We’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover, but is it fair to judge a film by its title? Clearly, putting a name on your project must be something of a marketing migraine. You want an element of intrigue, but simply plucking a vaguely mysterious buzzword from the air will make people think they’re watching a perfume advert.
Likewise, you want to give your target audience some credit for being able to recognise a metaphor when they see one. So we know that the 1953 James Cagney film A Lion Is In The Streets is unlikely to be a public service announcement from the local zoo (although, curiously, Anne Francis does play a woman named Flamingo who attempts to feed her rival to an alligator).
But this list is not a crusade against figurative language. It would be absurd to expect a film title to accurately represent every twist and turn of its two-hour running time, effectively rendering it into a one-sentence spoiler. Saying that, I quite enjoyed There Are Five Suspects For This Crime But We Might As Well Tell You Now That It’s Kevin Spacey.
Yet, just as a recipe lists its ingredients, so too should a film aim to give Joe Public a general idea of its contents. That’s why the no-nonsense marketing campaign for 2006′s Snakes On A Plane was regarded as a revelation, like a magician spilling his secrets. That title, doubtless copied verbatim from its pitch, seemed naked when compared to the blockbusters and sequels overdressed in colons and subtitles. And now you know who to blame/thank for the none-more-literal Hot Tub Time Machine.
Below, and in no rank order, are ten examples of misleading movie titles. As Tom Hansen knows all too well, the difference between expectation and reality is less often a gap than a gulf. But before you demand your refund from the box office, please observe the golden rule: films that were adapted from novels are excluded from this list (unless the film goes by a different name), as a ready-made audience, no matter how small, would at least have an inkling of what to expect. Although which self-respecting Philip Roth fan would dare smirk when asking to see The Human Stain?
This article was first posted on March 18, 2013