Interesting Stories Behind Your Favorite Movie Titles
Photo: 20th Century Fox
The best movie titles have hidden meanings. These films have names that are completely baffling at first glance, but once you dig deeper, they make sense. In some cases, they even enhance the entire experience. If you’ve ever wondered about the title origins of these mantastic flicks, consider your curiosity quenched.
Quentin Tarantino is notoriously cryptic when it comes to explaining his movie titles. From the mouth of the man himself: “It’s more of a mood title than anything else. It’s just the right title, it just sums up the movie, don’t ask me why.” He had a similar response when asked about the title for Inglourious Basterds.
However, the truth comes from his days as a video clerk at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, CA. In 1987, a patron asked him for a film recommendation, to which he replied, Au Revoir Les Enfants, a French film. The patron now famously said, “I don’t want to see no reservoir dogs.” The random title stuck with him, and the rest is history.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Chris Gardner did, in fact, come across a daycare center that featured the word “happyness” on the side of the building. But in an interview, he gave an alternate reason why he chose to purposely misspell it: “The Y is there to denote You and Your happiness. What makes You happy? Everyone who sees this interview is going to have a different definition of happiness. It’s about You and what makes You happy…that’s why we left the Y in there.”
The title Gattaca is comprised of the first letters of the four nucleobases of DNA: guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine.
No Country for Old Men
The inspiration came from the first line in “Sailing to Byzantium,” a poem by WB Yeats:
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
In the story, the title refers to the escalation of violence and the inability of the older generation to cope. Small-town sheriffs stand no chance against Anton Chigurh and legions of trigger-happy drug cartels. Tommy Lee Jones’s character, who became sheriff at 25 years old, saw his job pass him by as enforcing the law became an almost impossible task in the face of modern crime.
Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood
As a parody of ’90s hood films, this Wayans Brothers movie contains pieces of Menace II Society, South Central, Juice, and Boyz n the Hood. It even said in the trailer, “This is the only film this year with 14 words in the title.”
Good Will Hunting
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck didn’t come up with the title. It came from a friend named Derrick Bridgeman. Bridgeman wrote a screenplay called Good Will Hunting about a “black kid in Roxbury who had a white woman photographer who takes his picture and then the picture becomes famous,” according to Affleck. The two liked the title so much that they struck him a deal. If they sold the script, they’d give Bridgeman $10,000. They did, and Bridgeman received his check.
Army of Darkness
Just as it was the third installment in the Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness was the third choice for a title. The original title was Evil Dead III: The Medieval Dead, which makes sense considering it’s set in the Middle Ages. The second choice was Bruce Campbell Vs. Army of Darkness. Director Sam Raimi wanted to give an homage to the old Hollywood tradition of putting “vs.” in the title (i.e., King Kong vs. Godzilla). But, they would have to settle on something that wouldn’t confuse modern moviegoers, so said the studio. So they went with Army of Darkness. It tanked at the box office, likely due to its disassociation with the Evil Dead franchise titles, but in time it became a huge cult favorite.
Cast Away isn’t how you spell “castaway.” They purposefully made it two words to provide a double entendre. Like Tom Hanks’ character casts away Wilson the volleyball through no fault of his own, Helen Hunt’s character casts away Chuck Noland after she gives up hope that he’s alive. Chuck Nolan is both a castaway and cast away.
A Clockwork Orange
“As queer as a clockwork orange” is old Cockney slang that originated in East London before World War II. Writer Anthony Burgess thought it was perfect: “I’ve implied the junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet — in other words, life, the orange — and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined,” Burgess wrote in The New Yorker.
Let’s break this down as it pertains to the plot. The protagonist, Alex, goes by his baser instincts, or in other words, his “orange.” Only later do the powers that be attempt to instill some “clockwork” into his mind as a way of correcting his naturally terrible behavior. That seems to be the question the film poses: What’s more evil? Being an ultraviolent thug that adheres to his own free will, or a product of intense psychological conditioning to be rendered harmless? The story ends ambiguously, just like the title.
The Hurt Locker
The term “hurt locker” has special meaning among soldiers out in the Middle East. It basically stands for a situation that you don’t want to be in. It’s in the soldier vernacular; a world of hurt, in other words. As writer Mark Boal explained to The New Yorker, “If a bomb goes off, you’re going to be in the hurt locker. That’s how they used it in Baghdad.” It could also imply a claustrophobic situation you can’t escape.
The Breakfast Club
They’re not eating breakfast, and it’s not a club. It’s after-school detention. Director John Hughes took the name from one of his friend’s sons, who went to New Trier High School in Illinois. The staff and students nicknamed detention “The Breakfast Club.” And Hughes shamelessly stole it.
Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick is no stranger to strange names: A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This one, however, is simple. A full metal jacket is a type of bullet that consists of a lead core with a harder metal shell, often copper, used popularly during the Vietnam War. You might remember Gomer Pyle saying, “Seven-six-two millimeter. Full metal jacket.”