BBC Culture

Lost in translation: Eight odd movie titles

About the author

Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

  • American Dream

    David O Russell’s ‘70s-set Oscar contender American Hustle is one of many Hollywood film titles that had to be changed for distribution outside of English-speaking countries. The American term ‘hustle’ has no direct translation in many other languages, so Columbia Pictures approved the alteration of the title to American Bluff in France, American Dream in Israel, American Scandal in Argentina, American Sting in Portugal and American Scam in Quebec. (Columbia Pictures)

  • Happiness Therapy

    David O Russell’s love of American idioms also prompted a title change of the Oscar contender he directed before American Hustle. Silver Linings Playbook comes from the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining,” which suggests that even a bad situation can have a positive outcome. It serves as a kind of mantra for Bradley Cooper’s lead character – and isn’t an expression that translates into other languages from English. And “playbook” refers to a strategy guide for American football. So for France, the title became Happiness Therapy, which works because psychoanalysis also features prominently in the film. The Russian title, however, was the much more judgmental, but equally accurate, My Boyfriend Is a Psycho. (Weinstein Company)

  • Santa is a Pervert

    Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken, criminal Santa is actually a sympathetic anti-hero in Terry Zwigoff’s film, Bad Santa. But he comes across as far more irredeemable in the Czech Republic’s title for the film: Santa is a Pervert. Hollywood movie titles often have double meanings for English-speaking audiences – the original title also plays off the idiomatic meaning of ‘bad’ as ‘cool’ in the US, something which does not survive a literal translation. (Columbia Pictures)

  • It’s Raining Falafel

    The children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, released in 1978, is considered a classic in the US but doesn’t have as much recognition around the world – especially in countries in which meatballs are not a local food staple. In Israel, the title of the animated film adaptation in 2009 was changed to It’s Raining Falafel, but oddly enough, the titular meatballs were not changed to falafels in the Hebrew dub of the film itself. And in Turkey, the title became It’s Raining Kofta. (Columbia Pictures)

  • The Drunkest Country in the World

    The 2012 film Lawless, by director John Hillcoat, told the story of moonshine bootleggers in the American South during the period of US history known as Prohibition – when all alcohol was banned. The film was based on a historical novel called The Wettest County in the World, in which “wet” served as a synonym for “drunk”. But The Weinstein Company authorised the title change to Lawless for its release in the US and much of the rest of the world, as it conveys violence and suspense, not the history lesson threatened by the book name. However, for distribution in Russia, the original title was partially restored – there it became The Drunkest Country in the World. (Weinstein Company)

  • Bad Neighbours

    The comedy Neighbors, about an absurdly escalating feud between a university fraternity and a married couple living next door, seemed, on paper, like a guaranteed hit in the US. But its release throughout the rest of the English-speaking world was problematic. The Australian soap opera Neighbours is also wildly popular in the UK. Universal Pictures feared that some might think the movie was a big screen adaptation of the series, so they changed the name to Bad Neighbours outside the US. (Good Universe)

  • Shopping Center King

    Seth Rogen’s 2009 comedy Observe and Report, about an overly militant mall security guard, became the much more literal Shopping Center King in Germany – a change Warner Bros approved because Observe and Report could have ruffled feathers due to its connotations of surveillance, which has had devastating consequences for many Germans and is not typically thought of as comedic fodder. (Warner Bros)

  • The Spy in a Secret Missionary Position

    The second swinging Austin Powers romp, The Spy Who Shagged Me, is especially untranslatable, but markets outside the US and UK found variations that were pun-driven, such as Germany’s The Spy in a Missionary Position, literal: Croatia’s The Spy Who Groped Me and Brazil’s The Spy Good in Bed, and even political – China’s The Spy Who Liked Me a Lot shows how conservative the Chinese film market can be regarding sex. (New Line Cinema)