As anyone in advertising or marketing can tell you, films live or die by their titles and taglines. More often than not, the title of a film is the audience’s first introduction to the plot, characters and idea of the movie. A great title will give potential ticket-buyers an idea of what to expect. Similarly, muddled or confusing titles turn off audiences completely. Often, more complex, “artsy” films fail at the box office when their creators are unable to find an appealing selling point to use as the movie’s title. Without a clever or interesting name to remember, otherwise perfectly fine films can slide into obscurity.
Meanwhile, derivative, uninteresting movies can often end up succeeding beyond everyone’s expectations as a result of having a catchy title. This will encourage viewers to remember the film and talk about it with friends. Movies can become hyped before their release and open to huge box office success before anyone even knows how good or bad the film actually is. This is especially true of sequels to successful films and adaptations of well-known works. Here, the filmmakers are able to use the familiarity of the original name to sell the film before it is even seen. Almost all viewers of Spiderman were willing to line up for Spiderman 2 simply as a result of the film’s title.
Below, we have listed a few films that were re-named, some before and some after their release, in order to gain more popularity with audiences.
11. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
The Die Hard series is one of the most successful action franchises in film history. Released in 1988, the first film of the franchise launched the careers of Hollywood stars Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. This was soon followed by two sequels, both of which almost equaled the original film in both critical acclaim and box office success.
However, the fourth film of the franchise was delayed repeatedly. The movie went through numerous controversies, such as a heavily re-written script and a lower rating (PG-13) than the previous installments of the franchise. Another misstep in the film’s production came with the title of the fourth flick, Live Free or Die Hard. Producers feared that the title would be unappealing to audiences outside of the United States. In the United Kingdom, the film was retitled Die Hard 4.0. Fortunately for the studio and the stars, the film was a success financially in both territories. However, the film was not as popular with critics as its predecessors.
10. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
The first film on this list was re-named in the United Kingdom to try and appeal to that country’s viewers. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me had a very different problem with the filmgoers of the United Kingdom. The raunchy comedy was the first sequel to Mike Myer’s 1997 original and was expected to be an even bigger success. Austin Powers and his many catchphrases were a cultural phenomenon, combining British humor with American style.
However, some of the humor did not translate perfectly. The film’s title was considered far more raunchy and offensive in the United Kingdom. As a result, the sequel was re-titled “The Spy Who *****ed Me”, or simply Austin Powers 2.
9. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
Another entry and another controversial comedy film from 1999. Like the Austin Powers franchise, South Park had begun in 1997. By 1999, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s relentless satirical comedy was more popular than ever before. The Comedy Central show was watched worldwide and rivaled even The Simpsons in terms of popularity. Soon, fans demanded a film version. South Park reached the big screen to a chorus of applause from critics and audiences alike.
One group who weren’t happy, however, were the censors. South Park had trouble with censorship since its beginnings, and the filmmakers ended up in a long running battle with the MPAA. The film’s original title was deemed too offensive by censors, it’s rumored to have been South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose, and the creators came up with the more subtle, though still subversive, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
8. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Most of the films listed here had their titles altered before their release or were changed in order to fit certain markets. Some films, however, are re-named after their initial release. Usually, this strategy is used by studios in the hopes of bringing in audiences who missed out on the film’s original opening.
Last year’s Edge of Tomorrow was seen by critics as a surprisingly original and clever science fiction thriller. However, the film failed to find an audience and under-performed in cinemas. For the film’s DVD release, the studio tried a new tactic. The film was re-titled Live.Die.Repeat. The catchier phrase was originally the film’s tagline and was re-used in the hopes of attracting new viewers. Only time will tell how successful the strategy will be.
7. Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)
Like many of the films on this list, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was released with one title in the United States and a different name across the world. In the case of this classic stoner comedy, the fast food franchise White Castle was removed from the film’s name and promotional materials. The change was understandable, as White Castle is exclusively a North American fast food chain. As such, the title was an obscure reference for non-American viewers.
Instead, the movie was known as Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies in the United Kingdom and much of Europe. The newly titled movie succeeded at the box office and was a surprising hit with critics on both sides of the Atlantic. The film spawned two sequels, Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay and A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, neither of which needed any translation for foreign markets.
6. Winter’s Tale (2014)
Released last year, Winter’s Tale appeared to be a promising, urban fantasy film. The romantic magic movie was adapted from a bestseller and starred Colin Farrell, Will Smith, and Russell Crowe. However, prior to its release, the film’s title proved a to be a problem. Though many countries saw the film as Winter’s Tale, it was re-named A New York Winter’s Tale in the United Kingdom.
This choice may have been made to avoid audiences assuming that the starry blockbuster was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tale. In any case, the film’s title(s) turned out to be the least of its worries. Winter’s Tale was written off by critics as saccharine, listless, and unwatchable. The film did not fare any better with audiences and was a failure at the box office.
5. Airplane! (1980)
In 1980, a trio of directors and screenwriters, Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker, created Airplane!. The film was a spoof of disaster movies, specifically targeting the Airport franchise and 1957’s Zero Hour. ZAZ’s movie was a runaway success. Airplane! was one of the most financially successful movies of the year, and re-started the careers of its stars such as Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves. Stephen Stucker stole the film with an inimitable turn as the hilarious Johnny, a partially-improvised performance that remains one of the most popular comedic turns in cinema.
In Australia, upon its release, the film was re-titled Flying High. This was most likely a result of Australia using a different spelling of the titular word “aeroplane.” The new title also added another pun to a movie overflowing with comic touches and was as fitting as any new name could have hoped to be.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Director Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy. The auteur began his career directing violent, experimental hits such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. These early films created the blueprint for 1990’s independent cinema, but their explicit language, violence, and drug use saw Tarantino frequently fighting with censors. Even as recently as 2012’s Django Unchained, the maverick director has been challenged for his use of extreme imagery and inflammatory language.
In 2009, Tarantino released his World War 2 epic, Inglourious Basterds. The film was plagued by controversy before and after its release. The film’s title was changed from the original Inglorious Bastards to avoid offending moviegoers. This new title was nonetheless censored further in the United Kingdom, where television advertisements simply referred to the film as Inglourious.
3. Neighbors (2014)
Released last year, Neighbors was a successful combination of a fun, frat boy comedy and a (relatively) sophisticated, original look at maturity and responsibility. The film featured a cast of both comic newcomers and established actors, and provided both a restart for Zac Efron’s career and another notch on Seth Rogen’s resume. However, the film ran into some trouble in Australia, not unlike Airplane!. The film was re-titled the slightly more on-the-nose Bad Neighbours, in order to avoid confusion with a native television soap opera, titled Neighbours.
The soap also airs in Ireland and the United Kingdom. This led to some confusion, so some cinemas decided to use the alternative, Australian title, whilst others went with the original American name.
2. Mad Max 2 (1981)
1979’s Mad Max was massive in its native Australia. George Miller’s dark, futuristic revenge thriller was a huge financial success and kick-started the career of its star, Mel Gibson. However, the film made little impact in America on its limited release. As such, the film’s sequel was re-titled The Road Warrior in the United States.
The filmmakers intended to distance the sequel from the relatively unknown original. The strategy was a success and audiences flocked to see The Road Warrior, a lighter, faster action movie that won over those who missed out on the original film. Mel Gibson became one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the next two decades and the original Mad Max saw a surge in popularity on the home video market. The Road Warrior was so successful that 2015 will see the release of another installment in the franchise. This time, however, the Mad Max banner will be used in advertising Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
1. Frozen (2013)
Of all the films on this list, it seems hard to believe that studios ever doubted the potential success of Frozen. Since its late 2013 release, the Disney flick has become one of the House of Mouse’s hottest properties, making more than a billion dollars worldwide. The film has resonated with viewers of all ages, and has been popular amongst every demographic from college kids to preschool children.
However, the film had a surprisingly troubled production, with the studio uncertain of how dark to make the film’s tone and which characters to use as heroes and villains. One of the many issues the film faced was an inability to choose a suitable title. Originally, the story of Anna and Elsa was to be titled The Snow Queen, after the Hans Christian Andersen story upon which it is based. However, as the film’s story underwent revisions, so did its title. The new name was chosen in order to shift focus away from any single character and onto the varied cast.
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