Friday, February 03, 2012

Worst movie titles EVER

Hello from fabulous New Zealand. Travelogue to come when I get home. In the meantime, it’s Friday where most of you are so here are some Friday Questions.


Kirk D G asks:

Do you think the movie title is important? I ask because I saw a trailer last night for the upcoming Liam Neeson movie about a group of men stranded in Alaska being chased by wolves.

I thought that it looked like a good popcorn movie then came the title "The Grey". I felt my interest lessen instantly.

I guess I was expecting a really cool title.

Is a lot of thought given to titles?

Titles are hugely important. A lot of studios will do audience testing on titles.

But that’s not always the case. When we wrote VOLUNTEERS, we basically just slugged that in as a temporary title until we could come up with something better. The studio liked the title and so it remained. To me it’s way too generic.


There have been cases where a studio will change the title of a movie even when or after it’s been released. A couple of examples: The Billy Wilder film THE BIG CARNIVAL was changed to ACE IN THE HOLE. And a long forgotten little movie from the ‘70s that I always loved, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER became HEAD OVER HEELS.

I’m still hoping to change to title of VOLUNTEERS to GONE WITH THE WIND.

Among actual movies that should change their titles:

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963)


Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)


The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)


Phffft (1954)


Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)


Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid (1986)


I Dismember Mama (1974)


Freddy Got Fingered (2001)


To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

And of course, Patton Oswalt fans all know:

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

Thanks to Odee.com for the list.


Steve Crooks wants to know:

I presume, perhaps incorrectly, that TV writers know how to correctly use "who" and "whom". Yet 90% of the time I hear "who" when it should be "whom". What's the deal? Writers hate "whom" and feel it's antiquated? Writers feel like no one uses "whom", so why would a character say it? The actor doesn't memorize that accurately and drops in "who" and no one cares or notices?

It drives me bonkers, and probably my wife too, since I always correct the TV like an idiot. Whom's fault is this????

Personally, I blame Mrs. Palepolerritopolis, my 8th grade English teacher. She’s in the Whom’s Whom of crappy teachers.

But seriously, when I’m writing dialogue all I care about is that it sound conversational and true to the character. Diane Chambers and Niles Crane would know the correct usage of who and whom. Klinger and Carla (and most of the known world) would not.

Most people don’t speak in perfectly grammatical sentences. So unless you’re writing comedy for say George Will I believe it’s more important that the dialogue sound natural even if the grammar is wrong.


From David S:

You mentioned earlier that at the end of the day, it's best to have two sample scripts: One spec, and one original pilot.

If I have a spec that I wrote by myself, and an original piece I wrote with a partner, are there any problems that arise with both of these being part of the same submission package to an agent, producer, etc. (either submitting as an individual, or as a team?)

Yes. If you’re being submitted as a solo you can not include a spec written with a partner. Sorry but when partnerships break up, the specs they did together are no longer viable.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. And…

No, I didn’t forget SNAKES ON A PLANE. I happen to think that’s a great title.

62 comments:

Matthew E said...

Worst titles ever: how about The Shawshank Redemption?

Phillip B said...

Titles are hard enough that they seem to be constantly recycled. I keep referring people to a wonderful novel by Don DeLillo called "White Noise" - only to have them confuse it with a truly mediocre Michael Keeton movie..

Are all the good ones taken?

Nathan said...

I demand a retraction.

There's no way possible to improve upon I Dismember Mama. It's perfect!

Brandon Kosto said...

Alien's original title was "Star Beast."

Ray Morton said...

I don't know, I'd definitely go see a movie called Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid.

Craig Edwards said...

Should anyone care to know more about the deathless Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, here is a review from my blog:

http://craiglgooh.blogspot.com/2010/11/steckler-for-detail.html

Max Clarke said...

There was a popular novel, Dog Soldiers, that won the National Book Award in 1974.

But the movie was released as Who'll Stop The Rain? It was a good film with a strong cast, but the change in the movie title hurt its reception and its box office.

Sebastian said...

I think you meant to say that it's a MOTHERFUCKING great title, Ken

wakeupneo77 said...

Why "I dismember Mama"?
It's a fantastic title...
(...for an awful movie...)

RS Gray said...

One thing that has to end is the pun title. I knew that Hollywood had given up when I saw the billboards for "Royal Pains". Hopefully they're moving away from this as this season of show titles seem to be direct and descriptive - "Alcatraz", "Working Girls", "Person of Interest", etc.

My personal bête noir is when studios change perfectly good titles. The worst example to me is "Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip" being changed to "It Could Happen to You". I know what "Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip" is going to be about, and what's more, the newspaper story that the movie is based on was so famous that many people would have been already familiar with it. "It Could Happen to You" might as well be called "It Could Be About Anything". Furthermore, it's not even accurate. The whole appeal of the story is that it's so out-of-the-ordinary. Ugh. Marketing people.

Sebastian said...

To me the worst title change ever is the Kevin Smith movie with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan "You gave me a kidney now get the f*** out b**ch"...

oh no wait, I meant "A couple of Dicks".

Unknown said...

Hands down for me is "I Heart Huckabees". It was usually shown with an actual heart shape instead of the word "heart". I had to check IMDB before posting to see what the actual name of the thing is. It also listed an alternative title as "I Love Huckabees". Kind of reminds me of when Prince wanted to be known as that symbol. Is this just pretension, stupidity, or a desperate attempt to stand out? It's the only movie title I've ever been embarrassed to say out loud.

404 said...

I remember sitting in the theater once and seeing a preview where the audience actually burst into laughter at the name of the movie. It was Bulletproof Monk, and while the movie didn't look completely terrible, any interest I had in seeing it went out the window when that title flashed on the screen. Yuck.

Oh, and Matthew E--The Shawshank Redemption? That's a great title! And better, I thought, than the title of the original short story, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption."

Mike Schryver said...

The question about who and whom brings to mind a Frasier episode where Martin says something like "It'll just be you and I", and Frasier corrects him by saying "You and me, Dad."
Thing is, Martin is right and Frasier is wrong. With forms of "to be", the correct usage would be "I", not "me". I assume it was an oversight, but it was unusual to have Frasier be wrong about grammar.

Janet T said...

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood

Just too long..........so it always shows up as "Don't be a menace" and gives it a totally different feel

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

Ken, I've always wondered about how certain jokes work when recording in front of a live studio audience. For example, if you have a joke whose punchline depends on a cutaway to another scene (e.g. a character says something like "I would never be caught dead in a giraffe costume" followed by a quick cut to that character wearing the giraffe costume), how is that filmed? Obviously you can't get the character into the costume quickly enough for the audience to laugh at the joke at the right time. Is the audience shown the pre-recorded scene at the appropriate time or are those usually covered with a laugh track?

Also, are sitcoms taped in front of an audience filmed in chronological order so they unfold like a play? I know movies aren't done this way, but I always wondered on TV shows how it worked if you had a setup in the first act that paid off in the third. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

BW said...

"Chilly Scenes of Winter" = best movie ever. The "Head Over Heels" incarnation also tacked on a stupid happy ending, didn't it?

Michael said...

For what it's worth, Red Barber, who trained Vin Scully, once said the most important class he ever took in college was one on rhetoric. He said he learned the difference between grammatical speech and rhetorical speech. That struck me as useful for a broadcaster. We speak differently than we write, unless we are Bob Costas, who attempts to utter each sentence as though he were aware that it would appear someday in a literary omnibus.

Anonymous said...

How about "President Roseanne?"

Roseanne Barr said Thursday she's running for the Green Party's presidential nomination — and it's no joke.

WV: pajunk
Apparently your pajamas are just too darned tight...

cadavra said...

Actually, Ken, you have one backwards. The Wilder film started as ACE IN THE HOLE, but audiences were rejecting its bleak cynicism, so Paramount changed it to THE BIG CARNIVAL in the hopes people might think it was a more upbeat picture, if not actually about a circus. Odd bit of trivia: when the film was released on DVD by Criterion several years ago--under its original title--they could find no material with the ACE IN THE HOLE title card, so they had to digitally recreate it.

Anonymous said...

Matthew E, why is Shawshank Redemption a bad title? The short story it was based on would have made a horrible movie title: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Shawshank was the name of the prison and there were many redeptions that occured.

Pam aka SisterZip

Mike said...

"I dismember mama" is one of the great movie titles of all time. How can it be improved upon?

Charles H. Bryan said...

Ken, I believe George Will writes all of his own comedic material.

Larry said...

Sorry anonymous, but I think "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is a great title. A little long, but it's got rhythm and seems to be going somewhere. It's intriguing. "The Shawshank Redemption" by itself, however, manages to be both generic and incomprehensible.

And let me add in the agreement that "I Dismember Mama"' is one of the greatest titles of all time.

ElizabethH said...

Mike Schryver, I have to disagree. The correct usage in that sentence is "me." Fraser is correct!

jbryant said...

Elizabeth: I'm thinking Mike is right. Doesn't "It'll just be you and I" fall under the same rule as such constructions as "It is I"? Or how most of us respond, "This is he (or she)" when someone asks for us on the phone?

Martin's sentence definitely doesn't hit the ear right, however. Certainly if a restaurant host asked me "How many in your party?", I couldn't respond "It will just be I" with a straight face.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

This is one of those times where the most likely is that the *writer*, not the character, was wrong.

There was one of these not long ago on The Big Bang Theory, when Amy and Sheldon were playing a game they called Counterfactuals - in one of their analyses they said something about Danish pastry being invented in Denmark. Sheldon and Amy would have known that in fact it was invented in Vienna, and was brought to Denmark by an out-of-work baker, who, finding a ready market, wrote to all his friends back home and told them to come on up. In Denmark, for this reason, Danish pastry is called "Wienerbrod" - literally, Viennese bread.

It's gotta be tough writing characters who know more than you do.

wg

wg

Marty Fufkin said...

Obviously Steve Crooks is not a linguist but one of those amateur grammarians who want to foist their own perception of correct usage on everyone else.

From Oxford (when in serious doubt about any language matter, turn to the British):

"The normal practice in modern English is to use who instead of whom (and, where applicable, to put the preposition at the end of the sentence): who do you wish to speak to?; who do you think we should support? Such uses are today broadly accepted in standard English."

In other words, "whom" is going the way of "thee" and "thine". Use "whom" correctly if you're a journalist or editor, but don't expect others to speak everyday conversation the same way you do. There are more important things to be driven bonkers by (like Ken's improper comma usage).

Cap'n Bob said...

On whether to use I or me, the trick I learned was to eliminate the other person and see how the sentence reads. So, "It'll just be me" reads better than "It'll just be I." I agree with Frazier.

I'm not ready to dump whom, however. I guess I'm old school.

gottacook said...

With respect to "And a long forgotten little movie from the '70s that I always loved, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER became HEAD OVER HEELS":

Actually it was the other way around. See www.nytimes.com/books/98/06/28/specials/beattie-chilly.html. The original 1979 release HEAD OVER HEELS, adapted from the Ann Beattie novel Chilly Scenes of Winter, had the same tentatively happy ending as the novel, but it flopped. The rereleased/retitled CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER simply chopped off that ending, with the result that (from the Times article) "Head Over Heels is a romance, a light-hearted comedy, [whereas] Chilly Scenes of Winter [is] a film about how things don't necessarily end so well, but life goes on anyway."

Unfortunately neither version is available on DVD, although I caught the CSoW version on TV last month, on one of the new digital over-the-air channels ("This"). I always liked it - did Mary Beth Hurt ever have a better movie role? - and also enjoy Joan M. Silver's other movies such as HESTER STREET and CROSSING DELANCEY.

RCP said...

I actually love movie titles like "I Dismember Mama"

A lousy title (I thought) that springs to mind is "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" - "Junie!" sounds better, but doesn't fit the plot (Liza Minelli's date pours battery acid on her face and it takes off from there).

Looking forward to your travelogue!

gottacook said...

About The Shawshank Redemption: Once in the 1990s I saw a VHS version that included a special feature in which alternative titles were humorously explored by cast and/or crew, along with mockups of movie posters, by way of explaining how they arrived at the final title. I remember only two; one of them was Conviction and another was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, same as the King novella (contrary to other postings here, the title never included "the").

Todd Ayres said...

I had the exact same reaction to "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Not only is it a seemingly random string of words, but the word tinker makes me think of a toy.

Fran said...

"To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" is an awesome title!! :))
and you should read the italian translations of american movie titles.
in the cinemas now:
- moneyball - became "l'arte di vincere" (the art of winning
- dolphin tale - became "l'incredibile storia di Winter il delfino" (the incredible tale of Winter the dolphin)
- tinker tailor soldier spy - become "la talpa" (the mole)
-
then some historic fail:
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” -> “Se mi lasci ti cancello” (if you dump me i erase you) ù___ù

“Intolerable Cruelty”->“Prima ti sposo poi ti rovino” (first i marry you then i ruin you) ù___ù

and i stop here, there could be so many more. but likely lately they leave the original title more often than in the past.

Chris Riesbeck said...

I’m still hoping to change to title of VOLUNTEERS to GONE WITH THE WIND.

It won't help. Robert Benchley called one of his collections 20000 Leagues Under the Sea Or David Copperfield, but noted in a later collection it didn't help sales any.

Randy said...

Talking about titles, how much time and effort is put into a tv pilot opening theme song? I notice they hardly ever change during the life of a series, so who makes the decision, and how much time is spent working on it?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Todd Ayres: Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor is a children's rhyme. So the title is a take-off on that.

Randy: Sometimes they do change the theme song, and I almost always view that as a warning that the show has just jumped the shark. Mad About Your got a new recording of its theme song (same song, female singer instead of male, different style) somewhere around season 5, and the fan outcry was such that they ran the two versions alternately.

Evening Shade changed its theme song early on (after season 1, I think, same time I think that they changed the actress who played the daughter), but one couldn't complain because the fiddle tune they ended up with was one of the most beautiful theme tunes ever to appear on TV.

wg

John said...

Another worst (or best) movie title: The Neverending Story 2.

Michael Phelan said...

Lot of my friends hate the title of this Wayne Wang film, but I love it...

LIFE IS CHEAP... BUT TOILET PAPER IS EXPENSIVE

YEKIMI said...

Another TV them song were the words were changed is Petticoat Junction when June Lockhart came aboard as the Dr.

jbryant said...

Yeah, I think most of those supposedly bad titles are actually good, often the most distinctive and memorable thing about the films they adorn. To me, a bad title is something dull, nondescript or generic, like HOW DO YOU KNOW, CONVICTION, JUST GO WITH IT, THE DILEMMA, etc.

Jake Mabe said...

MGM filmed a movie not too far from my hometown back in '72. It was released as "Lolly-Madonna XXX" (the X's standing for the abbreviation for kisses on, say, a letter or postcard, a key plot point in the film). But a lot of theaters wouldn't book it because they thought it was a porno. So, they changed the title to "The Lolly-Madonna War."

Didn't really help the movie much...

Helena said...

I agree with Fran about translated movie titles, they usually change the meaning of the title too much. However, I hate it even more when they change an English title to ANOTHER English title; e.g. in Sweden, "Miss Congeniality" became "Miss Secret Agent", and "Grounded For Life" became "Freaky Finnertys".

JJadziaDax said...

Thought as a writer might you find this interesting

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/02/nor-was-there-stock-comedy-negro.html

Apparently Steinbeck was asked to pen a script for Hitchcock and was disappointed/appalled by the edits

scottmc said...

Your blog entry several years ago regarding Ben Gazzara/FRASIER has been receiving considerable attention since his death the other day. When James Farrentino passed away there was almost no mention of MARY.

Nathan said...

If we're talking about the effect of altered theme songs...

Gilligan's Island lost all credibility for me when they changed "and the rest" to "the professor and Mary-Anne".

Filip Önell said...

This is the worst movie title of all time...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070622/

VP81955 said...

MGM filmed a movie not too far from my hometown back in '72. It was released as "Lolly-Madonna XXX" (the X's standing for the abbreviation for kisses on, say, a letter or postcard, a key plot point in the film). But a lot of theaters wouldn't book it because they thought it was a porno. So, they changed the title to "The Lolly-Madonna War."

Didn't really help the movie much...


Another MGM film from '72 was "The Night Of The Lepus." What? "Lepus" is for rabbit what "lupine" is for wolf; this was a film about mutated giant rabbits that wreak havoc on a southwestern town. You'd think that such a cheesy premise deserves a cheesy title, a la "Attack Of The Giant Rabbits." But, no. Is it any wonder MGM vanished from sight in the '70s?

Louis Castaing said...

A Friday question:

I've noticed that, sometimes in a series with several regulars, one of the regulars has a very small part or does not appear at all one week. When Jennifer Morrison was let go by HOUSE mid-season, her name was still featured as a star in the opening credits until the end of the season even though she was no longer on the show. She was also seen each week walking down a hall with the rest of the regulars in the opening credits.

Are writers under any pressure from showrunners and/or the regulars to include all the regulars in every episode?

Occasionally, you might see a regular in just one scene or in the coda. Do regulars get paid for episodes that they don't appear in? In multi-camera shows, do all the regulars attend all rehearsals and tapings if they only have one scene?

Also, in some episodes, various regulars appear in storylines unrelated to each other, almost as if to give the regulars in the minor storyline some reason to be in the episode. Generally, I find the unrealted secondary storylines make for a weaker episode because they lose the emotional connection among the characters and interrupt the main storyline.

I recently watched an episode of a big hit comedy in which one of the main characters was relegated to minor storyline. The episode, while funny, lacked the emotional interplay among the main characters that I expect when I tune in. When is breaking with the normal (expected) character interplay of the regulars legitimate?

Anonymous said...

You have said in the past that 9 out 10 new shows get cancelled during year one. Out of all the pilots actually produced what percentage of them actually get picked up?

Sam King

Sebastian said...

Morrisson wasn't let go on House, she was written out of the show to allow her to film "Cowboys & Aliens".

YEKIMI said...

Gilligan's Island lost all credibility for me when they changed "and the rest" to "the professor and Mary-Anne".

@Nathan: I read this a few years back in a book about Gilligan's Island [if I am remembering the details correctly] was that Bob Denver went in and insisted that it be changed to "the Professor & Mary Ann" because they were as much a part of the show as everybody else and he felt is was demeaning to them to just be listed in the theme as "and the rest". Apparently the powers-that-be resisted [because, you know, it would have cost money to re-record the theme and put their pictures in the ship's steering wheel]and he basically said it would be REALLY hard to do the show without a Gilligan. They caved.

YEKIMI said...

By the way, if you've never heard it, hear is the ORIGINAL theme from Gilligan's Island 1964 pilot. All I can say, is I am sure glad that they changed it!

jbryant said...

Nathan: I think the change from "and the rest" to "the Professor and Mary Ann" actually improved the melody in that part of the song and added some nice harmony, too.

Sebastian: The HOUSE cast member who took off to do COWBOYS AND ALIENS was Olivia Wilde. Jennifer Morrison is on ONCE UPON A TIME now (although I have no idea if that's why she left HOUSE).

Sebastian said...

Ah yes jbryant of course you are right. *smile*

David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews said...

First off, love your blog. Second, my question, I'm writing a couple TV pilots right now, but you mentioned about how we need both an original pilot, and a spec script to produce. Two questions, first what are the parameters of a spec script? I've been told, twenty-two pages, for a 22-minute sitcom, and nothing longer, and that they need to be written in a TV show format, which I'm still learning, but I wanted to double-check. Also, how many should I write? Everytime I have an idea for one, either the show suddenly does an episode with my idea, ("Family Guy," has done this to me like five times) or I write one, and sometimes, before I even get to send it, the show's cancelled, pretty much making it useless to me now. Should I write three or four for a few different shows, just so I hopefully have one in the bag, and write a new one everytime one of them gets cancelled? I hate to put all that work into something, and worse, spend all the money I can't afford printing it, just to have it rendered null.

YEKIMI said...

Does help if I include a link!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx7A4sxJi7c

MikeinSeattle said...

Ken,

I saw an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE the other day starring Roddy McDowell that featured Susan Oliver as a martian. I was not familiar with her work and so looked her up. She seems like quite an amazing woman. Did you and she cross paths?

Also are you going to be announcing any spring training games this year?

Ken Levine said...

Mike,

I never crossed paths with her unfortunately.

Yes, I will be broadcasting three Mariner spring training games. I believe the 14,15, and 18th but don't hold me to those dates. I'm not looking at my schedule.

MikeinSeattle said...

In this episode she was wearing an off the shoulder Roman toga costume that must have been scandalous for 1960. Gorgeous.

Ann said...

I don't know if this is where I'm supposed to post my question, but here it goes.

I have a "Frasier" question (or a request, really). I was reading your story about Peri Gilpin's casting as Roz Doyle and I was wondering if you had any more Peri stories. She seems like such a warm and genuinely nice person and Roz was always my favourite character on "Frasier."