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A Movie Title Can Make or Break a Film

Updated on November 3, 2012

Many films begin production with a title that ends up quite different when it is finally released. Most screenwriters cringe as their script makes it slowly through the production and post production process, hoping the the studio gods do not tamper with it. Most do.

Even before the public knows something about a film's content, they know the title. If the title is vague or not intriguing, the movie will suffer. Take the famous, "Casablanca" with Humphrey Bogart. Its name was originally, "Everybody Comes to Rick's". It was an unpublished play before becoming famous. Another famous movie is Julia Roberts debut, Pretty Woman. The name was changed just prior to release and was called, $3000. The price Richard Gere paid his prostitute a week. The studio gods felt it was futuristic sounding and might confuse the public about what the film was about. Woody Allen's famous, "Annie Hall", had the name of "Anhedonia" and had been nearly released that way until a near last minute change. Why? Studio execs did not know what the word meant and if they did not, neither would the general public.

Nearly everyone in the film business unanimously think the worst ever movie title remains, "The Shawshank Redemption" because nobody knows what it means. That movie was originally called, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", a Stephen King book. Even this title is no better, many age groups have no idea that Rita was a stunning movie star of the 1940's and into the 50's. Another iconic coming of age film that still is fun to watch is, "Stand By Me", however, the original title for much of the production time was "The Body". I have no clue why. One 2009 academy award winner was called, Precious. The movie originally had a horrible long title: "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire". Then, it was shortened to just "Push", but it was similar to another film title, so it went to "Precious".

Movies title are not protected by copyright law unless it can be shown that it has secondary meaning to the public. However, once a film is released, other studios cannot use a similar title for at least four years. Hollywood has its own Title Registry where studios and filmmakers can file a claim to their title. It costs $200 to list 10 titles. If someone thinks there is a title conflict, one can object within 10 days and they happen all the time. In one case, Disney paid Columbia $600K for rights to use "Ransom" for the 1996 Mel Gibson movie. There are currently 150,000 titles listed and there are 350 subscribers to the registry.

Choosing a title is often the hardest thing.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 4 years ago

      What is the title of your book?

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I so agree with you. I am certain my book didn't fare well

      due to the title. The first thing you see is the title.