Some movies are easy to name. Deadpool 2 was a no brainer. Alien was a no brainer. But other times, it’s hard to come up with a title. It has to be snappy, but also represent what the movie is. Sometimes the stars align – Mel Brooks came up with Blazing Saddles in the shower. But sometimes it’s not that simple. The Big Sick was one of the highest grossing independent films of 2017, it was a big hit at the Oscars, it was a favorite among the critics, it’s a beautiful love story – and yet that title is just awful. It doesn’t even make grammatical sense. Hollywood has a long history of terrible titles and a long history of great movies, and sadly, sometimes some of those great movies end up with some of those terrible titles. It happens. Here are 10 instances, including The Big Sick, where this has happened.
10. Cinderella Man
Ron Howard directed Russell Crowe in the lead role of this biopic of James J. Braddock, the Irish American world heavyweight boxing champion from New Jersey, and for all intents and purposes, it’s a good movie. It’s about being married to a boxer and the tug of war between the need for income and the difficulty of watching your husband get his ass kicked in the ring. It’s a powerful movie, worthy of a better title than Cinderella Man, but that was Braddock’s nickname, so they had no choice. Many other great actors appear in the cast, like Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti and Paddy Considine, and Cinderella Man manages to be a powerful underdog story that stands out in a genre that’s chock full of them. Sadly, the movie failed at the box office, probably due to its confusing title that makes it sound like a Disney fairy tale with the genders reversed, grossed just $108 million globally on a budget of $88 million. Okay, maybe the huge $88 million budget for a movie that targets the niche fan base of boxing is also partly to blame. If only Braddock had a cooler nickname, like Raging Bull, and then it would’ve been more successful.
9. The Constant Gardener
If someone asked you if you wanted to go to the movies and watch The Constant Gardener, you’d think it was a movie about a gardener who was cursed by a witch to be out working in the garden 24/7 until the curse is lifted. But it’s actually a thriller based on a John le Carre novel about a British diplomat who, through various flashback scenes, is trying to figure out who killed his wife and why they did it. Filming on location in the slums of Africa and seeing how bad the conditions are there inspired the cast and crew setting up a charity called the Constant Gardener Trust, which provides these areas with clean drinking water and education. The movie itself raised awareness of important political issues through the lens of Justin Quayle’s story. It’s also just a good movie in its own right. A lot of good came from this movie. So, why does its title suck so much? It’s been interpreted that, Justin is a naive man searching for answers in a political institution that he discovers to be corrupt, he’s the “gardener” who was “constantly” digging until eventually he dug too far and got himself into trouble. When you think of it like that, it’s not too bad. But there was probably a better way to say it.
There have been many cases in Hollywood where a producer comes up with a title before they come up with a plot and characters and a script. Sometimes it works out. Woody Allen built the premise of Midnight in Paris around that title and the result was one of his finest movies in recent memory. But sometimes it doesn’t really work out and everything can feel forced. That’s exactly what happened with xXx. A movie studio took out a billboard with the title “XXX” plastered on it before they had a script or any talent attached or even an idea for what the movie would be about. So, they were advertising a movie that wasn’t even close to existing – and then they had the task of coming up with what a movie called xXx would look like. In the end, what they came up with the build around this title xXx is a kind of James Bond but with extreme sports and with Vin Diesel in the lead role. There was a sequel that he wasn’t in and then a sequel that he was in and the producers are eager to keep making them. But it doesn’t feel inspired or original. This is an example of the pitfalls of coming up with the title before coming up with the movie – it’s like trying to run before you can walk. And it’s not even a cool title to begin with.
7. Every Which Way But Loose
All of Clint Eastwood’s people told him not to do Every Which Way But Loose. He was known as a tough guy in violent spaghetti westerns and gritty cop thrillers, and this was a screwball comedy about a trucker who teams up with an orangutan and gets into all kinds of adventures with him. But Eastwood believed in the material and the movie was a resounding success. Eastwood got along with his orangutan co-star, too, and spoke very highly of his acting abilities: “Clyde was one of the most natural actors I ever worked with! But you had to get him on the first take because his boredom level was very limited.” But the title, Every Which Way But Loose, sucks. It’s taken from a song in the movie, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot. It’s about Clint Eastwood becoming friends with a monkey – they could’ve had so much fun with that title! When Tom Hanks teamed up with a dog, it was called Turner and Hooch. When Sylvester Stallone teamed up with an old lady, it was called Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. The former was awesome, the latter was terrible, but at least you knew what to expect from those movies. Every Which Way But Loose could’ve been given a snappier title that at least referred to the fact that an orangutan is one of the movie’s stars. Still, despite the title, this movie was a huge box office success. If you adjust the figures for inflation, Every Which Way But Loose is still one of the 200 highest grossing movies of all time.
There have been some really awesome titles of James Bond movies that get you all geared up for spy chases and shootouts and espionage and intrigue and travels across the globe: titles like The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die and You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Man with the Golden Gun and A View to a Kill and For Your Eyes Only and Tomorrow Never Dies. But there is one title of a James Bond movie that does not inspire excitement or interest, and that’s Octopussy, the unusual portmanteau of “octopus” and “pussy.” Ian Fleming got the name for the book that the movie is based on (in title only – if they were only going to take one thing from the book, why, oh why, would it be that dreadful title?) from a coracle, which is basically just a little river boat, that his neighbor and lover Blanche Blackwell gave him in Jamaica. She gave him a boat called Octopussy. But that still doesn’t really add up. Why was the boat called Octopussy in the first place, let alone the book and then the movie? Why do so many things have this stupid name?
There is no field of clovers in this movie. It’s not even set in the countryside. It takes place in New York City on the night of a going away party for a guy who is moving to Japan for business when suddenly a giant monster takes over the city. J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves really cooked up something special with this tense and terrifying found footage monster movie. Since they’ve been pumping out unrelated sequels and expanding the universe, it’s gone a little off the rails. But the original still stands as a great solo piece. It tells a complete emotional arc for its characters with the monster taking over the city as just some background context. There are also a ton of horrifying set pieces that drain you of all hope that they’ll ever be able to make it out alive – and the plot keeps the surprises coming with all kinds of twists and turns. But why is it called Cloverfield? The movie is presented as though the footage was discovered by the military during their sweeps of the wreckage as a document of the monster invading New York. So, it’s essentially the codename that they’ve given this case, kind of like the Manhattan Project. It’s better than the other titles that were considered, like Slusho and Cheese, but it’s the final considered title, Greyshot, that would’ve made a lot more sense. It’s the name of the underpass where the movie ends and therefore where the government would’ve found the footage – it’s just as random a title, but at least it would’ve made sense it terms of the plot.
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Surely there’s a much shorter way of saying what this movie is about. Movie titles are supposed to hint at the plot or hint at the characters, they’re not supposed to be a synopsis. You don’t have to reveal everything, including the ending, in the title. Okay, it’s a movie about Jesse James and his relationship with Robert Ford that leads to getting killed by him, but could the title not have been condensed? Did it need to be specified that Robert Ford is a coward? That would at least cut the title down by two words. We’re about to watch the movie – we’ll see that Robert Ford is a coward. Let us draw our own conclusions on that. So, anyway, all in all, this is a flabby title that could’ve done with being cut down – then maybe it would’ve been more of a hit at the box office. Only a movie with a title this bad could star Brad Pitt and still fail at the box office. Still, even with a long winded and unwieldy title, it’s a brilliant movie. It is as long winded and unwieldy as the title suggests, but it’s all so beautifully shot and subtly acted and the payoff at the end is spectacular. It’s all worth it by the end, and even though you know how it ends, because the title explains it to you and spoon feeds you the information, it’s still interesting to see how the relationship between those two guys develops and how Robert Ford does eventually come to make the decision to pull that trigger. The movie’s fantastic. The title is not.
3. Good Will Hunting
What is this? Is Will Hunting a good person? Is he hunting for the “good will” of Robin Williams’ character? What is up with this title? It kind of has about three different meanings, but it doesn’t quite nail any of them. It’s like three people trying to get through the same door at one and getting stuck in the doorframe. The movie itself is fantastic. It launched the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who wrote the screenplay themselves and won an Oscar for it. They actually originally wrote it as a thriller about a mathematical genius who is recruited by the FBI to work as a G-man. It wasn’t originally supposed to be a heartfelt drama. But the way it turned out in the end, it works so well. There are so many iconic scenes and memorable characters and moments that will make you laugh and moments that will bring you to tears. It’s a truly beautiful movie made by some really talented people. So, why the hell couldn’t they come up with a better title? There are a number of interpretations of the title. Some people think it was Affleck and Damon “hunting” for “good will” in Hollywood with their first movie script. Others think the title is saying that Will Hunting is a “good” guy, so we should give him a chance. Who knows? It’s probably just an awful title with no real meaning at all. At least the movie’s good.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross
This one is kind of moot, since recent revelations about its star Kevin Spacey have meant that we can no longer enjoy it. But still, what a sucky title. This movie is about a bunch of down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen who are hunting down the best leads. It was adapted from the play of the same dreadful name by David Mamet, which thanks to its Willy Loman-esque characters and excessive profanity, has earned itself the nickname “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman.” The movie itself is actually great. The acting is phenomenal – one monologue in particular by Alec Baldwin steals the show. And The Simpsons character Gil is based on the Jack Lemmon role in this movie. As a movie, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just a shame about that title. It failed at the box office, which is almost entirely down to that completely uninspiring title. The title Glengarry Glen Ross is taken from the leads that the salesmen are after, but you have to admit that as a title of a movie meant to entice you to watch it, it does suck. Before you’ve seen the movie, it doesn’t make any sense. And it’s just the two names glommed together. You don’t see any movies called Tango Cash or Smokey Bandit or Squid Whale. It’s one of the worst titles of a movie ever.
1. The Big Sick
The Big Sick made a huge wave last year. It was the latest production by Judd Apatow and it was based on the true story of how the movie’s writers Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars) and Emily V. Gordon got together, which is always the best way to write an authentic love story. It’s a highly unconventional romantic comedy in that the girl is in a coma for the whole middle part where the guy falls in love with her. So, after he’s spent weeks falling for her and caring for her and getting to know her through her parents, she wakes up and all she can remember is the big argument they had before she slipped into a coma. It’s a very interesting movie with a lot of layers and a lot of laughs and also a lot of heart. The Big Sick went on to become one of the highest grossing independent films of 2017 and the writers received an Oscar nomination for their script. The only problem with the movie, really, is that title. There are a lot of movie titles that are The Big something: The Big Sleep, The Big Chill, The Big Lebowski, The Big Short – but it doesn’t really work here. And it’s a grammatical nightmare. Is it a big sickness? Is she sick in a big way? She’s not even really sick – she’s in a coma. And “sick” is a horrible word. It’s the kind of title that seems bad at first and then seems to fit the movie once you’ve seen it, because it relates to an inside joke in the movie or something. The House seems like a terrible title until you see the movie and see that it’s about how “the house always wins.” But The Big Sick never explains its title. That’s not what the family use as a euphemism for Emily’s illness. It just doesn’t really make any sense. Luckily, the movie is phenomenal, so it doesn’t matter what it’s called.