Most of the title changes that happened with popular mainstream films have seemed right in retrospect. Big was simplistic but a better title than When I Grow Up. Phil Robinson‘s Field of Dreams was almost called Shoeless Joe (the title of W.P. Kinsella‘s source novel), but that would have diminished audience interest. At some early point Close Encounters of the Third Kind was called Watch The Skies — a nice steal from Howard Hawks‘ The Thing but a little too passive sounding.
I’m mentioning this because I was reminded earlier today of an original title that should have been used, not because it conveyed an especially clear thought or because it made any particular sense, but because it had a great sound. I’m speaking of Adam Rifkin‘s Dog Years (’18), the Burt Reynolds swan song that was changed at the last minute to The Last Movie Star. The latter is a sucky-sounding title if I ever heard one, but Dog Years…brilliant! And I don’t even know why.
Another so-to-speak “dog” movie that underwent a title change was Karl Reisz‘s Who’ll Stop The Rain (’78). Based on Robert Stone‘s “Dog Soldiers“, it’s a tangy, complex adventure thriller that flirts with dark absurdist humor here and there. It’s surely one of the most articulate collapse-of-’60s-idealism films ever, and it features one of Nick Nolte‘s greatest-ever performances, as a reluctant drug dealer and a Neal Casady stand-in whom I’ve always referred to as “Samurai” Ray Hicks.
All to say that Reisz’s film was initially titled Dog Soldiers but it tested badly with women, or so I recall reading. Distributor United Artists thought it had potential as a date movie.