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

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?

Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.