DOES SIZE MATTER? THE LONGEST TITLES IN MOVIE HISTORY

Originally ran on FilmThreat.com on 01/11/08

Two of the movies opening this week are unlikely to make an appearance on any “best of 2008” or awards nomination lists, but both “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale” and “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie” are already on the short list for one important distinction: longest movie title of 2008. Granted, the unwieldy movie moniker is hardly a novel concept, but recent years have seen a steady increase in numbers of ponderously named studio product for the simple reason that – while brevity may indeed be the soul of wit – someone in Hollywood thinks size matters.

Taking a look at the Top 10 in worldwide box office, it’s easy to see from whence this line of thinking originates:

Rank
Title
Worldwide Box Office
1. Titanic (1997) $1,835,300,000
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) $1,129,219,252
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) $1,060,332,628
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) $968,657,891
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) $958,404,152
6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) $937,000,866
7. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) $922,379,000
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) $921,600,000
9. Jurassic Park (1993) $919,700,000
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) $892,194,397

Nos. 1 and 9 aside, the trend holds (and don’t we like some sequels?): eight of the ten feature rather cumbersome titles, while nine of them are sci-fi/fantasy movies. Thus was the way paved for “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” and “DogStar: The Rise and Fall of Keanu Reeves’ Greatest Band Not Named Wyld Stallyns,” which isn’t actually a movie but probably ought to be.

So now we know what the future holds, but what of the past? Title bloat didn’t spring forth unbidden from George Lucas’ impressive neck wattle, so in the interest of needless list-mongering, we at Film Threat decided to see if there was any past correlation between lengthy titles and box office performance.

Coming up with a decent sample set took some time. For while the competition for shortest movie title is rather anticlimactic (you end up with a perpetual stalemate between “M” and “Q”), coming up with the longest is a different matter entirely. Do you include secondary film names? If so, a clear-front-runner has to be “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade,” more commonly known as “Marat/Sade.” How about those turn of the century reels? In that case, first place would go to 1900’s “Another Demonstration of the Cliff-Guibert Fire Horse Reel, Showing a Young Girl Coming from an Office, Detaching Hose, Running with It 60 Feet, and Playing a Stream, All Inside of 30 Seconds.” What about foreign titles? Not only is German a beautiful sounding language, for example, but it also contains a huge number of hilariously long words, resulting in titles like Fassbinder’s “Fontane Effi Briest oder viele, die eine Ahnung haben von ihren Möglichkeiten und ihren Bedürfnissen und trotzdem das herrschende System in ihrem Kopf akzeptieren durch ihre Taten und es somit festigen und durchaus bestätigen.”

The problem with the older entries is that data concerning box office performance is nonexistent, while few on this side of the Atlantic have immersed themselves in Deutsch cinema. Others are short films, and still others are so old that few people aside from Olivia De Havilland have been alive long enough to have seen them. Therefore, for purposes of this discussion, I’m forced to limit selections to primary titles of full-length, fictional, English-language movies released in theaters since, oh, World War II. I think that’s probably arbitrary enough.

And away we go…

1. “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes” (1965) – $29,950,000 (worldwide): Helmed by “Swiss Family Robinson” director Ken Annakin, this was one of the last of the epic, star-studded comedies of the era…assuming your definition of star includes Stuart “Demonoid” Whitman, Gert “Goldfinger” Frobe, and Red Skelton (making his final feature film appearance), that is. Similar to “The Great Race,” which was released a few weeks later, Annakin was also nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. Its nearly $30 million gross was respectable for its day, though its success appears to have more to do with classic aeorplane action than with the ungainly title.

2. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006) – $128,504,000 (US): Okay, I admit it. The joke got old fast, and “Borat” shares the spotlight with “Austin Powers” as one of those movies folks with impaired senses of humor quote to make themselves look funny. The movie’s title, a continuation of the goof on Borat Sagdiyev’s clumsy English, may have contributed somewhat to the box office haul, though I suspect it had more to do with Ken Davitian’s mesmerizing ass. Sexy time.

3. “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?” (1964) – (unknown): This MST3K favorite is surely an argument against our main thesis, for it is one of the worst movies on the list and likely didn’t make back its $38,000 budget. Written and directed by B-movie maestro Ray Dennis Steckler, the title really is the best thing going for it. Steckler also stars as the hero, Cash Flagg, who falls under the spell of the evil Madame Estrella, who turns him into her zombified enforcer and…I’m sorry; “Cash Flagg?” Were “Rock Hammersmith” and “Dick Plutonium” taken?

4. “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” (1971) – (unknown): A cumbersome title like this works fine when it’s attached to an odd little film about one day in the life of a famous songwriter (Dustin Hoffman) overcome with self-doubt thanks to his own paranoia and the actions of the mysterious Kellerman. However it doesn’t do much to draw ticket buyers, especially when Hoffman isn’t playing a recent graduate or a sickly New York street person.

5. “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” (1996) – $39,000,000 (US): Eons from now, when alien beings composed of pure energy are meticulously combing through the remains of our shattered civilization, they will come across a copy of this movie and mark its release date as the Day (Human) Comedy Died. Spoofs used to be funny, sure, but the Wayans Brothers pushed that genre to the brink of extinction so fast you’d think they were Japanese whalers. “Menace” stands, like “Borat” after it, as one of the last flicks to incorporate title length into the overall shtick, and its modest gross was unfortunately ample enough to justify further efforts.

6. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask” (1972) – $18,000,000 (US): I know it’s hard to believe, but Woody Allen movies used to be subversive and satirical and not just excuses for him to trot out the latest Hollywood ingénue with big boobs. The movie’s domestic take proved that U.S. audiences in the early ‘70s were still “hip” enough to “groove” to the idea of a therapist humping a sheep.

7. “Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” (1969) – unknown: I’ll quote Film Threat’s own Phil Hall, who devoted a Bootleg File column to this curious bit of film history: “This film was conceived, written and directed by Anthony Newley, who also took the starring role and cast his then-wife Joan Collins, their children and Milton Berle. Oh, and it was an X-rated film.” Not even an awkward title, characters with names like Polyester Poontang (Collins), or the presence of the insufferable Uncle Miltie could salvage something like that.

8. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) – $5,000,000 (US): “Strangelove’s” place in the cinema firmament is well established, whatever ticket sales it pulled in, and not much I could tell you about it would change that fact. It does stand as the longest title of a Kubrick movie, unless you count the alternate name for “Eyes Wide Shut: An Odyssey of Sexual Discovery and…Hey, What Are Those Naked Freaks Doing On That Table?!”

9. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (2005) – $718,262,000 (worldwide): Again, if you really want to see where the current obsession with lengthy titles starts, you have to recall the fantasy films of the early 21st century, of which “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” is but one example. As with other similar movies (see also the #1 entry), the title results less from a conscious marketing decision and more from being part of a series of books. And the box office performance has less to do with the title than it does the massive religious marketing campaign encouraging churchgoers to buy tickets.

10. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) – $869,797,416 (worldwide): Aaaaand full circle. “Fellowship” has the longest title of any of the “LOTR” trilogy, but made the least money…if $870 million can be referred to as “least” anything.




Posted on December 13, 2008 in Features by
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