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A Film By Any Other Name: The Art of Stupid Movie Branding…

I have a confession to make. I did not go to see The Avengers. I went to see Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble. I didn’t mention this before because… well, that’s a stupid name and people aren’t idiots. If I talk about “The Avengers” and mention details like a “giant green rage monster”, “Nick Fury”, “box office records” or even “enjoyable”, odds are that you will know the film that I am talking about. I’m normally quite reluctant to attack particular movie practices as silly or illogical, if only because I’ve no direct experience of how the industry works.

To be fair, I’ll generally assume that the studios know what they’re talking about when it comes to making movies. However, when it comes to slapping silly names on their posters and insisting that the audience refer to a movie by a convoluted, generic and awkward focus-group-crafted title, I do feel like I have an opinion. The Avengers is the most recent high-profile example, but I’ve found myself increasing irritated by this somewhat pointless branding.

Silly titles make Darren angry!

Let’s get this out of the way, with regards to The Avengers. I live and work in Ireland, a country where it was felt that calling the movie “The Avengers” would cause undue confusion. I assume this was because of the cultural value attached in the United Kingdom to the classic sixties television show about two secret agents that happened to be called The Avengers. It was also the title of the terrible film adaptation of the same series starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes battling a ham-tastic Sean Connery, presumably by waiting for him to choke to death on bits of errant scenery.

Now, in theory, I can accept there could be some confusion. That would require for that classic television show (or that terrible film) to be at the very forefront of people’s minds. However, I don’t think that they are. I, of course, don’t have the means to organise a rigorous scientific study to prove that, but let’s use common sense:

Few of the new film’s target audience will be old enough to remember John Steed and his beguiling partners. Even fewer will be stupid enough to have confused them with the film’s more empowered protagonists, though it must be admitted that Scarlett Johansson’s outfit could have been modelled on Diana Rigg’s.

Of course, my own careful empirical research supports this theory. For a few months leading into the release of the film (and the months that followed), I have been calling it “The Avengers.” Nobody has ever asked me, “Which one?” Nobody has feigned ignorance even as a joke, which gives you an idea of how low Steed and Peel must rank in popular consciousness.

Hm, maybe Green Lantern’s box office failure is because people thought it was about an emerald light source… (As opposed to the countless other flaws with the film…)

When I explained the situation to my better half, I had to jog her memory. Eventually she remembered the film or television show. “You mean umbrella-man?” she asked earnestly, as if curious – now that I’d brought him up – if he’d be joining “bow and arrow man” in the film. Of course, it’s easy to joke that film nerds won’t be confused, but it’s hard to believe that the incredibly stupid title branding solved any of the audience’s confusion. As the credits rolled at one of the screenings I attended, I heard an audience member indignantly demand, “Where’s Green Lantern?” He sounded positively disappointed and almost ripped off.

This ignores the fact that plenty of movies exist with the same titles, and many exist without any sense ambiguity in conversation. Although the two titles are spelled differently, mentioning Inglourious Basterds in conversation will inevitably be treated as a reference to Tarantino’s World War II film, rather than to the cult original film. In the unlikely event there’s confusion, a single question can sort it out. Hell, the movie overcame such possible confusion to give Tarantino his biggest opening ever.

It’s not that Hard to remember…

While The Avengers is the most obvious example in recent memory, I remember being positively heartbroken that the admittedly cool title of Live Free or Die Hard would not be carried over to Europe. I admit to being a major American pop culture nerd, and thus was familiar with the State motto that prompted the title, but even if I wasn’t, it sounds cool. Like the logical successor to Die Hard II: Die Harder. Instead, we got Die Hard 4.0, which suggested that the film was going to be buggy and in need of some serious patching. Whether or not that was accurate is a matter for debate, but I don’t believe that was the message it was intended to send.

Similarly, Mel Gibson’s latest effort received a title change for release over here. I’ll freely confess that Get the Gringo sounds far more exciting than How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Perhaps the title was changed because studios believed that non-American audiences wouldn’t understand a Spanish word. And, at that, a Spanish word that had been engrained in popular culture due to its use in Westerns exported around the world. Luckily, Casa de mi Padre didn’t appear to worry about such concerns.

Just in Casa…

Of course, the actual name of the film has no real bearing on its quality. It might have a role to play in getting people into the cinema in the first place, but it doesn’t matter what you call a film once the audience is in their seats. I don’t doubt that I saw the same version of  The Avengers as those overseas, but I still find it immensely frustrating that the studios thin of us as relative idiots.

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7 Responses

  1. The naming issues for movies is often inexplicable. I find it interesting that the original title for the fourth “Die Hard” movie was “Die Hard 4.0”, but was then changed to “Live Free or Die Hard” (a goofy but catchy title, if you ask me)–except it was released under the original title in Europe. By the way, I addressed this issue in one of my first articles: http://filmverse.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/annoying-trends-in-movie-titles/

  2. This naming malarkey is just marketing gone mad. I remember when I was booking tickets for The Avengers, it had all three different names on the cinema’s website! Even they couldn’t figure out which one to use.

    Surely when there are different names used across the globe it’s more expensive to market. There have to be different bilboards, emails, etc, all designed, when they could just use one! See, I could save them some marketing money right there!

    I do wonder whether the “average” cinema goer has anything to say about all these wacky titles. Whether it really makes any difference to them.

    • Yep. I’m imagining some poor cinema clerk unable to understand that his patron wants to see “The Avengers.”

      “Um, I’m sorry sir, but that film hasn’t been out for fifteen years. However, we are showing Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble?”

  3. What a stupid article. The 60s original TV series is a classic, and it is cheap and disrespectful to try and rip off the name – another case of yanks pillaging British culture.

    It deserves the cumbersome title because it is not actually “The Avengers”. “The Avengers” is a televsion series that will still be cool and superior long after the Marvel attempt at a brand-grab is forgotten. Was it beyond the makers to think up an original title? Evidently. You are siding with unimaginative plagiarists.

    • Well, either that or it’s a simple case of a generic cool-sounding name being used by two different creative teams almost contemporaneously. Given that the Avengers (show) didn’t start broadcasting in the United States until two years after the Avengers (comics) hit the new stands, allegations of brand-grabbing seem a little premature. Given that both franchises are half-a-century old, and The Avengers (comics) made more money than any other film last year, it might be a little early to make claims about which will be forgotten first.

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