Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #973: Who Needs A Title?

I know I'm not the only one to notice that studios are developing a rather silly habit.  That habit is that when they're adapting a novel that's part of a long running and well thought of series they don't use the title of the book, instead they just slap on the main character's name.

For example Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess Of Mars becomes...

Lee Child's One Shot becomes...

And even James Patterson's Cross, which already has the lead's name in the title didn't have enough of his name in the title because they have to change it to...
Even comic books aren't immune, the reboot of the Judge Dredd franchise was simply titled...
Because mentioning that he's a judge in the title distracted from his name.
Now you're probably wondering why studios are doing this, and the answer is simple. It's all about "branding."
The marketing gurus tell the executives that they're not in the business of making and selling movies, they're in the business of selling "brands."
Brands are familiar names attached to franchises that can sell movies, books, and assorted merchandise. The marketing geniuses declare that the audience is just too stupid to look beyond a catchy title to buy into a franchise.
Using this mind-set it seems perfectly okay to take a title like A Princess of Mars, which is dripping with hints of exotic cultures, and a faraway planet with strange creatures and adventures, and replace it with John Carter. Even though John Carter sounds like the title of a biopic of an ex-athlete turned teacher who gets inner city kids to love Shakespeare by putting King Lear to the beats of Dr. Dre.
Does this strategy work?
Well, John Carter, Alex Cross, and Dredd all pretty much tanked at the box-office, and  Jack Reacher isn't tracking very well with audiences on the eve of its release, so you tell me.
What does the real world tell us about selling a franchise?
Well, it tells us a very different story.
The longest running and most successful franchise in movie history is the James Bond franchise. Can you guess what the James Bond franchise does when it comes to titles? 
They never use James Bond's name in the title.
The villains have had their names in the title, but never Bond.
That's because the job of the title is to sell the adventure Bond is going on, not some "brand." 
But the twist is that by using the titles to sell the adventures, they do a bang up job of selling the James Bond brand.
Sure, coming up with a catchy title for a movie is hard work, but I think it's a lot more effective than just plucking up a name and hoping for the best.   


  1. It's not particularly hard work to come up with a title for the Mars movies. I mean, Burroughs already had a banb-up title right there for the taking. His first three books have terrific titles, evocative, tantalizing. Princess of Mars; Gods of Mars; Warlord of Mars. Plugging in "John Carter" took effort to make the outcome LESS awesome. Nice going, brand-guys. You could have had "Of Mars" as your catch phrase.

  2. A couple of older examples:
    "Hook" (Peter Pan)
    "The Wiz" (Wizard of Oz)

    It does seem to have become more common lately though. Maybe they'll remake To Kill A Mockingbird and call it One Shot Finch. Or remake The Ten Commandments and call it Moses vs Pharaoh: Rumble on the Nile.