What’s in a Name?

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One fine day in January, whilst attending a screening of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (American version, natch), I caught a trailer for an adorable little movie starring two of my favorites;  Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor.  As the preview unfolded, I was charmed by the actors, the plot, the cinematography… the whole package.  And then the voice-over guy announced the title of the film as the graphic appeared on screen: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.


Based on the title alone, the movie went from “must see in the theater” to “I might add it to my Netflix queue.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, as the title accurately reflects what appeared to be the plot line, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they lost half of their potential ticket buyers with that clunky name.  Now, I’m not suggesting that they should have gone with a generic Hollywood movie title that means absolutely nothing, like It Takes Two, Something’s Gotta Give, Life as We Know It, blah, blah, blah.  But I’ve got to believe that there’s something in the middle that would capture the spirit of the film without turning off the intended audience.  That said, I’m fresh out of ideas.

But, again, I implore you:  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?  That’s the best they could come up with?

This got me thinking about the importance of titling movies.  Ever since Snakes on a Plane, there’s been an influx of movie titles that are so literal they’re almost comical.  Recent ones include:  Man on a Ledge (about a man on a ledge), My Week With Marilyn (about his week with Marilyn), Tower Heist (about a tower heist), and We Bought a Zoo (in which they bought a zoo.) There’s a Japanese documentary out now called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Perhaps Jiro should go salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Some movie titles are so ridiculous that they are actually kind of brilliant.  Case in point:  Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.  When drag queens are involved, we should expect a little something something in the title to spark our curiosity, n’est-ce pas?

And then there are the campy b-movie titles that are no doubt the best thing about the project.  Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death comes to mind here.

But back to the movies whose titles actually keep me out of the theater…

There’s a movie with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor?  I’m logging onto Fandango as we speak!  It’s called The Men Who Stare at Goats?  Um, nevermind.

Casey Affleck is nominated for Best Supporting Actor?  Show me the screening times!  The movie for which he is nominated is called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?  Can’t we just go see Transformers and call it a day?

There are plenty of truly wonderful films that suffer from bad names.  The Shawshank Redemption?  Brilliant movie, bad title.  The Hudsucker Proxy?  Brilliant movie, bad title.  Martha Marcy May Marlene?  I heard it was a great film and Elizabeth Olsen got rave reviews, but who could remember those four names, let alone the order in which they appear?

I also live by a simple rule:  If I can’t pronounce it, I probably won’t see it.  Hence the fact that I have never seen Bridge to Terabithia, Nights at Rodanthe, nor Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole.

Of course, some franchises seem to defy the bad title curse.  When the description begins with “Sean Connery (or Roger Moore or Daniel Craig) as James Bond in…”  it almost doesn’t matter that the words that follow might be as inane as You Only Live Twice, Die Another Day, Quantum of Solace, or Tomorrow Never Dies.  And don’t even get me started on what followed the colons in the Star Wars prequels: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

I could go on and on, but I better wrap this up. I’ve got a date with my DVR and Breakin’ 2:  Electric Boogaloo.

Which of these of these recent movie titles is most descriptive of the film’s plot line?

Man on a Ledge
My Week With Marilyn
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
We Bought a A Zoo

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