It seems that Hollywood doesn’t care to bother hiring a think tank to provide the best possible titles for their movies. Perhaps they should do what writer Janet Evanovich does with her novels where she holds contests for fans of her books to submit creative title ideas. Evanovich has long admitted that she isn’t very good at coming up with titles for her novels, and every summer for years, she’s set up a submission process for fans to send in suggestions. It’s a process that you have to wonder wouldn’t work for studio films, even if mainstream studios frequently shut out any communication with movie fans when it comes to recommendations.
While mainstream Hollywood operating independently from what the public wants isn’t new, you have to wonder why they keep movie titles so boring today. Is it a marketing decision to create a title that people can’t easily forget, or is it a real creative shortage going on in the titling department? With complaints recently about “Edge of Tomorrow” being one of the most boring and contrived titles for a sci-fi movie in a while, what’s the real science behind a title that gets the public’s attention?
“All You Need is Kill”
The original Japanese novel “Edge of Tomorrow” is based on has one of the most perfect and creative titles for a movie in a long time. Why Warner Brothers didn’t decide to use “All You Need is Kill” as the title is a mystery, other than perhaps the fear that audiences would think it’s a James Bond-style film. Going with “Edge of Tomorrow” gives the impression it’s an Isaac Asimov sci-fi novelette adaptation from 60 years ago, with the irony of Asimov books still being adapted into films with far more creative titles.
It’s the play on word titles that seem to have been lost after so many good ones were seen in films from earlier eras. Mainstream film has dumbed down titles so much that it’s probably hurting their box office based on an immediate picture the title sends to those who don’t know the plot details.
Can you imagine seeing “Edge of Tomorrow” in a movie listing and going to see it based on the title alone and knowing nothing else? With “The Fault in Our Stars” wisely keeping the book title and going with a clever reference to a Shakespeare play about Julius Caesar, we see that not all movie titles are heading toward the banal and boring. But it’s a rarity, perhaps because Hollywood knew that teens would flock to the movie based on the familiarity of the book title alone.
Ordinarily, though, Hollywood has been in a mood to take on titles that don’t go anywhere near five words as “The Fault in Our Stars” has.
The Advent of Paring Down Titles to One Banal Word
You’ve no doubt noticed how many movie titles became one word rather than three or four words (or more) as once seen decades ago. What makes that overly boring is that most of those words don’t tell you anything near what the movie is about. And because the one-word title means picking the most banal word possible, it probably doesn’t do the movie any favors when the public goes to a movie without knowing what they’re going to see.
The only exception to this is perhaps “Frozen” this last fall at Disney. Even then, it took word of mouth to spread about how fantastic the movie was, despite the title giving some clever hints about the plot other than taking place in a frozen environment.
In contrast, recent “Blended” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore might be the most banal one-word movie title of the year that told you nothing about the movie’s plot. Because it didn’t have much plot anyway, they could have come up with at least a three-word descriptive sentence to give it a boost. You can say the same about comedy “Neighbors”, which may have to tie “Blended” as the most boring title for a comedy, and a derivative one besides.
Independent film, conversely, realized that the one-word title doesn’t have to be a non-creative word to give someone a certain visualization and feeling when seeing the word. Upcoming “Snowpiercer” for instance, is arguably the most fascinating one-word title of the year so far. It doesn’t mean the indie film world doesn’t also go banal for simplistic marketing, particularly in “Chef”, a title that Jon Favreau could have made much more interesting considering it’s one of the best indie films in recent months.
Then there’s upcoming “Interstellar”, which may have the most basic title ever done for a movie that’s reportedly going to explore head-busting subject matter about the universe. Unlike “Inception” that gave a more layered one-word title, “Interstellar” seems to want to attract a mainstream crowd that may fear the film will be above their heads. In that case, it might have been the best movie title considering a scientific term for a wormhole might have deemed it turn-off as hard science.
These banal and one-word titles haven’t necessarily taken away the longer title. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” may have flopped, though “X-Men: Days of Future Past” managed to get by with its title based on a past reputation. One of the longest this summer is going to be “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”, despite being a documentary. You can’t say “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is one that falls poetically over the tongue either.
With single-word titles using names recently to give a sense of familiarity, you have to wonder why the use of a one-word adjective isn’t used more often. It’s possible “A Million Ways to Die in the West” bombed because it didn’t use a more descriptive one-word title. No doubt a descriptor title for the giant ice block falling and crushing one of the movie’s characters would have been one of the most memorable mainstream one-word movie titles in a long time.