15 Movies With Premises That Would Have Been Near Impossible to Pitch

Some of the most fun, interesting, and troubling movies to watch must have been the hardest to pitch to any financiers. One film fan asks online what movies people think would have been a tough uphill battle to get people on board, for whatever reason. 

1- Tenet (2020) 

Tenet Robert Pattinson
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Christopher Nolan has been in love with the concept of time since his debut feature Following refused to follow a linear narrative structure. But the height of his affair with time came with Tenet, a film that even people who have seen it multiple times can’t quite explain because its sci-fi premise about technology that allows people to move forward and backward in time is so complicated.

Who knows how he could have pitched it? Lucky for him, he’s Christopher Nolan and doesn’t need to pitch his ideas anymore. 

2- Footloose (1984)

Footloose Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The entire premise of Footloose asks the audience to believe that every member of a town council, convinced by their beloved Reverend, would vote to outlaw dancing along with clearly more dangerous and reasonably regulated activities like drug and alcohol use. It’s a simple premise, one that’s easy to communicate, but it’s hilarious that enough people thought it seemed like a reasonable enough premise to make into a movie. 

3- Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead Movie
Image Credit: AFI Center for Advanced Studies.

Multiple movie lovers agree that David Lynch’s feature debut, Eraserhead, must have been almost impossible to pitch. The film centers on a young man whose girlfriend gives birth to a strange creature that looks more like a baby dinosaur than a baby human. As he struggles to care for the creature, he has several dreams (or visions?) about a woman with a moonlike face who lives in his radiator and sings him songs. It’s a great movie, but I’d have to agree that it couldn’t have been easy to pitch. 

4- Swiss Army Man (2016)

Swiss Army Man
Image Credit: A24.

 Swiss Army Man is a ridiculous movie whose charm is just how ridiculous it is. Pitching it would be difficult, but thankfully, someone accepted. 

5- Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful
Image Credit: Miramax.

Several people point out the difficulty of selling the idea of Life is Beautiful, a comedy that centers on an Italian-Jewish father and son held in a Nazi concentration camp and the father’s attempts to convince his son that everything around them is part of an elaborate game. That’s right; it’s a comedy that takes place in a concentration camp, 

6- Happiness (1998)

Happiness Philip Seymour Hoffman
Image Credit: Good Machine Releasing.

One viewer expresses shock that the 1998 movie Happiness was made. And it makes sense to be shocked; the movie tells the stories of various people’s intertwining lives, including a man who anonymously harasses women over the phone, a pedophile, and a sexual assault survivor who keeps her attacker’s removed genitals in the freezer. What makes the film even more shocking is that it’s a comedy. 

7- Sorry To Bother You (2017)

Sorry to Bother You
Photo Credit: Annapurna Pictures.

Sorry to Bother You is a difficult movie to describe without giving away its most out-there plot developments. But its basic premise is that a Black telemarketer learns he’s far more successful when he puts on a “white voice.” 

8- Face/Off (1997)

Face/Off John Travolta Nicolas Cage
Image Credit: Paramount HE.

Face/Off brings together two actors (John Travolta and Nicolas Cage) in ways no other movie had before or has since. The film features the stars’ characters literally switching faces, leading to a movie where both actors are doing impressions of one another in their performances. It’s also just a great action movie, but it’s that face-swapping part that might’ve been a bit difficult to get people on board with. 

9- Being John Malkovich (1999)

Being John Malkovich
Image Credit: USA Films.

Many people cite Being John Malkovich as a film that must have been a wild movie to pitch, given that it necessitates the involvement of a famous and celebrated actor. And not only that but a celebrated and famous actor willing to make jokes about themselves and deliver an often silly performance. Somehow, all the pieces came together for this movie about a man who discovers a portal into John Malkovich’s mind. 

10- My Dinner With Andre (1981)

My Dinner with Andre Wallace Shawn, Jean Lenauer
Image Credit: New Yorker Films.

The premise of My Dinner with Andre is simple enough: two men have dinner and a conversation about various topics, including theater, spirituality, and life in general. The difficult part of pitching the film would be answering the question: why would people want to watch that? Who knows how the creators answered that question, but people certainly did want to watch it, and it’s become one of the most celebrated and iconic films of the 1980s. 

11- Titane (2022)

Titane Agathe Rousselle
Image Credit: Diaphana Distribution.

Once again, I’ll defer to a commenter. This time one who covered most of their answer with spoiler redaction but left their description of Titane as “a serial killer is impregnated by a car” visible to all. The fact that there’s more that makes the film so wonderfully strange couldn’t have made it any easier to pitch. 

12- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

seven brides
Image Credit: MGM.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a Western musical adaptation of the mythical story of the abduction of the Sabine women in which seven brothers kidnap and force seven women from a nearby town to be their wives. Not a dour musical like Les Misérables, mind you, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a spirited, brightly colored, and fun one that features some of the best dancing setpieces ever set to film. How this was pitched, we’ll never know, but it’s even more remarkable that it kinda works? 

13- Back to the Future (1985)

Back To The Future Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The absurdity of Back to the Future is now widely joked about, often in reference to John Mulaney’s bit, and it makes sense. It’s a movie that features a teen who is best friends with an old mad scientist and, after traveling back in time, must avoid the advances of his mother. To be fair, as one user points out, the film was rejected by studios for years before being greenlit. 

14- It Follows (2014)

It Follows Maika Monroe
Image Credit: RADiUS-TWC.

It Follows is another film with a fairly easy-to-explain premise; there is a sexually transmitted demon that will kill whoever it is currently attached to if it catches them. But it’s such a high concept it’s a wonder anyone took the gamble on making it. Good thing they did, though, because it’s one of the most beloved horror movies of the 21st century thus far. 

15- The House That Jack Built (2018)

The House That Jack Built Matt Dillon, Riley Keough
Image Credit: TrustNordisk.

The House that Jack Built follows a serial killer through five different murder sequences, something that’s easy enough to understand as a premise for a film. But its final turn into the supernatural (or is it mythic?), in which the character follows the Roman poet Virgil through hell à la Dante’s Inferno, couldn’t have been easy to get financiers on board with. For that matter, neither could the content of the murder sequences, which include child murder and detailed body mutilation and yet, the movie exists. 

Source: (Reddit)

Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Screen Anarchy, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Kyle has an MA in philosophy from Boston College, is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, and along with writing, organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.