The movie title - quite possibly the most important aspect of any production; it’s greatest achievement is to be memorable. The way I see it, a movie’s title, while only being a few short words, is a movie’s first impression to the world. It sets the stage of what’s to come. A great title should evoke imagery. Or at the very least, it should give you an idea of what to expect, thematically-speaking.
I feel my statement about evoking imagery needs clarification. I don’t mean that today when the title of your favorite movie is spoken, a movie you’ve seen 400 times and of which you have entire monologues memorized, that upon hearing this title, you fondly recall your favorite scenes. An excellent example of this for me would be The Goonies. An admittedly silly title which tells us nothing about the movie itself, but the shear fact is (aside from a bit of me having just died on the inside for desecrating my beloved gem...and in print no less) the thought that is currently overwhelming my ability to type is “Hey You Guyssss!!”
So no, what I mean by evoking theme or imagery concerns hearing the movie’s title before you’ve ever seen the actual movie, and the title alone painting a picture for you.
A good title, first and foremost should not be lame and generic (notice: I didn’t use “or” as generic and lame tend to go hand in hand). While in order for a great title to be had, it must possess this aforementioned characteristic and also be relevant to the celluloid that carries it.
The consensus for the majority of the films on the list below is that they are “good” films, but for the purpose of this article, I didn’t discriminate. Good or bad, if the title fit the criteria, I would have included it. But as logic would dictate, if a movie blew, which can generally be traced back to poor writing, then chances are the title wouldn’t have fared any better than the script itself.
While very few bad movies have great, or even just plain good titles, a slew of great movies have pretty crappy ones. Sometimes the titles are victims of the era: Die Hard, you are one of my favorites of all time, but it took a lot of internal struggle to leave you off the list. And other times, while a title doesn’t do much by way of painting a picture, it might still just be the most fitting, as The Graduate is example of.
Anyway, as it turned out, this list is split into three categories that these titles fall into: Forceful and Provocative, Smart and Witty, or Introspective and Wistful. And with two exceptions, the movies themselves follow their titles into their respective categories. I’ll let you decide for yourselves which titles/movies fall where.
In the process of compiling my list, I found it necessary to create a few rigorous guidelines to help even the playing field. They are as follows:
1. No Proper Nouns.
This means no titles containing names (sadly, this precludes you The Devil And Daniel Webster) or places (goodbye Big Trouble In Little China)
2. No quotes.
Titles couldn’t be taken from a previously existing quote, especially if it was a movie quote (cest la vie The Usual Suspects and Devil In A Blue Dress)
3. Nothing precise.
They couldn’t be completely on the nose, because as we all know, you get points for creativity, regardless of how apt they might be (those are the breaks for Snakes On A Plane and Kill Bill).
4. Size matters.
A DQ was awarded to titles that caused me to become winded saying them in their entirety (my apologies to you Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb and to you Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan)
5. No made-up phrases.
Also, I excluded titles that were seemingly nonsensical phrases, even if they did sound cool (scratch Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and The Constant Gardner off the list)
6. Fuck puns.
Nor did I allow pun or send-up titles (sorry goes to Club Dread and Shaun Of The Dead)
7. Being single sucks.
And finally, I would not accept single word titles, while there are undoubtedly some great ones out there, they don’t tend to be descriptive enough on their own (it hurts having to leave Brick and Superbad off any positive list).
This started out as a top ten list and it quickly grew. It was at a solid 20 before I removed Frailty because of rule #7 above. I won’t be including the reasons behind any of my choices; I’d rather let the titles speak for themselves.
And now my list of the top 19 movie titles, top ten countdown style (it’s good enough for Letterman...):
19. Dog Day Afternoon
18. Star Wars
17. Strangers On A Train
16. Army Of Darkness
15. Love Actually
14. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
13. Stranger Than Fiction
12. Enemy At The Gates
11. Requiem For A Dream
10. Punch Drunk Love
9. Murder By Death
8. Stir Of Echoes
7. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
6. The Long Kiss Goodnight
5. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
4. Road to Perdition
3. The Man Who Wasn’t There
2. There Will Be Blood
1. Young People Fucking
See any glaring omissions that fit the above criteria? Disagree with me entirely? Speak up. Leave a comment and let me know!