Titles play an important role in the marketing, reception, and even understanding of a film – they are often the first piece of information that a viewer is given. Since a title needs to be appealing, memorable, original, and encapsulating all at once, a good title can be hard to come by. An effective title can convey a theme or tone before the audience even begins to watch a movie.
However, sometimes a title does not deserve the movie it describes – it is completely ineffective and confusing to a potential viewer. A terrible title can deter a viewer or destroy a marketing campaign, even for an intelligently crafted film.
For this list, we focused on movie titles that misrepresented the films, negatively impacted the film’s reception in some way, or more generally, made no sense. While it is often difficult to prove the exact impact that a title had on a film’s monetary performance, reflection on a title’s negative impact in popular and critical reception is taken into account.
Without further ado, here are 12 Great Movies with Terrible Titles.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange has been described as a cinematic masterpiece. Its title, which is taken from Anthony Burgess’s book of the same name, does not appear in the movie. In Burgess’s book, the title is referenced multiple times and he wrote about its meaning in his introduction, as well as in subsequent articles. The title is also featured in the story as the name of the manuscript that the writer is working on right before Alex and his gang break into the writer’s house. Alex even reads a paragraph aloud from the manuscript before destroying it.
In contrast to the book, Kubrick purposefully omits the name of the manuscript, and Alex (Malcolm McDowell) doesn’t read it after breaking into the house. Therefore, when the movie was released, the title had no context whatsoever for viewers who were not already familiar with Burgess’s works. Film critic Stanley Kauffmann disliked the fact that Kubrick left out any mention of the title in the film – but on the whole, A Clockwork Orange’s controversial reception focused more on the violent and sexual content of the film, rather than its perplexing title.
Edge of Tomorrow / Live. Die. Repeat. (2014)
Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is an intelligent and action-packed science fiction film. The story focuses on Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), an unwilling soldier who returns to the beginning of the day every time he is killed in combat. This wartime Groundhog Day allows Cage to know the coming events and adapt his strategy accordingly. Many fans of the film blame the generic title for the movie’s mediocre box office performance.
When Edge of Tomorrow was released on DVD and Blu-ray, the marketing was redesigned to de-emphasize the title in favor of the movie’s tagline – Live. Die. Repeat. Though the tagline is a better representation of the film’s plot, this rebranding led to some confusion over the title. Currently, the film is listed as Edge of Tomorrow on the Internet Movie Database and as Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow on Rotten Tomatoes.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The title Good Will Hunting seems completely detached from the film – perhaps because it was originally meant for another movie. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had already written their script that would go on to win an Oscar, but they disagreed over what the main character should be named and what the movie should be called. Their friend, Derrick Bridgeman, had written another script which he had called Good Will Hunting, and Damon and Affleck bought the title from him for $10,000. Adding the title to their own script, they changed the main character’s (played by Damon) name from Nate, and Will Hunting was born.
It is still unclear what the title refers to: it could mean that the protagonist, Will Hunting, is good, or that the characters are searching for goodwill, or some combination of both “Goodwill” and “Will Hunting”. After nine Oscar nominations and two Oscar wins, there is no official explanation or popular consensus on what the title means.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Inglourious Basterds is a Quentin Tarantino title with questionable origins. Both the title and the movie seem to draw inspiration from the 1978 Italian war film Inglorious Bastards, which also chronicles the story of a group of American soldiers in World War II. Tarantino has stated that his title is “the Tarantino way of spelling it.” When asked at the Cannes Film Festival why he chose to spell both words incorrectly, he responded, “I’m never going to explain that.”
Fans of the film are unsure if the misspelling is meant to reflect the schooling of the self-proclaimed “Basterds” in the film, if it is a tactic to avoid copyright infringement, or if Tarantino – whose leaked drafts have proven him to be a notoriously bad speller – simply misspelled the title and left it that way.
The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book is a classic Disney animated movie based on a Rudyard Kipling book of the same name. Kipling’s collection of short stories is also serving as the inspiration for two upcoming films, a Jon Favreau-directed project at Disney and a Warner Bros. project directed by Andy Serkis.
However, while The Jungle Book is a pleasant name for a collection of short stories that take place in the Indian jungle, calling a movie “a book” is strange and clearly inaccurate. There is no mention of a book in the movie, except for the opening title sequence, which briefly shows a book titled The Jungle Book. The book opens and the viewer enters into the world of the story. But this is not a unique feature of The Jungle Book movie, and is used in other Disney classics such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Robin Hood. Additionally, the title sequence of the movie notes that it is based off of “The Mowgli Stories” found within Kipling’s book, rather than the whole volume. Given the change of medium, The Jungle Book is a simultaneously a nondescript and puzzling title.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The Pursuit of Happyness tells the story of Chris Gardner, a poor salesman who loses his house, marriage, and money after making an expensive investment. Gardner and his son survive homelessness and poverty as Gardner works to get a job as a stock broker. Will Smith, who played Gardner, was nominated for his second Oscar for the role.
Moviegoers were puzzled by the misspelling of The Pursuit of Happyness, which sparked debates over why the title was misspelled. The misspelling “happyness” does appear in the movie, but ironically, it is when Gardner complains about the word being misspelled in a mural on the side of his son’s daycare. It seems from his comments that Gardner is actually pursuing “happiness” and “happyness” is not an acceptable substitute.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
After Casino Royale introduced audiences to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, fans eagerly awaited the next installment. But the title of the sequel, Quantum of Solace confused both critics and audiences and was met with harsh criticism.
Quantum of Solace sounds grandiose and elusive, but it does not impact or expand upon the film. This isn’t surprising, considering that the title was taken from an Ian Fleming short story that was otherwise unrelated to the film’s events.
Perhaps Bond’s revenge is meant to be understood as the pursuit of a quantum of solace – that revenge allows him to find a small amount of inner peace – but using a vague and overly complicated title does not help to evoke this idea. To make matters worse, the screenwriters named the criminal organization that Bond is hunting “Quantum”, even though they do not provide solace. This seems to be a last minute attempt to make the title seem more cohesive, but ultimately, it creates more confusion.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The title of Quentin Tarantino’s critically-acclaimed directorial debut comes from his verbal butchering of French film Au Revoir Les Enfants while he worked at a video store. A patron misheard Tarantino’s recommendation, and believed that he had said, “Reservoir Dogs.” Others have speculated that the title may be a partial homage to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a movie that Tarantino greatly admires.
Tarantino weighed in on the title, saying, “It’s a term I came up with myself and it’s just a perfect title for those guys. They are reservoir dogs, whatever the hell that means…” The film’s title, which is two words strung together to make a phrase without any real meaning, is not referenced anywhere in the film.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was first released in 1977, it was simply titled Star Wars. However, the title of its sequel, which appeared in movie theaters in 1980, confused and surprised its audience. As the title scrolled upwards on the screen, Star Wars was followed by the unexpected subtitle Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Presumably George Lucas was trying to establish the larger scope of his project, but he chose to reveal the “Episode V” in the theater without any earlier explanation in interviews leading up to the movie’s release. The title led some audience members to think that they had missed three movies in the interim three years.
The Constant Gardener (2005)
Despite its name, The Constant Gardener is not about a man with a compulsive green thumb. Taking its title from a novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat in Kenya who relentlessly tries to solve the murder of his activist wife (Rachel Weisz). A political thriller and a mystery, the movie has little to nothing to do with gardening, which is merely a hobby of Quayle’s.
The film’s title is a misnomer because it classifies the movie in the same way that Quayle’s colleagues categorize him. They believe that Quayle, a quiet and gentle man who likes to garden, will do nothing after his wife is discovered murdered. Instead, Quayle journeys over three continents to uncover a government conspiracy and the truth behind his wife’s death.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Cinderella Man is a biopic of James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe), a heavyweight boxer who overcame the odds and became the heavyweight champion of the world after defeating the reigning champion, Max Baer (Craig Bierko). The title, Braddock’s real nickname in the ring, is derived from his fairy-tale rise from rags to riches.
Despite this justification, the title would better suit a romantic comedy or a gender-reversed Disney reboot than a realistic and violent historical account of a boxer who is fighting to support his family during the Great Depression. As many moviegoers were unaware of James J. Braddock’s nickname, they were puzzled with the jarring disconnect between the film’s name and content.
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color is the English release title of the Palme d’Or-winning French film La Vie d’Adele (Chapitres 1 & 2). Instead of translating the simple, informative French title – “The Life of Adele, Chapter 1 and 2” – the English title is taken from the graphic novel that inspired the film, Le bleu est une couleur chaude, or “Blue is a hot color”.
After three hours of flirting and fighting, including a controversially long lesbian sex scene between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and her blue-haired lover Emma (Léa Seydoux), the audience is not given any real indication of what the title means. While the color blue could represent Emma, her relationship with Adele goes from hot to cold rather quickly. Warmth is not one of Emma’s specialties. Whereas the French title focuses the story on Adele, and playfully seems to imply later chapters in her life, the English title leaves something lost in translation.
There are countless great movies, but which ones have equally bad titles? Let us know in the comments!