Edward Scissorhands: The Dark Secrets of Its Disastrous Test Screenings

Edward Scissorhands: The Dark Secrets of Its Disastrous Test Screenings

Discover the untold story of Edward Scissorhands' tumultuous journey to the big screen as Tim Burton's masterpiece defies expectations and becomes an enduring classic

Frequent collaborator Danny Elfman reflects on the initial test screenings for Edward Scissorhands, directed by Tim Burton. After achieving blockbuster success with Batman in 1989, Burton returned to his unique filmmaking style with his next project, released in 1990. Starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands tells the peculiar tale of an incomplete artificial man with scissor-like hands who is adopted by a suburban family and develops an unexpected romance with their teenage daughter.

Despite eventually becoming a moderate box office hit, earning $86 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, the movie initially faced potential disaster, as revealed by composer Elfman. In a recent interview with GQ, Elfman recounted the negative reaction from early test screenings, drawing parallels to the early tests for Beetlejuice. To hear Elfman's full account, refer to the section below (around 12:26 of the clip).

And like often with Tim's movies, it received terrible reviews. … And I recall being present during its preview. The audience was completely clueless about what to make of this film. There was one particular individual, I can't remember the name of Anthony [Michael] Hall's character, who played the antagonist. He stood up during the focus group and said, "I felt sorry for him." That moment made me think, oh my God. Tim knew things were not going well. It made me realize that hardly anyone would watch this movie, even though I loved it. It seemed like one of those films that people wouldn't understand and therefore wouldn't bother to see. This was exactly how I felt about "Beetlejuice." In fact, the studio even attempted to change the movie's title to "House Ghost" because they believed no one would be interested in a film called "Beetlejuice." … Eventually, they gave up and decided to release it, thinking it would be a disaster anyway. But of course, as you know, it turned out to be a huge success. And "Edward Scissorhands" also found its audience, which was a great relief for me because when I was working on it, I had a sad feeling that it would end up being one of those charming little movies that only ten people would watch.

Edward Scissorhands Was Almost A Very Different Movie

Now considered one of Burton’s best films, Edward Scissorhands almost had a very different feel, as the director initially considered having The Cure’s Robert Smith compose the score instead of his frequent collaborator Elfman. However, Smith's busy schedule with his iconic goth-rock band led Burton to turn to Elfman. Elfman's musical contribution played a pivotal role in achieving the unique tone of Edward Scissorhands. Notably, Elfman has composed the scores for most of Burton’s movies and will once again collaborate with him on the highly anticipated Beetlejuice 2.

Edward Scissorhands, in addition to marking the continuation of Burton's successful collaboration with Elfman, also marked the start of the director's enduring cinematic partnership with Johnny Depp. Depp was not originally intended for the lead role, as the studio initially preferred Tom Cruise. However, Burton strongly opposed casting Cruise and eventually found the perfect actor to portray the nearly-silent, otherworldly outcast, Edward.

Without the contributions of Elfman or Depp, Edward Scissorhands would undoubtedly have been a vastly different film, and with Cruise in the lead, it would have been an odd one. Fortunately, everything fell into place perfectly, resulting in a standout addition to Burton's extensive filmography. The early test audiences who failed to appreciate Edward Scissorhands were clearly mistaken, much to the delight of Elfman and Burton fans worldwide.

Source: GQ/YouTube