A Meandering Rant About Lazy Movie Titles
by Kyle Anderson on February 6, 2012
Remember when movies had interesting titles? Or at the very least titles that had some depth of meaning to them, like The Shawshank Redemption or Memento? Even stuff that seems boring might mean something else, like Sunset Blvd. It takes place on the actual street of Sunset Blvd, but it’s also about the metaphorical sun setting on both Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis in different ways. The title is both indelible and meaningful. Other titles seem incredibly obvious, like Alien, Psycho, or Seven Samurai, but they’re titles that have an impact and are artful while still being simple and direct. There are also titles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is as lurid and shocking as the film it represents. When you see the title, you know what you’re in for, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it. Yet, why is a title like Man on a Ledge, which is equally direct, so flat and uninteresting?
In the earlier cases I mentioned, the titles, no matter how literal, came as a result of the film itself. The original title for Alien was Star Beast, yet for a movie so blue collar and industrial, Alien better served the tone and could apply to both the creature and the crew of the Nostromo being foreign in outer space. To go a different way with a Ridley Scott movie, Blade Runner is based on the Philip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” which is a little long for a marquee, so it was changed to Blade Runner. Problem is, “Blade Runner” was a book about illegal smuggling of medical supplies in Africa, but Scott liked the title and so optioned the book just to use it in something. Aside from a couple of throwaway lines added to tie it up, Blade Runner has nothing to do with running blades or running on blades or blades at all. If someone asked you to describe Blade Runner the words “blade” and “runner” would never appear anywhere in it, but that’s not the point. The important thing is that Blade Runner is a fucking fantastic title and one that sits in the minds of people forever.
Describe Man on a Ledge. It’s about a man… who’s on a ledge. Other stuff happens, sure, but essentially it’s a man who is out on a ledge. The sequel will probably be Man on a Limb, about a man who climbs a tree and refuses to come down, but I fear it’d be too deep for people. Too many titles nowadays are neither intriguing nor clever; they’re literally just the pitch or general conceit of the film. What’s the concept? It’s snakes on a plane. I know, let’s call it Viper Flight or Cobra Cruise or Venom at 50,000 Ft. No, idiot, we’re calling it Snakes on a Plane because that’s what it’s about. There was a movie a few years ago about fighting and it was just called Fighting. They’re not even trying anymore! Tyler Perry, the billionaire behind all those movies you’ve never seen, is coming out with a movie called Good Deeds about a guy named Wesley Deeds who does good things. For fuck sake! “See, his name is Deeds and he does deeds, so it works in two ways.” No it doesn’t! It’s the same obvious way twice! What about the new Disney movie John Carter? I’m aware the book series and film are about a guy whose name is in fact John Carter, but he goes to fucking MARS and fights in a gladiator arena with giant monsters and shit. But no, John Carter, that’ll be good.
And it’s not even just that the titles are too obvious. Some of them have zero to do with the movie. Safe House takes place in a safe house, fine, but the movie Lock-Out, about a guy having to rescue the president’s daughter from a prison in outer space, is not about being locked out from anywhere. But, boy, it sure sounds like something they’d do in a prison. Make up your mind.
The following are famous, good-titled movies and what they probably would be titled if they came out today:
Star Wars – Spaceships
The Silence of the Lambs – Fat Women Get Skinned
A Clockwork Orange – A Violent Delinquent Gets Reformed, Kinda
Double Indemnity – Insurance Fraud
Back to the Future – Old Car Time Machine
Reservoir Dogs – Men in Ties
Die Hard – Nothing Lasts Forever (which is the actual title of the novel upon which the film is based)
The Great Escape – Most Of The People Die
So the point of all this is that I’m easily irritated. The End.
-Kanderson wants to remind everyone that not everything needs a point. Follow him on TWITTER