The press release came in early November. In it were four words that came together for the first time like a cinematic Reese’s peanut butter cup of awesomeness. We were powerless to resist, not that we would have tried. The four words:
“Hot Tub Time Machine.”
Bar none the best movie title to come down the pike in years (and hot on its heels is the equally awesomely named “Kick-Ass”), and it had us thinking about what we consider to be the all-time best movie titles. But first, we had to set some ground rules. Porno titles were obviously out (too easy), as were movies named after plays, songs, books or lines of poetry (borrowed material). Bonus points were given to titles that were either startlingly direct or looked like unfinished Mad Libs, thus provoking a reaction along the lines of Lisa Simpson when she saw “Yahoo Serious Film Festival” on a marquee (“I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”) Horror movie titles were so plentiful that they received their own list, though a few choice selections made the regular list. Lastly, we feel compelled to remind everyone that this list was made purely for fun, so legitimately good titles – “Alien,” “Fight Club,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Drag Me to Hell,” “Kill Bill” – were disqualified. Because really, how boring would that list be? Answer: very.
And so, without further delay, here’s our list. Discuss, debate and dissect amongst yourselves.
20. Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)
Because, you know, a simple battle between a shark and an octopus is on Discovery Channel twice a week. But a mega-shark and a giant octopus, that would be…well, craptacular, actually. And that is why we love the title; It’s eye-catching, but for all the wrong reasons. You want to give it credit for self-awareness – this is, after all, a movie that features a shark taking a plane out of the sky, thousands of feet off the ground – but perhaps that is giving the movie a bit too much credit. Still, there was a point where it was the most viewed trailer on the web, so the filmmakers clearly knew what they were doing when they came up with the title. Or maybe it was the irresistible allure of one Miss Deborah Gibson, one of the two.
19. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Using “brother” in this context was relegated solely to the exploitation genre until John Sayles wrote and directed this movie about a mute alien being chased by alien bounty hunters. It may seem harmless now, but it was downright ballsy at the time, even for an independent movie. And we totally have to learn the card trick done by the guy on the subway.
18. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Come on, who doesn’t want to ride that? Oh, right: everyone.
The thing is, this tale of a photographer who uncovers a subway serial killer is a pretty damn good movie. (And look at that cast: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Roger Bart and Vinnie Jones, to name a few.) But that title was apparently too much for some to handle, to the point where after several release date changes, the movie finally surfaces in the dog days of August, making its first run…in second-run movie theaters. It goes down as another box office miss for Clive Barker, but this is easily the best Barker-related movie since “Candyman.” And you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more descriptive yet grossly unappealing title than that one.
17. Shoot ‘em Up (2007)
Sounds like an unholy straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal schlockfest, yes? (Though the preposition is in the wrong place, since Seagal’s movies usually begin with one.) Yes, and then you see Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are the leads, and Nigel Tufnel’s line about the fine line between clever and stupid comes to mind. “Shoot ‘em Up” perfectly encapsulates what the movie is all about, while underselling it at the same time. “Leave your expectations at the door,” it says, so we did, and walked out grinning from ear to ear. And did we mention the lactating hooker?
16. Spanking the Monkey (1994)
Sexual Euphamism Movie Title #1. Hey, we’re dudes. Even though we like high-brow humor, we’re dudes.
Still, don’t let that title fool you. Yes, there is masturbation going on here, but this isn’t some “American Pie”-type sex comedy. It’s a disturbing black comedy where Jeremy Davies ends up having sex with his mother. Oh, that nutty David O. Russell. Only he could find the humor in incest.
15. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
You’d be hard pressed to come up with a name as pre-packaged with stereotypes as Buffy. Girls named Buffy are rich, spoiled, not terribly bright, and most likely blonde. (It goes without saying that they’re also white.) What they’re not are vampire slayers, thus making a perfect title for a movie about the textbook definition of reluctant hero. While the TV adaptation clearly surpasses the theatrical release, we still have a soft spot for the movie, due in large part to Paul Reubens’ spectacular death scene.
14. Mars Needs Women (1967)
The movie itself may have been a stock footage fiasco – hey, what do you want, it was made for TV for the price of a ham sandwich – and they made a fatal mistake by taking the subject matter seriously, but that title will live forever, making a memorable cameo in the song “Pump the Volume” and inspiring a level to one of our favorite video games, “Zombies Ate My Neighbors.”
13. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
Had they simply named it “Death Bed,” people might mistake the movie for a stirring drama about someone who’s about to meet his maker. But since this movie is about a demonic bed that feeds on human flesh (you read that right), the filmmakers decided to add a little something extra to clear up the air. Not wasting too much thought on the matter, they went with “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats” – “The Bed That Eats” – and boom, a cult legend was born. Credit where credit is due: Patton Oswalt tipped us off to this one. The clips of the movie on YouTube are even funnier than we thought they’d be. Seriously, who plays poker on a bed? Dead people, apparently.
12. Frankenhooker (1990)
Granted, every word is funnier when combined with ‘hooker.’ See, watch: Robohooker. Cyberhooker. Psychohooker. Amish hooker. But nothing trumps “Frankenhooker” on the ‘funny prostitute’ scale. And admit it: you’d risk the itch for a shot at that, wouldn’t you? One woman assembled from several other women to form a, um, dream hooker? (And played by a former Penthouse Pet, no less.) Well, all right, maybe we wouldn’t actually risk the itch…but we’d think about it. Sex with a sex-crazed monster: hey, could be fun. Lord knows there are worse ways to die.
11. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Its title has inspired a metal band and a techno song (Brittany Murphy, R.I.P.), and Quentin Tarantino wants to remake it, though one could argue that he already has with “Death Proof.” But here’s our question: do people love the movie because it features a group of tough-as-nails strippers, or do they love it because it’s called “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”? Had it been named something else, something tamer, like “Stripper Girls on the Loose,” would it have the same cult status today? We doubt it, which is why this movie, more than any other, shows the importance of a great title.
10. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
By stealing the title from George Romero’s game-changing 1978 horror film, but changing that one word, “Shaun of the Dead” sets the tone perfectly. You know the source material (zombies), and the sense of humor (bone-dry). If you’re still unsure what to expect then, as comedian Jeff Marder once said, pull the plug, because you’re just taking up space.
9. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)
One is a black man named Tucker who drinks on the job and harasses nuns for fun. One is a disgraced cop who sold cocaine to school children. And one of them has big tits. We’ll let you figure out who’s who.
This movie about a rag tag group of ambulance drivers and EMT specialists also includes the potential rape of an unconscious college student and a junkie murder-suicide (Toni Basil!) …and it’s a comedy. A comedy called “Mother, Jugs & Speed.” At one point, Bill Cosby (yep, he’s Mother) gets a massage from a woman using a dildo. If you want to know why people are nostalgic for the ’70s, this movie sums it up in one word: swagger.
8. Vampiros Lesbos (1971)
It was so cute that the producers of the 2009 straight-to-DVD movie “Lesbian Vampire Killers” thought they were pushing something edgy . We’re guessing they didn’t know that a German film beat them to the punch by nearly 40 years. Exploring erotic horror at a time when the genre barely existed, this tale of an American lawyer lured to an island for business, only to discover that her client is, yep, a lesbian vampire, has a rabid cult following, as does its psycho-lounge soundtrack, which Quentin Tarantino lifted for use in “Jackie Brown.” There’s just something about the foreign translation of “lesbian vampire” that classes up the joint.
7. Slap Her…She’s French (2002)
Just about every ethnic group has someone representing them when it comes to matters of unfair portrayal in the media, cultural insensitivity, etc. But call someone a frog, and no one bats an eye. Those poor French are still getting kicked around like it’s 1965, and this title sums that up as well as anything. The conversation writes itself: “Did she do anything wrong, or hurtful?” “No, but she’s French, damn it. Do you need another reason to slap her?” Apparently, though, the TV censors did need another reason to slap her, because the movie runs on the tube under the nondescriptive name “She Gets What She Wants.” Blech.
As for the movie itself, yes, the title is the best thing about it, but this tale of a Texas alpha female whose life is turned upside-down by a foreign exchange student has its moments, notably when Starla (Jane McGregor) is dragged away from a confrontation with Genevieve (Piper Perabo), screaming, “I’m going to get you, Kermit! You’re going down!” Heh heh, Kermit. Frog jokes: the slur that will not die.
6. Boss Nigger (1975)
This should be disqualified on a technicality since blacksploitation movies by nature have humorous, ‘fuck you Hollywood’ titles. But “Boss Nigger” makes the cut because it would be lucky to see the light of day in today’s climate as a working title, never mind an official one. (See: “Cop Out,” which was known as “A Couple of Dicks” during production.) Indeed, when the movie was issued on DVD in 2008, it was simply titled “Boss,” and writer/producer/star Fred Williamson is surely having a laugh at the knee-jerk reaction the title elicits today, since that was the point all along.
5. Young People Fucking (2007)
4. Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000)
Talk about a movie casting itself. “It’s called ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ Go get Stifler and Kelso. No need to call anyone else.” In retrospect, the movie is like a beta test version of “The Hangover”; the two leads wake up with no memory of the previous night’s events, though the path of destruction they left in their wake soon comes back to haunt them. Only this one has twins…who don’t look remotely alike. The movie was admittedly dumb but not without its charms, and while it didn’t deserve a sequel, we were pushing for one anyway, since the only thing better than a movie called “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is a movie called “Seriously, Dude, Where’s My Car?”
3. Donkey Punch (2008)
Sexual Euphamism Movie Title #2 If you’re not familiar with the expression ‘donkey punch’…good for you. That means you’re a testament to clean living, and we could all learn from your example. Now, if you would like to know what it means, go here. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Pretty vile, isn’t it? To quote one of our favorite “Futurama” episodes, you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.
Truth be told, we still haven’t seen this UK horror import, but the filmmakers get our undying respect for having the nerve to not only write a movie around a fun night of sexcapades gone horribly wrong after a guy kills a girl while executing the move in question, but also naming their movie after it. The title is both perfectly clean and utterly depraved. That’s a pretty impressive trick, by any standard.
2. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
In an industry with an irrational love for vague, meaningless titles like “Edge of Darkness,” “Deception” and “The Happening,” the directness of “Snakes on a Plane” was nothing short of revelatory. It doesn’t get more ‘are you in or out?’ than that, and to think, the producers briefly toyed with the idea of changing the title to “Pacific Flight 121.” What the hell is that movie about? No idea, but “Snakes on a Plane” is about motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane, you dig?
Of course, as we all know, the end result did not meet the ridiculously high expectations of the movie’s rabid online following – well, it actually did meet their expectations; it just didn’t meet anyone else’s – and “Snakes,” despite a huge push from Entertainment Weekly and your friends at Bullz-Eye, barely managed to make its money back. The studio will probably say that the title failed them, but our finger is pointed squarely at New Line’s marketing department, who apparently thought the Internet would market the movie on their behalf and did nothing to increase the name recognition. Sorry, guys, but even movies with awesome titles need promotion, too.
1. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)
Bow down before your robo-popping, ceiling-dancing overlords, bitches.
Deciding to do a sequel is easy; naming it, not so much. (Ahem, “Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.”) ‘This’ becomes ‘That,’ singular becomes plural, and the words ‘Another,’ ‘Return’ and ‘Next’ are lazily inserted, along with the inevitable Roman numerals. Now look at what the producers of “Breakin’” did after their low-budget dance flick became a left-field hit and there was demand for a sequel: they used a predictable ’2,’ then followed it with “Electric Boogaloo.” Electric, fucking, boogaloo. The result of having balls of steel, or the last-minute inspiration that comes with a suitcase full of cocaine? Doesn’t matter, really; over time, the title has gone from ‘WTF’ laughingstock to holding a permanent place in the pop culture lexicon as the ultimate sequel title in movie history.
Great Titles: Horror Division
This list could literally go on for days, but there were a few that missed the main list that deserved a mention.
I Spit on Your Grave
I Dismember Mama
Chopper Chicks in Zombietown
Sharks in Venice
Werewolves on Wheels
Vampires on Bikini Beach
Remember when there were guys responsible for changing the letters on the marquee outside the theaters? They hated these movies.
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (Thankfully, this one was made for HBO.)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Bad
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?