Terrible Names: The 10 Worst Movie Titles in History

ssssss movie titleIn the world of the movies, what’s more important than a title? It aims to capture interest, make viewers want to go to see the film. Unfortunately, the history of celluloid names is riddled with poor choices, and most of the pictures given them have been abject failures. In an effort to memorialise these fiascos so that they serve as a deterrent for future mislabeling, I’ve made a list of the 10 worst cinematic monikers to flit by on the silver screen: from bad to godawful. My criteria may be subjective—and I’m sure these choices will be subject to disagreement—but there’s no question that these titles are among the lousiest of the lousy. Hopefully, they’re a lesson learned, although one can never predict the future. In the grand scheme of things, garbage always manages to rise to the top.

10) Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

I loathe movie titles based on rhymes, and this Woody Allen film is one of the worst offenders—a label that seems predicated on a “cute”-sounding combination. Once upon a time, Woody Allen’s humour was funny. What happened?

9) Poetic Justice (1993)

Yes, sadly, the subject is a poet named “Justice.” Ugh. Couldn’t this have been more literal, like We’re Really Trying Hard Here or Don’t Blame Us; Blame the Producer? Why, John Singleton, why?

8) Shallow Hal (2001)

This miserable, unfunny “comedy” from the Farrelly brothers is obnoxious from start to finish—and the precedent it sets, its dreadful, rhyming title, is a bad one. High-concept junk.

7) Fled (1996)

Providing sufficient proof that movie titles in the past tense are often pretentious and absurd, this “buddy” movie goes nowhere fast. Maybe this moniker is a more appropriate description of the steps audiences took after seeing the movie. No matter what, this title is a “huh?”

6) The American President (1995)

Um … what other president would a glossy flick such as this be about—the president of General Motors? Ordinary-sounding and uninteresting, this label does nothing to suggest the content and/or quality of the movie it purports to describe. Live and learn.

5) The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995)

Sometimes long titles can be fun. Sometimes they can be amusing. This one is neither, and its attempt to be Ealing-esque seems cynical and naïve at the same time. Whiff.

4) Sssssss (1973)

How can we forget this bit of crud from the early ’70s about snakes and … well, supposedly horror. This era saw a number of imaginative movie monikers, but Sssssss doesn’t make this category. Frankly, it’s a more apt description of the sound viewers might make at a screening of this picture. Deserves never to be forgotten.

3) Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)

Forced whimsy. It’s something that no one should ever go through, and unfortunately, audiences in 2007 had to deal with this tacky toy-store saga more than they should have. This one certainly didn’t make the classic fantasy cut that it was aiming for, and its lofty aspirations should serve as a reminder that most flights of fancy fall flat. Never trust a film that tells you how much fun it is? Indeed.

2) It Could Happen to You (1994)

As it was a tagline for the New York Lottery, this title amounts to little more than advertising … and it’s all the more offensive when one considers the fact that a change of one letter changes it from a horrible label that means almost nothing—it could go one way, it could go another way—to one that definitely says something: It Should Happen to You, which, thankfully, is the name of a 1954 George Cukor classic. Get me the latter any day over this.

1) Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)

One of the stories behind this nearly unwatchable, low-budget relic from the 1960s is that the “n” and “d” making up the word “and” in the title were accidentally left off from the finished product, and director Ray Dennis Steckler made the sound financial decision not to fix it. The result is the worst, most idiotic movie name ever—one so bad that it deserves to be venerated in the annals of history as an ode to incompetence. May we always remember this bit of dreck. It will, of course, live forever.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and operates a restaurant-focused blog called Critical Mousse (criticalmousse.com) that showcases his opinions on the culinary arena. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

14 thoughts on “Terrible Names: The 10 Worst Movie Titles in History

  1. While I like the idea of this post, the use of “lame” in this context is an ableist slur. It’s like saying those movie titles are “gay” and meaning that they’re bad. Maybe you could retitle the list?

    Otherwise some good entries! Personally I quite like The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, but it certainly is a mouthful to say!

    • As a person with a disability, I’m extremely sensitive to the use of words in contexts that may not be appropriate or harmful to others. In this case, however, I don’t think there’s a problem. Merriam-Webster provides a definition of the word “lame” as “not strong, good, or effective,” and that’s applicable in this context.

        • There’s a precedent set for the use of “lame” in such a headline-oriented context by major publications such as the New York Daily News and the New York Post in my hometown, as well as newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, so it’s not uncommon in journalism. As I suggested in a previous comment, I have a disability and am generally attuned to the misuse of words in everyday language, but I was not offended by this. James, your thoughts?

          • Far be it from me to tell you what to be offended by (particularly since it can be debated whether people would consider me disabled), but big publications using ableist language doesn’t make it any less ableist. Phrasing the headline that way equates being lame with something bad, that’s the core of ableism. In any case, I pointed out my concerns, I do hope that you’ll come to see it my way and retitle the piece, but it is, of course, up to you.

            • I do see your point, and the last thing I’d want to do is use a slur in any context. Language is always changing, and this may be one of those cases where that has happened. I do take offense when the word “retarded” is used to describe something bad or stupid, so there is a precedent. But I also worry that the nuances of language will be diluted if we remove standard meanings from its use. For the record, Merriam-Webster flags the use of the word “retarded” in a negative way as being offensive, while it doesn’t for the word “lame.” And as I noted before, the latter word appears often in publications, so there is a journalistic precedent–and newspapers, magazines and the like are very careful about using language in an offensive way … even the New York Post, believe it or not. (Headlines there may often be ridiculous but not necessarily offensive.)

              I’ve asked James to weigh in on this–there’s always the possibility of just removing the words “Lame Names.”

            • Hi all,

              Like Simon, it certainly never occurred to me to correlate the word ‘lame’ with anything offensive. But as has been suggested in this conversation, if there are those that find the term to be offensive then their concerns should be addressed. The article title will be amended accordingly.

              I hope you both have a good day 🙂

              Regards,
              James

  2. Fun topic, Simon. The worst title to me is Mark Robson’s Phffft! because you can’t pronounce it. so even if you wanted to tell a friend about it, you can’t. The exclamation point is just a bonus. Zotz is pretty bad, but it’s from a William Castle movie, so it kind of fits. Scent of a Woman is just – well, I’m not quite sure what they were thinking there.

  3. That’s a good selection of some very lame titles, Simon. It has got me thinking of some I can’t stand too. They are generally the one-word titles that promise some interesting content, and deliver a mess instead. Such as ‘Ishtar’. ‘Water’, ‘Ashanti’, to name but a few…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Thanks, Pete. Yes, some of those titles are pretty pretentious. I used to have an issue with titles featuring exclamation points, because there didn’t seem to be a point to the added punctuation: “McLintock!,” “Hatari!” etc. I’ve grown more tolerant of them in my old age, however.

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