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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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1:35AM on 12/13/2010

Interesting Article.

However, I'm sick of studios using simple "The" titles lately. It's everywhere (The Fighter, The Tourist, The Dilemma, The Rite, etc.). Just lazy titles.
However, I'm sick of studios using simple "The" titles lately. It's everywhere (The Fighter, The Tourist, The Dilemma, The Rite, etc.). Just lazy titles.
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1:31AM on 12/13/2010

E.T.

Was originally called "This Boys Life", and can be seen referenced on the Marquee theater board at the beginning of Gremlins (another Spielberg movie of course). Also "Watch The Skies", became "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind".
Was originally called "This Boys Life", and can be seen referenced on the Marquee theater board at the beginning of Gremlins (another Spielberg movie of course). Also "Watch The Skies", became "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind".
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7:16PM on 12/12/2010
Dead Silence's original title was Shh! Glad they changed that one lol.
Dead Silence's original title was Shh! Glad they changed that one lol.
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+0
4:57PM on 12/12/2010

Punchdrunk

I've been a big fan of this site since 01' so I'm always seeing the working titles of films. I can recall going to purchase tickets and asking for "Punchdrunk Knuckle Love" and the girl looked at me like I was crazy.
I've been a big fan of this site since 01' so I'm always seeing the working titles of films. I can recall going to purchase tickets and asking for "Punchdrunk Knuckle Love" and the girl looked at me like I was crazy.
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3:16PM on 12/12/2010

Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre

double post.
double post.
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3:09PM on 12/12/2010

Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Halloween's original title: The Babysitter Murders.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre's original title: Headcheese.
These original titles just don't have the same impact and I'm glad they were changed. Who thinks The Dark Knight Rises may see a title change when it's all said and done?
Halloween's original title: The Babysitter Murders.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre's original title: Headcheese.
These original titles just don't have the same impact and I'm glad they were changed. Who thinks The Dark Knight Rises may see a title change when it's all said and done?
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4:20AM on 12/11/2010

Back to the Future

Universal Studio's head Sid Sheinberg wanted to rename Back to the Future to Spaceman from Pluto. He sent out the suggestion in a memo. Spielberg responded by sending a note back thanking him for the great joke.
Universal Studio's head Sid Sheinberg wanted to rename Back to the Future to Spaceman from Pluto. He sent out the suggestion in a memo. Spielberg responded by sending a note back thanking him for the great joke.
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1:33AM on 12/11/2010
Years ago, a buddy of mine who used to work in the industry in LA gave me a copy of the original draft script for Face/Off. Originally, the story was set in the future and the beginning was totally different (no airplane chase). The original title of the movie was "A Non 2021" (if I remember correctly, I still have the script but it's packed up in the attic somewhere)
Years ago, a buddy of mine who used to work in the industry in LA gave me a copy of the original draft script for Face/Off. Originally, the story was set in the future and the beginning was totally different (no airplane chase). The original title of the movie was "A Non 2021" (if I remember correctly, I still have the script but it's packed up in the attic somewhere)
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11:53PM on 12/10/2010
the recent Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman movie The Switch was originally called The Baster. don't ask me why i remember that.
the recent Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman movie The Switch was originally called The Baster. don't ask me why i remember that.
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11:22PM on 12/10/2010
One that sticks in my mind because a preview is on one of my VHS movies for it, a mid-90s movie with Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin was called "Fly Away Home" was initially titled "Fly Wild."

And that he played her father in that makes "The Squid and the Whale" that much more disturbing.
One that sticks in my mind because a preview is on one of my VHS movies for it, a mid-90s movie with Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin was called "Fly Away Home" was initially titled "Fly Wild."

And that he played her father in that makes "The Squid and the Whale" that much more disturbing.
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11:04PM on 12/10/2010

Never judge a book by it's cov....Err Movie by it's Title

Great article. Keep up the good work Mr Blo...... Speaking of titles, way back in the day when I first stumbled across this web site, the disappointment I got when I found out it wasn't a porn site. But then It has become a ritual to visit this movie site on a daily basis. Once again keep up the good work.
Great article. Keep up the good work Mr Blo...... Speaking of titles, way back in the day when I first stumbled across this web site, the disappointment I got when I found out it wasn't a porn site. But then It has become a ritual to visit this movie site on a daily basis. Once again keep up the good work.
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9:31PM on 12/10/2010
I'm really loving the atmosphere in this article. Everyone here is a movie nerd and contributing interesting tidbits. No flaming, just sharing of movie knowledge. Please do more articles like this so that we can get more of this good natured conversation. My earlier green bar was for the article, this one is for the community and shoutbacks. Well done.
I'm really loving the atmosphere in this article. Everyone here is a movie nerd and contributing interesting tidbits. No flaming, just sharing of movie knowledge. Please do more articles like this so that we can get more of this good natured conversation. My earlier green bar was for the article, this one is for the community and shoutbacks. Well done.
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10:56PM on 12/10/2010
Yeah.... Ain't it nice when we can all just get along.... YES WORLD I'M REFERRING TO YOU.
You are right. This article is great. :-)
Yeah.... Ain't it nice when we can all just get along.... YES WORLD I'M REFERRING TO YOU.
You are right. This article is great. :-)
8:24PM on 12/10/2010
Those examples from Title Doctors pretty much sucked.
Those examples from Title Doctors pretty much sucked.
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+11
8:11PM on 12/10/2010
Very good article and did you know that the Star Wars A New Hope was originally titled The Last Good Film That George Lucas Will Direct?
Very good article and did you know that the Star Wars A New Hope was originally titled The Last Good Film That George Lucas Will Direct?
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7:57PM on 12/10/2010

HANCOCK: TONIGHT HE COMES

Should've been the official title, I'm sure they would've produced copious ammounts of, Um? Profits for the opening with a title like that. You know, really penetrate the marketplace.
Should've been the official title, I'm sure they would've produced copious ammounts of, Um? Profits for the opening with a title like that. You know, really penetrate the marketplace.
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7:39PM on 12/10/2010

Licence To Kill

The Bond film was of course originally Licence Revoked. Empire Magazine did an article years back with all the concept posters with that title on it.
i also remember Ben Affleck film Hollywoodland was to be called Truth ,Justice & The American Way
The Bond film was of course originally Licence Revoked. Empire Magazine did an article years back with all the concept posters with that title on it.
i also remember Ben Affleck film Hollywoodland was to be called Truth ,Justice & The American Way
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6:46PM on 12/10/2010

Excellent Article

I'm sure everyone knows what movie I'm talking about when I mention "Spaceman From Pluto."
I'm sure everyone knows what movie I'm talking about when I mention "Spaceman From Pluto."
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6:46PM on 12/10/2010

Tomorrow Never *ies

The original title for the 2nd Brosnan Bond film was going to be Tomorrow Never Lies but supposedly due to a typo on a fax which read Tomorrow Never Dies - caused the title to be changed - as the studio or producers or whoever it was liked the ring of it more.
The original title for the 2nd Brosnan Bond film was going to be Tomorrow Never Lies but supposedly due to a typo on a fax which read Tomorrow Never Dies - caused the title to be changed - as the studio or producers or whoever it was liked the ring of it more.
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6:33PM on 12/10/2010
I'm a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan so I've got some trivia. Somebody already mentioned "The Happening" was originally titled "The Green Effect" (a much better title, IMO). The other two:

*"Signs" was originally titled "The Last Supper," which hints at that crucial scene in the film and also alludes to some biblical meaning to the film. It's a pretty effective title too, IMO, although "Signs" is just fine because it has two meanings: The crop circles and "signs" from God.

*"Lady in the
I'm a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan so I've got some trivia. Somebody already mentioned "The Happening" was originally titled "The Green Effect" (a much better title, IMO). The other two:

*"Signs" was originally titled "The Last Supper," which hints at that crucial scene in the film and also alludes to some biblical meaning to the film. It's a pretty effective title too, IMO, although "Signs" is just fine because it has two meanings: The crop circles and "signs" from God.

*"Lady in the Water" was originally titled "Story," the narf's name, which I think would have been so much better. LitW sounds...stupid and too blatant. And "Story" also hints at the whole fairytale story.

Oh, and a random one: "The Final Destination" used to be called "Final Destination: Death Trip 3D." :...yeah. I would have been satisfied with "Final Destination 4."

So what do you guys think?
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6:10PM on 12/10/2010
great article!

something i've been thinking of is when they change titles of films for other countries. and i don't been to another language. one that comes to mind is Ben Affleck film Reindeer Games, which was Deception in UK. Also Hugh Jackman film Deception which came to be The List in some countries etc.

BTW, why is Harry Potter no. 1 called Sorcerer's stone in US, when book was titled Philosopher's stone originally, as well as the film in UK.
great article!

something i've been thinking of is when they change titles of films for other countries. and i don't been to another language. one that comes to mind is Ben Affleck film Reindeer Games, which was Deception in UK. Also Hugh Jackman film Deception which came to be The List in some countries etc.

BTW, why is Harry Potter no. 1 called Sorcerer's stone in US, when book was titled Philosopher's stone originally, as well as the film in UK.
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6:50PM on 12/10/2010
Ah take a seat my lad and I shall tell you a tale. I stole this next bit from IMDB: This was a marketing decision made by author Rowling and Scholastic, the publishing house that released the novel in the United States. The decision to change Philosopher to Sorcerer was made because, in the U.S., a philosopher connotes a scholar of philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields. Philosopher does not typically connote an alchemist or magician, and magic is essential to the
Ah take a seat my lad and I shall tell you a tale. I stole this next bit from IMDB: This was a marketing decision made by author Rowling and Scholastic, the publishing house that released the novel in the United States. The decision to change Philosopher to Sorcerer was made because, in the U.S., a philosopher connotes a scholar of philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields. Philosopher does not typically connote an alchemist or magician, and magic is essential to the Harry Potter books. Consequently, the publisher suggested using another word with a more magical connotation, and Rowling suggested Sorcerer. Rowling gives this explanation: "Arthur Levine, my American editor, and I decided that words should be altered only where we felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader... The title change was Arthur's idea initially, because he felt that the British title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. In England, we discussed several alternative titles and Sorcerer's Stone was my idea
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5:36PM on 12/10/2010

Titles are huge imo

i mean, im not famous writer, but i do write, and when i do, i put a lot of reliance on the title. as you can tell i'm an excellent writer (/sarcasm)
i mean, im not famous writer, but i do write, and when i do, i put a lot of reliance on the title. as you can tell i'm an excellent writer (/sarcasm)
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5:28PM on 12/10/2010

Excellent article!

I'd like to think a good or bad title doesn't influence me much one way or the other, but who knows? Maybe it's on a subconscious level. My favorite titles are usually one word and sometimes sum up the theme or plot. Signs, Psycho, Speed, Fargo, Serenity, Chinatown, Doubt, Triangle, Hero, Atonement, etc.
I'd like to think a good or bad title doesn't influence me much one way or the other, but who knows? Maybe it's on a subconscious level. My favorite titles are usually one word and sometimes sum up the theme or plot. Signs, Psycho, Speed, Fargo, Serenity, Chinatown, Doubt, Triangle, Hero, Atonement, etc.
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5:24PM on 12/10/2010

This is good stuff.

I love movie titles and making them up. Studios think the movies will live and die by the title so it's important to have a catchy one.

I forgot who said it, but they mentioned "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to be the best title they've ever heard. He knew it was a comedy and what it was about.
I love movie titles and making them up. Studios think the movies will live and die by the title so it's important to have a catchy one.

I forgot who said it, but they mentioned "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to be the best title they've ever heard. He knew it was a comedy and what it was about.
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5:19PM on 12/10/2010

Nice

Good article. I feel like I just learned something without the usual burning sensation. Well played sir.

Also, Clerks was originally Inconvenience.
Good article. I feel like I just learned something without the usual burning sensation. Well played sir.

Also, Clerks was originally Inconvenience.
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4:59PM on 12/10/2010
As far as titles go, I have trouble with movie titles that contain colons.
As far as titles go, I have trouble with movie titles that contain colons.
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4:48PM on 12/10/2010
Very good read. Kudos for the interesting topic and well written article. I knew some of this stuff before but a lot of it was new and very informative. Keep it up.
Very good read. Kudos for the interesting topic and well written article. I knew some of this stuff before but a lot of it was new and very informative. Keep it up.
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4:36PM on 12/10/2010

Great Article..

I dont agree with the change to the bradley cooper thriller i really liked the title The Dark Fields. I actually believe that title would have helped marketinG, I absolutley hate the title Limitless sounds plain and boring. i hope they change it back. and cowboys and aliens is a great title and the trailer looks amazing.
I dont agree with the change to the bradley cooper thriller i really liked the title The Dark Fields. I actually believe that title would have helped marketinG, I absolutley hate the title Limitless sounds plain and boring. i hope they change it back. and cowboys and aliens is a great title and the trailer looks amazing.
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+6
3:53PM on 12/10/2010
Good article. Keep em coming.

It seems like every other week we see a news article about a movie getting its title changed to something lame. I'm sure these marketing people have done some favorable changes, but still, so many generic, boring titles out there.

I still don't like the title "Cowboys & Aliens." The tone of the trailer seems so different from the title, which makes me think of a Monsters vs. Aliens type animated movie.

Even though the movie apparently sucked, Cop Out's
Good article. Keep em coming.

It seems like every other week we see a news article about a movie getting its title changed to something lame. I'm sure these marketing people have done some favorable changes, but still, so many generic, boring titles out there.

I still don't like the title "Cowboys & Aliens." The tone of the trailer seems so different from the title, which makes me think of a Monsters vs. Aliens type animated movie.

Even though the movie apparently sucked, Cop Out's original title, A Couple of Dicks, was cool.
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3:45PM on 12/10/2010
Hear-hear.

Once upon a time...
-The Amazing Spider-Man
-Blade: Bloodhunt

...and now and forever:
-Spider-Man 2
-Blade II
Hear-hear.

Once upon a time...
-The Amazing Spider-Man
-Blade: Bloodhunt

...and now and forever:
-Spider-Man 2
-Blade II
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-11
3:27PM on 12/10/2010

also...

Ferris Bueller's Day Off was originally titled, "The Hi-jinx Kids". War of the Roses was, "The Divorcers: Here We Go Again!"
Oh, and "Jaws" was called "Chompie the Swimmy Thing". Universal fought hard for that one.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off was originally titled, "The Hi-jinx Kids". War of the Roses was, "The Divorcers: Here We Go Again!"
Oh, and "Jaws" was called "Chompie the Swimmy Thing". Universal fought hard for that one.
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3:21PM on 12/10/2010

Little known fact...

Empire Strikes Back was originally going to be called, "Space Dad".
And Gremlins was to be called, "Thanks-A-Lot, Green Guys!".
Empire Strikes Back was originally going to be called, "Space Dad".
And Gremlins was to be called, "Thanks-A-Lot, Green Guys!".
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3:20PM on 12/10/2010
UNBREAKABLE was first NO ORDINARY MAN - which seems funny now because of the ABC series NO ORDINARY FAMILY, which has a similar concept.

THE HAPPENING was originally THE GREEN EFFECT, but the studio asked for a change.
UNBREAKABLE was first NO ORDINARY MAN - which seems funny now because of the ABC series NO ORDINARY FAMILY, which has a similar concept.

THE HAPPENING was originally THE GREEN EFFECT, but the studio asked for a change.
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6:28PM on 12/10/2010
Yeah. The Green Effect would have been too blatant but I prefer that title because audiences will go in knowing it's about nature.
Yeah. The Green Effect would have been too blatant but I prefer that title because audiences will go in knowing it's about nature.
3:13PM on 12/10/2010
One that I can remember was the Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Morgan Freeman crap action movie Hard Rain. Originally called The Flood, they even had trailers made for it with the title, but the studio pulled it because unlike many movies that were coming out around that time, this was not a disaster movie. Originally slated for a 1997 summer release it was dumped out in 98.

Also, Scream was originally called Scary Movie.
One that I can remember was the Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Morgan Freeman crap action movie Hard Rain. Originally called The Flood, they even had trailers made for it with the title, but the studio pulled it because unlike many movies that were coming out around that time, this was not a disaster movie. Originally slated for a 1997 summer release it was dumped out in 98.

Also, Scream was originally called Scary Movie.
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3:08PM on 12/10/2010

Good article

Wonderful article. Informative, interesting, and well written.

It's nice to have articles like this for a change, instead of the usual "what's new" type stuff.
Wonderful article. Informative, interesting, and well written.

It's nice to have articles like this for a change, instead of the usual "what's new" type stuff.
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