"Next Saturday night, we're sending you back... to the future!"
It's at that moment in Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future that film geeks all turned and nodded to each other, which is what we do every time a movie's title is mentioned. Only, what if that line, uttered by Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), wasn't the title of Back to the Future, and a different passage of dialogue had inspired the movie's moniker? We knew for some time that Back to the Future almost had the title Space Man from Pluto. This bit of trivia surfaced about a year ago, when it was reported that Universal studio executive Sid Sheinberg preferred it over the BTTF name, of which producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis approved. Now, in a copy of the studio note passed along by Sheinberg (and unearthed by Indy Mogul), we learn why the office suit wanted to switch his title out. He explains:
I continue to believe the title leaves much to be desired. There are a number of reasons why I found the title less than 'wonderful;' but my primary concern is that it appears to make the picture a 'genre' picture. I think the script (and, hopefully, the film) deserves a better title. ... I am sure there will be those who will argue that the movie will appear to the audience to be a cheap, old-fashioned sci-fi flick. Nonsense! I think it's a kind of title that has 'heat, originality and projects fun.'
Sid Sheinberg, in that note, is talking about the title Space Man from Pluto, which may not be the worst title I have even heard, but isn't Back to the Future. Sheinberg, to his credit, wasn't pulling terms out of his backside. The note, which I'm embedding below, references all of the places that screenwriters Zemeckis and Bob Gale could have tweaked moments to include a space man from Pluto. For instance, when Marty (Michael J. Fox) wakes George up and tells him his name is Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan, he could claim to be a space man from Pluto. You get the idea.
Listen, we're not necessarily saying that Back to the Future became a culture phenomenon solely because of its title. And maybe, with the exact same script, we'd be singing the praises of Space Man from Pluto parts one through three. But it is fun to go back and see how studio executives, even 30 years ago, were constantly sticking their fingers into creative pots, and rarely do they have someone as headstrong and confident on the other end as Steven Spielberg telling them, "You're wrong, and we're not changing it"