities. They sent a letter to Caroll Spinney, the man who played Big Bird, asking if he’d be willing to go up as his famous character to get kids interested in space. Considering what happened, it would have likely put them off science for life. However, it was too difficult to fit a man in a gigantic bird costume into the shuttle, so Spinney was replaced by teacher Christa McAuliffe.
We all know what happened next. On January 28, 1986, Challenger exploded, killing everyone onboard. Had Big Bird been among the astronauts, it’s impossible to imagine anyone ever watching Sesame Street in the same way again.
For over 70 years, Batman has been a part of our cultural landscape. Adam West in the 1960s, Michael Keaton in the 1980s, and Christian Bale in the 2000s all brought the character to life for millions of fans worldwide. (The less said about George Clooney in the 1990s, the better.) Along with Superman, Batman is one of the most recognizable comic book heroes on Earth. It’s hard to imagine an alternate universe where Christopher Nolan didn’t reinvent the superhero genre. Yet in the early 1960s, Batman was nearly canceled.
At the time, the comic was seen as a millstone around DC’s neck. Its sales were bad, its characters were a joke, and the whole thing seemed an unnecessary waste of money. It didn’t help that early Silver Age Batman spent less time being a detective than fighting aliens with a talking dog. By the time the midpoint of the decade rolled round, DC had decided to pull the plug.
They didn’t because of the genius of editor Julius Schwartz. Given a few months to turn the title around, Schwartz revamped Batman into a modern icon. Out went the talking dogs, cartoonish animation, and campy story lines. In came realistic artwork, a darker tone, and Batman’s role as “the world’s greatest detective.” The new style was a hit, and DC was eventually forced to relent. Had they not given Schwartz the gig or simply shut the title down regardless, we’d currently be living in a much less Bat-tastic world.