It’s that time of year again, so now we’re gonna review all the awful titles Hollywood generated in the throes of its pitiful deterioration.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw
I wonder if I can even properly express my frustration here. Each word in a title has to share a consistent substance. Here, Spiral is the title, our one opportunity with language to speak directly to the audience. It’s partly why we can never take crossover movies entirely serious, specifically the versus kind. AVP: Alien vs. Predator, or even better Lake Placid vs. Anaconda. The actual lake is the combatant? By the time we get to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we only forget how absurd the title is five minutes into the brutal viewing experience. So you can’t have two instances of that language in the title. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, right? But here we are, in 2021. What is the book of Saw? It doesn’t exist in-universe. Not only that, Spiral would’ve been a better sequel title to Saw, another single word with an S. I’m reminded here of one of the all-time winners, Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Guy wanted to call it Soldado, which would’ve been perfect, but no.
The Many Saints of Newark: A Sopranos Story
Oh, fuck you. Oh, fuck you. And as you can see, they don’t even put it on all the promotional material.
I also like that we’re creating a new hierarchy, between “A Story” and “A Movie.” El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie? Yeah, that’s about right. Anyway, it’s a shame, because I do like “The Many Saints of Newark.” Good balance, props for not just going with “Newark” or something. Let me tell you about that shit, man.
We may be headed into a real bad Oscar season, where this time, every nominee is Joker. I’ve only seen two so far, Don’t Look Up and Belfast, and they’re both pretty bad, but what makes them offensive is how people seem to be talking about the movies they were sold, not the movies they saw. Adam McKay told you that Don’t Look Up is a social satire, and Kenneth Branagh told you that Belfast is his most personal film. Being black-and-white and named after a place, it’s his Roma. To be honest, I didn’t like Roma, either, partly because I didn’t understand it. I was expecting the same sort of arthouse, emotionally-distant experience out of Belfast, but instead got a surprisingly Hollywood parade of clichés: the sassy grandparents (who spontaneously dance adorably), the villain, the question whether to leave or stay, and nearly every line of dialogue? We also have the kid protagonist who witnesses all these events, but that just means a lot of the scenes are shot with him in the foreground. What is he learning? It’s hard to say because he isn’t really a character. The only one with an arc is his mother, who makes a last-minute decision and then explains why. Come on, dude, is this movie too good for arcs or not? At least Don’t Look Up is sort of an unusual Oscar movie, but Belfast is like one of those SNL sketches about stereotypical Oscar movies. It doesn’t feel real.
This movie had to be titled Belfast because there isn’t a single vector of the story to individuate as “subject matter.” So unspecific, it couldn’t be called anything else.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Proportionality is a key consideration in titleology, striking that balance between the title and the subtitle, and this is variously offset by a number in between. “Venom” is one word and “Let There Be Carnage” is four. That’s a 1:4 ratio, which is imbalanced. Too imbalanced. Take a look at Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Beautiful at 3:4, and it makes Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater a bit iffy, because I do prefer the subtitle be longer. However, there’s something immediate about that two word subtitle, so I can excuse it. Let There Be Carnage also feels like a phrase in a way that Guns of the Patriots and Snake Eater don’t, never mind Sons of Liberty, The Phantom Pain, and Peace Walker — Metal Gear Solid has top-tier subtitles. Venom does not.
F9: The Fast Saga
The Fast and Furious series has been reliable for nauseating me, starting near the beginning with the infamous 2 Fast 2 Furious. The fourth entry, Fast & Furious, being an unhelpful repeat of the original title, is another contender, and Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs and Shaw has already been spoken for here. Funnily enough, this series’ approach to titles sometimes yields a golden nugget, in particular the double threat of Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious. The problem with 2021’s installment is that, while the last few might as well have been called The Next One, that sort of self-disinterest has been seemingly embraced. Is it F9? Is it F9: The Fast Saga? I’m pretty sure the trailers just said “#F9.” A movie without a title!
Mortal Kombat / West Side Story / Wrong Turn / Tom & Jerry / Candyman / Cinderella / Dune / Nightmare Alley / Clifford the Big Red Dog
Let’s fast-forward to the year 2024. “Hey, I just saw Mortal Kombat.” “Which one?” Right? What is the point of a title if not clarity? As the title decider, too, why come up with something that nobody is gonna say? For a time, it’ll be “the new Mortal Kombat,” and later it’ll become Mortal Kombat 2021. Maybe the Mortal Kombat remake. When the sequel comes out, it’ll be a Doom 2016 scenario. Why not just come up with a subtitle? Oh, this drives me nuts.
Amazingly, The Suicide Squad escapes this one, while remaining conceited and horrible. Also, in some cases, there won’t be confusion. People are done referencing Dune 1984, as if they ever started, and I never heard of Nightmare Alley before this year.
Coming 2 America
For this one, I would’ve gone for a Part II, I think. Again, clarity being the concern, it’s a homophone. Of course, I think the time for this one has passed, not because it’s bad or whatever, but because it’s a comedy sequel, and you cannot name a comedy sequel that has ever succeeded (barring, strangely, 22 Jump Street).
Along with the earlier Velvet Buzzsaw and this year’s Licorice Pizza, I’ve grown wary of titles that are just two words put together. Gunpowder Milkshake takes the prize however, because in addition to being two awkward words, it also generates a pretty unappetizing image.
In this case, the two random words make for something too over the top. You always got to match verbs to relatively appropriate nouns. Has “chaos” ever walked? Well, has it done the opposite — has it ever run or stood still? In fact, chaos doesn’t really match with any verb. And granted, that’s the point of titles, to be unique by combining words. Metal Gear Solid? Those don’t really go together, but they work — there’s an X factor, and probably it’s just saying it out loud once.
Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
I’m exhausted just looking at this one. Don’t even read it out in your head, don’t do it.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
What, did this movie come out of 2008? “Origins” may be this year’s “Legacy,” as far as words in titles that automatically doom the project.
Don’t Breathe 2
I’m just kind of shocked there was no attempt to conjugate any words on offer here, you know, Never Breathe or Don’t Breathe 2 Hard. I mean, how cool would that be.
Needle in a Timestack
Look, this one’s self-explanatory, but I don’t want to give it too much credit by freaking out. I just want to mention that I was sure they were gonna play some game by changing the title after it had gone trending on Twitter.
Honorable Mention: Halloween Kills
Halloween can’t kill you. His name is Michael. But I like this title, and I like the sequence, ending next year with Halloween Ends. Good play.
Best Title of 2021: Squid Game
Holy shit, they almost called this Round Six. Are you trying to give me a heart attack, you know, long after the risk of making such an enormous mistake has been avoided? The title is half the reason why Squid Game became such a global success, because anyone who hears it asks “What is Squid Game?” Who would say “What is Round Six?” Funny thing is, those titles reference the same in-universe thing. The tournament in Squid Game is not the “squid game,” but the sixth round is. Miraculously, Squid Game skirts the awkwardness of K-drama titles when translated to English. You can always tell a K-drama title because it’s just a little bit off. Like, English speakers simply don’t use words that way. We wouldn’t call a show Government like they have a show called Assembly. Even My Name is a strange lilt, but it’s an improvement over its original Undercover Nemesis.
So that’s it for 2021. Despite the COVID pandemic, there was no shortage of awful titles for our reading displeasure. What will 2022 hold? Apparently there’s a Legally Blonde 3 coming out, and since Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde is another all-timer, I expect good things, people.