When films are released worldwide, they’re given the opportunity to be appreciated by a larger audience and perhaps even get recognized by film awards outside their country of origin. But something pretty funny also happens to films that are shared around the world – they’re given very bizarre titles. The foreign language translations of some movies lead to incredibly strange movie titles that are so surreal, they make dramas sound like zany comedies (and vice versa!).
If a reminder were ever needed of why diversity and cultural difference is such a beautiful thing, foreign movie translations are a pretty good example. A lot of these foreign translations of film titles are so beautifully hilarious, they might just bring a tear to your eye. Some are direct and to the point, some contain plot spoilers and some are close to beautiful snippets of poetry. Care to hazard a guess as to what film ‘Mr. Cat Poop’ originally was or what movie ‘Food General Mobilization’ is better known as?
The guys in charge of these translations seem to want to give people clues about the film in the title or else pick random words and phrases out of thin air in the vain hope they might relate to the plot or theme in some way. However they come up with them, we can’t get over how wonderfully weird these title translations are. We could read hundreds of them! For now, here are 15 examples of the hilarious title translations of well-known movies out there.
15 A Very Powerful Whale Runs To Heaven (Free Willy)
First of all, we’re loving the mental image of a killer whale literally running up towards the clouds (um...how?). Secondly, this botched title translation from China suggests to its audience that Willy the Killer Whale meets his demise (he doesn’t, the clue’s in the title. Well, it is in the original one). As I’m sure most of us know, Willy is guided safely back to his family of Orca whales in the film’s heart-warming final scene.
This is another thing that makes the Chinese title edit of Free Willy so amusing - it completely changes the iconic sentimental ending scene we’re all so familiar with and makes it seem surreal and comical instead. The tear-jerking moment when a young Jesse encourages Willy to make his final big leap to freedom back to the ocean could have been very different if China had anything to say about it. Also, if Willy had the ability to fly, the whole freedom concept is kind of dead before it hits the ground...
14 F*ck The News (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues)
To quote Will Ferrell’s chauvinistic news anchor, Ron Burgundy: “Well, that escalated quickly!” The Portuguese translation of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues didn’t exactly beat around the bush with their evaluation of what they thought the 2014 Anchorman sequel is really all about. Comparatively, the original Anchorman film fared quite well in translation, being dubbed as ‘Ace Announcer’ in China. But it seems that Ron Burgundy and his motley crew get a very different reception over in the Iberian Peninsula.
While Portugal went with the forthright F*ck the News in their translation of the Anchorman sequel, Spain went with the less aggressive but equally cynical To Hell With the News. These alternative titles work perfectly in summing up the cut-throat world of journalism in films like Network and Christine, but Anchorman is simply too fluffy and goofy for that kind of critique! Anchorman 2 is a pillow fight of celebrity cameos and stupidity - actually, Portugal may be on to something here...
13 Mr. Cat Poop (As Good As It Gets)
For those who have never seen this Jack Nicholson romantic comedy, we can tell you one thing for certain: it has nothing to do with cats...or kitty litter...in fact, cats don’t feature in the movie at all! Where Hong Kong got the idea to translate the film title into Mr. Cat Poop is anybody’s guess. To make matters worse, those who speak the Cantonese dialect are treated to a very specific translation of the Chinese title: ‘Mr. Cat Faeces’. (We wonder if the poster was photo-shopped to reflect this too).
So how on earth did the mushy rom-com As Good As It Gets end up with the worst title translation you can get? Apparently, in Hong Kong, cat poop roughly translates as ‘Mao Fen’ which is pretty close to Melvin (the name of Jack Nicholson’s character). Considering that the film poster shows Nicholson holding a dog and the film features several scenes in which the dog urinates all over the place, the translation may have been a little closer to the mark by naming it Mr. Dog Pee.
12 The Spy Who Behaved Very Nicely Around Me (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
You’ve gotta love the hilariously polite rephrasing of the second Austin Powers sequel. We know it’s a parody of everyone’s favorite British spy, but there’s nothing particularly gentle or ‘nice’ about the way James Bond went about his affairs. If anything, this conservative Malaysian translation of Austin Power’s second shagadelic outing is actually better than the original title!
For a film franchise that is essentially one big send-up of James Bond and his unfalteringly smooth way with the ladies, the coyness of the Malaysian translation works perfectly in capturing what is at the heart of all the Austin Powers films. Throughout the Austin Powers trilogy, the films always tread carefully with their sexual humor by littering every film with cheeky innuendos and visual gags that allow the whole family to enjoy the jokes without scarring the younger kids for life (or alienating older, prudish members of the audience). Best title translation ever!
11 Regular Weapon (Lethal Weapon)
There’s something equally funny and disturbing about this title change from North Korea. The chalk and cheese buddy cop flick has its meaning completely altered in the title from lethal to regular – so in the North Korean translation, anything lethal is perfectly normal, harmless and regular? Kinda disturbing, to say the least. Then again, we wouldn’t expect anything less from the harsh totalitarian state.
Getting back to what makes this title translation so funny and a little satirical is when you combine the film’s tagline with the new title. If the U.S. tagline remained the same in North Korea (doubtful), then the posters would have read: ‘Two cops. Glover carries a weapon...Gibson is one. He’s the only L.A cop registered as a REGULAR WEAPON.’ Thanks to the new title, this implies that every other cop in Los Angeles is corrupt and violent. Step aside, NWA, North Korea also has something to say about American police brutality!
10 Mondays (Apocalypse Now)
No-one is a fan of Mondays, but comparing it to an apocalypse is a bit of an over-exaggeration, don’t you think? This is how Israel chose, to sum up, Francis Ford Coppola’s harrowing glimpse into the Vietnam War. Coppola’s experience of filming Apocalypse Now was so brutal and maddening at times that he famously said “My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam”. Tell that to Israeli translators who just wanted to compare your film to everyone’s least favorite day of the week!
To be fair, Mondays can often feel like they last forever and Ford Coppola’s uncut version of Apocalypse Now (which added 48 minutes of extra footage to the original) might have felt a tad sluggish and never-ending to a lot of people. Translating Apocalypse Now into something as mundane as Mondays have us wondering what other brutal and dramatic films have been toned down by foreign audiences. Maybe Requiem for a Dream is also known as ‘Sweet Lullaby’ by some countries?
9 The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses (The Matrix)
Of all the movie title translations on this list, this is probably the one you’re most familiar with. The French translation of The Matrix is up there with Nyan Cat and Nicholas Cage memes for well-known internet jokes, but for the sheer ridiculous nature of it, we had to include it on this list! The Matrix raises many questions about what it means to be human and explores reality versus illusion, but the French title translation makes this game-changing sci-fi sound more like a made for TV film on Netflix!
Foreign film title translations seem to be at their best when they summarize a film on the most basic surface level and this is probably the funniest example of this. The Wachowski sibling’s modern sci-fi classic has so much going for it, but it’s nice to know that the film can be characterized by some as a bunch of young people wearing shades while time-travelling! Since Paris is largely considered to be the fashion capital of the world, maybe this was a marketing ploy by France to bring Neo’s sunglasses back in style?
8 Excitement 1995 (The Shawshank Redemption)
Along with The Godfather and Vertigo, The Shawshank Redemption regularly tops movie polls as the greatest film ever made, but this high praise is dimmed somewhat by China’s bizarre title for it – ‘Excitement 1995’. This sounds like a music festival organized by MTV or the words on a poster to advertise the opening of a new theme park. First off, The Shawshank Redemption was released a year before this title suggests in ‘94, but this is just one of many flaws in this bizarre translation.
Excitement isn’t a word many would associate with two men facing life imprisonment, but this seemed a fitting way for China to sum up Frank Darabont’s somber tale about finding hope and friendship in a hopeless place. When Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne finally makes his iconic escape through the tunnel and emerges from the sewage pipe as a free man with the rain beating down on his face, we feel his joy and share in his triumph at escaping after almost 20 years inside. To say that the words ‘Excitement 1995’ cheapen this moment is an understatement.
7 The Hole Of Malkovich (Being John Malkovich)
This unfortunate re-wording of Spike Jonze’s fantasy comedy film makes it sound like...well, a very different kind of film altogether! There are many celebrities out there with leaked sex tapes, but it’s our strong belief (and hope) that John Malkovich isn’t one of them! Again, this is a case of the film regulators being a little too literal in their translation of a film and, as with this Japanese translation, the results are often unintentionally ripe for comedy.
Being John Malkovich follows the life of unemployed puppeteer, Craig (played by John Cusack) who discovers a portal into the mind of the actor, John Malkovich. Craig enters the mysterious portal through a door behind a filing cabinet, but this isn’t what Japan would have people believe! Spike Jonze’s surreal psychological fantasy is incredibly original and still holds up well more than 18 years after its release. It’s just a shame that some movie-goers in Japan might have got entirely the wrong impression of this from the title...
6 Meetings And Failures In Meetings (Lost in Translation)
Talk about being lost in translation! Portugal marketed the 2003 romantic drama about an unlikely bond between two strangers (Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray) as ‘Meetings and failures in meetings’. Since the film is all about feeling alienated by a city and the people they meet, this title translation isn’t such a crazy one, but it still sounds like the title of what would be the parody film of Lost in Translation.
Murray and Johansson’s unlikely friendship is built over several meetings in a hotel bar in Tokyo where the pair bond over their respective marriage troubles and personal issues. Sofia Coppola’s melancholic tale of isolation in the big city and in relationships received a pretty mixed response upon its release. Whichever way the audience fell, everyone was left on tenterhooks about the film’s closing scene. In the final moments, Bill Murray’s character whispers something in Johansson’s ear and it drove people nuts to find out what. Maybe this is what Portugal was referencing with the ‘failures’ in their meetings?
5 Please Do Not Touch The Old Women (The Producers)
The Producers is one of the great comedy classics of all time, so it’s appropriate that this translation of its title should make us laugh. Mel Brooks’ iconic farce about a washed-up Broadway producer and a neurotic accountant was translated in Italy as ‘Please do not touch the old women’. For those unfamiliar with the film, the sleazy character of Max Bialystock whores himself out to wealthy old ladies to fund his next play.
In this sense, the translated title kind of makes sense, but to people with no preconceptions about the plot of The Producers, this could come across as very creepy indeed! As for those who adore the film, Italy’s re-worded title is still pretty puzzling, since it focuses on one very specific aspect of the plot. In a film that concerns itself with a musical love letter to Hitler, this is what Italy decided to focus on for its title?!
4 The Boy Who Drowned In Chocolate (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory)
Not only does Denmark’s strange translation of the Gene Wilder classic focus on the fate of just one of the children, it ignores either of the two main characters, Charlie or Willy Wonka. For those who weren’t aware (spoiler alert!) the boy who ends up drowning in chocolate is the plump German boy, Augustus Gloop. Gloop meets his sticky end after ignoring Wonka’s request to stop drinking his chocolate river and in his greed, falls in. (I think if we’re being honest, we’d all like to go that way too!).
Anyhoo, getting back to the bizarre way this was translated, this very matter-of-fact title sounds like a warning to greedy kids - odd, considering the film already does this for us in the form of the Oompa Loompa songs as four of the five kids get what’s coming to them. They may as well have gone with the title ‘Don’t steal fizzy lifting drinks or Wonka will be pissed!’
3 Multinationals Go Home! (I ♥ Huckabees)
The film I Heart Huckabees used an actual heart symbol in its title which may have tripped up a few countries when it came to translating the title for foreign audiences. You’d think the symbol for love was fairly universal, but not everywhere it seems, as evidenced by this odd turn of phrase from Hungary. The sugary sweet title I Heart Huckabees was changed by Hungarian translators to the pretty aggressive ‘Multinationals Go Home!’
We’re not sure what brought on a rallying anti-immigration cry from Hungary, but this might tarnish people’s idea about an otherwise gentle and quirky philosophical comedy. Most other countries played it safe by simply translating the word ‘love’ in their own languages to keep the original meaning intact. When this can’t be done, some countries like to re-name the film based on their own evaluation of the plot. Portugal, for instance, translated Huckabees as ‘The Psycho-Detectives’!
2 Food General Mobilization (Ratatouille)
The heart-warming tale of an unlikely hero realizing his dream if he just believes in himself is given an almost Orwellian stamp, thanks to the harsh sounding Chinese translation of Ratatouille. There’s something very 1984 about this re-wording. Food General Mobilisation sounds like something you’d hear in a Food Safety pamphlet – not exactly what you’d associate with a warm and fuzzy family flick.
Apparently, Ratatouille isn’t the only Pixar film to get the oddly cold translation treatment from China. Toy Story has been dubbed Toy General Mobilisation, Finding Nemo has been adorably re-worked as Seabed General Mobilisation and The Incredibles? (Well, you can probably see where this is going). This common theme of cold and impersonal translations with most Pixar films is because the Chinese characters for ‘story’ translate as the very cuddly phrase General Mobilisation. Our personal favorite to come out of these Chinese Pixar translations though has to be WALL-E, which became ‘Machine Implement People General Mobilisation.’ Cute.
1 Batman: Knight Of The Night (The Dark Knight)
Sometimes, the translation of a film title can wind up sounding even better than the original one. This is certainly true of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight in 2008, which, thanks to Spain, turned into ‘Batman: Knight of the Night’ - how perfectly poetic is this? Batman is Gotham’s rogue Prince or ‘Knight’ and his alter-ego is a creature that only comes out at night - this is too perfect!
Despite the accidental poetry that Spanish film regulators landed upon with their translation of the The Dark Knight title, however, history has shown that the bigger work of translating the actual Batman films is not such an easy task. One translator spoke about the difficulty German film regulators ran into just attempting to translate the line “I am Batman”. The problem is, the most literal translation would have been ‘Ich bin Fledermausmensch’ which means ‘I am the flying mouse man’! Thankfully, the name Batman is universally known enough to make sense, so they went with ‘Ich bin Batman’. Holy translation stress, Batman!
Sources: Funny or Die; Babbel; Cracked; Atlas Obscura; Thought Catalog.