There are a lot of terrible movie titles out there, and everyone has their list, but most of these titles are attached to terrible films! It's when bad titles are attached to good movies that there starts to be a problem. For instance, this week, The Men Who Stare at Goats hits theaters, and we thought it was a lot of fun, but that title is a real snoozer. Who's going to go see this movie with that title? Yes, they stare at goats, but they stare at them to make their hearts stop beating! Why not call the movie Goat Killers? Or Heartstoppers? Or The Men Who Kill Goats With Their Minds? We looked at the last decade and found a bunch of film titles we think misrepresent or detract from the films they're attached to, for various reasons.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
We don't mind all of the James Bond movies with puns for titles, and when they're particularly unforgivable or banal (Octopussy and Tomorrow Never Dies, respectively), it's usually a sub-par entry in the series, so no harm, no foul. But Quantum of Solace continues the relentless revenge mission begun by new Bond Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, and yet it has a title that should have been reserved for a movie about a physicist whose grandmother has died. Yes, we realize it's an original Ian Fleming title, but it was used for an unrelated story in which Bond attends a dinner party. We shall say no more.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
We get it, Quentin Tarantino. We get that you really like the 1978 movie Inglorious Bastards, or at least the title. But since you're not remaking it, do you really need to appropriate the name for your own ragtag group of World War II soldiers? And spell it wrong to differentiate between the two?
As much as we love J.J. Abrams for creating a great American monster movie, and for getting us so excited about it that he ultimately decided to go with the original, placeholder title for it, we have to be disappointed that that title is so ridiculous. Cloverfield? The name of the highway exit you take to get to your office in Santa Monica? It doesn't lend itself to people in the street screaming, "Run! It's Cloverfield!" That's not a monster name, it's a My Little Pony name.
Michael Clayton (2007)
Most movie titles that are simply people's names are about celebrities like Muhammad Ali or Amelia Earhart or Harvey Milk or Ray Charles. Or, if they're not famous, they have an entertaining name like Erin Brockovich. Not only is "Michael Clayton" not famous and an incredibly boring name, this title tells us nothing about the film's gripping story about an attorney working for a major law firm as a "fixer," who gets clients out of difficult situations.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
We realize that the title is meant to refer to Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who play intellectual parents whose relationship is deteriorating. Locked in a constant struggle with each other for the undivided love and attention of their children, they are certainly very much like the model of the squid fighting the whale at the Museum of Natural History. However, taken out of context, the title sounds like one of Aesop's Fables, or possibly a sequel to Disney's The Fox and the Hound, about a baby squid and a baby whale who are best friends. Squid vs. Whale, while still abstruse, would have at least implied conflict, a formula used to great (if literal) effect in Eagle vs. Shark and Monsters vs. Aliens.
Minority Report (2002)
If you've got a balls-to-the-wall action film in which Tom Cruise takes on a high-tech police force with jet-packs who can tell what crime you're going to commit before you even commit it, don't use the name of the Philip K. Dick story it's taken from. There's a reason "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" became Blade Runner, and "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" became Total Recall. Yes, "The Minority Report" is a lot shorter title than those others, but it's still a hard-to-understand bit of technobabble describing a vision of the future that probably won't happen, because only one psychic sees it, and not two.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Another re-used book title, this is the rare case where a good movie with a long name would benefit by that name being shortened considerably. The movie is not an action film by any means, but that doesn't mean we want to fall asleep before we get done reading the title.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
An attempt to lend excitement to a cutesy nickname for the police, it's the most ridiculous title one could come up with for a movie about small-town police officers. They're "the fuzz," but they're hot fuzz! We certainly appreciate the sentiment, but we can't bring ourselves to recommend the movie to people without feeling a little silly. It also sounds slightly pornographic.
Another mind-trip from David Cronenberg, this movie about a video game designer who jacks herself and a PR agent into the only copy of the titular bio-organic virtual-reality game, has some annoying capitalization and spelling going on. Apparently, "isten" is the Hungarian word for God, which is why it's set off by capitals, but writing it down is like Sarah Jessica Parker's character in L.A. Story telling us how to spell "SanDeE*. ("Big 'S', little 'a', little 'n', big 'D', little 'e', big 'E' and a star at the end.")
What do you think are the worst movie titles? Don't get that confused with the worst films; sometimes a bad film can stink up a good title.
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