Coming up with a name for anything is hard. Just ask any parents of newborns–why do you think the world is full of Juniors? With movies, it’s tough because it has to fit the plot, theme, and feel of the film and be marketable and memorable. At least, you’d think so. It would seem that with so many adaptations of other properties, remakes and sequels, that naming a movie would be easy as pie. But even American Pie proved that it ain’t so. Hollywood–the creative center of the universe–often tends to prove itself as being creatively bankrupt, jumping onto every bandwagon that seems to haul even a suggestion of success. There are several trends in movie names that need to go away:
Sequels That Say They’re the Last in the Series But Aren’t
These usually have the word “final” and explicitly say this is the end, but then another sequel is made. Sometimes, as in the case with Star Trek and Indy, it’s implied that this movie is the last. Some examples of this:
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter — This is the fourth entry, which was followed by Friday the 13: A New Beginning and a whole slew of others.
The Final Destination — Again, the fourth film in the series that indicates that this is the last. It isn’t, since Final Destination 5 recently in the theaters.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare — You can claim Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason are reboots, but Freddy’s still played by Robert Englund and the marketing still tries to play them as part of the same series.
Omen III: The Final Conflict — This was followed up with the TV movie Omen IV: The Awakening, which is in the same continuity, just without Damien.
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice — We wish.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier — Yeah, yeah, “final frontier” was taken from the opening monologue and refers to trekking to the distant regions of the galaxy, but putting it in the title of the fifth film gives the impression that this is the end. By this point, the cast was growing long in the tooth and the studio slapped on that moniker to prepare Trekkies everywhere for the potential end of the journey. Shatner almost made it a reality, but the truly last movie with the entire original cast was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — The title refers to the medieval knights who searched for the holy grail, but this was the finale of the intended trilogy that even had Indy and pals riding off into the sunset. Too bad those pesky aliens and Shia had to pull him out of retirement.
Titles That Raise Expectations That Aren’t Fulfilled in the Movie
These are examples of movies where the audience expects one thing based on the title, but the movie does something completely different. For instance:
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines — This is just a retread of the first two films with the distinction being that it ends with Skynet going online and letting loose with the nukes. Is this what they mean by the machines rising? The expectation was that this was going to be the future war, or at the very least we get to see the actual machines taking control from the humans and the battle commencing. Instead, we just got a female terminator sent from the future trying to kill John Connor…blah blah blah, it’s the same movie all over again.
Star Wars—Episode III: Attack of the Clones — Since the first film came out in 1977, fans were drooling over the prospect of seeing what exactly the Clone War was. After the disappointing Episode I (which still ended up making a gazillion dollars), George Lucas announced the title of Episode II as Attack of the Clones. This was it! We finally get to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, we got clones, but do they attack? Not exactly–they come to the aid of our heroes. Sure, this film concludes with a kickass battle scene, but the clones are just there as backup to the good guys. The expectation was that they attack the good guys, who has to battle them throughout the film. At least we got to see the Clone Wars in Episode III…oh yeah…
Movies That Don’t Know Who the Main Character Is
Every Frankenstein movie other than the original (or remakes of the original) think the monster is named Frankenstein. It’s not–that’s the doctor’s name. The producers are exceptionally confused in The Bride of Frankenstein, since no one gets married.
All Pink Panther films after Return of the Pink Panther assume that Inspector Clouseau is the flamingo-hued feline. He’s not–it’s a diamond. There were actually two other movies without the Pink Panther name made after the original, which was about the Pink Panther diamond being stolen and did not feature Clouseau as the main character. He proved to be popular, so Blake Edwards followed up with A Shot in the Dark. The studio wanted a third, but Edwards and star Peter Sellers bowed out, allowing Bud Yorkin to direct Alan Arkin in the terribly unfunny Inspector Clouseau. Edwards and Sellers returned to the series (but for a different studio) with Return of the Pink Panther, which was again about the titular diamond being stolen, hence the title. But after that, every movie had Pink Panther in the title, even though the diamond was no where to be found. This implied that somehow the Inspector had turned into it. While Curse of the Pink Panther is vague, Son of the Pink Panther is simply infuriating. How can the diamond be a parent?
The Big Lebowski would have you think that he’s played by Jeff Bridges. Nope, Bridges is The Dude. The title character is played by David Huddleston.
The Last Samurai is actually plural, referring to the order of the samurai, not Tom Cruise, despite what the marketing would have you believe.
Changing the Title Due to Perceived Pressure
The Pope Must Diet (Original Title: The Pope Must Die)
This 1991 comedy features Robby Coltrane as a priest who’s mistaken for the Pope and gets chased by the Mob, hence the original title. However, the Catholic Church threw a holy fit at the suggestion of people wanting to kill the Pope. Of course, the title is referring to the desires of the criminals trying to off him, not suggesting that someone should take it literally. Prior to ads hitting the press, Mirimax decided to add a “T” to “Die” in the shape of a crucifix, so that now the movie suggests that the Pope is too fat. What does that have to do with the plot? Absolutely nothing. Did it prevent the film from failing at the box office? Nope. It made a whopping $582,510 domestically. Yes, it barely broke a half a million dollars. Good thing they changed the name so as not to offend anybody.
Cop Out (Original Title: A Couple of Dicks)
The name of this rare Kevin Smith studio film was deemed too racy, even though “dicks” is a term for detectives. In the context of the film, it can apply to leads Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in both ways. Their characters, too.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Original Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
There are two stories about why Roald Dahl’s timeless children’s book changed its name for the 1971 Gene Wilder version. One is that the word “Charlie” was somehow racist. The other is probably closer to the truth: Quaker Oats produced the movie and planned to release a line of Willy Wonka candy bars, so the company wanted the movie’s title to reflect this.
Hancock (Original Title: Tonight, He Comes)
The Will Smith blockbuster was originally much more graphic in terms of language, violence, and sexuality. The deleted scene described in a Cracked article pretty much sums up the double entendre of the movie’s original name. At one point, they deleted the comma in the title and tried to play off that the name refers to him showing up in his job as a superhero. Sony execs suggested several lame titles, but ultimately, they scrapped that and went with the boring character name that no one cared about.
The Princess and the Frog (Original Title: The Frog Princess)
Disney found itself in a heap of controversy for several reasons with this Oscar-nominated film that returned to the traditional style of animation. Primarily, people thought the word “frog” was somehow describing the appearance of the titular character and was therefore demeaning to the studio’s first African-American princess. It also didn’t help that the story took place in French-speaking New Orleans.
Making All Movies Sound the Same
Do you remember the difference between Fatal Instinct and Basic Attraction? Or was that Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct? What about Primal Fear and Primary Colors? Hollywood is always trying to grab the catchy title, whether it necessarily makes sense or not in the context of the film. They often use a two-word name consisting of an adjective and a noun (Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher, Sucker Punch, Soul Surfer) or feature a prepositional phrase (Under Siege, Courage Under Fire, The People Under the Stairs, Under the Tuscan Sun). Action movies and thrillers are especially bad about this, in particular Steven Segal films. Here are a list of some of his newer efforts (that no one has seen):
A Dangerous Man
Driven to Kill
Against the Dark
Flight of Fury
Mercenary for Justice
They’re all interchangeable, and nobody seems to care. They’re just names slapped on so they don’t have to be called Forgettable Steven Segal Film #42.
Naming Movies After Songs
Sometimes there are reasons for this. The Johnny Cash biopic was called Walk the Line, named after one of his popular songs. The same goes for the biopics of Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire), Ritchie Valens (La Bamba), and Tina Turner (What’s Love Got to Do With It?). And sometimes a particular song fits thematically with the film, such as when Rob Reiner turned Stephen King’s short story “The Body” into the film Stand By Me–he used the song over the end credits as well as having bits of the song run through the entire movie, not to mention that the whole theme of the film was buddies sticking together through tough times. John Hughes got away with that with Sixteen Candles–after all, Molly Ringwald’s character was turning 16. But what excuse did he have with Some Kind of Wonderful? He just liked the song and wanted to cash in on it by naming his film after it. You can probably trace movies being named after a song back to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which was named after a popular song he sang in the previous movie Holiday Inn. But in the last 20 years or so, Hollywood is content to just slap any song title on a film for name recognition, whether or not the song has anything to do with the movie. Was American Pie about the loss that fans felt after Buddy Holly died? No, the only connection to the song is that the characters in the film are American and one of them humps a pie. Also consider the following movie titles:
Love Potion No. 9
My Blue Heaven
Jumping Jack Flash
Can’t Hardly Wait
When a Man Loves a Woman
Sweet Home Alabama
Boys Don’t Cry
Lean On Me
Running on Empty
Something to Talk About
Addicted to Love
There are even two movies featuring the Olsen Twins: It Takes Two and New York Minute.
Dumbing Down the Title
This happens a lot when books are adapted to movies, because for some reason people who read can handle titles that are a little more creative than the average movie-going public, or at least that’s what Hollywood thinks. Granted, Blade Runner is more kickass than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a bit clunky (though studios apparently thought people would believe the movie to be about Rita Hayworth). But did we really need to be reminded that The Lost World was a sequel to Jurassic Park? Apparently Spielberg thought not many people read Michael Crichton’s book because he changed the title of the movie to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He was at it again when he took over Stanley Kubric’s A.I., re-dubbing it A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Thank you for clarifying for all us ignorant people out there, since no one would ever know what A.I. is. All the Twi-hards out there also must have short term memory since they’re told on every adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s sparkly vampire series that it’s part of The Twilight Saga. And how many X-Men fans needed to have the title X-Men Origins: Wolverine? They didn’t already know Wolverine was one of the X-Men? The worst, though, has been with two as-yet-unreleased movies scheduled for this year. Martin Scorsese is adapting the children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is a pretty cool title. The movie? Hugo. That’s it. Just Hugo. Apparently children can’t remember names with more than one word in it. And Edgar Rice Burrough’s science fiction classic John Carter of Mars is now just John Carter. Seriously. Apparently, Disney felt that with the failure of Mars Needs Moms that the audience won’t see a movie with Mars in the title. Let’s give The Dark Knight props for giving the audience respect that we know that’s Batman’s title and we don’t actually have to have Batman in the name of the movie, an example followed by the upcoming The Man of Steel.
Using Overly Complicated Titles
It seems that any more, sequels aren’t content with just adding a number to the title, which all things considered is a lazy way to do things yet is efficient and easy to keep track of the order the movies were made. Does anyone really know which Pirates of the Caribbean film is first, second, or third? No, because in addition to having a four-word series name, each movie also has an elaborate subtitle such as Curse of Blackbeard’s Ghost (that was one of the Pirates movies, wasn’t it?).
The Star Wars movies are probably the ones to blame this on because not only do we have an “episode” number, we also have the subtitle. With the original trilogy, we were content to just call the films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Now with the prequels, we have Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Ugh. We can also blame George Lucas for the unwieldy titles to the Indiana Jones movies. Wouldn’t it be okay to have just had The Temple of Doom? Why do we need to be reminded that Indy is in the movie when it’s all over the advertising. After all, we’ve had 22 (or 23 or 24 depending on how you do the counting) James Bond movies and none of them have had “James Bond” in the title. For that matter, after the first Dirty Harry, we didn’t have to be told in the four subsequent sequels who the movies were about. The audience was intelligent enough to figure it out.
Like the Pirates films, now we have movies that add a subtitle to the first film because they expect a sequel like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or adaptations of books where they have to put the series title in the movie so we get Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We’ll soon be getting a pair of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, each with its own lengthy subtitle. Then there are movies that just have long names for the sake of having long names: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. There is a movie that makes fun of this with the honest-to-God title of Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D, which is so long even IMDb had to shorten it. This is not saying that all long movie titles are unnecessary. After all, who would change Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan? But some sanity needs to be had at some point.
Believe it or not, one movie that avoided this (even by falling into the trap of naming the film after a song) was American Pie. The original title on the screenplay was Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Your Reader Will Love But the Executive Will Hate. We actually wish it had kept its original title.
Being Inconsistent With Sequel Titles
The Naked Gun sequels parodied this nicely with The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and The Naked Gun 33 1/3, but some movie series are just insane with their naming conventions. Sure, just slapping a number on the name is lazy, as we stated previously, but it seems that some series like Star Trek and Halloween just give up at some point. Then you have the confusing “quadrilogy” of Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. In the middle of the series suddenly we have a number? And what’s the deal with the exponent? Is it Alien Cubed or Alien to the Third? Then there’s the Rambo series that started off with First Blood, followed by the sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II, and then of course Rambo III. Wait, there was no Rambo, how’d they get to Rambo III? Oh, there was a Rambo? That’s right, it was the fourth movie. These were all well-covered in this hilarious video (skip to 3:55, as the first part is about stupidity in naming video games).
Of course, how can we talk about inconsistency in movie names without bringing up Star Wars yet again. Lest we forget, the first movie was called Star Wars, not Star Wars Episode I: A New Hope. It will always be just Star Wars. Live with it.
Abbreviating Names to Letters and Numbers
When Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out, people felt the title was too lengthy (see above), so the fans started referring to it as T2. The studios caught hold of this and ran with it. Then D2: The Might Ducks came out as a play on it. And then we got X2: X-Men United. Now, every movie has an abbreviation. Star Trek is horrendous about it, with the first film being STTMP (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is arrogance at its finest since to date 10 more films have been made). We also have TWOK, ST:TOS, ST:DS9 and so on and so forth. Fans will know what we’re talking about if we discuss LOTR or BTTF. Even the marketing for the most recent Harry Potter film gave up and just called it HP7. It’s gotten to the point of ridiculousness, or POR. Even Indian films are doing this to excess.
copyright © 2011 FilmVerse
- Best / Worst: Movie Sequel Titles (filmophilia.com)
- The 10 Best Movie Opening Title Sequences (videogum.com)
- Movie Titles in Movies: Part Deux (laughingsquid.com)
- B-Movie Title Generator (neatorama.com)
- Starfleet is Clueless About the Military (filmverse.wordpress.com)
- Musical Sequences in Movies That Aren’t Musicals (filmverse.wordpress.com)