5 Insane Ways Movie Titles Are Translated Around the World
Some of my favorite Hollywood movies when I was a kid were Dad Forever, My Poor Little Angel, and S.O.S. There's a Crazy Man Loose in Space. What's that? You've never heard of these films? Well, that's because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking country, and the titles I just mentioned are the ones we got for Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, and Spaceballs, respectively.
I still think the last one makes slightly more sense.
Mind you, we have words for "home" and "alone" (and "space" and "balls") in Spanish -- it's just that whichever mid-level employee was in charge of translating these titles said, "No, no. This is better. We can help this movie. We can improve it." This happens all over the world, and to me the weirdest examples aren't the completely random ones, like Hong Kong turning As Good as It Gets into Mr. Cat Poop (or so claims the Chicago Tribune), but the ones where there actually is a hidden logic or trend behind all of that country's titles. For instance ...
All Comedies Must Be Sequels to Other Comedies (Even When They Aren't)
I have no idea how this is possible, but at some point in the early '80s multiple countries got together and decided that, from that point onward, they would rename future Hollywood comedies based on how they translated the title of the film Airplane! -- seriously. This is a real phenomenon, and I can't think of an explanation that doesn't involve a massive international conspiracy. For instance, in Latin America, Airplane! was called So Where's the Pilot? ...
"How could they possibly know it's a comedy if we don't give it a wacky title?"
... which was followed up by Leslie Nielsen's So Where's the Cop?, So Where's the Cop? 2 1/2, and So Where's the Cop? 33 1/3.
In fact, pretty much every Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker movie starts with So Where's the ... except Hot Shots! and the masterpiece that is Hot Shots! Part Deux, which were renamed Crazy Pilot Academy 1 and 2. You know, after the Crazy Police Academy series.
And to distinguish it from the Sane Chicken Archery Academy series.
On the other hand, even movies that had nothing to do with the ZAZ team or Leslie Nielsen started wondering where someone was in their titles -- a tradition that continues to this day with movies like So Where Are the Blondes? and So Where's the Ghost? starring the Wayans brothers.
Still no sign of the Wayans in Donde Esta La Dignidad?
That's fucking weird, right? But it's just the beginning. In Finland, Airplane! was Hey, We're Flying ...
Uh, OK, sure. Why not?
... so then they got stuff like Hey, We're Rocking (This Is Spinal Tap), Hey, Who's Talking (Look Who's Talking), and Hey, We're Doin' Time (Doin' Time).
"Just be glad we didn't tie the baby in a knot, too."
In Norway, Airplane! was Help, We're Flying, which means This Is Spinal Tap was Help, We're in the Pop Industry, and the entire National Lampoon's Vacation saga was variations of Help, We're on Vacation. And so on -- the same thing happens in France, Israel, Spain, and Germany with different titles, but they can all be traced back to how they named Airplane! 30 years ago.
Of course, some countries dare to break the mold and go with other, arguably more insane comedy naming rules. Like Sweden, which renamed Mel Brooks' The Producers Springtime for Hitler way back in 1968 ...
This was the marketable part of the movie for them. The Hitler part.
... so they've been naming every Mel Brooks movie Springtime for Something ever since.
Sweden knows something about Ice Age that we don't.
And finally, Caddyshack in Denmark was An Assload of Cash, for some reason, so throughout the '80s they felt the obligation to work the word "ass" into the titles of most Bill Murray comedies. Look for the "roven":
Unfortunately, this tradition died out before we got Lost in Asslation and Assfield.
In Germany, All Monster Movies Are About Frankenstein
For a while, German movie distributors were obsessed with pretending that all Japanese monster movies were about Frankenstein, even if Frankenstein didn't appear anywhere in them, and German audiences just let them get away with it. Granted, this isn't the most outrageous thing the German people have gone along with, but I still think it's pretty bizarre.
Take, for instance, the movie that was released in the U.S. as Destroy All Monsters, which is about Godzilla coming across all of the monsters and destroying them. In most countries it had a title that conveyed those themes, but in Germany, it was Frankenstein and the Monsters from Space.
Frankenstein is piloting that plane, presumably.
Son of Godzilla? No, that's called Frankenstein's Monster Hunts Godzilla's Son. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster? Oh, you mean Frankenstein and the Monster from the Sea. And so on: Germany couldn't conceive of a movie starring a guy in a rubber suit stomping on a cardboard city if it didn't have "Frankenstein" somewhere in its title.
In a way, we're all Frankenstein's monsters.
In a shoddy attempt to cover up the transparent deception, Germany would add new lines of dialogue to all these movies mentioning that the monsters were the creation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Yes, at some point the (by then 150-year-old) scientist moved on from simply reanimating stitched-together hunks of meat to creating skyscraper-size reptiles and killer robots.
And this wasn't limited to Godzilla movies: Gamera vs. Monster X was Frankenstein's Demon Threatens the World, and King Kong Escapes was -- well, I think you can make out the title from this poster:
The mother was an armored truck.
Speaking of King Kong, around this time Italy developed a similar obsession with the lovable ape and started doing the same thing. Destroy All Monsters for them was renamed The Heirs of King Kong, and Terror of Godzilla became Destroy Kong! Earth Is in Danger -- but unlike those half-assed Germans, the Italians actually went through the trouble of adding King Kong to the posters ...
Or at least Kong's rebellious mohawk-wearing cousin.
... of movies that, once again, he didn't even appear in. I don't know how they justified that, but I'm guessing that every once in a while they added shots of some guy saying, "Hey, look over there! That's totally King Kong wrecking some shit! Mamma mia!"
However, Spain still wins by somehow turning Godzilla vs. Megalon into Gorgo and Superman Have a Date in Tokyo. I mean, that's a translator with balls.
In the U.S., this was remade as My Dinner With Andre.
France Has to Add Sex to Everything
The stereotype says that everyone in France is a horny bastard who only thinks about sex (and eating croissants, but I'm pretty sure that also counts as thinking about sex, technically). Obviously, that's not true. There are plenty of normal, well-adjusted people in France who think about sex only when relevant or necessary. The ones who translate movie titles are not in that group.
For instance, look at No Strings Attached, an Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman film that was originally titled Friends With Benefits but had to change its name because there was another movie in the "romantic comedy about attractive friends who have casual sex and fall in love and starring a former cast member of That '70s Show" category coming out in early 2011. The French version completely bypassed the controversy by going with a slightly more direct title:
Yeah, the French know the English word "friends." They own TVs.
That's not a Photoshop, by the way -- the French name for that movie is seriously a different English name but with the word "sex" in it. This isn't a new thing: remember the 2006 Channing Tatum dance epic Step Up? You might if you'd seen it advertised under the hornier French title:
Not sure how they're gonna translate Step Up 5: Sexy Dance.
Sexy Dance. Again, in English -- not Le Danse Sensuelle or whatever, but Sexy Dance, and they actually stuck with the stupid name for the other installments.
And speaking of shit movies with a horrifying number of sequels, in the late '90s France felt frustrated by the subtlety in the title for Cruel Intentions, that film about Buffy the Vampire Slayer dongteasing Ryan Phillippe for 97 minutes. As a result, for the following decade Blockbuster stores around the country ended up decorated with copies of ... Sexe Intentions 1, 2, and 3.
The third got its own sexe font.
This one's in French, but just barely: I'm told that for French people, the phrase "sexe intentions" sounds like "genitalia purposes." This is even more baffling when you consider that Cruel Intentions was based on a French novel called Les Liaisons Dangereuses in the first place, but at least Sexe Intentions is a name that bears some connection to the plot. For Not Another Teen Movie, however, they just threw their hands in the air and went with Sex Academy.
"Eh, fuck it. Wait, can we call it that instead?"
To be fair, the movie is set in a high school, and in France those are all legally classified as sex academies.
In Hungary, All Alien Movies Must Include the Word "Death"
You'd think it would be pretty hard to screw up a title like Alien: It's one freaking word, and it's a concept that every language has, because we're all afraid of extraterrestrials probing our butts. And yet, when the first chapter of Ridley Scott's mouth-fucking space monsters saga came out in 1979, multiple countries decided that the name just wasn't scary enough, so they all expanded it into Alien: The Eighth Passenger. You know, as in, "There's one additional passenger in this spaceship besides those seven people, and it's an alien."
In Spain, the eighth passenger is a new character they edited in, Pepe the space torero.
However, this name still wasn't clear enough for Hungary. Hungarian audiences needed more than the promise of a being from another planet occupying a spaceship with exactly one septet of humans, so the translators came up with the wonderfully Steven Seagal-esque title The Eighth Passenger Was: Death. As in, "There's one additional passenger in this spaceship, and it's an alien, and it's gonna kill everyone."
"Halal" means "death," and also that the alien can eat humans because they contain no pork.
That was kinda clever (and seriously, how is there not a direct-to-DVD Seagal movie with that name?), but then they took it too far. They flew too close to the sun and burned their wings, the crazy fools. They turned Aliens into The Planet's Name: Death, Alien 3 into Final Solution: Death, and Alien: Resurrection into the blatantly contradictory Resurrection of Death.
They translated Prometheus as Prometheus.
By now, they're just flat out pretending the aliens are called "deaths," as if the franchise was actually about intergalactic grim reapers. Hence Death vs. Predator, which sounds like an existential drama about a Predator coming to terms with his own mortality after the sudden passing of his mother.
And the Predator's name is Ellen, apparently.
Even worse, they're now using the "aliens = death" naming convention with films that have nothing to do with Sigourney Weaver's nipples -- the 1999 TV movie Alien Cargo was renamed Cargo Name: Death, and 2005's Alien Express (starring America's sweethearts Lou Diamond Phillips and Gary Busey's wife) similarly turned into The Passenger's Name: Death. Then again, Hungary thinks The Terminator is called Deathbringer ...
If you live in a country where they used any other poster than this one, you got screwed.
... Event Horizon is Death Ship ...
"Halalhajo" sounds more like a honeymoon destination.
... and both parts of F/X are, according to Google Translate, called Sneaky Death.
America chose the totally more reasonable subtitle Murder by Illusion.
So maybe Hungary is just a little morbid about movies in general.
And Some Countries Just Don't Give a Shit
While researching this article, I found out that like 15 percent of the non-pornographic Internet consists of lists of wacky (but completely fake) movie titles from around the world, like Hong Kong translating The Sixth Sense as He's a Ghost! and The Crying Game as Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis! or Israel turning Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs into It's Raining Falafel -- again, I'm sorry, but those are all bullshit. I checked. None of those are true.
Except the falafel one.
Also, those are totally baklavas in the background there and not doughnuts.
Another one that gets mentioned a lot in those lists is Robert Rodriguez's The Faculty being translated as The Teachers Aren't Human by China, even though everyone knows that the teachers in that movie aren't actually aliens, they're just being mind-controlled by ear-invading space worms. C'mon, do you really think China's translators would be so careless? Yes, of course they would:
"If Robert Rodriguez wasn't going to give a shit, why should we?"
Also real? Cracked has mentioned before how Japan turned Army of Darkness into Captain Supermarket (I'd love to show you the poster here, but Cracked's servers can only withstand one copy of its awesomeness), but we neglected to tell you that they also translated Girl, Interrupted as 17-Year-Old Girl's Medical Chart, which sounds like something that should be illegal to watch.
Consequently, it became the most seen movie in Japan ever.
The "crazy foreign title spoils the ending of the movie" thing also happens for real. For instance, Finland was considerate enough to turn The Shawshank Redemption into Rita Hayworth: The Key to Escape in order to save moviegoers two and a half hours by letting them know right away how Tim Robbins eventually sneaks out of that prison.
The original title, He Digs a Tunnel Behind the Poster for 20 Years, You See, didn't fit on the DVD cover.
Meanwhile, Portugal decided that Planet of the Apes would be way better if it was called The Man Who Came from the Future -- that is, they looked at the movie, saw that it's set on a planet ruled by intelligent super-evolved apes, and thought, "Whoa, time travel. Yep, that's what this movie is about: a guy who travels from the future to our simian-ruled present."
Or, like, slightly to the past, when the Statue of Liberty was only half done.
By the way, movies with "future" in the title apparently do pretty well in Portuguese, even if the word is completely redundant or misleading: In Brazil, The Terminator is The Terminator from the Future, Total Recall is The Avenger from the Future, and that popular Michael J. Fox 1980s movie is The Boy from the Future -- nope, I'm not talking about Back to the Future. I meant Teen Wolf.
Teen Wolf is called The Boy from the Future in Brazil, and there's nothing more to add to this article.
Maxwell Yezpitelok has finished the first chapter of his online comic, ACK, and you can download it for FREE here.