“Bad” Titles: The Latest in Hollywood Laziness

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 23 2013 2:44 PM

“Bad” Titles: The Latest in Hollywood Laziness

1382549243
We get it: This Grandpa's BAD.

Paramount

The grandpa in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is indeed a bad one. He hits on women, stuffs his wife’s corpse in the trunk of his Lincoln, and gets his penis stuck in a soda machine. But does Bad Grandpa need such a Bad Title? The movie’s boilerplate title is of a piece with a recent trend for lame, SEO-friendly titling, but this feels like a particularly egregious example. Hollywood has got to do better than the Bad [Something] title.

Studios release movies titled Bad [Something] for a very specific reason. In the spirit of the film that popularized the trope, 2003’s Bad Santa, Bad [Something] movies always aim for the outré and gonzo. (It’s no surprise that the [Something] is always something we’d otherwise believe, or at least hope, to be good: Santas, Grandpas, Lieutenants.) By 2009, the conceit had reached the book world. With the 2011 release of Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses—just two weeks apart from each other!—the trend reached an apogee, and I’d hoped the lukewarm response to those movies might end it entirely. But here we are two years later with Bad Grandpa, which might as well be called Placeholder Title. The titles are reductive, disposable. This is not the stuff of which enduring classics are made.

Bad Titles

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos courtesy MGM, Universal, United Artists.

Advertisement

Would we think as fondly of Some Like It Hot if it was instead titled Bad Drag Queens? Would King Kong be an enduring classic had its poster read Bad Ape? What end-of-millennium list would recognize Bad President, Bad Marriage, Bad Computer, Bad Neighbor, Bad Director?* Would you be scared to swim in the ocean if you’d just watched Bad Fish?

Knock it off, Hollywood. It’s fine to have a short, descriptive, lazy title to get your movie through development—we understand that studio presidents are busy people and sometimes don’t even listen past the title in pitch meetings. But when it comes time to release your movie into the wild, you can do better. Titling movies Bad [Something] is a Bad Decision.

* The only exception to this rule is that A Streetcar Named Desire definitely should have been titled Bad Southern Belle: Port of Call New Orleans.

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?