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Chris Hicks: Movie titles are great in number but less than memorable these days

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A scene from the film called, simply, "Mama."

A scene from the film called, simply, “Mama.”


There was a time, not so long ago, when it was easy to call up just about any movie title off the top of my head. Someone asked about a film or described one, and pop, there it was. The title tumbled out of my mouth, just like that.

But over the past few years, age seems to have been taking its toll. Or perhaps now there are just too many titles stuffed into my tiny brain. It’s become more and more difficult to recall the names of certain films.

It’s right there, somewhere in my mind. And I can name the stars, and maybe the director, and I can describe the plot. But the title remains elusive.

Very frustrating for someone who makes his living writing about movies.

But lately I’ve begun to feel that maybe, just maybe, it’s not age after all. Maybe it’s the titles.

The number of movies released each year is unprecedented. There are so many coming out of Hollywood, the independent film community, straight-to-video labels, cable and broadcast TV networks, and from other countries that they have become uncountable and overwhelming.

As a result, filmmakers may be a bit desperate these days as they attempt to come up with a title that’s a grabber. One that’s distinctive. One the public will remember. A title that will jump out at you as you peruse the thousands listed on Amazon or Netflix — or even the dozens in a Redbox dispenser.

For example, let’s take a look at some of the movies playing in theaters around the valley right now. First, titles that are good and that seem to work.

“Gravity” is a snappy one-word title that speaks to a major aspect of the movie and it’s not likely to be confused with some other film.

Same with “Captain Phillips.” It’s the name of a real person, referring to a memorable moment in recent nautical history. Of course, if the real-life character had been named Capt. Jones or Capt. January or Capt. Hornblower, it might have been less usable. But at least it’s not the generic, interchangeable title chosen for a recent Danish movie that is a fictional take on the same subject: “A Hijacking.” Blah.

“Ender’s Game” is the name of a popular book, so that title is an obvious choice, and it’s unique. Same with “The Book Thief.” And “Carrie.” Although “Carrie” may be more problematic when it arrives on home video, since there are two other versions already on DVD (Brian De Palma’s 1976 film and the 2002 TV remake), along with another unrelated “Carrie,” a Laurence Olivier-Jennifer Jones melodrama from 1952.

“Austenland” is an original title for an original concept; “Christmas for a Dollar” is obviously a holiday film and it hints at the plot being set during the Depression; and “The Saratov Approach,” however mispronounced, is a one-of-a-kind eye-catcher.

So is “Last Vegas” … so long as you notice the “t.”

But here are some titles, still playing locally, that could be misleading: “The Counselor,” which is not a courtroom drama; “Enough Said,” which is a bland title for a better-than-average comedy; “Escape Plan,” which doesn’t necessarily say “futuristic prison”; and “Free Birds,” which could be metaphorical until you realize it’s a cartoon for kids.

A lot of other generically titled films have also passed through town this year, along with a plethora of movies on DVD that didn’t get theatrical play, some of which you’ll recognize and others that you may not quite be able to place — and still others that may have you saying, “Oh come on, really?” Yeah, really.

You probably know “The Impossible” as an Oscar nominee, but will you remember what it’s about the next time you see the title on Netflix? (It’s the one with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and a tsunami.)

And how about “A Haunted House,” “Mama,” “Safe Haven,” “Snitch,” “Phantom,” “Dead Man Down,” “The Call,” “Admission,” “Oblivion,” “At Any Price,” “The Heat,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Passion,” “Getaway,” “The Family,” “Rush” … well, you get the idea. Very generic.

As are “Bullet to the Head,” “Erased,” “Love and Honor,” “The Big Wedding,” “Vampire,” “Amour,” “A Company Man,” “Now You See Me,” “The Contractor,” “Drift,” “Disconnect,” “Breakout,” “Abducted,” “The Master,” “A Dark Truth,” “Collaborator,” “The Package,” “Sinister,” “The Thieves,” “The Awakening,” “Love Me,” “Love Notes,” “Mighty Fine,” “The Last Stand.”

Generic titles are more common but some are just baffling. What do they mean? I’ve seen some of these and I’m still not sure: “Welcome to the Punch,” “Blaze You Out,” “Hitting the Cycle,” “The We and the I,” “Kiss the Abyss,” “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You,” “Deadfall,” “Not Fade Away,” “To the Wonder.”

And then there are the cable TV movies and those that may have been intended for theaters but instead went straight to DVD, which are churned out annually by the dozens, each obviously desperate for a title that will stand out from the rest … most of them failing miserably: “Undercover Bridesmaid,” “Guns, Girls and Gambling,” “War of the Dead,” “Manborg,” “Absolute Deception,” “The Girl,” “Another Woman’s Husband,” “Dangerous Evidence,” “Thicker Than Water,” “Ordinary Miracles,” “The Inheritance.”

And just to get you in the mood, how about these Christmas films, all on DVD this season, all built around wedding themes. And I promise, I have not made up any of them: “A Christmas Wedding,” “His & Her Christmas,” “Hitched for the Holidays,” “A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride” and … wait for it … “Will You Merry Me?”

Gosh. Just gets you all mistletoey, doesn’t it? Hey, "Mistletoey!" Look for that title next year.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com

Email: hicks@deseretnews.com