You know the feeling. Something reminds you of a movie. You recall the general plot, and maybe one or two details that really stood out. The title is right there on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t place it. You frantically launch a Google search, coming up with nothing because there’s not enough to go on. You describe it to friends. They vaguely recall it, too. That darn title just won’t come to mind, though.
Those are the kind of movies we’re talking about here. What follows is a list of films that, for various reasons, produce this exact effect. In each case, we will attempt to explore why the movies are memorable in some basic respects, and yet utterly forgettable in others. We’re defining “old” as anything that’s been around for more than ten years. These films have all had time to be seen in theaters, on DVD and Blu-ray, through on-demand streaming, and on cable. You’ll remember something about them. As for what they’re called? That might be a whole other matter.
In case you’re wondering how we settled on these fifteen, they were recommended by Screen Rant staffers, based on personal experience and/or observations of others’ inability to recollect them.
Here are 15 Old Movies You’ve Seen But Can’t Remember The Name Of.
15. Double Team
In 1997, Hollywood gave us one of the biggest odd couple pairings in cinema history. Noted martial arts expert/actor Jean-Claude Van Damme was teamed with basketball star Dennis Rodman for an action picture entitled Double Team. It was Rodman’s first time in a non-cameo role as himself, inspired by his rising status as an overall celebrity on and off the courts. He plays Yaz, an arms dealer helping a retired CIA operative (JCVD) take down a terrorist.
Most action movie fans remember that Van Damme and Rodman made a movie together, simply because it was such an unlikely combination of stars. Double Team was a flop, earning just $11 million, so the film’s impact started and ended with the stunt casting. A distinctly unmemorable title — which calls to mind basketball more than anti-terrorist action — isn’t the kind of moniker that brings up instant recollections of that casting. Hence, the lead pairing proves, by far, to be the easiest thing to remember here.
14. Trilogy of Terror
Trilogy of Terror is a 1975 horror anthology that ran on the ABC network as its ABC Movie of the Week feature. Each of the film’s three segments is based on a short story by noted author Richard Matheson (I Am Legend). As was par for the course with a ’70s TV fright flick, Trilogy of Terror was pretty tame. The Standards & Practices Departments of major networks kept a tight rein on how much gore and violence could be broadcast.
While the movie as a whole is largely forgotten, there is one element that a lot of people remember very vividly. The segment “Amelia” stars Karen Black as a woman who purchases a doll designed to resemble a sharp-toothed aboriginal warrior. The doll also allegedly has the spirit of a real warrior trapped inside of it. Needless to say, the creepy thing comes to life and begins terrorizing her. The image of that doll seared itself into the brains of just about everyone who’s ever seen Trilogy of Terror, even if nothing else about it did. If anyone ever talks to you about a movie involving a creepy doll with sharp teeth and a spear, you can be certain this is the one they’re struggling to recall the name of.
13. Mom and Dad Save the World
Cable channels have always had a way of running kids’ movies into the ground. Think back on how many times you watched the ones you liked as a child. Probably in the double digits at least, right? One kooky comedy aimed at the youngsters that used to be on constantly — and still pops up on a semi-regular basis — is 1992’s Mom and Dad Save the World. It’s precisely the kind of movie kids have on in the background while playing with toys, leading to vague recollections of it years later.
Let’s see if any of this triggers a memory for you. Jon Lovitz plays Tod Spengo, a goofball alien emperor who kidnaps an Earth woman named Marge Nelson (Teri Garr), hoping to make her his bride. Marge’s husband Dick (Jeffrey Jones) isn’t too cool with that idea, subsequently plotting to save her. If neither the name “Tod Spengo” nor the overall plot ring a bell, you might recall model Kathy Ireland wearing an inappropriately-revealing bird costume for her role as the daughter of the ousted King Raff (played by Eric Idle). Other notable tidbits are the weird little mushroom creatures called Lub-Lubs, a flying station wagon, and Tod’s self-celebratory theme song. Stuff like that sticks in your head, making you struggle, years later, to remember what movie it came from.
We’re betting that you remember Jennifer Lopez once starred in a movie where she played an abused wife who escapes with her daughter, then spends the rest of the time trying to hide from her violent husband (Billy Campbell) after he comes looking for her. It was a decent-sized hit in 2002, earning $40 million at the box office. It was also based on a best-selling novel, Black and Blue, written by noted author Anna Quindlen. Lopez recorded a hit song called “Alive” for the soundtrack. You might even remember the horrible short hairstyle she rocks after she tries to change her identity. But do you remember what that movie was called?
Congratulations if you came up with Enough. Presumably, the title was meant to convey the fact that Lopez’s character has had her fill of being cruelly beaten by her creep of a spouse. Nothing about that name is really memorable, though. That’s because it doesn’t convey the story’s inherent thriller elements. The filmmakers would have been smart to retain the title of the book that inspired their movie. At least it gives you a clue that spousal abuse is a central part of the story. Calling it Enough only ensures people will forever refer to it as “that one where Jennifer Lopez plays a battered wife.”
11. Two of a Kind
You undoubtedly know that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in two movies together. One was the classic Grease. What is the name of the other one? Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t come up with Two of a Kind. The movie is so unbelievably awful that most people don’t remember anything about it, other than that it exists. In this cinematic atrocity, Gene Hackman provides the voice of God. He is ready to destroy humanity out of frustration, but a group of angels persuade Him not to give up on the inherent goodness of people. The only way God will allow the Earth to survive is if the angels can get a petty criminal (Travolta) to reform his ways. Newton-John plays the bank teller who unknowingly has a part in this scheme.
Two of a Kind is the polar opposite of Grease in terms of quality and entertainment value. It did, however, spawn the hit song “Twist of Fate,” a tune far more memorable than the film itself. As for the two stars, they didn’t bother working together on the big screen after this disaster, although they later reunited for a hilariously awful 2012 holiday CD called “This Christmas” and a subsequent music video that reaches Two of a Kind-levels of badness.
10. The Dark Backward
It’s late at night. You’re still awake and flipping around the channels. You stumble across a weird sight — something like a guy with an arm growing out of his back. You stop to watch, transfixed by the strangeness of it all. Later, you try to explain the bizarre movie you watched to your friends, except that you didn’t quite catch what it was called. The Dark Backward is precisely that kind of movie.
Judd Nelson stars as Marty Malt, an unfunny stand-up comedian who notices a lump growing on his back. The thing gradually turns into a full-sized human arm. Rather than getting too upset about it, Marty uses this new appendage to his advantage, billing himself as “the Three-Armed Wonder Comic.” Eventually, the arm disappears, threatening to sink his career back to its previous levels. Whether or not this is a good movie during daylight hours is up for debate, but as the kind of thing you get hypnotized by in the wee hours, The Dark Backward certainly has some appeal.
9. Rules of Engagement
Every once in a while, a movie turns into a fairly big hit at the box office, then becomes largely forgotten. One such film is a 2000 war movie about a U.S. Marine Colonel (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who is court-martialed after his men kill a bunch of civilians outside an embassy in Yemen, under his orders. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as the defense attorney who represents him.
Rules of Engagement earned a respectable $61 million at the box office, largely on the strength of the Jackson/Jones pairing. Director William Friedkin uses their talents to tell a story that attempts to look at the grey area in modern combat. Despite big names both in front of and behind the camera, the film was one of those “temporary hits.” People went to see it at the time, yet it’s not one of the first (or second, or third, or fourth) pictures you think of when you mention any of the very famous individuals who made it. Why? Hard to say. Our best guess is that ticketbuyers weren’t overly impressed with what they saw once they were inside the theater. As such, Rules of Engagement is often referred to, when it’s referred to at all, as “that Samuel L. Jackson/Tommy Lee Jones war movie.”
John Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie Seconds follows Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a deeply unhappy middle-aged banker who is offered a new life by a mysterious organization known as “the Company.” They provide him with a younger appearance — he’s played by Rock Hudson in this form — and a new identity. Now living in a community of other people who have been through the procedure, he realizes that life isn’t actually a whole lot better in this guise. The story has a shocking conclusion, in which Arthur (now dubbed Antiochus Wilson) asks the Company for yet another identity, and they make plans to kill him on the operating table instead.
Whoever decided to call this movie Seconds deserves a few lashes with a wet noodle. That title brings to mind units of time, or, if you’re hungry, another helping of dinner. It certainly doesn’t suggest bodily reconstruction, life dissatisfaction, or corporate murder. When you have a story with so many engaging, dramatic elements, you really need a name that makes people sit up and take notice. This one fails that test. The movie itself is memorable. The title, not so much.
7. One Magic Christmas
If there’s anything less memorable than a crummy family film, it’s a crummy family film that only gets aired during the Christmas season. That’s a virtual recipe for What was that movie called? status. Since most people aren’t inclined to watch holiday fare during, say, July, non-classic Christmas movies you saw as a kid are often reduced to stray elements buried somewhere in the back of your mind.
A great example of this is Disney’s One Magic Christmas. This sappy 1985 drama stars Mary Steenburgen as a stressed-out woman who is shown the true meaning of Christmas by an angel (played by, um, Harry Dean Stanton). During the course of the story, the angel rescues her children after a bank robber shoots their father, then steals the car they’re sitting in, eventually driving it off a bridge while attempting to escape the police. This is a very weird Christmas movie, needless to say. But fear not, the husband and kids turn out to be okay in the end, thanks to the angel’s intervention. You can probably see why One Magic Christmas exists in the heads of those who saw it only as “that kind of depressing holiday film.”
Sometimes movies have titles so bland that you have to wonder how they ever got approved. For instance, consider the case of Basic. This 2003 drama stars John Travolta as a DEA investigator looking into the disappearance of an Army ranger (Samuel L. Jackson) and some of his cadets during a training exercise that somehow went horribly wrong. What he discovers is that the two surviving trainees have vastly different stories about what happened. The movie builds to a surprise ending designed to call into question everything that has previously occurred.
With so much inherent drama, the thought of saddling the movie with a title as forgettable as Basic seems ludicrous. Why not call it something that’s both more enticing and more accurate? Military Mystery, perhaps. Or Death of an Army Ranger. Don’t they sound more appealing than Basic? There’s been a rash of monumentally generic titles in the last fifteen years, including, but not limited to Push, The Man, Faster, The Forest, and Joy. These monikers, and Basic is definitely one of them, are so non-descriptive that it’s no wonder people have trouble remembering them.
On occasion, you can’t remember a movie title because it’s got no common words and/or is hard to pronounce. Certainly no one is going to fault you for not recalling the Philip Seymour Hoffman film Synecdoche, New York or Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. There’s even a movie called — we kid you not — Tchoupitoulas. Good luck pulling that one out of your memory banks! You won’t get any flack for failing to come up with Hidalgo, either. That’s because, unlike something along the lines of A Monster Calls, the word “Hidalgo” doesn’t bring to mind any particular connotations. What’s a Hidalgo, anyway?
In this case, it’s the name of a horse. Viggo Mortensen plays a Pony Express courier who participates in a punishing 3,000-mile race across the Saudi desert. The film was quite popular upon its release in the spring of 2004, earning $67 million. But that title really doesn’t stick with you. Folks may remember a movie with Viggo Mortensen and a horse, but horse sense says they won’t get much further than that. (We apologize deeply for the awful pun.)
4. Three O’Clock High
The 1987 comedy Three O’Clock High was aimed at teenage audiences, but its title was a play on Twelve O’Clock High, a 1949 aerial combat movie starring Gregory Peck. No wonder the teens who saw it have trouble remembering what it’s called! The pun was not exactly a hip one for the target audience.
As for the film itself, it’s pretty good. Casey Siemaszko plays Jerry Mitchell, a teenage nerd who is challenged by the school bully, Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson), to a fight after school. Knowing he’s going to get brutally beaten, Jerry tries to find ways of getting out of it. There are none. In the end, he shows up, takes a licking, and ultimately uses a pair of brass knuckles to knock Buddy out. Three O’Clock High is funny, and it has something worthwhile to say on the topic of bullying. It was never a teen hit the way pictures like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink were, though, which makes it a difficult one for people to pinpoint, even if they know the basic plot.
Freaked is another one of those late-night cable offerings that you can’t look away from once you lay your eyeballs on it. In fact, cable is the only reason anyone has seen this movie at all. The 1993 black comedy was barely released in theaters, and its total box office take was just $29,000 — about the price of a new car. HBO and other channels picked it up and ran it frequently in non-prime time hours, so the odds are decent that you came across it late one night. If you were consuming adult beverages at the time, you definitely didn’t change the channel.
Alex Winter plays Ricky Coogin, a former child star who visits a freak show and ends up being experimented upon by deranged inventor Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid), who turns Ricky into one of his bizarre creatures. They include a half-man/half-worm, a bearded lady (Mr. T), a guy with a sock puppet for a head, and Oritz the Dog Boy (Keanu Reeves). There’s also a bit in which a young man and woman are fused together into conjoined twins. It’s got it all, essentially.
2. Most of the Godzilla sequels
Here at Screen Rant, we love Godzilla movies. Of course, some of them are better than others, and some of them are kind of crummy, if we’re being completely honest. They’re all fun, though, because they contain cool monsters fighting each other, and what could be better than that? (Hint: nothing.) There have been a couple dozen adventures featuring the gigantic lizard over the decades. In most of them, he fights some new, equally-astonishing enemy.
That’s where the problem lies. Remembering the name of most Godzilla films is frustrating because keeping all his foes straight is a Herculean task. A few are sufficiently memorable. Mothra, for instance. Trying to discern Godzilla vs. Destroyah from Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla from Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, on the other hand, is impossible for anyone other than the most hardcore, I-have-nothing-else-to-do-with-my-life Godzilla fanboy. Don’t even get us started on Godzilla vs. Biollante. We’re guessing that for most fans, the movies’ titles essentially just blur together.
1. Destiny Turns on the Radio
In the wake of Pulp Fiction‘s massive success, people in the movie business thought Quentin Tarantino could do no wrong. That included Mr. Tarantino. After giving himself small roles in both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, he decided that he could possibly have a full-fledged acting career, in addition to directing. Boy, was he wrong! Still, Tarantino had a starring role in a 1995 independent film that attracted considerable interest, thanks to his presence. And once people saw Destiny Turns on the Radio, they promptly forgot about it.
Dylan McDermott plays a bank robber who escapes from prison, then meets the mysterious figure Johnny Destiny (played by QT) in the desert. They make their way to Las Vegas, where they encounter some lowlife thugs and the robber’s aspiring songstress girlfriend. It’s doubtful anyone could remember much about the plot of Destiny Turns on the Radio — we had to look it up ourselves — but the fact that Quentin Tarantino hobbled his acting career with a misguided role in an awkwardly-titled turkey? That we will never forget.
What movies do you have trouble remembering the name of, despite having seen them? Have any hazy recollections of films that you can’t identify? Tell us what they are in the comments, and maybe someone will be able to lend a hand!