Most of us have a great respect for movie titles. They’re one of the first things that draw us to a film, and they can influence how we perceive it a great deal. Whether you acknowledge it or not, there are plenty of films that you have chosen not to see because of the title. You might like to believe that you’re deeper than that, but you’ve been judging books by their covers for years. Film titles may fail to capture your interest or they may have turned you completely off. A title can also impact how we interpret a movie. It can create expectations as well. That’s kind of the point of them. But, most of all, a title is just as it is. We take it at face value and we don’t read into it too much. We see it and accept it, but we don’t really think too hard about it. Because of this, we’ve been missing the really thoughtful titles, some of which have alternate meanings in them. In these cases, our laziness has effectively eliminated the cleverness or thoughtfulness of the title makers.
Well, we wanted to fix that for you and give some credit to the minds behind the titles. We’ve gone out and collected some of the titles that people tend to miss the alternate meanings to. Sure, you may know many of these, maybe even all of them, but then this list isn’t for you. There are people who haven’t put a whole lot of thought into movie titles and we want to brighten their days. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at 16 Alternate Meanings to Movie Titles You’ll Feel Stupid For Not Recognizing Before.
16. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
South Park‘s movie, Bigger, Longer, Uncut, makes sense without any alternate meaning. Since it was a movie made from the show, it worked. This movie is like the show, only bigger, longer, and uncut. Many of us, even knowing full well how the dirty minds behind the show work, took this title at face value. How stupid? For some of us, it wasn’t until much later on that we realized that this was an innuendo for an uncircumcised Johnson. Seeing it now, we feel really dumb. It’s so obvious and in your face that they could have slapped us with it. Wait. Scratch that last part. Well, don’t feel too bad about not cluing in. The MPAA didn’t get it either. But that’s the last time the South Park gang gets one by us. Nice try, South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
15. The Santa Clause
Truthfully, if you didn’t get this one, then you really should feel dumb. The title is even a line in the movie. But, maybe it’s been a few years since you’ve seen this one, and you forgot that there was an additional “E” at the end of “Claus.” We will even ignore that the “E” is even written in red on the cover and assume that you’ve only ever heard this one said and never had seen it or thought about it. Or maybe you thought this was how Santa Claus was really spelled. Whatever your excuse, you’ve been wrong. Just in case you’re still lost, the title, “The Santa Clause,” explains what the movie is about. If Santa dies on your property, there’s a clause that states you must become him. That’s why Tim the Toolman Taylor is now Santa Claus.
14. A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange has been read and said many times, but most of us have never thought about what the hell the title even means. The words have just become a mishmash of sounds. Many of us have even thought about how awesome the title is without even considering what it meant. The meaning can be found in the book on which the film is based, written by Anthony Burgess. It’s also pretty straightforward. We’re actually surprised that you didn’t work it out yourself. You have an orange. It’s a living thing. You then put clockwork inside it. This makes it mechanical; programmable even. See where we’re going with this? A living thing being programmed; made into a machine of sorts. This is essentially what’s happening in the film. A young man, a living thing, is programmed or reprogrammed by the state with clockwork. Alex is the Clockwork Orange.
The title for Adaptation is almost as clever as the entire film because it has about three different implications. The first refers to how a book is being adapted into a film. The second meaning refers to how an orchid adapts to its environment to survive. The third and the meaning that most people totally miss in the film is that people also must adapt to their environment to survive. The film is about two screenwriting brothers. One brother works at his craft day and night and learns about all the old traditionalist methods of screenwriting only to struggle to find success. Meanwhile, the other brother just writes some blockbuster schlock and sells his screenplay for an enormous amount. In the end, the brothers work together to get the script done.
12. Cast Away
Most of us make the mistake of thinking that the film Cast Away is actually titled Castaway. That’s kind of what is supposed to happen. After all, Tom Hanks is a Castaway. He’s living on an island by himself. It’s natural to think that this is the title. But, it’s not and there’s a reason. When the movie draws to a close and we finally get the much-anticipated reunion of Hanks and his girlfriend, we understand why the title is what it is. You see, Hanks’ girlfriend has moved on. She has abandoned or cast away her former life. Hanks is both cast away and a castaway. Hah!
11. The Truman Show
Honestly, we don’t even know if this one is intentional, but it makes such perfect sense that it almost has to be. In fact, we’re insisting that it’s intentional. We’re talking about The Truman Show, that wonderful little Jim Carrey flick in which he discovers that his entire life has been manufactured for a TV show. Nothing is or ever was as it seems. This movie is really brilliant, and it is even more relevant today than ever before. But, so is the title, even though it seems so simple. This is because Truman is the only real person or “true man” in his world. Everyone else is just acting to keep up the ruse. So, quite literally, the show is about a true man in a world of fakes.
10. Garden State
Aside from the obvious meaning, that of the Garden State, the official name of New Jersey, the film title also talks about a state of mind or a state of being. A garden state in this way is describing someone who is in a state of growing. This would describe the main characters in the film as they are young and influenced by the people that are around them. The film is about a formative time in their lives, a time that they learn about themselves and their friends. Now isn’t that special?
Drive is one of those films that we beat the drum for hard. It’s not that it is underrated in the most basic sense. The film has quite good ratings, but we believe it’s much more magnificent than most people give it credit for. While many just see it as a good movie, we’re in love. But that’s all talk for another day. Right now, we’re on titles and Drive has a very basic title and meaning; that of describing what the movie is about—driving a car. But the title also describes the main character’s motivation or “drive.” It also, in an indirect way, describes the character’s purpose himself. All he did was drive. He doesn’t even have a character name. He goes by only “the driver.” But, by the end of the film, he finds a new purpose and that changes who he is.
8. Trading Places
The obvious meaning of the Trading Places title is obvious. In fact, the title is so clearly about the film’s main action that we never even looked for or considered an alternate meaning. The film is about a rich man and a poor man trading places. Case closed, right? Wrong. The film is also about the stock market, or at least that’s how the rich make their money. Knowing that, you could say that they work in “trading places” or, in other words, places where trades are made. Get it? Good. It’s probably not an alternate meaning that the filmmakers were high-fiving each other about, but it works.
7. North By Northwest
There’s no real consensus about what the title North by North West even means, so finding an alternate meaning is tough. At least, knowing which meaning is the alternate and which is the main meaning is tough. The big meaning is probably the simplest meaning—the film’s action travels north/north west, beginning in New York and ending in Alaska. This is known because the working title of the film was “In a Northwesterly Direction.” The other meanings have been debated. Many have pointed to the Shakespeare line, “I am but mad north-north-west,” suggesting that might be implied, whereas Alfred Hitchcock himself has spoken about the title pointing to the whole plot of the film being nonsense, saying, “It’s a fantasy. The whole film is epitomized in the title—there is no such thing as north-by-northwest on the compass.”
When most people think of the title, Primer, they probably just assume it means lesson, as in the lessons learned with time travel. This is correct and the most basic meaning. After all, the main characters certainly do learn many different lessons regarding time travel throughout the film and then try to correct mistakes or benefit from their lessons. But the other meaning here is something we learn later in the film. After a bunch of shenanigans, the question we, the audience, are stuck with is who are the prime versions or original versions of these characters?
5. United 93
United 93 tells the story of the United Airlines flight 93. The shorthand way of describing this flight made sense to us because it is such a well-known flight from an incredibly well-known event. Besides, calling it “United Airlines flight 93” isn’t as catchy. This plane, you’ll remember, was one of the four planes hijacked on September 11, 2001. It was the only one that never made it to its target because the passengers and crew resisted and fought back, giving their lives to spare many more. You might even say, they “united” to save the lives of many innocents.
4. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Most people just assume that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is just a clever way of describing a man who briefly experiences life inside a mental hospital. In this explanation, flying over it means getting a good look at it. In many ways, this is correct, but the title’s meaning is more in-depth than that. The saying is a reference to a nursery rhyme that the Chief talks about in the book. In the rhyme, which is also a game, probably something similar to “Duck, Duck, Goose,” there’s a player, who we will describe as the “one,” who walks around and picks a cuckoo from the nest. In this film, the “One” is McMurdy and the cuckoo that is plucked out or saved is the Chief. So the title shows how the film is not about McMurdy flying over the cuckoo nest as it is about saving someone from inside.
Maybe you have never sat down and thought about the title Gravity, but if you did or if you do, you might not like what you think about. You might find yourself being critical. Really, gravity doesn’t play a big part in the film, does it? Nope. They’re in space. There is no gravity. So that must mean that the title is talking about the lack of gravity. There is also the serious situation in space. That could be the gravity the title is referring to. And, yeah, gravity does come into play when Sandra Bullock gets to earth. Since gravity is a force that holds us to the ground, maybe the title is referring to a force like gravity pulling the protagonist back to earth. This also makes us think about what other forces are pulling her. What other forces are keeping her grounded? When you really think about it, the title Gravity is pretty deep.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The title for Captain America: Winter Soldier refers to a few different things. The first and the most obvious reference is to Bucky. He’s the Russian-controlled soldier and he’s even called the “Winter Soldier.” Yes, we all knew this one. But Winter Soldier also refers to the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which looked at the actions of the Vietnam War. The term is a play on the “Summer Soldiers” of Thomas Paine, soldiers that abandoned their duty when the conditions or circumstances got rough. In many ways, it’s like saying these men were fair-weather fighters. The “Winter Soldiers” then are the opposite, the soldiers who fight no matter what, even when the war and the conditions are at their ugliest. That’s another meaning that many of us never considered. In this way, the title could be referring to either Bucky or Captain America.
1. Death Becomes Her
If you’re anything like us, you probably just never thought about how this title related to the film Death Becomes Her. Even knowing what the film was about, we simply figured that the title was hinting to the main characters trying to kill the other. In our rationalization, the title was basically saying, “she’s going to die.” But that doesn’t quite add up with the title’s meaning. Still, we don’t think we’re alone in this thinking. We suggest that the filmmakers kind of expected that people would think this, but the title really means something else. The words Death Becomes Her is saying that she looks good in death or that death looks good on her. Now that makes sense because even after the characters die in the film, they still look good and alive.
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