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What's In A Name? How Movie Titles Have Never Been So Dull

Posted on Friday September 17, 2010, 16:55 by Ali Plumb in Empire States
What's In A Name? How Movie Titles Have Never Been So Dull

Hollywood, I wish to register a complaint. Another one. It’s a simple gripe, and one that should be very easy to fix, namely: stop choosing ludicrously boring move titles.

This year has seen some of the least inspirational naming that cinema has ever seen. It’s a year where The Last Airbender should be congratulated name-wise for at least making an effort to be interesting. That’s right, I’m saying The Last Airbender is a good movie title for this year. It’s that bad.

Allow me to give you a few examples. In the action department, we’ve got: Knight And Day (what the hell did that mean, anyway?), The Takers, Green ZoneGreen Zone, you say? Sounds… ecological. We’ll take 20 tickets.

In the romantic comedy arena, there’s Leap Year, Date Night, When In Rome, Valentine’s Day, The Switch… all about as exciting as a wet mop in a bin.

Considering it was from the creators of the awesomely-named Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, McKay and Ferrell’s The Other Guys left me, well, somewhat nonplussed. The Kids Are All Right and Going The Distance also don’t do the quality of their films justice, and hardly stick in the mind as well as, say, Glengarry Glen Ross or Jaws.

But the three that have really driven me to despair, a despair so dark and deep that I’m actually taking the time to moan about it on a blog, are these: The Town, The American and (wait for it…) The Adjustment Bureau.

Sweet Lord in Heaven, could you think of anything more boring? The Town? So, it’s about a town? No, the town? This is a bank heist film that's as exciting as a game-ending GTA mission, blessed with the refined acting talents of Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Jeremy Renner and Chris Cooper, helmed by an on form Ben Affleck, and you’re calling it (drumroll…) 'The Town’?

The American's title has probably wiped out the interest of a huge number of global population, just like that. Fortunately, it's got George Clooney and guns in it, so it should be fine.

And as for The Adjustment Bureau, what’s that going to be about? Adjusting? Bureaux? What will the bureau adjust next? Another bureau? Matt Damon’s hat angle? Emily Blunt’s dress?

I’m not saying every movie should be Indiana Jones and the Improbably Attractive Sexy Ladies From Space, but something, anything other than ‘The Town’, I'm begging you.

Ian Freer has already given his proverbial two cents on what makes a decent movie title, and our Helen has berated the curse of the over-elaborate movie name, so I’ll try to keep my opinions on the matter as short as possible, but what’s wrong with, say... a person’s name?

raised my eyebrow (slightly), as did Tamara Drewe (even more so, in fact) and Robin Hood has its own mythology to lean on, but think back to Tootsie, Rambo, Rocky, even Juno. Intriguing names, excellent movies.

Then there’s wordplay like Thank You For Smoking, the utterly gripping Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, or the completely bonkers Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

It’s not hard to think a bit further afield than the likes of The Wrestler, The Fighter, Warrior, and the like. Even The Expendables is a ‘The’ movie title that tells a bit of the story, and sounds a bit cool while it’s at it. Despicable Me is another cracker from this year, as are How To Train Your Dragon, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but as for the rest… Well, put it this way: Remember Me? Hardly.

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1 billythehick
Posted on Sunday September 19, 2010, 23:52
I agree with linshue. He makes a valid point about the matter at hand.

worst title I've heard in a while is Yes.


why the hell would you call your movie Yes?

2 paul_ie86
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 09:30
Slow days at Empire towers, eh?

3 bradthunder
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 09:46
Ok, Star Wars is a really REALLY shit title, but never just a book by its cover - or a film by it's name. Unless it has the words 'Attack', 'Killer' and 'Tomatoes' in it.

4 chrishaydon_63
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 10:22
Agreed. Film titles used to be so imaginative and original.
Check out this bad-boy.

'P'tang Yang, Kipperbang' :)

5 chola1
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 12:37
Empire article timeline:
2008 "here, aren't movie titles complicated?"
2009 "here, aren't movie titles great?"
2010 "here, aren't movie titles dull?"
one does wonder what next year will bring...

6 billythehick
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 14:22
2011 "Well that just about wraps it up for movie titles"

7 JensonJet
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 14:53
I have too many other issues regarding the quality of movies to care about their titles.

8 jamaicanpenguin
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 15:50
Worst title ever was this one from last year....... Love Happens

9 londondillon
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 16:02
Its the same with the beginning of television shows... they are becoming so short and boring... the opening credits of R.J Berger is so uninspiring compared to the show which is actually hilarious...

I think 'The killer Inside Me' was a great title this year....
Some other great titles were
'Gran Torino', 'The Hangover', 'The Dark Knight', 'Inception'....

10 kyle-d
Posted on Monday September 20, 2010, 19:03
"hot tub time machine"
Any year in which a film with a title as awesome as that should not be derided for bad film names....

11 chola1
Posted on Tuesday September 21, 2010, 11:09
toku000 makes valid points, and a mockery of the "are you human? coding at the bottom of the page...Dear, oh dear, Empire Towers. it never rains, does it...

12 georgewdixon
Posted on Tuesday September 21, 2010, 11:18
I don't think titles are any more dull or unimaginative right now than in the past 10, 20 or more years.
Does Rear Window really suggest a broken leg and voyeurism? The French connection could well have been about someone changing trains and When Harry met Sally? That hardly screams must see movie.
Agreed these examples are perhaps a little more inventive than The American, but a title like that is just as intriguing as the Crow.
Add a poster and cast list to all of these films and they're much more interesting. All of these things combined make me wanna see any movie, or not.

13 simonlitton
Posted on Tuesday September 21, 2010, 14:39
Pixar are particularly bad at titles. So you're making a story about toys? Call it "Toy Story". Or a film about cars? Call it...."Cars".

14 clarkkent
Posted on Wednesday September 22, 2010, 14:34
Dear sir, would it be possible for someone to send me a voucher or similar item in recompense for the time i'm not going to get back having read this pointless, soap box piece which achieved little more than bottling the the logic of a youtube comment and elongating it into a rant that really made no sense. You don't won't to go on because someone recently wrote an article with the polar opposite opinion of yours? Well, guess what, you failed idiot.

Its a title. In the case of film its effectively a cover*, and you know what they say about judging things by their cover.

*Yes, i know the poster would probably be the cover, but just go with it.

15 philshepp
Posted on Wednesday September 22, 2010, 19:57
Pixar bad at titles? Never! Toy Story isn't just called that because it is a "a story about toys'... it is a play on 'Toy Store' surely? What about 'Finding Nemo'? A very memorable title. So much so that my I once saw chippie called 'Frying Nemo' - everyone knows what it is referring to. Likewise 'Monsters Inc'. 'Up' is simple yet intriguing. With 'Ratatouille' they proved that they will not patronise their audience (although the poster also spelt it out phonetically to help I guess!). Okay, I'll give you 'Cars' ... but that was the poorest of their movies anyway!

16 Concise_Statement
Posted on Thursday September 23, 2010, 00:47
I like 'The Adjustment Bureau'. It reflects the sterile world of red tape loving Big Brother. Dick's original title was even more blank than that : 'Adjustment Team'.

Actually, by portraying Talladega Nights and Indy 4 as good titles, and The Town (which I found to be an intriguing name for a crime thriller, since all the best ones have a real sense of location) as boring, all you've done is convince me a good title is a bonus and says little about the quality of the finished film.

You seem to be forgetting the number one example of a supposedly interesting title killing a great movie stone dead before it had a chance... The Shawshank Redemption. Was that title really worth cinema-goers avoiding it that much?

17 staypuft2
Posted on Thursday September 23, 2010, 14:50
this is a point i have brought up many times with my friends. i once read through every title in the reviews section and they were all insanely awful.

i don't think you can underestimate how important titles are, and for that reason, how hard they are to get right.

the town is a good example but there are so many more.

'good' springs ot mind

"if we call it good, people will think it's good"

i reckon that's how the meeting must have gone.

no way am i gonna see it. and i won't see the town neither. not never.

titles should inspire an excite and give you a sense of what you're about to see.

the best titles ever in my opinion are:

raiders of the lost ark, ghostbusters, back to the future.

all great titles and great movies. how could you make a bad movie with those titles (ghostbusters 2 is so a good movie)

in short it's a good point made by Alastair Plumb. well done

18 Good_Film_Hunting
Posted on Sunday September 26, 2010, 15:24
The title of a film does not matter one bit. I watch movies for their content and I will judge them on that and only that. The Town is a fantastic piece of film-making and I urge everyone who appreciates such a thing to go and see it.

Who the hell cares what it's called? All that is relevent is how much you enjoy what you're watching!

19 Lauris
Posted on Wednesday October 13, 2010, 11:10
Some very good (IMHO) names from the top of my head:
- Stranger than fiction
- Die hard
- Love actually

20 Dannyboy14
Posted on Wednesday December 15, 2010, 20:19
I don't think the article is actually saying that poorly-titled films are poor, but that a well-titled movie is more memorable and connects with the audience and, more importantly, the would-be audience better. That said, I hate when they try and awkwardly work the title, like they need to justify to us that it is a good title.

Trailers are the main problem though, trying to make serious films funny, and action films deadly serious by showing the cheesiest in-lines that they possibly can. Example; I thought The Social Network and The Hangover looked terrible in the trailers, but were both very good (although I admittedly didn't see The Hangover in the cinema). Never judge a book by its cover I s'pose.

Oh, and for every The American, The Town and The Tourist you get, there's always an A Town Called Panic or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to balance it out.

Note: All Westerns have overly-descriptive titles (See 'Paint Your Wagon)

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