Why Have Hollywood Titles Been So Bad Lately?

Why Have Hollywood Titles Been So Bad Lately?Sarah Kim

It’s a beautiful day for a movie. The place: New York City. The date: June 20, 1975. You walk to the theater, turn a corner, and spot one of the longest lines you’ve ever seen. Why is there such a wait? Well, the billboard reads JAWS in all caps.“THE TERRIFYING NO. 1 BEST-SELLER…NOW A TERRIFYING MOTION PICTURE.”

Now, I wouldn’t be born for another twenty years. But pigs flew on that day in movie paradise. Jaws. It’s one of the greatest films ever made, sure, but it’s one of the greatest titles of all time. In fact, the late seventies and early eighties marked a golden age of movie titles. A week before Jaws, Nashville premiered in theaters. Five days after? Rollerball. Rollerball! What a name.

Sadly, I don’t live in the golden age of movie titles. I live in 2024, when they’re so damn long that they don’t even fit on the billboard. Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning, Part One? No, thank you. Welcome to the era of bad movie titles. If you brought a person from the late seventies into the present, their brain would melt at the mere thought of a film branded Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They would weep at the fact that Star Wars is now Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope. When they saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, it didn’t even faze them that a name as cool as Indiana Jones wasn’t in the title.

Sorry, but I’m not done. In 2023, I convinced a robot that I knew which images were stoplights just to prove that I was a human man who wanted to buy tickets to a film titled Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. When Joker: Folie à Deux comes out later this year, I’ll think of the glorious premiere of Jaws as I ask myself the question, Is the Joker French now? Will the sequel open with the line “Je m’appelle Jokér. Voulez-vous how I got les scars?” Enough is enough!

The mustachioed Kevin Costner has many talents. Naming his own film is not one of them.Warner Bros. Pictures

Reader, we’re living in one of the worst eras for titles across film and television. I’m not sure when it began. My gut tells me that it started with a superhero film—a genre full of absolute doozies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Maybe it was at the recent Emmy Awards, where I heard celebrities read aloud the words Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story six (!) times over. During the ceremony, I also learned of a show called Tiny Beautiful Things, which is the umpteenth variation of Big Little Lies, Pretty Little Liars, and A Million Little Things.

I’ve seen where this road goes—and I don’t like it. What happens when we run out of colons and em dashes? What do we do in 2043, when Lucasfilm markets Indiana Jones: The Raider Reborn, Pt. 1—The Golden Whip?!?!? Do we willingly submit our bank accounts to Star Wars: Episode X—The Legend of the Guardians of the Ancient Order of Coruscant? Hollywood, this needs to stop.

To better understand what makes a bad movie title, let’s start by defining the good ones. Why is Jaws such a brilliant title? Simplicity. Consider this: Barbie, Oppenheimer, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie were the three of the highest-grossing films at the box office last year. Say what you will about Mario’s lack of creativity, but it told parents exactly what they needed to know. Audiences also knew what to expect from Barbie and Oppenheimer. Just thank the movie gods that we never saw Margot Robbie on a movie poster alongside the words Barbie—Mattel: The Barbie Doll Story.

In the golden age of movie titles, studios gifted audiences films such as Blade Runner, Robocop, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Alien, The Godfather, Rocky, Die Hard, The King of Comedy, Risky Business, and Superman. No colons, no em-dashes, no Part Ones. Audiences saw The Empire Strikes Back in droves back in 1980, even though it didn’t have Star Wars in the title. Adjusted for inflation today, Empire grossed around $1.8 billion at the box office.

Now studios think that we won’t put our butts in sticky, popcorn-butter-encrusted seats unless they hold our hands all the way from our couch to the theater. The Monk reunion film, which hit Peacock last year, is called Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie. “Please,” some Hollywood exec surely said in a musty boardroom, “Make sure you write Monk’s name twice.” Beverly Hills Cop 4? Nope. Try Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Muscle, Event, Arm, Dance, Performance, Performing arts, Choreography, Stage, Performance art, Barechested,
Every title in the Fast & Furious franchise is stellar—and I won’t entertain any arguments that say otherwise.Universal Pictures

The poor titles warp into even worse monstrosities when studios pitch us something entirely new. Netflix’s recent experiment Rebel Moon—Part One: A Child of Fire, bears a truly awful title, one that is only trumped only by its sequel, Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner is promoting a four-part epic that begins with Horizon: An American Saga—Chapter 1. Take notice, reader, of the criss-crossing use of colons and dashes in these two names.

The most confusing bit of these marketing strategies is this: I can’t find any evidence to support the idea that a long title equals more eyeballs. Same with a vague title, such as The Boys in the Boat or The Girls on the Bus. Don’t even talk to me about the recently canceled The Brother’s Sun. Two self-explanatory ones: Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot and Power Book IV: Force. If a title demands an explanation, we have a problem. Even a well-received film like The Holdovers needs some clarification. Does everyone in New England know what a “holdover” is? I love you, Paul Giamatti, but I doubt it.

Please, Hollywood, I beg of you. I place Alien upon the altar—and I receive Alien: Romulus. This cannot continue. If it must, I pray that you take some notes from the Fast & Furious movies. That franchise is in on the joke. 2 Fast 2 Furious? Perfect. Fast Five? Never change. But I swear…if the next film is titled Fast 11: Final Ride—The End of the Fast & Furious Saga, we can all just make our way down to the doomsday shelters right now.

You Might Also Like