The question of what makes a great movie title is probably more complex than we’ll try to get into here. It has to nicely tie into the film’s subject matter without getting too cute or punny, while also offering the kind of quick and memorable punch that makes it easy to remember when you walk up to buy tickets and easier still when you’re recommending it to friends. It’s a subtle art, and it can go wrong really, really quickly.
No American critics will know until later this week whether the upcoming horror film The Bye Bye Man will actually be any good or not, but much of the pre-release discourse around the movie has posed the question: What is that name? Whether it’s a decent horror film or not, there’s a chance that some audiences might not turn out just by dint of having to go out and request one or more tickets for a movie that sounds like a kid describing robbers in a court case.
And more to the point, it got us thinking about some of the other legends within the annals of bad title history, from those which pose unanswerable questions to those that simply defy comprehension. So, with an eye toward theatrical releases over the years (meaning that the glory of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? will not grace this list), we’ve gone back in time to bring you some of the most egregiously, notably awful movie titles that have ever managed to find their way to the movie-going public.
Enjoy, and remember: Not all of the movies within are necessarily bad, but their titles are iconically so.
Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx
We’re not actually going to speak ill of a Gene Wilder movie here, but simply of its title, which sounds like the start of a long-winded story by a grandparent about the old days of the city. Anytime a title reads more like a logline for the film’s plot, it’s probably best to dial it back just a touch.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Of all the subtitles in movie history, Electric Boogaloo might be the most inappropriately overused of them. Though The Search for Curly’s Gold is certainly in the running as well, there’s something so quaintly suburban about “Electric Boogaloo” as a buzzword for youth culture that makes it all the more satisfying as a nonsense title. It’s the “hello there, fellow kids” of movie titles.
Leonard Part 6
We can only hope that somewhere in Hollywood, locked deep away with The Day the Clown Cried and that first version of Suicide Squad, are screenplays for the other Leonards. It’s the only way that this would even remotely fit in with logic.
Also, insert your own damn jokes from here. We’re not going for it.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
Well, shit, that was answered about two months ago now.
Thank you, and remember to tip your waitresses.
Operation Dumbo Drop
Here, Disney promises a gritty, ground-level war film about a famed paratrooping pachyderm who saved a band of resourceful but stranded Americans, only to cut down our grandest ambitions for the future of cinema with an underwhelming family film.
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
Oh, we can’t stay mad at this frustrating title. Just look at that roguish grin. Opened a lot of comedies in the 1990s, that did.
One can only hope that at Blockbusters the nation over, clerks once refused to rent this out to anybody who wouldn’t request the title in full.
Santa With Muscles
Yeah, this is goofy, but at least unlike quite a few of the films on this list, Santa With Muscles is nothing if not transparent about its intentions, and what can be found within. The implication that the ever-busy St. Nick wouldn’t see some gains over time is a little bit presumptuous, though.
Also, if you know anything about wrestling in the ’80s/early ’90s, you know that this Santa’s muscles probably came from a number of special ingredients.
In 2002, a franchise began that would sully the search histories of well-meaning film editors the world over and would finally create the action film that’s far more difficult to pirate than anyone could have imagined. That middle X being capitalized is key here, as not only does it denote the Xander in xXx (and the extent and extremity of the film’s take on “extreme”), but it ensures that this is the only film title in history that can easily double as an awful belt buckle.
Great movie, brutal turn-of-the-millennium title.
Can you even imagine what it’s like to sit down and play a video game with David Cronenberg, though? It’d be like showing television to E.T.
Dude, Where’s My Car?
This is a title that actually worsens in context, as Dude Where’s My Car? turns the titular question onto what might be the absolute nadir of the “Who’s On First?” joke template. Also, this is a stoner movie that goes out of its way to have no weed in it, and the sun will go out before that makes sense to us.
Freddy Got Fingered
2001: a simpler time, when a pedophilia joke was allowed by 20th Century Fox as the title of what has to be one of the weirdest, most inexplicable things ever turned out by a major film studio.
You probably know by now that Gigli is a pretty bad movie, and that its title is pronounced “gee-ly,” rather than the way you probably thought. But did you know that Martin Brest hasn’t made a movie since? Poor dude. Celebrity culture would claim far more careers in the years to come, but he remains an archetypal example.
We’ll bang the drum that John Carter is, at the least, a better film than its reputation would suggest. It’s a scattershot piece of fantasy sci-fi, to be sure, but it’s quite a bit of fun once you get past the labored exposition, and at least one member of the CoS staff has been known to own a 10-foot vinyl theatrical banner from the film’s release. But in Disney’s effort to make a movie about a Civil War-era warrior’s journey across the alien plains of Mars a little less geeky to audiences, they gave it what has to be one of the most flaccid movie titles ever offered for such a big release.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
It’s bad enough that mid-aughts pop culture turned a beloved troupe of singing, family-friendly rodents into attitudinal creatures who we can only imagine get biz-zay, consistently and thoroughly. It’s worse that the second installment of what’s somehow become a four-film (and counting!) family franchise boasts one of the all-time egregious puns in movie history.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
There’s little to say on the subject of Death Bed that Patton Oswalt didn’t already touch on, but we hope to one day live in a better world where all trashy horror movies are this forthcoming about what lies within.
fear dot com
This is about the titles, not the posters, but come on. Two taglines, equally halfhearted, for one movie? And they couldn’t even hit us with a “Welcome to the Bill Gates of hell” or “Better lock all of your Windows” or “If you want to stay alive, follow these MS-DOS and don’ts”? We can do this all day.
Also, that domain would’ve been snapped up long before this movie came out. Just saying.
Okay, we get what the intentions are here, but this just can’t help but sound like something a drunk, horny man would slur at the aquarium.
Fun fact: as legend goes, Zyzzyx Road is the lowest-grossing film with a known theatrical release and gross; most sites list its total haul at $30. Nope, there’s not supposed to be a qualifier after that. Internet points to anyone who can actually work out how to pronounce this.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole
In which Zack Snyder said to Warner Bros., “what if The Lord of the Rings, but with owls?” and was given a ton of money to pursue that idea. It’s hard enough to take warrior owls seriously without them coming from a land that sounds like a noise Goofy makes.
2 Fast, 2 Furious
The only title on this list that manages to confirm both the speed and fury of the movie within, 2 Fast 2 Furious is one of the great bad movie titles, and yet, we’re convinced that Universal knew what they were doing all along. They just made a couple of boring movies in the middle there to throw us all off the scent so that Fast Five could hit us with the blindside jump in quality.
Cowboys & Aliens
Here’s a pretty decent summer movie that never had a chance because of its title. Cowboys & Aliens appealed right to the target demographic for this kind of thing, but shut out pretty much anyone else who isn’t an enthusiast of Saturday morning serials.
The Day After Tomorrow
You mean two days from now? We’d probably be underwater or trapped with those zoo wolves or something. The movie’s pretty clear about how this all plays out.
Also, it’s obligatory whenever this comes up: How is Jake Gyllenhaal able to physically outrun cold? Yeah, this is by the guy who impaled a horse onto the American flag in The Patriot, but that’s just a bridge too far.
I Don’t Know How She Does It
There’s about a 110% chance this was titled and marketed by people who still throw the phrase “broads” around without a hint of irony.
Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
Goddamn, the ’80s really were a more innocent time. Like yeah, crack was starting to show up and porn was never easier to get, but a bunch of people in a boardroom could look at this title and go “yes, the people will love this! Even the goddamn title is funny! His mom, with a gun! It’s gold!”
Who’s Your Caddy?
Who, indeed? For in a way, are we not all our own caddy? Do we not ultimately select the nine irons of our own lives, in time?
Shout-out for being probably the only film in history to prominently co-star Lil Wayne and Andy Milonakis, though. A timeless pairing.
Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
Presented without further comment.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
It might be a ridiculous title even by family movie standards, but Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is definitely hard to forget. It also made for one of the only decent bits in Bruno, so it has that going for it.
Half Past Dead
So … dead thirty?
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?
There aren’t really jokes to be made here. This is just kind of fantastic on its own. Particularly the qualifier of “mixed-up” zombies, in case you had concerns going in about what kind of zombie film this might be. The film helpfully does not address them.
My Stepmother Is an Alien
If ever you found reason to doubt the film’s high concept (Kim Basinger is a comely alien in the late-’80s suburbs), just look at how excited Dan Aykroyd is! In any case, My Stepmother Is an Alien is the rare bad title that could work pretty easily for a ponderous Sundance documentary or a Lifetime movie. It’s versatile like that.