The title of a film is the first in a long process of marketing it. It begins at the script stage – you need something that grabs the attention of the script reader, who is usually just a page boy for an executive at the studio. Or, if you’re an independent project, it’s the first thing that sells the concept to backers.
In the old days, low budget studios and genre divisions would devise a title and a poster before they even commissioned a script. This led to some of the best and worst horror films ever made – with Val Lewton given freedom to make a film about whatever he wanted, provided it had the suggested title, came in on budget, and ran under 70 minutes.
There’s a wonderful scene in Tim Burton‘s Ed Wood in which Wood starts pitching his vision for films based on his cheesy titles alone: “Dr. Acula.” The executive looks at him, puzzled, so he drags out two words excitedly, “DrrrrrrrrrrrrrrAcula!” No response.
Then there are the titles that are just confounding. Major blockbusters, some of them even Oscar contenders, have titles too pretentious for their own good or just flat out bad. The Constant Gardener gets a lot of flack for sounding like a movie about a green-thumbed man with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Here is just a small sampling of the most ill-conceived titles to ever see the light of day.
20. How the West Was Fun
Puns are the worst. This Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen vehicle puts the little moppets in a dude ranch, where evil Martin Mull collects a paycheck. How the West Was Won was a classic film about the struggles of colonizing the arid, open country. The West was not “fun.” There was nothing fun about dysentery, gout, cholera or typhoid fever. Anyone who played The Oregon Trail knows that.
The name Gigli reminds me of The Simpson’s “Gabbo”. When Gabbo is initially teased on television with little to no information passed the name, Springfieldians are at first curious. Who is Gabbo? What’s a Gabbo? Then it turns out to be a ventriloquist doll. At first Gabbo is hugely successful, until something better comes along.
When Gigli was first announced, the curiosity factor surround Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez‘s relationship was sky high. But in the end, it turned out much like Gabbo – just a stupid, hollow publicity stunt with Ray Jay Johnson as a guest star.
18. The “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Sequels
Perhaps I Am Still Aware of What You Did Two Summers Previous was too much of a mouthful, but at the very least it would have been more accurate. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is just entirely inaccurate. The film takes place two years after the summer in question, so what exactly does the killer know about the summer in between? Does he know Jennifer Love Hewitt spent it auditioning for better roles she never got?
I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer – the unrelated second sequel – even further confuses the matter by adding a ghost. It brings about metaphysical questions such as: Do ghosts have memories past their deaths?
17. Gleaming The Cube
There was a brief fad in the late 80s/early 90s to tap into what the kids were into – in this case it was skateboarding. And when you wanted to capture the youth in the late 80s, that meant you went to Christian “Pump Up The Volume” Slater. He knew what the kids were up to. So after his adopted brother is murder in an obviously staged suicide, Slater skates his way through a scandal involving sending weapons to Vietnam as opposed to medication.
Still, I’m not sure if this is a film title or something your mother tells your father after she catches you pleasuring yourself. “I caught Tommy with your old magazines. He was…well…Gleaming the Cube.”
16. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Critics, comedians and the general public have gone on at length about how incomprehensibly silly this title is, making it apropos for the equally nonsensical film. The biggest issue, however, seems to stem from the use of “V” as opposed to “Vs.”
The only other place a “V” with no punctuation appears are court cases, suggesting that the two icons’ climactic battle will be settled by a septuagenarian in a black robe. In which case, the film should be re-titled The Matter of Batman V Superman: Docket Case # D5738-G. Which begs the question: wouldn’t the court have to know Batman and Superman’s home address, thus ruining their hidden identities?
15. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
While it’s sound advice, as children who do show early signs of being a serial killer, the dead things in question are just zombies. The film’s director, Bob Clark (of Black Christmas and A Christmas Story fame), wrote and shot this low budget Canadian horror-comedy early in his career. For the budget and era, it’s not bad of its kind, but the title is one of those that thinks it’s much more clever than it is. It involves a troupe of actors on a remote island who raise the dead – so really, there aren’t even any children.
14. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Comedian Patton Oswalt has a whole routine about the title of this film, so any attempts to make a joke about it would be fruitless and lousy in comparison. Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Of course, the bed is an immobile killer, so the film has to keep finding reasons for characters to be on it. And since not every couple can just have sex without risking it being a skin flick, the reasons get pretty outlandish.
13. Honey, I Blew Up the Kid
Well, good God, man, that’s a casual way to tell your wife your son died in an explosion. Also, in the age of suicide bombers, this proves to be an incredibly uncomfortable title. That’s what you get when you hire Stuart Gordon – co-writer and director of Re-Animator – to write a children’s film.
12. In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
This Uwe Boll mess is less of a title, more of an SEO keyword designed to attract D & D fans. Boll recently retired from filmmaking due in large part to the fact that everyone hated his incoherent films, which he was able to make by exploiting a German tax loophole.
11. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” By Sapphire
This inspired numerous running jokes upon its release, with everyone adding “Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” to everything from signatures, business cards, and titles of other films. It’s not the length of the title that’s the issue, it’s the product placement. “Based on” credits are usually reserved for the closing or opening credits, not titles. Whether it was a contractual obligation or an attempt to attract fans of the book, the sense of entitlement on display is revolting.
10. The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
This geographically-confused title demands we know its a sequel to a film that wasn’t all that successful to begin with. Relating this sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut doesn’t really guarantee box office success. You’d have better luck calling it Transformers: Ghosts of Georgia.
A third film, The Haunting In New York, has been announced. It appears, at least for the time being, to not add an entirely different city in the title. For the trilogy, they could always just combine the three and entitle it The Haunting Across The East Coast.
9. Quantum of Solace
This confounding title for a Bond film actually comes from a short story in which Bond sits down and discusses lost loves with a governor in the Bahamas. It’s essentially just a fancy way of saying “A chance to take a load off.” Had the story been adapted faithfully, it would have been the equivalent of James Bond starring in My Dinner With Andre.
Instead, we’re left with a film that’s less a full movie, more a bridge between Casino Royale and Skyfall. One in which the evil mastermind is trying to control the water supply in South America. It certainly lives up to its title – a lazy, weak Bond film where one can basically take breath before the action begins again in the next film.
8. Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
I’m sure this title has a good reason behind. I’m sure the pants represent a deep-rooted feminist movement. It’s actually based on a beloved novel, so I’m sure it’s not just about a bunch girls who share the same pair of pants.
Wait, it actually is. It’s literally a series of intertwined stories about friends growing up sharing a pair of f*&$!^g pants. I know there’s more too it than just that, but that’s still a pretty lame premise.
Hold on there, hipster, take off the retro-walkman you’ve been listening to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on repeatedly for a minute and let me teach you a few things about language.
You’re young, we understand that, but it’s high time we had a sit down. We have words for that stage of life already – many, in fact. Boyhood, childhood, teenage years, puberty, per-pubescence, arrested development, youth. Any of those are acceptable. When you start making up your own words and thinking it makes you sound deep or trendy or hip, well, it just makes us take you that much less seriously.
6. Half Past Dead
Due to the increased use of cell phones, no one ever really asks anyone what time it is anymore. Which is a shame, because glancing at a watch and saying, “It’s about half past dead” is something I have long wanted to do. What exactly happens at half-past dead? Is it nightly? And what of daylight savings? Does dead jump ahead an hour for the ploughman’s moon?
These are questions far beyond this Steven Seagal actioner’s capability of answering.
5. They Shoot Movies, Don’t They?
This self-serious mockumentary somehow isn’t above using a cliche in its title. It follows a fictional director and the strain he undergoes trying to get his screenplay for a film called Mirage made. Now, this is an area that sounds like it could be ripe for satire. Some genuinely funny things can happen as the director degrades himself further and further. That territory is nothing new, but it could at least be enjoyable.
4. The Human Stain
Don’t use lemon juice, it never works. Use seltzer water.
This adaptation of Phillip Roth’s novel is the kind of Oscar bait that’s just sickening. Its silly, silly twist involves the reveal that Anthony Hopkins is somehow a black man who has successfully passed himself off as an aging Jewish professor. And you should be having flashes of that now-awkward moment in Silver Streak where Gene Wilder wears blackface and holds a boom box to his head to evade police.
This must be what Mathew Lillard sounds like while climaxing. Yeah, get that out of your head.
This Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic was produced and directed by one Arch Hall Sr., starring Arch Hall Jr. and Richard Kiel in the title role. Eegah is a caveman who is somehow still alive and wreaking havoc on teens in modern day California. The MST3k episode is worth it, at least.
2. Herbie: Fully Loaded
Herbie, the classic living VW Beetle of the 60s, got a modern day reboot as a race car starring Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton, and Justin Long. It opened to middling reviews – it’s not horrible, it’s nothing special, it’s fine for kids.
The title issue here is the fact that, at the time, Lohan’s drinking and drug use was in the tabloids nearly every day. So putting her in anything called “Fully Loaded” and having it involve driving was just in bad taste.
1. Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
Worst title? Or best title? This film was the brainchild of Ray Dennis Steckler, who also starred under the stage name Cash Flagg (which sounds like a Steven Seagal character). It was the first film billed as a “horror musical” beating out Horror of Party Beach by a few months. Both films found their way onto MST3k eventually, and they are some of the best ever produced. The title sounds like something someone would get high and think up in 1964, so its safe to assume that’s how it came about.