Rejection is nothing new to screenwriters. Rejection is frequently referred to as merely a stage in the process. Due to this, screenwriting can often feel like a thankless job.
You pour your heart into crafting a story only to have it rejected by someone who denies its potential. While writers experience plenty of them, some rejections stick in your mind longer than others, especially if you receive them in a hilariously direct way.
The following examples prove that a rejection doesn't always mean your work isn't awesome!
So, turn that frown upside down; today, we're looking at some of the funniest screenplay rejections!
The Wizard of Oz
"We can't make a film with no leading man and a mutt."
Even a script as classic and beloved as “The Wizard of Oz” wasn't immune to rejection back in the day. Screenwriters Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, with others making uncredited contributions. The famed script based on the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” tells the story of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, as they're transported via tornado to a magical world.
While the above-mentioned executive didn't believe that a young girl and a dog could carry the film, the rest of the world seems to have disagreed. “The Wizard of Oz” has become one of the greatest movies of all time and is regarded as one of the most-seen movies in history.
"The story is implausible, and Dustin Hoffman is not attractive enough to be a movie star."
The 1967 film, “The Graduate” was shopped around quite a bit before it was sold. This romantic dramedy written by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham faced rejection after rejection, mostly due to people not accepting the plot.
The film follows a recent college graduate seduced by an older married woman who finds himself falling in love with her daughter.
Studio executives often complained that they couldn't see anyone wanting to see a movie about a young man having an affair with an older woman. While these rejections likely weren't funny at the time, looking back on the film and seeing not only how well it was received but also that it was the highest-grossing film of 1967 makes it funny now!
"We're not interested in boxing movies. Besides, who would want to see a movie about a guy with a speech impediment?"
Thankfully, the above quote was just one executive's take on the classic boxing film “Rocky.” While Sylvester Stallone wrote “Rocky” in only three days, he had a notoriously difficult time selling the script.
Eventually, executives at United Artists came around and wanted to produce the script about the underdog boxer, but they didn't want to cast Stallone in the film. Stallone refused to sell the script without the studio casting him in the lead role. At one point, the studio offered Stallone money not to take the role, but Stallone refused. Eventually, the studio and Stallone came to terms, and “Rocky” was made with Stallone in the leading role.
The film became the highest-grossing film of 1976, became a pop culture phenomenon, and spawned one of film's greatest sports franchises.
"It's too sweet, too sticky, and too romantic. It won't work."
Looking back, it's amazing that the film “Pretty Woman,” written by J. F. Lawton, was made. The romantic comedy - about a businessman who falls in love with an escort he hires - upset and confused executives with its subject matter.
Many people at the time couldn't imagine making a comedy about an escort falling in love. The subject seemed too dark for a rom-com, but perhaps that's exactly why the film works.
The film juxtaposes a harsh reality with a fairy tale ending, combined with charming performances by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. We can see why this romance is still considered a classic today.
"This movie will never work. People don't want to see a bunch of teenagers singing and dancing."
Little did that executive know seeing teenagers singing and dancing was exactly what people wanted in 1978 when “Grease” was released and became both a critical and commercial hit. Bronté Woodard wrote “Grease” as an adaptation of a stage musical by the same name.
The film about a good girl meeting a greaser has become the highest-grossing musical ever! The film has also spawned a 1982 sequel and a 2023 prequel series currently streaming on Paramount +. Not bad for a bunch of teenagers singing and dancing!
It's important to remember that while these rejections may seem humorous in hindsight, they probably didn't feel that way at the time. Rejection may be challenging and frustrating for writers, especially when we invest our hearts and souls in a project.
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These examples show that rejection is not always an indication of the caliber of the work.
Sometimes it just takes finding the right person who sees the true potential of a script. Even the most heartbreaking rejections can be transformed into opportunities for improvement and success if the writer maintains a sense of humor and a strong work ethic. So, don't stop writing or submitting, and never give up on your goals. Who knows, maybe your rejected script will be accepted one day. Happy writing!