“Bad” Titles: The Latest in Hollywood Laziness

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

“Bad” Titles: The Latest in Hollywood Laziness

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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.

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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 a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.