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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

EXPENDABELLES and the Problem with Bad Movie Titles

They say to never judge a book by its cover. And I suppose we shouldn't judge a movie by its awful title, right? But why each time I hear about an awful new film title, I shudder a little? I know, drab titles like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are what's hot in the streets these days. But does a movie about salmon fishing sound appealing to you? Does it make you want to rush to Fandango to buy a ticket to see it? DOES IT? I didn't think so.

As I haven't seen Salmon (which borrows its title from the book upon which it's based), I can only presume (read: hope) that it isn't the snoozefest to which its title alludes. There's probably a good reason to watch it. But I use it as an example to explain how movie titles matter. It's something I've been saying for years, and which has been falling on deaf ears. Small independent films are notorious for bad titles (hello, Winter's Bone), but mainstream blockbusters are not immune from this bad habit either. And it's not just about whether or not I like it (more than likely I'm going to see the movie anyway, if I feel so inclined). But I'm thinking about the casual  moviegoer who may not have heard of the movie or know the actors involved, and may make a judgment call based solely on the title. Case in point: a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space would get more interest than O Brother, Where art Thou?, even with the obvious misspelling in the former (which sounds like something the Kardashians would have concocted) and the all-star cast in the latter.

The title is as important as the trailer and even the movie description, yet it's not regarded as such. It should really be considered part of the overall marketing package. Which brings me to Expendabelles, the forthcoming "all-female" version of Sylvester Stallone's testosterone-laden action juggernaut, Expendables. Following some complaints about the original film being too "male-heavy," it's nice to see that they're acknowledging the notion that women of a certain age could also kick serious ass on the big screen (and look good doing so). But, I have to say, the "belle" part of the title is killing me. Honestly, when I first heard about this title I thought it was a joke. Like, they can't really be serious. "Belle," like the Disney princess? "Belle," like the most feminine name ever? Like, before you even see this movie, beware: there may be women in it. I can't even. It's just too much. I hear "belle" attached to the title and I expect to see a cast of women wearing pearls and a-lined skirts, toting machine guns. Unless the male version will re-market itself with older men wearing hospital gowns and penny loafers, this female iteration makes no sense.

Something else that seems to be a "thing" with action/superhero films starring women is that too many of them tend to have the word "girl," "woman" or some other acknowledgement of their sex attached to the title (Catwoman and Wonder Woman, I looking at you). I mean, please have respect for your audience; once we see the character onscreen we'll be able to recognize her gender. If you feel the need to send this warning signal in the title for people you think would shun the idea of a woman in this kind of role, then you're only perpetuating Hollywood's ongoing gender problem.It's 2014; we need to get with the times. We can't keep recycling old problems with the system.

But anyway, as the late great Bernie Mac would say: Let's move on. Because there are so many other bad titles we can throw down the garbage disposal, including Live Free or Die Hard which should immediately prepare you for the sh#tshow it ended up being. Folks....dying hard and living free don't compliment each other, so why are they smooshed together in the same repugnant title? I know we shouldn't care about this because it's Bruce Willis and he just rocks all our boats, but I mean...try a little?

The latest bad movie title reaction came from Twitter recently when the subtitle of Batman v Superman was released. It's Dawn of Justice, and let me tell you: people are PISSED about it. I can't honestly include this in my bad title hall of fame because I don't really think it's that bad. But I know superfans are all in their feelings about it. I mean, it could worse--it could be Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which I still feel is missing a very important word between "Dark" and Moon." Just saying that title out loud makes me upset all over again.

My point is, audiences are very judgmental about these seemingly trivial things. It's not just the critics who nitpick; it's the casual moviegoer--and especially fangirls and fanboys--whose days are ruined over horrible film titles. My advice to those in power is to consider your target audience and the message of your movie. Or, try this (one of the smartest things a great editor once told me): keep it simple. Don't try to be too creative, because it may mean losing your core audience (the social media-dependent millennials can be a finicky crowd, even with very little context). And, for Goodness sake, remember that grammar still matters here. You can't abandon it completely.

End of rant.


Brittani Burnham said...

This reminds me of when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, it annoyed me to no end that it wasn't just "Rise of the Apes" like the working title was. There's too many "of the's" in that title!

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