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Dead Poets Society was almost a dance movie, with a terrible title

After Disney acquired the script of Dead Poets Society, they attempted to transform it into a teen dance movie - jumping ahead of the 90s swing craze.

Dead Poets Society

The critically-acclaimed drama movie Dead Poets Society (1989) almost got ahead of the brief – and bizarre – 90s swing craze by being transformed into a movie about dancing teenagers. Before Dead Poets Society actor Robert Sean Leonard co-starred with Christian Bale in Swing Kids (1993) and Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau co-starred in Swingers (1996), Dead Poets Society almost became a dance movie musical called Sultans of Swing.

Dead Poets Society screenwriter Tom Schulman revealed to No Film School at Austin Film Festival in 2014 that things almost took a dramatic left-turn before producer Jeffrey Katzenberg salvaged his original script. “Disney acquired Schulman’s script for Dead Poets Society in 1987, about two years after he wrote the original draft. As soon as they bought the script, they sent Schulman a stack of notes about how they would like to change the script.”

“Most notably, they thought Schulman could rework it as a period piece about dancing teenagers. They even had a title picked out: Sultans of Swing. Naturally, this sent Schulman into a panic. When he arrived for his first face-to-face meeting with Disney studio executives, he didn’t know what to expect.”

“Before the meeting began, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of the studio, read through the notes while everyone else waited. Katzenberg tossed the notes, told everybody in the room that they were going to make the script Schulman had written, and started to talk about casting ideas.”

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As we now all know, the casting masterstroke of Dead Poets Society was choosing Robin Williams – best known as a comedian – in the role of John Keating, the unconventional teacher and inspirational mentor to the young men of an elite prep school. It proved to be a launchpad for the careers of the aforementioned Robert Sean Leonard, as well as Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

Check out our guide to the best teen movies and the best Robin Williams movies.