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When Movies Have Title Fights

They Flip. Will They Flop?

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When an upcoming movie shifts titles more often than Val Kilmer changes wigs in The Saint, you just know the film’s marketers are getting skittish. ”Titles are the single most important thing, and the single hardest thing to get right on a movie,” says Miramax marketing president Mark Gill, whose company once considered changing Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade to Reckoning. ”The fear about title changes is there — [studios] are afraid it’s a sign of weakness.”

Yet everybody does it. Sometimes such changes seem like nit-picking — MGM’s summer gangster saga Hoodlum changed to Hoods last summer, and then back to Hoodlum last fall. Sometimes a studio seems to lose its nerve — Fine Line’s mordant comedy Roseanna’s Grave became For the Love of Roseanna, then simply For Roseanna. And sometimes the tinkering goes on and on, as with Demi Moore’s fall military drama, Pursuit of Honor.

In Honor‘s case, not all its names were even meant to be names. ”The original title was Undisclosed,” recalls screenwriter Danielle Alexandra, ”because Disney didn’t want anybody to know the subject matter. So they called it The Undisclosed Danielle Alexandra Project.” Or Undisclosed for short. The quick fix didn’t last: The title soon became Navy Cross, which gave way to the Demi-centric G.I. Jane, then A Matter of Honor, and then In Pursuit of Honor before its latest incarnation. And with five months till release, a source close to the production says another switch — possibly back to Moore’s favorite moniker, G.I. Jane — is imminent.

Who does all the rewriting? The general answer is everybody. Says Gill: ”You’ve got the head of the studio, whoever’s running marketing, the head of production, the producer, director, an agent, maybe an attorney — and by the way, the star — all of whom have pretty strong opinions about this stuff.” Hey, Demi, we’ve got a suggestion: Executive Indecision.