Sunday, June 3, 2012

Great Movies - Bad Titles

My wife came up with this thought:
What are some great movies that have horrible titles?

Titles are very important.  They can capture the imagination (The Lord of the Rings) or give a visceral reaction (Saw) or just be fun to say (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).  Some horrible movies have horrible titles (e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space), but some great movies have really bad titles.

But a bad title can turn people away.  I am convinced that some of these movies were box office disappointments because of the title.  The following are in no particular order:

1.  The Shawshank Redemption. 

 I find the title kind of funky, but I know that a lot of people at the time did not know what to make of this film.  This is the only movie I have every seen by myself in the theatre because no one could figure this movie out.  But I think word of mouth was so strong that it overcame the strange title.

2. Cinderella Man

Probably the worst title listed here.  This is one of the best films Ron Howard has done, but very few people saw it, I'm convinced, because of the title.  In fact, the studio offered a money back guarantee to people who went to see it and were disappointed.  But that didn't help the box office returns.  I know that there is historical context to the title, but we are too far removed from that in the popular culture.  I think people were picturing Russell Crowe being late to the ball and Paul Giamatti singing Bippity-Boppity-Boo.

3.  Wag the Dog
This might be the best political satire I've seen.  There are so many layers about how media, politics, and spin can obscure our ability to make informed decisions in a democracy.  And it's importance to pop culture only increased after the movie came out when President Clinton set a military strike the day he was impeached.  But the title is stupid.  Yes, they give an explanation for it at the start of the film, but always felt like the filmmakers were waving an inside joke in your face and if you didn't go along with it then you were simply too stupid to understand.

4.  Reservoir Dogs.

The second "dog" movie on the list, this is also Tarantino's best.  Again, there is symbolic meaning to the title, but I remember being in the video store back in the 90's, passing this movie up because I couldn't make heads or tails of its name.

5.  How to Train Your Dragon.

This movie was a pure delight from start to finish.  One of my friends kept hounding me to see.  But the reason I was hesitant was because it sounded so juvenile.  But this might be DreamWorks Animations best film.  It is PIXAR level quality.  Speaking of PIXAR...

6.  Up

One of the best, most original films to come out in the last 10 years.  I remember being lukewarm about seeing it, but I trusted Pixar's track record.  The movie is an emotional powerhouse that brings tears and joy.  But the title is stupid.  Really, think about it.  "Up."

7.  There Be Dragons.

A moving reflection on war and faith with a title that only makes sense with the last line of the movie.  But if I don't know that last line, I can't fathom what this film is about.

(I was thinking about adding Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, but as my wife pointed out, the movie gives you exactly what the title says).

What are your thoughts?  Can you think of any more?  Feel free to add them to the comments section :)

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