Supposedly the film that became Star Wars: A New Hope was originally called The Adventures of Luke Starkiller and whether this is true or not it shows the importance of a name. Sometimes films have perfect titles, perhaps it sums up in a couple of words the entire film, or maybe it’s memorable, maybe it’s intentionally oblique and leaves the filmgoer to try and work it out. I am quite a fan of a good title and think it’s very hard to get right. I think perhaps the best definition of a film with a good title is that without knowing anything else about the film, it piques your interest. Note – in this article films based on books, plays, which keep the same name as the source material have been excluded.
Put Blood In It
Perhaps my favourite name of any film is There Will Be Blood. Not the most informative title in terms of the actual plot of the film but gives a sense of the doom that hangs over it. It’s also a hell of a promise for a film – blood implies conflict and turmoil, suffering and loss. Jamie in the film In The Loop has an extended rant about the brilliance of the name There Will Be Blood but he was disappointed at the actual lack of said fluid. Blood is a good word for a film title – Shakespeare would have been kicking himself when Kurosawa named his Macbeth adaptation Throne of Blood as it’s a far superior title and does a very good job of summing up the story. For other great “blood” titles see Blood Simple, Blood Diamond and the wonderfully named Doctor Blood’s Coffin (which I haven’t seen but can’t possibly live up to that title).
It’s an interesting decision to change the name of the source material, Philip K Dick’s titan of science-fiction Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was renamed Blade Runner (a term not even used in the novel). Both are great names but conjure very different feelings – Blade Runner sounds cool. You could argue that the original title conveyed more of what the film is about – as much as Blade Runner is cool it’s also an extended meditation on life, memory, knowledge and more and the book’s more unusual title is more suggestive of this. The aforementioned There Will Be Blood is based on the novel Oil! and both titles have their merits – for the film Paul Thomas Anderson certainly chose the right title.
It Is What It Says It Is
Some films very much have titles that say what they are, they tell you exactly what to expect – with Seven Psychopaths being one of the best. In the film, Marty is writing a screenplay with the same title and all of his friends agree it’s a great title. It seems Marty thought of this great name first and worked backwards on making a film around this name. Interestingly Marty becomes disillusioned with the name and the type of film Seven Psychopaths would inevitably be and this re-examining of the title and what film it will be lead to very interesting ideas in the film. Director Martin McDonaugh‘s other films In Bruges – which is set in Bruges, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is about three billboard set…well I’m sure you can work it, show his love for their naming technique.
Some of the most memorable titles for me are from films not in the English language. Iranian vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the superior riff on the idea utilised in Cabin In The Woods in that the name is so often the premise of the film. Just the titles of The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Portrait of a Lady on Fire are minor masterpieces. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is certainly a captivating title and you feel you just have to know what is going to cause the nervous breakdown.
Use As Many Words As Possible
I’m very much a fan of the long title so Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb, which from the odd name to the absurdity of the title is intriguing. Another example of a title change – the book is called Red Alert and the change reflects the change in how the book is very much a drama but Kubrick‘s film a dark comedy. Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead is a brilliant title that also gave me an unconscious aversion to Denver before even seeing the film, as there seemed to be a suggestion that more people die in Denver than is normal.
Honourable mentions must go to If…. for daring to use ellipsis and using punctuation to make you want to pronounce it differently, as though you need to trail off while saying it and Enter The Dragon has the audacity to not only be exceptionally cool but could also be stage directions.
A lot of the time films are given placeholder names while an actual title is thought up, famously this was used for Snakes On A Plane and when the title was changed to something far duller Samuel L. Jackson asked it to be changed back. Personally, I’m not a fan of that name but that shows how hard it is to come up with a good name and one person’s genius idea is another’s terrible mistake.
Also Read: Film Ideas That Shouldn’t Work (But Do!)