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.

66 Comments on “What if?”

  1. Sam D. Carter says:

    Travolta as Gump. Some sweet dancing scenes could have incurred. I think that Depp would have sunk Titanic. Your Right about Leos Bright Eyes eyes. I loved this article however I think your blogs name sake discussion is rock solid.

    Here is the Link in honor of Shark Week.

  2. Ben T. Sand says:

    This is all wrong I think that If Travolta was in Gump. We would see a whole arguably better movie. The softness of Forest would not play out in Travolta. He would become a character similar to Travolta’s Rolls in Phenomena (sp?) or Michael (underrated).

    • Colin Greten says:

      I respect the opinions and thanks for reading. But I don’t think that is necessarily true, as the softness of Forrest Gump with Hanks makes the character and the film better. I think with Travolta this movie could have become more of a comedy and would have been cheesy and average at best.

      • Agreed. Gump isn’t a tough guy personality. It works nicely the way it is.

      • It's only P! says:

        Although he resorts to violence, it’s in such a naïve way and he oozes the personality of a simpleton in Mad City, so I think he could also have pulled off Gump. Not a Travolta fan, but his face and acting in Mad City just popped up when I read this thread!

  3. Sweet T says:

    I agree Travolta as Forest Gump would have been pedestrian. Great blog.

  4. susielindau says:

    I am a “what if” girl too! I am amazed at the crazy twists in life caused by fork in the road decisions and include a lot of them in my writing.
    I didn’t know about these casting choices. The movies would have been so different!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Colin Greten says:

      Yea its just crazy to think how many careers and films could be have been drastically altered by different castings. Thank you!

  5. schannepj says:

    There are hints of it in your #3 whatif, but I think the real issue with the X-men switcheroo isn’t merely directorial style–it would’ve been a completely different *story* (as Bryan Singer took a Story credit on the previous two X-men films). Don’t discount the writing, the story is largely why X3 failed, IMO.

    • Colin Greten says:

      Good point, yea I didn’t really think about it that way.

    • rwomeldorf says:

      I agree in the respect that the writing was a mashup of two entirely different stories from two different eras of X-Men lore. I thought they would have totally gone in the “Dark Phoenix Saga” direction given the ending of X-2 but they minimized what was a huge event (in the comics at least). Also: Brett Ratner sucks.

  6. Saadman says:

    I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I’m not certain whether or not this submit is written through him as nobody else understand such unique about my difficulty. You are incredible! Thanks!

  7. I started picturing Travolta as Forrest and Depp as Jack – it so didn’t work.
    Thanks for this great post!

  8. “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.”

    Completely agree. Both very different actors, equally versatile, but I imagine that if Depp took the role, he would’ve played Jack with a slightly pointed edge that may or may not have worked for the tone of the character as well as the film.

    I also concur with your statement involving X2 being one of the top five superhero films. The third one was rather painful to watch… because its predecessor was so good.

  9. The thing about ‘What ifs’ is that you just never know. Travolta might have suprised you and done a whole other kind of Gump, that just blew our socks off. Depp is always good too, though I don’t think you can argue that ‘Leomania’ had a huge part to play in Titanic’s success – I went to see it about 4 times, and cried like a baby throughout. Bless. Like you say though, Leo was already on the cusp of becomming famous. He’d clearly shown what an incredible actor he was in Gilbert Grape – I’d be inclined to think that if it wasn’t ‘Titanic’ maybe it would be something else…

    Good discussion though! There must be millions of films in which we’ve grown to love actors playing certain characters, who could so easily have been played by someone else in a completely different way.

  10. andy says:

    Thank you for sharing ,i like nice post

  11. Wow, I love the concept of your post! The idea of ‘what if’ has always interested me. Things could be different now to what I thought they could have been back then, yet the same idea is applied to ‘what if nothing changes’ or ‘what if they turned out better?’ I will enjoy reading your blog site and will become your follower. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!!! 😀

  12. dellasman says:

    Once you’ve seen a particular actor in a role, it can be hard to imagine someone else doing it. Travolta is so unique, and unique looking. Without him, there’s no dance scene in “Pulp Fiction” or “Michael,” both memorable due to his past in “Grease.”

  13. prbates says:

    I think Singer got a credit for executive producer in X-Men: First Class; was this just because of his work on the first two movies, or did he, y’know, actually do something?

    It would’ve been a shame if First Class weren’t made by the way! Maybe less so, Wolverine…

  14. Travolta as Gump…oh God, no. It’s so interesting to see how small tweaks in history would have changed so many things for us today. Great post and blog.

  15. Julie DeNeen says:

    What a fantastic blog! Nice work. I was one of those teenage girls who couldn’t put titanic down. In fact, I may just go watch it tonight! 🙂

  16. MJ Conner says:

    I agree about Leo being the best cast as Jack, but I don’t know so much about the chemistry between Depp and Winslet. In 2004, the film Finding Neverland, although not the same level of intimacy as Jack and Rose have in Titanic, does present a good amount of chemistry – as much as a healthy, mysterious, and creative man can have with a dying mother, I suppose. Depp playing Jack and Winslet playing Rose would not have been a good match up, because I don’t think they would have taken the characters in the same direction. DeCaprio pulled it off, and so well, that it’s actually hard to imagine someone else being that character. Isn’t that how we know, really, that the casting was done well? That’s how we can put our “what ifs” to rest – when you are so satisfied with the way things did turn out, despite the completely different direction things could have gone. But, I suppose that’s all perspective. Like everything, really.

  17. anniemaeblog says:

    What if Charleze Theron had played Elizabeth Bennett instead of Keira Knightly?

  18. “What if”s are awesome; as a teacher, I used to use them a lot…they make great questions to get kids thinking creatively. As for the Forest Gump debate above, I don’t think anyone can say who would be better. Remember Travolta in Phenomenon? That wasn’t a tough guy role and I thought he was awesome. I loved Tom Hanks in Forest Gump, though. I wouldn’t want to change it if I was given the choice. 🙂

  19. If Bryan Singer helmed X-Men 3 instead of Brett Ratner, then the world would be a much better place. If only, if only…brilliant post!

  20. This is an excellent post! I didn’t know a lot of the stuff you talked about (Travolta as Gump? NEVER!) but I will now try to impress folks with some movie history trivia. Thanks! 😉

  21. Without Singer on Superman Returns we would have been spared the super-bastard-child storyline. Sigh. I dare to dream. (But in any universe, Cyclops/ White Jr. always seems to lose the love of his life to the other, handsomer hero, doesn’t he?)

  22. This is a great post. The one that always comes to my mind in the film “what if?” questions is what if Stuart Townsend remained cast as Aragorn and Viggo was never cast.

  23. You learn something new everday! Thanks for this post. 🙂

  24. Rajiv says:

    Great read…. 🙂

  25. Oh, I love “what if” questions. Your answers to these were great! I also knew a girl who saw Titanic 14 times. Wow. 🙂

  26. Cindy Wu says:

    Very interesting.. Really deserve the freshly pressed..

  27. dale100889 says:

    Yeesh, you know your movie history. I could learn a thing or two here, subbed’!
    Good post and nice going on the Freshly Pressed!

  28. […] What if?. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  29. enmanscamera says:

    I am not much of a “what if” person. However, ya had me reading and enjoying your words to the end.

  30. Coach Mani says:

    Hey Colin, some great thoughts there, I often use the “What if” scenario with many of my business clients, i.e. you say you cannot because of… But What If you passed all that, how would your life become? What if you just stepped out of your ego and cold-called witt that proposal..??? It’s an amazing way to think and has transformed many 🙂 thanks for your post!

  31. andrea says:

    motherr fuckers bitches assholes pusyssssheadssssss

  32. monkeymuesli says:

    brilliant… and i think your logic is sound ;0)

  33. cashgiftingeaze says:

    “What if” usually pops in my mind when a great idea is surfacing. You have a good point about the movie character…those movies would probably not been as good “if” they had other actors

  34. Interesting concept… that game’s been played many times before. Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan in Casablanca? There’s a whole list of alternate castings…

  35. GusGus says:

    I’m not so sure that Michael Masden could have pulled off the Vince Vega role. Travolta’s portrayal was remarkable in that he managed to be both a cold-blooded killer and a laid-back heroin addict taking Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace out for milkshakes. Earlier in the comments there is a discussion of Travolta lacking Hanks’s softness; well Masden lacks Travolta’s softness. Travolta generated remarkable chemistry with both Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson. If Masden had replaced him, it is unlikely that he could have produced the same magic, and Pulp Fiction would have suffered as a result.

  36. Ever since I was 12 years old I have been asking the most outrageous “what if’s” questions, thats the main reason why I read this post. I enjoyed it

  37. sex2poetry4life says:

    Rose couldn’t have let Jack on the board for two reasons: 1. Simple physics. There’s no way a board that size would supported bit their weights 2. Jack didn’t want to get on the board because he knew, if he survived, that Billy Zane would have pursued him to the ends of the earth for stealing his woman – and believe me, a life with Billy Zane on your ass every minute of the day is worse than no life at all

  38. What wonderful information. Great post. I’ll check back on your blog to see what other fascinating information you may provide. Thanks.

  39. Great post. Congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  40. Tom Hanks is a better Forrest Gump than John Travolta would have been, in my opinion, and I just can’t see Captain jack Sparrow as Jack Dawson.

  41. ronyshapira says:

    I often worry myself with questions of “what if”, sometimes maybe even too much but its intriguing to think how everything could’ve turned out so differently, as you present it here.
    great post, I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

  42. moyorlayor says:

    I am totally a ‘what if’ person.what if I’m a guy. This morning i had this thought ‘what if i had studied medicine?’ You really do have a good point there and the post is totally amazing.

  43. A bit of a “Sliding Doors” scenario really! Life is more than a ‘box o’ chocolates’….

  44. gauravdey says:

    What if ..I LIKE THIS ..??
    just kiddi’n.. well composed.. 😀

  45. TheGuyLeftBehind says:

    Nice blog sir.
    Please visit http://theguyleftbehind.wordpress.com
    Our fellow mankind are suffering, do your part.

  46. L. Palmer says:

    Superman’s ridiculously high cost had little to do with the film itself. It actually was because of about a decade of various proposed reboots of Superman, with money paid out for contracts of unmade films. At one point, Nicolas Cage was attached to play Superman. The ‘What if’ on that is a bit scary.

    I wonder what would Bryan Singer have been able to create if he had broken off from the Christopher Reeves films and expanded the film-versions of Superman. I hope that The Man of Steel under Zach Snyder directorship and Nolan’s producership will be able to bring a 3-dimensional, vivid, and original portrayal of Superman to the big screen.

  47. […] “What if” article was far and away my most popular post, thanks in large part to WordPress choosing it for […]

  48. I wrote this blog entry after seeing last Saturday’s episode, but it contains no spoilers. I include it here because it’s about dealing with what-ifs.


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