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What's in a title?: Making the perfect movie title

12.10.2010

You and I might not think much about film titles but it's a big issue for Hollywood studios. Director James L. Brooks recently said, "Titles make me nuts...I have a terrible time with titles." Studios are putting more and more pressure on great scripts to have marketable titles (F*CK BUDDIES) and developing marketable titles into great films (COWBOYS & ALIENS).

Believe it or not, there are actually firms who specialize in movie titling. Since 2007, Title Doctors (a division of branding company Semantix) has been providing studios with market research, studies and options for film titles to draw the broadest audience and maximize opening weekends.

When Sony Pictures acquired the rights to the hot script TONIGHT, HE COMES, they knew almost immediately they needed a change. (The title refers to the superhero lead character who is so powerful, when he blows his load, he also blows a hole in the wall.) Title Doctors recommended HEROES NEVER DIE, LAST OF THE GODS and JOHN HANCOCK before the studio eventually decided on shortening the title to just HANCOCK.

Not all recommended titles are always selected. The firm suggested RETROSEXUALS for HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and THE DETOUR for GET HIM TO THE GREEK. (Not coincidentally, both films were criticized when they didn't open to expectations.) It's true both suggested titles are generic and bland compared to the actual titles but maybe audiences want bland and don't even realize it?

Title changes are now so common, it's rare to see an original script make it from development to release with the same title. You can look at movies just in the past few and coming few months. Universal Pictures decided on THE DILEMMA for January's Vince Vaughn/Kevin James comedy after believing WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW was too similar to James L. Brooks' upcoming HOW DO YOU KNOW (which was previously titled EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT).

TRON: LEGACY was originally TRON 2.0 (and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was originally DIE HARD 4.0). TANGLED was originally RAPUNZEL. MEGAMIND was originally MASTERMIND and then OOBERMIND. The upcoming Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman romantic comedy NO STRINGS ATTACHED was both F*CK BUDDIES and FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (which is the title of both an upcoming Justin Timberlake film and an NBC sitcom). THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH was shorted to just THE EAGLE. MY SOUL TO TAKE was both BUG and 25/8.

It's hardly a new phenomenon though. APOCALYPSE NOW was originally THE PSYCHEDELIC SOLDIER and the script for ALIEN had the title STAR BEAST. ANNIE HALL was originally titled ANHEDONIA and before it settled on its new title, Woody Allen had suggested IT HAD TO BE JEW and ME AND MY GOY.

Studios are always going to be tinkering to find the best possible titles for the film as that's the first reaction a person can have. Titles can be better than the movie (see: SNAKES ON A PLANE) or a scapegoat for why a great movie disappoints (see: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION).

Even as I wrote this article, a Bradley Cooper thriller titled THE DARK FIELDS was retitled to LIMITLESS. Neither was a good title but LIMITLESS seems like something that was put together through a market research group. Oh wait, it probably was...

Got any other "former movie titles" (and I'll list REVENGE OF THE JEDI here just to get that out of the way)? Share 'em below!

Extra Tidbit: One of my favorite behind-the-scenes Hollywood stories is how Warner Bros. executives lobbied for months to rename BEETLEJUICE to GHOST HOUSE.
Source: JoBlo.com

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