Putting together this list was more challenging than you’d think. There are almost as many different ways for a title to go wrong as there are for movies to go wrong, and so we opted for an educational smorgasbord: no two movies on this list are bad in quite the same way twice
To be clear, we’re not really interested in the “so-bad-they’re-good” titles like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies!!? Unless, that is, they were aiming for “so-bad-they’re-good” and still fell into the “so bad they’re bad” camp.
40. Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
There is precisely one time in the history of movies that “The Sequel” was a funny subtitle for a sequel, and that was when Airplane II did it in 1982, simply because no one had done it before. Since then, titling your work “Anything 2: The Sequel” is like shorthand for “Maybe if I put some kind of subtitle in here people won’t realize how unimaginative I… oops too late they did.” The pun was probably meant to save face, but it just ended up making it worse, especially since the producers were so proud that they used it as the tagline too.
See also: The upcoming Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, with its roadkill connotations; Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which has nothing to do with water, Speed 2: Cruise Control, for its two phrases that don’t go together at all; and 2 Fast 2 Furious.
39. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Quibbles about “v” vs. “vs.” aside, the real problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it takes what should be a hugely exciting idea – two of the all-time greatest superheroes fighting each other onscreen for the first time ever – and spoils the ending. See, because DC wants to be like Marvel but has less patience, this film is also a prequel to Justice League, in that it’s the DAWWWWN of the Justice League, get it? So one way or another, this is going to end in a handshake, followed by a group hug with all the freakin’ guest-star heroes who’ll be crowding into this one like cheating tag-team wrestlers.
In case you missed it, the latest trailer more or less confirmed this’ll happen.
Yes, the movie does involve blackmail and a black male, but that doesn’t really make calling it Blackmale a good idea. Racial insensitivity might get a pass if this movie were from earlier in film history. (there are film titles from 1898 and 1904 that use the N-word in some pretty chilling contexts.)
Plus, the “blaxploitation” pictures of the 1970s and occasional revivals also had plenty of titles questionable to modern ears – Blackenstein, Scream Blacula Scream, Soul Man, Coonskin, The Black Godfather, Disco Godfather, The Black Gestapo, Black Samurai and Black Mama, White Mama. But Blackmale came out in 2000 and manages to be both offensive and boring.
Credit goes to this 1971 film for proving that a title does not have to be long to be utterly confusing. How do you say that? “Cash?” “Dollar sign?” “Cha-ching?”
The UK marketed this typical heist film as The Heist (not particularly imaginative, but hey, it gets the job done) and in the US, sometimes, as Dollars, but even Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn near the height of their popularity had an uphill struggle selling American audiences on a movie that was represented by an unpronounceable symbol of its own choosing, much like The Artist Now Known Again as Prince during his really weird period.
36. Bride of Killer Nerd
Killer Nerd might have been a semifinalist for this list but the sequel title really puts it over the top. The whole nerd-revenge fantasy epitomized by Revenge of the Nerds reached its sell-by date in the late 1990s, as tech geniuses started to make mad loot and gain more power. We’re sure there are still plenty of big dumb bullies in school picking on the smart kids, but the rise of cyberbullying, to say nothing of actual mass shootings, makes the idea of a “killer nerd” painfully unfunny today.
35. Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?
Long titles can occasionally be fantastic, especially when they sort of tell us how to shorten them, like Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. But it takes a really great title idea to justify our patience, and when you ask us to take characters like “Hieronymous Merkin” and “Mercy Humppe” seriously, you– oops, we’re running out of room–
See also: The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
34. Curse of the Queerwolf
In the filmmakers’ defense, this is another of those titles that got worse with age… well, actually, it was always pretty bad. But at least the movie made the homophobes the bad guys, despite a title that more or less conflates homosexuality with being a hairy, freakish monster that prowls the city late at night to feast upon flesh.
It also leaned on the sort of stereotypical humor that made Will and Grace look like The L Word, but you know, we couldn’t expect that enlightened an approach to sexuality in… 1988? Wait, screw that, yes we could and this movie is terrible.
33. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
The idea of our household items turning into (or always really being) possessed monsters is a solid source of horror: what’s scarier than something coming for us in our homes, when we are at our most vulnerable yet think we are safe? But being a “death bed,” in addition to the terrible pun, sounds really inconvenient.
Once you’ve eaten your owners, you pretty much have to wait until somebody forecloses on the house and sells all the contents to people who don’t care that the old homeowners died under mysterious circumstances, and does an evil entity really have that kind of time?
32. Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title
“Oh, wait, no we didn’t! Ha ha, look at us, our movie has no title! It’s like our movie is running around naked! We’re so wacky! Look at how wacky we are! This is the kind of wacky and insane that makes for enjoyable comedy, not at all the kind of gross incompetence that thinks it’s a good idea to tell people nothing at all about a movie before showing it!”
Wait, we kind of lost the character motivation there. Let’s try again: “Don’t worry your pretty little heads, moviegoers! We know having a title that isn’t a title just BLOWS YOUR LITTLE MINDS, but it’ll be okay. We’re just TOO RAW, TOO REAL for you!” Closer?
Random capitaliZation of uncommon letters gets old pretty Quick… so Quick that eVen one eight-letter title can’t really get away with it. The ’90s saw a lot of this blatant caps abuse, from all the Internet companies that tried to make themselves cooler by calling themselves eSomething or iWhatever (we still don’t know if you should call it “eBay” or “EBay” when beginning a sentence) to the chat room conversations generally all in lowercase or ALL IN UPPERCASE.
30. Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!!
This movie has two other titles, almost as bad: Troma originally tried to call it Fat Boy Goes Nutzoid, but changed their minds after the lawyers for the then-popular music group, the Fat Boys, sort of dramatically cleared their throats. Later, Troma marketed the film as Zeisters, which means nothing as far as we can tell.
At any rate, Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!!, in addition to two exclamation points nobody really needed or wanted, isn’t even an accurate title: the “fat guy” is an escaped mental patient, so if you want to go ahead and use a blatantly offensive made-up word to describe his condition, he already is “nutzoid.”
Along with the tendency to slap a lowercase “e” in front of eVerything and capitalize accordingly, the Internet era also gave us a period of about five years where it was cool to add “.com” to the name of your company, signifying that you could be found online, because you were hip with the kids and their computers and the HTMLs.
Toward the tail end of that trend came this film, which somebody probably wanted to be called Fear.com but somebody else decided should look like an e. e. cummings poem title instead. Rule of thumb: a horror movie that uses slightly outdated tech like The Ring is scary. A horror movie that seems inspired by your grandma complaining about “these kids and their iPads,” not so much.
28. Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell
This can’t be right. According to our notes, this title was actually used in the marketing copy for this movie, but it is clearly a phrase generated by one of those “translate from English to a foreign language then to another foreign language and another and then back into English” programs. The original title probably used a few words we can’t say in polite company.
27. Hell Comes to Frog Town
Is this movie a mix of horror and cartoon innocence? Should we feel revulsion that Satan’s power now extends even to this bucolic Wind in the Willows-esque land of talking frogs and lily-pad housing? Or should we condemn the denizens of Frog Town, amphibians who have somehow mastered municipal administration but still haven’t made any time in their lives to read the Good Book? Well, it’s neither.
26. How the West Was Fun
Let’s ignore the fact that this is an Olsen twins film and is therefore going to creep us out no matter what. Let’s even ignore the fact that this is the laziest pun imaginable for a Western movie, so lame that it seems to be written by people who’ve never seen a Western.
When you have to tell your audience that your movie is fun, it’s not fun. You’ve become that poor guy at the party (usually the host) who walks around and asks “everybody havin’ a GOOD TIME??” while everyone else checks their watches and tries to calculate how early they can leave before it becomes a whole thing.
25. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
“…Even though it was two summers ago, now. ‘I Still Know What You Did Summer Before Last?’ Man, that sounds kind of lame, doesn’t it? I mean, last summer is still fresh in everybody’s minds, but it’s starting to look like I just can’t let this go. And how impressive is it that I still know, anyway? Forget it, the title of this movie should really be ‘I’m Going to Kill You Soon. What a Bummer.'”
24. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Can you get four key words related to fantasy into one title and still make it boring? What do you know, it looks like you can (it helps if you wait six words before using any of the four interesting ones, and make sure those four don’t really make much sense together).
The creative process for this title makes a little more sense if you know about the role-playing video game Dungeon Siege, but turning video games into movies is so rarely successful that slapping the name of one into your subtitle isn’t really worth it. And when you get right down to it, who lays siege to a dungeon anyway?
23. It Happened One Night
What happened? Something happened! We’re just not going to tell you what. We know, we know: this movie is an inarguable classic, a screwball romcom with Frank Capra and Clark Gable at their very best and Claudette Colbert in her defining role. It also got great reviews and absolutely swept the Academy Awards, and you can see traces of its DNA in many romantic comedies today.
But it did only so-so box office in its initial release, maybe because its title says almost nothing about the story and what it does say (“One Night”) isn’t even true. Even the shooting title, Night Bus, would’ve been an improvement.
22. John Carter
Generally speaking, naming your movie after your main character is a bad idea unless that character has a really evocative name, like John Wick, or is famous enough that the name is a draw, like Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes. John Carter is one of those generic names that protagonists tend to have to emphasize how normal they are compared to the bizarre circumstances they’re in, like the title of the original character, John Carter of Mars.
This film was never going to be a success, but it might’ve at least done better if Disney hadn’t tried to be coy about the Martian setting, having been spooked by the poor performance of movies like Mission to Mars and Red Planet. (This was some years before The Martian.)
21. Life Stinks
And then you die. But somewhere in between those two things, you watch movies. Usually movies with titles that promise to make life interesting for a while, or at least not so pointlessly nihilistic. It’s interesting to see Mel Brooks working out of his comfort zone in a film that’s not a parody of anything, but the prince-and-the-pauper plot he’s using could have inspired a dozen titles about wealth and poverty, all of which would have been more interesting than this tired old Yiddish shrug.
20. Love Actually
“Actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism–“ sorry, couldn’t resist. This title was originally meant to be Love Actually Is All Around, a reference to the pop song “Love Is All Around,” which was blowing up the airwaves at the time (parodied in this movie as “Christmas Is All Around”). This would have been a hackneyed, maudlin reference, but at least it would have been a reference.
No doubt feedback indicated it was too long, so the studio decided to cut it down to two words which, on their own, don’t make a whole lot of sense besides telling you what genre this film is. Thanks, we got that.
19. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Let’s take a break from discussing how titles can be terrible to talk about how character names can be terrible. Your viewers have a lot on their minds and remembering character names over a two-hour storyline can be taxing. You want to make them distinct from each other.
If possible, have them all start with different letters. Failing that, at least have them start with different syllables. Failing that, at least don’t roll three or four nearly indistinguishable names up into one giant tongue twister and make it the title of your movie, like a German shepherd who looks actually proud of the dump he took on the living room floor.
No! Filmmakers love to set themselves apart from the pack somehow, and a one-letter title is certainly memorable, but this high-school version of Othello (not a great idea in general, now that we mention it) runs into a theme we’ve been forming through this list – not telling the viewer enough about the film to justify its excesses.
Two movies have made the one-letter thing work: M, an early Fritz Lang film where the single letter is actually an important part of the plot, used to label a murderer, and W., a reference to the well-known nickname of George W. Bush.
17. Operation Dumbo Drop
Where to begin? Should we discuss how out of place the title is in a Vietnam movie? Should we dwell on the fact that this film was produced by Disney (who probably would’ve sued this title into blessed nonexistence if anyone else had tried to use it)? Should we point out that it looks like the title missed a syllable and calls to mind Dumbo droppings? Or should we just focus on the idea of bombing the Vietnamese landscape with innocent elephants?
16. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
We might be willing to give this title a pass if it had only appeared like this in the theaters, but every press release, every news article, every review insisted on using every single word of this ponderous, clunky monument to intellectual-property negotiations. It should be readily apparent to studios by now that moviegoers rarely care where a film gets its inspiration. Graphic novels, mobile games, Geoffrey Chaucer – we’ll gobble it all up as long as it’s good. So a title like this isn’t really for us, or even for the filmmakers. It’s for only one person: Sapphire, the novelist who wrote Push.
15. Rambo: First Blood Part II
So close. First Blood was a solid hit and its character of Rambo wormed his way into America’s hearts and minds, so a sequel was a perfectly fine idea and one that put “Rambo” in the title was even better. But Sylvester Stallone wasn’t quite ready to let go of the title of the first film, so we got this odd compromise, where first blood is somehow spilled again. Or maybe this movie involves watching the original blood congeal for a couple of extra hours?
14. She’s the Man
Like O, this title is used for an adaptation of Shakespeare, proving again that there’s no source material so exalted that Hollywood can’t drag it down into the mud. Granted, Shakespeare’s trope of women disguised as men might have a little moss on it in today’s gender-redefining society, but you know one thing Shakespeare didn’t do?
He didn’t create any plays with titles like Guesse Whatte, Guyes? Here’s a Romantic Comedie Where One offe Thee Ladies Impersonates a Dude, Noe, Seriouslie. He also didn’t use any insta-outdated slang like “the Man,” at least as far as we know.
Ugh. Grrr. Ow. Nonverbal titles are meh at best, AAARGH at worst. This one gets a couple of points for accuracy since it’s a movie about snake-men, and as you probably remember from third-grade art class, the letter “S” both sounds and looks like a snake. But then it loses those points again, and more besides, for being a title you can’t say out loud without giggling, and can’t spell at all: Ssssssss. See what we mean yet? Eight s’s looks just as “right” as the seven-S title. Sssssssss.
12. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
This might be a controversial statement, but Star Wars has never been all that great at titles. Its best – The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Revenge of the Sith – rely on key words the audience already knew from earlier movies, and The Force Awakens begs the question of how a fundamental aspect of the universe could have been taking a cosmic nap. Then there was The Phantom Menace, which described a menace nobody fought in the movie and this film, in which the clones’ attack is a good thing, helping support the Jedi.
Even Star Wars is kind of bland and inaccurate (the original movie only shows, like, half an insurrection) though it beats the original title, Adventures of the Starkiller, Saga I: The Star Wars, by a country mile.
11. Step into Liquid
There have been good surfing movies and there have been bad surfing movies, but there have only been two surfing movies whose titles actually instruct people to fail at surfing, and at least Wipe Out is a phrase that human beings might say to one another.
This title also has the dubious distinction of reminding people of the worst-case scenario in a darkened movie theater: walking in and putting their foot into a puddle that they can only hope is spilled soda. The title was taken from one of the surfers’ descriptions of surfing in this documentary, but that doesn’t really justify anything.
10. The Chumscrubber
You would not think that anyone would be willing to own the name “Chumscrubber,” but that just shows how little you know. The Chumscrubber is a character in a video game that comes to represent a fictional, superficial town and its inhabitants, sort of like how Luigi became a hero to and representative of the common people of Naples.
The last words in the film are a triumphant “I am the Chumscrubber!” Hey, you do you. But to the rest of us, “chumscrubber” is still the guy who cleans the guts out of the side of the shark tank, not some half-baked Catcher in the Rye for the digital age.
9. The Day After Tomorrow
We just don’t know when we’ll get to see this movie… next week, maybe? The title is a reference to Frederic Nietzsche, of all people, who wrote: “Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some [like me] are born posthumously.”
Nietzsche basically meant that his ideas were well ahead of his time, and it’s hard not to think the movie believes the same about its prediction that climate change will lead polar storms to ravage the United States and Europe, which most leading climatologists called “entertaining nonsense.” On the bright side, most viewers didn’t pick up the intellectual arrogance behind the title. All they got from it was “this movie’s set in the near future.”
8. The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
No, you’re not hallucinating: that is the actual title. Somebody decided to make a sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut and call it another Haunting in Connecticut while setting it in Georgia. Which is not in Connecticut. Or anywhere near Connecticut.
It would’ve at least been interesting if the supernatural forces at work somehow conspired to turn Georgia into Connecticut or vice versa, though it’s hard to tell who that would be more of a horror story for, Northerners or Southerners. In any case, the really scary thing here is the blatant disregard for geography.
7. The Hottie and the Nottie
Any movie with Paris Hilton as a star already has to work to maintain our respect, and it’s not going to get it by using a phrase that seems to have been coined by an eighth-grader to shame the ugly or slow-developing members of his class. Unlike many titles on this list, this one does convey the central conceit of the movie. Unfortunately, that conceit is profoundly stupid.
6. The Human Stain
Clean that up, please! Credit this movie for sharpening the sense of revulsion that Step into Liquid only vaguely evokes. This 2003 adaptation of a 2000 Philip Roth novel was sort of stuck with the title (assuming it didn’t pull a Precious: Based on the Novel “Push”-type gambit), but it’d be hard for any film to approach the lyricism of Roth’s prose, which could have focused viewers on the idea that a single stain runs through all humanity.
As it is, the name instead evokes a superhero with some really unfortunate powers, like a fusion of gross-out comedy and the modern superhero movie. Which might still be more watchable than a film that tries to convince us Anthony Hopkins is black.
5. The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia
Or, as it was sometimes called, The NeverEnding Story III: Return to Fantasia. That’s right, the two versions of the title can’t even decide if the important thing is coming out or going in. Then there’s that capital “E” right in the middle of NeverEnding, and the fact that this really was the end of the neverending story.
German author Michael Ende (whose Neverending Story contained no capital E) was ultimately less than happy about the earlier films’ adaptation of his work, and sued them to change the title and lost. Since this film didn’t even use any Ende material, its title qualifies as the final insult.
4. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
These days, any movie title with Tyler Perry’s in it has to be regarded with deep suspicion, but a movie title that doubles down on the possessives like this is a movie title that’s stopped trying. Incredibly, Perry followed it up with two more Tyler Perry’s Madea’s projects, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Neighbors from Hell and the direct-to-video Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Tough Love.
This sort of possessive marker is usually a red flag for movies in general, signaling that either the producers need a famous name to buoy an otherwise mediocre title’s prospects or there’s some legal dispute that signals they didn’t do due diligence.
Weird capitalization and unpronounceable names like eXistenZ and $ respectively? You bet, but what really propels this action-movie title into its own special, exalted corner of the badness pantheon is the way it uses the same three-letter designation as hardcore pornography. (It’s also the designation for really strong booze, which might be the best way to experience this Vin Diesel action movie once you realize there’s nothing pornographic about it… well, at least no more so than your standard action-adventure flick.)
2. Zyzzyx Rd
It may not be the best film in your directory, but if it’s in there at all, odds are pretty good it’s the last! Zzyzzx, the other major contender for this title, shares inspiration with this film: both are based on a road and a town which were named specifically to be the last places in the alphabetical atlas.
However, in the race to the bottom of the film-title barrel, Zyzzyx Rd has several advantages: 1) it is misspelled (yes, the less pronounceable “Zzyzx” is more correct); 2) its “Road” is sometimes spelled out, sometimes abbreviated, depending on whichever dollar bin you get it from; and 3) it has the lowest U.S. gross of any theatrically-released film in history: $30.
James Bond movies spent most of their history taking titles from the original stories by Ian Fleming, and the old spy master did put out a few clunkers, especially for his shorter stories. The public’s reaction to the over-thought, intimidating Quantum of Solace might have moved MGM to drop that practice, since the last couple of Bond films, Skyfall and Spectre, are not to be found in Fleming’s work.
But there was also this title, a character name that takes another James Bond tradition – female characters with ridiculous “sexy” puns for names – and runs it right into the ground. Even “Mercy Humppe” was classier.
Can you think of any other film titles that really deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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