‘Fruitvale,’ ‘Girl Most Likely’ and the Strange Trend of Renaming Festival Films

By  · Published on July 18th, 2013

This week sees the release of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Girl Most Likely, a film even the most hardcore of Kristen Wiig fans might not be familiar with, simply because sometime between its bow at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and its theatrical release, Girl Most Likely sprung forth from the original title, Imogene, like some sort of cinematic Athena-birthing. When it comes to Girl Most Likely, the name change was probably for the best – at the very least, it distanced the production from bad buzz coming out of the festival and gave the dramedy the illusion of being more friendly to a mainstream audience than it actually is.

But it’s also a somewhat weird change, considering that the words “girl most likely” are never spoken in the film, despite the fact that Wiig’s Imogene picks up a yearbook at one point in the sort of scene that leaves moviegoers gagging for a jokey nod to the title. Girl Most Likely to do what, Imogene? That will just have to remain unanswered, but even with a shiny new title, Girl Most Likely is really most likely to disappoint at the box office this weekend. Would things have been better under the Imogene moniker? We’ll never know.

Changing a film’s title after its film festival premiere is becoming an oddly common occurrence – hit one of the year’s biggest fests and you’re bound to see a film or two that will eventually come to the multiplex with a new name, and even an occasional new cut to match. If two’s a trend, twelve is, well, a bigger trend, as evidenced by these recent title changes of note that happened after the project in question had already played to a massive festival crowd.

Fruitvale Station, previously known as Fruitvale

This year’s Sundance favorite won over the Park City crowd when it was simply titled Fruitvale, but Ryan Coogler’s film just opened as Fruitvale Station. Thank the Weinstein Company for the change, one apparently made for clarity. Hey, it works.

Don Jon, previously known as Don Jon’s Addiction

Another Sundance hit from this year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut got the chop after being bought by Relativity. While the new title is a little blah, the removal of the word “addiction” should help clarify the tone of the film, which is surprisingly funny. (Yes, we thought the film would be more in the vein of Shame, and were shocked when the thing unspooled in January.

The Sessions, previously known as The Surrogate and Six Sessions

Yet another Sundance hit, this one from 2012, Ben Lewin’s film opened in Park City as The Surrogate, a title that seemingly put much of the attention on Helen Hunt’s surrogate character. The film eventually cycled through another name – Six Sessions – before finally settling on The Sessions, a title that doesn’t favor Hunt over John Hawkes. (Yes, we might be reading too much into this.)

Amélie, previously known as Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

Okay, yes, it you could chalk this one up to a translation issue, but all we know is that played at Toronto in 2001 under its full name before getting a theatrical release just weeks later under its shortened (and mealy-mouthed non-French-speaking person-friendly) new title.

Why Stop Now, previously known as Predisposed

Another Sundance feature from 2012, Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner’s film originally came with the moniker Predisposed, as titled after their original short of the same name. Sometime between its January premiere and its August theatrical bow, the somewhat heavy-sounding title got switched up to Why Stop Now, probably one of many moves that assured that very few people ever had any awareness of the Jesse Eisenberg-starrer.

The Kings of Summer, previously known as Toy’s House

Man, Sundance films love to change things up. After being snapped up by CBS Films, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ charmer abandoned its perhaps too-spot-on moniker (its main character is named Joe Toy, a teen who builds a house in the woods with his pals) for The Kings of Summer. Don’t think the name change was taken lightly, as co-star Nick Offerman offered up some other potential titles in this amusing interview with Mike Ryan at The Huffington Post. We’re still partial to Cleveland Muff.

About Sunny, previously known as Think of Me

An offering at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Bryan Wizemann’s Lauren Ambrose-starring drama arrived on the festival scene with a standard-sounding title that was eventually changed to a more intimately appropriate name.

Virginia, previously known as What’s Wrong With Virginia

Perhaps the most recognizable and recent title change that signaled much, much bigger behind-the-scenes switch-ups, the journey of Dustin Lance Black’s film from Toronto to the theater is best chronicled in this article over at the LA Times, meticulously covered by Nicole Sperling.

Jeff, previously known as The Jeffrey Dahmer Files

How do you loosen up a documentary that uses dramatic recreations to tell the twisted tale of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer? If you’re like this SXSW pick from 2012, just shorten that thing up! Instant friend appeal!

Flip that and reverse it – per eagle-eyed reader and fellow writer, William Goss, clues us into the fact that we initially screwed this one up. It’s actually the opposite – Jeff became The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. Throw our observations out the window, we still kinda like Jeff more.

Stuck in Love, previously known as Writers

We’ll be honest – we’re still not entirely sure what Josh Boone’s recent release is about, but had the 2012 Toronto pick stuck with its original name, we’d at least be able to remember that its about writers (sort of?).

The Flowers of War, previously known as Heroes of Nanjing/The 13 Women of Nanjing/Nanjing Heroes

Perhaps one of the reasons why some footage of the Christian Bale-starrer was shown to buyers at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival was in an attempt to figure out a name for the damn thing. The project eventually settled on The Flowers of War, guaranteeing that plenty of people would confuse it with Flowers in the Attic (ick).

V/H/S/2, previously known as S-VHS

Sure, S-VHS was a fun nod to all the tapeheads out there, but keeping things simple for the horror anthology sequel with a switch to V/H/S/2 was probably the best move for the 2013 Sundance premiere.

Did we miss any? We definitely missed some.