I just saw one: Edge of Tomorrow. It’s as fun a summer blockbuster as you’ll find. The premise unites the ideas behind Groundhog Day and Aliens in a way that feels more original than it has a right to. The acting is strong. There are plenty of funny scenes, moving scenes, quotable lines. I could watch it again.
Yet, I have to say, the title stinks.
The story the movie is based on is called “All You Need Is Kill”, which is clunky in English though I’m sure sounds insanely cool in the original Japanese. But even that translated title is superior to Edge of Tomorrow. Sure, the title sounds vaguely science fictionesque and does arguably touch on part of the movie’s premise, but it’s only about one half step removed from calling the flick Generic Science Fiction Film #37. Honestly, if you’re going to spend $200 million on a movie, shouldn’t you lock some of the punch up guys in the room until they come up with an absolute stunner of a title? The extra millions at the box office would more than pay for their Chinese food, pizza, and wifi.
A great title matters. Would we really know Hemingway as well if he’d called A Farewell to Arms one of his other proposed titles: They Who Got Shot, The Italian Experience, A World To See, or The Grand Tour? What has A Farewell to Arms got that they ain’t got? “Farewell” contains a kind of wistfulness, a sense of loss, connotations of romantic parting, and the “Arms” defines the novel’s field of action as either war or its immediate aftermath. The title conveys the feel of the book in a way that none of the others does. Hemingway’s other titles feel like they could be the titles of lots of different books. If you were to pick up a book called A World To See, what would you expect to find in it? Travel, maybe, possibly a guide to faraway destinations with tips on hotels and getting cabs. The Italian Experience could be anything from a history of the Italian State to stuff that happened to Amanda Knox. (She picked a much better title for her memoir, it should be said.)
I sometimes go through hell picking my titles. Summer of Long Knives came to me pretty fast, back when the novel was a screenplay. Dismantle the Sun took ages. The book was originally called Demon Haunted Love and Other Delusions (Hat tip to Carl Sagan and Harlan Ellison). That fell out of favor and was replaced, after lots of experimentation by The Ice Age, which remained the title for several years. (It is, in fact, the title you’ll find it under if you look up my creative dissertation at the University of Washington library.) Want to know why it’s still not called The Ice Age? This reason:
So I settled on Dismantle the Sun (Thank you, W.H. Auden). It felt like it described the feel of the book, things breaking down for a couple that loved science in general and astronomy in particular. It hasn’t made me rich or famous yet, but I like it. I think it’s right.
So what do you think, reading several? Can you think of any great stories stuck with terrible titles? If so, lay them on me in the comments. I’ll post of list of the best ones in a week or so.