12 Film Titles Which Shouldn't Be Taken Literally

Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a film by its title.....

Few things are more important when it comes to building expectations for a movie than the title itself. While every aspect of a production - from the actors, to the director, or even a costume designer - can pique our particular interest in an upcoming movie, often it€™s the title which will first form part of our decision over whether or not a film appeals to us. Most of us realise that film titles don€™t have to be as gratuitously up front as say Snakes On A Plane or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it€™s still often a surprise when something with such a seemingly literal title can often give us the completely wrong idea. When we walk into a video store with the urge to watch something new, it€™s the title - or cover art - which will form our initial idea of what the film could be like. It€™s for this reason that a misplaced copy of €˜Shaft€™ or €˜Snatch€™ in the adult section can cause all sorts of problems. Here€™s 12 films which go to show that you should never take film titles literally, and why you should always keep an open mind.

The Ghost (2010)

The Literal Pitch: Ewan McGregor stars in this terrifying horror as a writer haunted by the ghost of an ex-prime minister. Kim Catrall co-stars as Most Haunted€™s Yvette Fielding with Michael Douglas as TV medium Derek Acorah. What It Actually Is: A political thriller about a ghost writer who becomes dangerously compromised when penning the memoirs of a controversial prime minister. Pierce Brosnan fills in for Michael Sheen as the Tony Blair inspired Adam Lang. Reasoning: While it seems obvious, unless you€™ve seen the trailer or read a synopsis, it€™s not entirely clear that the ghost of the title isn€™t the spooky kind, but a ghost writer. Perhaps this is why in some territories the film was released with a full title of €˜The Ghost Writer€˜. Mysteriously, as Attack The Block director Joe Cornish once highlighted in a hilarious Adam & Joe podcast, there€™s also a strange emphasis within the film on sandwiches. Alternate Title: The Blair Sandwich Project

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

The Literal Pitch: Gregory Peck struggles to clear out a mockingbird infestation to no avail. He seeks advice from a leading figure in avian slaughter played by Robert Duvall. What It Actually Is: A rousing courtroom drama which deals with 1960€™s racial tension, with lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) defending a black man accused of raping a young girl. Reasoning: There€™s no gratuitous slaughter of mockingbirds in To Kill A Mockingbird, but a sensitive and moving drama built around civil rights and notions of prejudice. It€™s another example of the metaphorical, with Atticus telling us that "It's a sin to kill a Mockingbird" as they are innocent, much like the black people on trial. Alternate Title: The Trial Of Tom Robinson

The Hurt Locker (2008)

The Literal Pitch: A chilling new addition to the torture porn genre, in which a sadistic killer tortures his victims using a deadly medieval chamber device known as €˜The Hurt Locker€™. What It Actually Is: Jeremy Renner cockily defusing bombs in Iraq while pondering about life, death and the nature of war. Reasoning: To many, the title of Katherine Bungalow€™s Oscar winning Iraq drama remains something of a puzzling mystery. The Hurt Locker is a common phrase among soldiers and those who€™ve experienced warfare. Among other uses over the years, The Hurt Locker was the title of a 2005 war poem by Brian Turner, which includes the line €œ"Open the hurt locker and learn/how rough men come hunting for souls." Writer of the film Mark Boal has suggested that "It means slightly different things to different people, but all the definitions point to the same idea. It's somewhere you don't want to be." Alternate Title: IED

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

The Literal Pitch: Vinnie Jones is the driver of the worlds first train made entirely of meat. A routine journey soon becomes a nightmare when the flesh of the train begins to be eaten away by hungry pigeons. Will Vinnie safely get the passengers home, or will the meat train perish ? What It Actually Is: A low-budget horror flick about a journalist (Bradly Cooper) trying to hunt down a serial killer who strikes late at night on a subway. Reasoning: Well this is a tricky one, it€™s not literally about a train constructed out of meat - strangely - but there is a train, and it does have meat on it - well, when I say meat, I mean hanging cadavers. We€™ll let them off, but in the future, please concede that audiences would rather see Vinnie Jones in control of a fleshy train made entirely of processed meats. Alternate Title: The Midnight Subway Massacre

What€™s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

The Literal Pitch: Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) struggles though life taking care of his obese mother and his mentally challenged brother. Things are about to get a lot worse when he wakes up one morning to find his feet nibbled off. As Grape awakes each day to find more of his body being mysteriously eaten, he must try to end the nightmare before it€™s too late. Psychological horror. What It Actually Is: A moving drama about the problems which many must live through daily while still trying to lead a fulfilling life. Reasoning: What€™s Eating Gilbert Grape shares the same title of the novel on which it is based, referring to character Gilbert Grape's ongoing struggles which are eating away at him, rather than literally being eaten alive. Alternate Title: What€™s Bothering Gilbert Grape

The Lawnmower Man (1992)

The Literal Pitch: Jobe (Jeff Fahey) is half man, half lawnmower - an abomination born out of the eccentric mind of Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan). When he escapes from the clutches of his creator, it becomes a race against time to stop Jobe from misusing his powers of precise trimming to cut the heads off children and OAP€™s. What It Actually Is: Jobe (Jeff Fahey) is a mentally challenged gardener who becomes a test dummy for Pierce Bronson€™s experimentation into intelligence boosting virtual reality. Reasoning: The title of the film was a tenuous tie-in with a Stephen King novella of the same name, in which a lawnmower featured more prominently, rather than a few pointless sequences of Jobe cutting grass. Stephen King was so enraged the film altered his original story about a possessed lawnmower and its naked, grass eating, serviceman, that he sued the filmmakers and demanded his name be taken off the credits, posters and video releases. Alternate Title: Stephen King€™s Lawsuit

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

The Literal Pitch: Wacky DreamWorks animated comedy in which a carefree squid named Randall (Matt Damon) moves into the same apartment as tetchy whale Jeff (Ricky Gervais). Hilarity ensues. What It Actually Is: A quirky dramedy about two brothers having to deal with the divorce of their parents and the resulting fallout. Reasoning: While it€™s not what you€™d immediately imagine from hearing or seeing the title of The Squid and the Whale, it does hold particular resonance once you€™ve actually seen Noah Baumbach€™s bittersweet film. Jesse Eisenberg€™s Walt has a vivid recollection of a museum exhibit depicting the two sea creatures fighting - something which terrified him as a child. Alternate Title: The Divorce and the Children

Naked Lunch (1991)

The Literal Pitch: Bill Lee (Peter Weller) has a secret€ He likes to eat lunch naked. This strange fetish has become a ritual, which Lee undertakes every day at 12.45pm. On one fateful afternoon he is caught by his best friend Dr.Benway (Roy Schieder) while enjoying a bowl of soup completely starkers. Will his embarrassing secret finally be revealed ? What It Actually Is: An adaptation of William S Burrough€™s drug fueled semi-biography, in which Peter Weller plays Bill Lee - A writer who accidentally murders his wife and becomes embroiled in a surreal mystery after becoming addicted to pesticide. Reasoning: Cronenberg€™s film takes it€™s name from the book on which it is based, William S Burrough€˜s €˜Naked Lunch€™. The title was suggested to Burrough€™s by American novelist Jack Kerouac, which Burrough€™s later defined as being €œa frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of every fork€. A surrealist title, for a surrealist novel, which unsurprisingly, includes no lunches being enjoyed in the nip. Alternate Title: Fully Clothed Lunch

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

The Literal Pitch: Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) is the world€™s leading expert on the science of Sheep. However, even he is baffled by a bizarre occurrence which occurs suddenly one day in Pittsburgh, when 300 lambs flock together silently in the middle of a busy intersection. What - or who - is behind this mysterious gathering, and will Lector be able to solve what€™s quickly hitting headlines around the world as 'The Silence Of The Lambs'. What It Actually Is: A young FBI agent named Clarice (Jodie Foster) must hunt down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. She€™ll only succeed if she can confide with sadistic - and manipulative - convicted killer, Hannibal Lector. Reasoning: Another film which takes the title of the book on which it is based, Silence of the Lambs refers to a traumatic memory and reoccurring dream which Clarice (Jodie Foster) suffers from. Growing up on a farm, she once heard the screams of lambs being slaughtered, and fled from home. This memory forms much of her resulting relationship with Lector, and is also a handy allegory for the murders themselves. Alternate Title: The Buffalo Bill Murders

Dances With Wolves (1990)

The Literal Pitch: Kevin Costner plays Dunbar - an eccentric dance teacher who has had enough of tutoring people and decides to show the world that his talents extend far further. He adopts a pack of Wolves and teaches them the art of waltzing under a moonlit sky. Co-starring Andy Serkis as Ruffian, the leader of the wolf pack. What It Actually Is: A Civil War western drama with Costner€™s Lt. John Dunbar learning to exist alongside an Indian Tribe while also befriending a wolf named Two Socks in the process. Reasoning: It€™s genuinely saddening that there€™s no sequences of Kevin Costner doing any sort of dance with a Wolf at any point of the film. It€™s actually the nickname given to Dunbar by the Sioux tribe after they witness his friendship with the animal. Alternate Title: Friendship with Wolves (and Indian Tribes)

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

The Literal Pitch: A magical adventure in a world that€™s so full of possibility that the film has been continuously shot live since 1984, and now continues to be streamed to every single cinema in the entire world 24/7. What It Actually Is: An epic fantasy adventure that does actually end. Reasoning: The NeverEnding Story simply alludes to the grandeur and epic scale of the world within the film, yet its become the granddaddy of films with misleading titles. As Lionel Hutz once said to Homer Simpson - €œThis is the most blatant case of false advertising since my suit against the movie The Neverending Story€ Alternate Title: The Fairly Long But Eventually Ending Story

Tyrannosaur (2011)

The Literal Pitch: Thrilling drama in which the self-destructive Joseph and meek charity worker Hannah discover a Dinosaur living under their garden. A film which takes British drama out of the kitchen sink and into the prehistoric era - written by David Cameron. The Reality: An abusive and rage driven man named Josesph looks for redemption in the form of a Christian charity shop worker named Hannah. Reasoning: The title of Paddy Considine€™s acclaimed directorial debut isn€™t a reference to a literal dinosaur, but an abusive nickname that is given to Joseph€™s deceased wife. Digging deeper and you could also say it€™s a reference to Joseph€™s own astonishingly fearsome brutality. Either way, anyone going into this film looking to find something akin to Jurassic Park is going to be a little disappointed, and probably horrified after the opening scene. Alternate Title: The Metaphorical Tyrannosaur ______________ Which other films titles shouldn't be taken literally ?
We need more writers about The-Hurt-Locker, the-ghost, Naked Lunch, Tyrannosaur, The Silence of the Lambs, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Midnight Meat Train, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Lawnmower Man, The Squid and the Whale, Dances With Wolves and The NeverEnding Story! Get started below...

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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.