Insert Better Title Here

Who are these people who make up the titles for movies? Do they actually get paid to do this? And if so, how do I sign up to do it?

Because frankly, there are some people out there who should be ashamed of their efforts. I mean, come ON. Who thought “Secondhand Lions” would be a great title for a movie? And as much as I deeply love the movie, I really can’t get on board with “The Shawshank Redemption.” Since the title is marginally better than the title of Stephen King’s novella, which was called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,”  I’ll cut the writer who named that movie a little slack. But not too much.

Now, I’m not claiming that a bad title is going to kill a movie for me. No, it usually just makes me squirm a little. And while there’s often a correlation between bad movies and bad titles, that’s not always the case. Some lousy movies have terrific titles, and some great movies really deserve better.  A movie often cited as a good movie with a bad title is “The Hudsucker Proxy,” which starred Paul Newman.  A couple of my personal favorite titles include “Children of a Lesser God” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?”  The first sounds poignant and heartbreaking, while the latter is just fun and silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The first movie won awards and acclaim, while the second…well, it got shown in a lot of fraternity houses.

MovieDemocracy.com has a post that lists one person’s opinion of “10 Terrible Movie Titles.”  Yikes. I’ve actually never heard of most of those, which says that I either need to get out and see more movies….or maybe not. Here’s another list of lousy titles for movies. Lots of James Bond flicks on that list. Lots of people hated “Quantum of Solace,” apparently. Which is fine with me. I think the last half-dozen Bond movie title have been bad, with the exception of  “Casino Royale,” which if I’m not mistaken, was actually the title of the first book in the series by Ian Fleming. “Tomorrow Never Dies?” Please. I’m also glad to see that one of my favorite bad movie titles is also on there: “Operation Dumbo Drop.”  I’m actually embarrassed for the writer who had that idea. Here’s another one: the Chicago Tribune’s list from a couple of years ago. They don’t like “The Shawshank Redemption” much either.

And I don’t care if the movie has the same title as a beloved best-selling book. You can still change it, you know. If the book title’s no good, it won’t be good as a movie title either.

This is not to say that everything I’ve written has been great. Oh, no no no. But I’m sure that someone has to sign off on a bad title before the movie gets released. We’re talking about a  movie, a big-time movie that will cost us $10 a pop to see, a movie that takes weeks, months, even years sometimes to prepare, shoot, edit and release. It’s not like when a harried, underpaid copy editor has  to dash out a quick headline to accompany a late-breaking news story on deadline, and it ends up being boring or maybe not entirely right. These movie folks have months to come up with a good title, and surely there are multiple people involved. We expect more from them. Give us something better than “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

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About jenniferlarsonwrites

I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. I have a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's degree in English from Rhodes College. I'm a born-and-bred Southerner who spent a few years in Southern California, a rabid baseball fan and a would-be grower of tomatoes. You can also visit me at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @JenniferLarson.
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2 Responses to Insert Better Title Here

  1. Mark says:

    I’ll have to disagree with a few of your points, not saying you’re wrong… just that we’re different. I happen to prefer a title that I may not understand until I watch the movie. I like having a “oh, that’s why they gave the movie that title” moment.

    Shawshank Redemption is a perfectly fine title as far as I am concerned. Not the best, but not the worst either.

    I think Children of a Lesser God was a very good movie, but the title sounds a bit pretentious to me.

    Some movies titles that you listed like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot or Operation Dumbo Drop are excessively bad. Their should be a penalty for naming movies things like that.

    The movie titles that bug me the most though are the extremely short and vague, sometimes even one-word titles like:

    Taken
    Saw
    The Box
    Devoured
    The River
    The Beach

    Those are the ones that get to me.

  2. jenniferlarsonwrites says:

    I actually kind of like the titles you listed there, for much of the same reason. They’re intriguing, succinct, and not over the top. There’s a movie due out later this year that will star Robert Downey Jr. and has what I think is a great title: The Soloist. Same concept.

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