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From networks thinking a game of sexy chess would be too boring, to a studio exec calling Get Out “stupid” — let’s look at the cringeworthy moments from the past in which some top brass rejected what would become hugely successful movie and TV show hits. Smell that? Yeah, regrets.
Writer and producer Bob Gale said that the film was rejected a whopping 40 times, with studios saying it was too sweet and too nice while the biggest comedies at the time were R-rated titles like Porky’s. The overall verdict was that it was a Disney movie, but when the team pitched Marty’s adventure to the House of Mouse, they rejected it, too, with an executive producer telling them they were “out of their minds.”
“You can’t make a movie like this here. This is Disney, and you’re giving us a movie about incest! The kid with his mother in the car, that’s horrible!”
20th Century Studios
It’s kind of strange to imagine that once upon a time, Star Wars was just another indie movie that studios had no interest in. Even Disney initially passed on George Lucas’ space romp. This is probably why Lucas was certain his movie would bomb — even his friends weren’t convinced the man was on to something. The only person who really believed Star Wars would be a hit, was Steven Spielberg.
Netflix’s wildly popular show was initially rejected left and right for being “too unrealistic.” Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk persisted in pitching his show that was deemed too “brutal and implausible,” until his pitch landed at Netflix.
Warner Bros. Studios
William Peter Blatty’s story about a kid vomiting on a priest had a hard time selling his book. Getting a movie deal proved equally difficult. “It was submitted to every studio in town. I could paper the walls of my bathroom with rejection slips.”
AMC / Disney
Both NBC and HBO showed interest in picking up the show, but only if the graphic novel’s gore and violence were toned down. Producer Gale Anne Hurd didn’t agree, and ended up making a deal with AMC.
Said co-executive producer Greg Nicotero: “Thank goodness we wound up at AMC. They totally get this show. Right from the beginning, they’ve been completely trusting and supportive of what we’ve been trying to do with this series.”
New Line Cinema
The Farrelly brothers had a tough time convincing agents to show their clients a script titled Dumb and Dumber. Nobody wanted to do that, so the title was initially changed to A Power Tool is Not a Toy, which worked, and the brothers simply changed it back after being signed.
Animators Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and John Pomeroy were working for Disney when they pitched the story of mice and rats to the company who didn’t want to make it because they already did a mouse movie (The Rescuers). By then, the animators were already in conflict with the way Disney was handling the quality of its animations, so they fought for the rights of NIMH, left Disney, and produced the cult classic movie themselves.
“Every studio, major and minor, rejected it,” said writer Christopher McQuarrie. “No one understood a word of it, except Kevin Spacey, for whom we had written it.” Studios didn’t want Spacey to star in it, because he was relatively unknown back then. One exec told the filmmakers: “Remake it with Mel Gibson in there and you’ll have a hit.”
Fox rejected it. TNT passed on it. FX worried that it was too similar to their other anti-hero shows, and some executives were worried they might be fired if they ran a show on their network that featured meth. Vince Gilligan said that pitching to HBO was the worst, and that the network couldn’t even bother getting back to them with a simple “No.”
Said Jordan Peele about the process of pitching his now critically-acclaimed horror movie: “We shopped it around because we were looking for a partnership, we were looking for a studio, many people just didn’t get it, the script, just didn’t understand it. We got some pretty rude feedback to be honest… I think there’s a letter from someone, who won’t be named, where they called it stupid, said ‘This is stupid, it won’t work.’ I just remember that word ‘stupid’ coming out.”
Before becoming one of Netflix’s biggest shows to date, the Duffer Brothers said they pitched the story about young kids and Russians to “15 to 20 networks.” Some networks thought the show to be too dark and scary, others didn’t like that it was science fiction. One executive apparently told the Duffers: ″‘You either gotta make it into a kids show or make it about this Hopper character investigating paranormal activity around town.”
Apparently some people thought a story about a chess player would not make for an interesting show. It also proves that Netflix, for all their faults, did make some winning choices in picking up one rejected show after another, only for those shows to become mega hits.
Columbia Studios initially passed on the story about a boy and his alien buddy, believing it had “limited commercial potential” and was too juvenile to be successful. Universal thought otherwise, and that’s how we got the story of an alien and his drunk buddies ruining a family’s life.
Creator David Chase initially pitched the show about a mobster and his psychiatrists to Fox, who ultimately said “No thanks” after initially entertaining the idea. HBO agreed to do a pilot, but also passed on it following a “tepid response” during test-marketing. A good thing, then, that the HBO execs decided to go with their guts on what would become one of the most successful drama series of all time.
The Only Murders in the Building star said that the Disney Channel didn’t want to sign her because they felt she wasn’t “strong enough.”
“When I was 11, I had a casting director say to me, ‘You’re not strong enough to carry your own show. You’re not strong enough to be part of the Disney Channel’. I cried all the time afterwards but I just kept on working hard. Whenever you have a goal, whether you want to be a doctor or a singer, people will find a way to bring you down. I always tell people that if you have something you’re really passionate about, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”
Thumbnail: AMC, Universal Pictures
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Have some extra fizzy facts for your thirsty mind.