Is It Just Me… Or Is A Good Film Title Half Of The Battle?

One Total Film writer argues the case...

Hollywood spends an average $40m on prints and advertising per film. But it could arguably shave off a few cents with the use of some judiciously juicy monikers. In this over-spoilered age, titles can intrigue, excite or unnerve audiences in advance, and they don’t even need to pay off.

How scary does Banshee Chapter sound? Well, there aren’t any banshees in it – or books for that matter – not that you’ll care when you’re pinned to your seat.

To this day nobody knows what a Reservoir Dog is – nerds claim it’s Quentin Tarantino’s mangled pronunciation of the French classic Au Revoir Les Enfants; the late Lawrence Tierney (who played Joe Cabot) teased reporters, “It’s a very famous expression in America for dogs who hang around a reservoir.”

But unless they were expecting Turner & Hooch with aqualungs, audiences didn’t ask for their money back. Exploitation films are particularly (some might say indecently) good at drumming up audiences by title alone.

If there’s not at least a tiny part of you intrigued by Cannibal Holocaust, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things or Strip Nude For Your Killer, I worry for your pulse.

But great titles don’t just affect a film’s profile; they can actively alter the moviegoing experience itself. Last year’s slow-burn dramas What Richard Did and Simon Killer, though impressive, were sometimes a little more ‘slow’ than ‘burn’.

Yet the promise of their inspired titles added a tangible mocking tension that would have remained absent if they’d been named more literal-mindedly – say What Richard Did Eventually or Simon Sex Tourist.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil does something even subtler, speaking of exotic other-worlds. It’s only as you watch that you realise just how tragically unreachable they are. There is, of course, a downside to great titling.

There Will Be Blood must’ve been a trying experience for anyone expecting a lot of bloodshed, Only God Forgives was easier to pardon if you didn’t have to sit through it, and the likes of I Spit On Your Grave and Surf Nazis Must Die would have sunk into well-deserved obscurity without such memorable handles.

But at least they tried, which is more than you can say for The Town, Traffic or A Serious Man – decent films with titles so soporific they risk falling off the SEO scale altogether.

Screenwriting wisdom has it that a character’s name is so vitally important because it’s often one of the first sounds they make when they announce themselves to a room.

Similarly, if your movie title steps into a room that already includes the likes of Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, Rebel Without A Cause, and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly you’d better make sure you announce yourself as loudly as possible.

Or is it just me? 

Agree or disagree? Have your say below and a selection of the comments will be printed in our next issue.


    • juliethejarhead

      Jan 23rd 2014, 13:56

      I think the film title is as important as any other word in the script. In other words -- crucial. The title is the first thing a potential viewer sees. Much like the eyes are to the soul, so to speak.

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    • coreyrichards

      Jan 23rd 2014, 14:01

      A good film title would be half the battle, if advertising did not exist. How often does someone go to see a movie without knowing anything about it? Rarely. Unless you're the sort of person who buys random films based on the title and art surrounding the feature, chances are you will know something about the film. The reason magazines like Total Film and such exist is to inform the movie going audience about, well, movies. Providing there was a world where people didn't know anything about the film they're going to see, then yes, the title would make all the difference. However, the majority of film titles are ambiguous and do not tell us much about the movie. Take Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, all the audience can presume is that it is a Sci-fi. Without a teaser trailer, we would still be able to guess it is a Sci-fi. Titles, unless connected to an already popular franchise, aren't suppose to give much away about the movie. But they are meant to entice you, they need to be snappy, flow and sound good. So deciding a title is difficult, but to say that it is a battle would be over exaggerating the issue. If people are really basing their knowledge of a film on the title, then something is wrong. Unless we're talking about Troll 2, that featured no Trolls and lots of Goblins. Then we should worry about the title.

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    • QuietLife

      Jan 24th 2014, 10:29

      @coreyrichards - I agree. I think the days of going to see a movie "blind" so to speak are a thing of the past. Which is a shame. The last time I recall going to see a movie having heard nothing about it beforehand was Memento and it simply blew me away. It enhanced the experience so much.

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    • Hadouken76

      Jan 26th 2014, 11:05

      Hard to say, when is 'Half of the battle' being released?

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