What if?

A “what-if” is a way of thinking that has always interested me. “What ifs” can be used in any situation. What if I went to a different college? What if I took that job? What if I studied a more practical major in college than Cinema Studies? Eh, forget that last one. However, I have consistently applied “what ifs” to sports. What if Tom Brady’s “Tuck Rule” play wasn’t overturned? What if the Colts drafted Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning in 1998? What if the Portland Trailblazers drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie, or Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden? The possibilities are endless. It was not until recently, while reading Bill Simmon’s “Book of Basketball” (in which he gives his three favorite movie what ifs) that I thought to apply “what ifs” to movies. Here in no particular order, are my favorite movie “what ifs”:

What if Johnny Depp didn’t turn down the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic?

If you type “Leo” into Google, two names pop up as suggestions. The second one listed is Leonardo De Vinci, one of the most famous humans of all time, period. The first person listed is Leonardo Dicaprio. Leo is the first suggestion, and he has Johnny Depp to thank for it. Let’s go back to 1996, James Cameron needs a Jack Dawson for his big budgeted film, Titanic. Johnny Depp was already an established movie star having been title characters, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Gilbert Grape. Leonardo Dicaprio on the other hand was not established, but rather right on the cusp of being a huge Hollywood name. He had solid roles as Gilbert Grape’s (Depp) mentally handicapped brother, the lead in The Basketball Diaries (1995) as well Romeo in a contemporary movie version of Romeo and Juliet but was still not a sure thing. Depp was reportedly offered the role first, but turned it down giving Leo the chance to become a superstar. We know now that Leo took the role, made Jack Dawson an iconic character, and helped Titanic become one of the most successful box-office movies of all time (it also won the 1997 Best Picture academy Award). Would it have been as successful with Depp? Almost. Depp would have given a solid performance as always, but Jack Dawson works so well as a bright-eyed, innocent boyish-man, which Depp could not have done as well as Dicaprio. Also, Dicaprio and co-star Kate Winslet’s chemistry really drives the film, even if Rose wouldn’t move over a little to let Jack sit on the floating door. Would Depp and Winslet’s chemistry have matched hers and Leo’s? No, there are few actors whom have had better chemistry in a film than those two. The key question however is, would it have been as successful at the box office? Once again I think the answer is almost. Titanic was the highest grossing domestic film of all-time until 2009 when another James Cameron film named Avatar (2009) overtook it. Cameron already had three huge box-office movies before Titanic in Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and True Lies (1994). (Maybe he should have picked Arnold to be Jack Dawson). A Titanic with Depp would have been a huge movie, because of Cameron, its high production value and budget, as well as its topic. However, it would have never been the highest grossing film of all time with Johnny Depp. Dicaprio was the right young actor at the right time for this movie to be that successful. A girl once told me she saw Titanic fourteen times in theaters (fourteen times!). When I asked her why she replied simply: “Leo.”

What if John Travolta decided to be Forrest Gump?

This one is interesting simply because of the ripple effect it would have caused in Hollywood. Travolta reportedly turned down the role of Gump so he could be Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), which, earned him an Oscar nomination (ironically he lost to Hanks as Gump) and re-established him as a legitimate actor after years without a solid role. If Travolta took the role of Gump, Tarantino favorite Michael Madsen would have likely played Vincent Vega, which would be interesting as his character in Reservoir Dogs (1992) name is Vic Vega (widely considered to be Vincent’s cousin). Madsen pulls off the psychotic Mr. Blonde (Vic Vega) perfectly, would he have been as good as Travolta was as Vincent? It’s almost impossible to know. Lets just say he pulls off Vincent Vega decently well, he probably would have gotten the Oscar nomination that Travolta got as Pulp Fiction’s critical acclaim was astounding. This would have been a break through role for Madsen, who then goes on to not only continue to be Tarantino’s boy, but has a much more substantial career with more leading roles and maybe even more Oscar nominations. Travolta does a fine job as Forrest Gump, but without perhaps the most likeable actor in the history of film in Tom Hanks, the film is not nearly as successful and thus Travolta never has the full comeback that he got thanks to Pulp Fiction. Forrest Gump (1994) does not win Best Picture, Robert Zemekis does not win Best Director, and Hanks does not win Best Actor in a Leading Role for the second year in a row (he won in 1993 for Philadelphia). This makes room for The Shawkshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show to win Best Picture in perhaps the deepest year of nominees ever. Tarantino or Frank Darabont (Shawkshank) win Best Director and maybe just maybe Michael Madsen grabs the best actor in a leading role Oscar without Hanks as a nominee at all. Hanks meanwhile no longer has his most famous role under his belt and does not become one of the most likeable actors of all time as he loses out on iconic lead roles in Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile and Cast Away. Basically, the careers of John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Darabont, and Robert Zemekis could have been drastically altered if Travolta decided to be the “box of chocolates” character instead of the “royal with cheese” one.

What if Bryan Singer did another X-Men instead of Superman Returns?

Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003) brought the superhero genre back to success after years of campy, over the top films like Joel Schumaker’s Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). The films made Singer a legitimate Hollywood director having already made the extremely successful Usual Suspects (1995). However, when the studio attempted to keep Singer for a third X-Men film, he instead left to direct Superman Returns (2006). Singer had already brought the superhero genre back, so why not bring Superman back too? Unfortunately Superman Returns turned out to be terrible, as its hefty $270 million (what?!) budget failed to capture audiences and critics alike. Meanwhile, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) was picked to direct X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) a continuation of Singer’s series. The film disappointed, prompting the X-Men series to go in a new direction, telling origin stories of the characters rather than continuing with what they had. What if Singer stayed on to do another X-Men? X2: X-Men United in my opinion is easily a top five superhero movie of all time right up there with The Dark Knight (2008), as Singer was hitting his stride, improving on his original X-Men. Continuing off his superior sequel, Singer makes a much better third X-Men movie than Ratner’s and the studio decides to continue with the series as is instead of radically changing their approach. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X-Men: First Class (2011) never get made, and Singer makes two or even three more X-Men movies as the series does not require a reboot. This leaves Superman Returns without a director, however it was Singer who demanded that the film follow the same storyline as Richard Donner’s original Superman (1978) series, instead of making one that was completely new. This resulted in Superman Returns being simply more of the same, as the entire plot and even specific scenes are almost exactly the same as the original Superman. Without Singer its very possible that a different director would have had a fresh take on Superman and thus the film would have been less of a disappointment. Instead they are already rebooting Superman with Man of Steel coming out next summer. If Bryan Singer stays on for another X-Men film, he very well may have saved two separate franchises from eventual reboots, and Brett Ratner’s fate is unchanged as he continues to be a mediocre director, at best.

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