I have often heard that the writers of novels and short stories should be able to sum up their stories in one sentence. For the writers, such a mini-synopsis can be a way to make sure their plot works, and has a central and manageable theme. For editors/publishers/agents, it can tell them something about the story before they start reading it (and help them decide whether they want to read it). When this is done for a movie, it's sometimes called a logline. Examples:
- A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors in other apartments.
- Man-eating shark terrorizes New England coast.
- Unemployed actor poses as a female in order to find work.
- An army captain is sent on a mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel.
A tagline is a little different. Movie taglines are short phrases that set the mood for a film and serve as a "teaser" to pique the interest of viewers. I've most often seen these on posters and DVD boxes.
Some titles are so wordy they could serve as their own taglines--Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc.--and some are so extra-long and descriptive a tagline following it would seem silly. Examples: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? and (my favorite long title) Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?
Okay, I'm rambling. The thing about taglines is, some are informative, others are just funny, and a few have become so familiar you know right away which movies they're "tagging":
- Love means never having to say you're sorry.
- They call me Mister Tibbs.
- What we've got here is . . . failure to communicate.
- An offer you can't refuse.
- Who ya gonna call?
- A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .
- You'll never go in the water again.
I think it's interesting that the first five of those seven taglines were pieces of dialogue straight from the films--and the sixth was written on the screen when the movie started. That's usually not the case. Most often, a tagline is just a clever, catchy, humorous phrase dreamed up by the marketing folks to try to get you into the theater. (Note that I said "catchy," not necessarily "grammatically correct." That tagline for Jaws sounds as if it's telling you not to pee in the pool.)
Catchy or not, here are some of the best taglines I can remember. See if you can match each one with its movie. The answers are below. I think you'll know the first ten--after that, they get harder.
1. An adventure 65 million years in the making.
2. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.
3. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.
4. He's having the worst day of his life. Over and over.
5. I see dead people.
6. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light-years from home.
7. Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond.
8. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .
9. You'll believe a man can fly.
10. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.
11. The mob is tough, but it's nothing like show business.
12. They're young, they're in love, and they kill people.
13. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.
14. A nervous romance.
15. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
16. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.
17. Relive the best seven years of your college education.
18. If they hear you, they hunt you.
19. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.
20. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future.
21. Even a hit man deserves a second shot.
22. They fought like seven hundred.
23. If these two can learn to stand each other . . . the bad guys don't stand a chance.
24. Nice planet. We'll take it!
25. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.
26. Hell, upside down.
27. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.
28. Houston, we have a problem.
29. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.
30. Where were you in '62?
31. The story of a man who was too proud to run.
32. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.
33. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
34. Whoever wins, we lose.
35. Collide with destiny.
36. His story will touch you, even though he can't.
37. A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.
38. When he said I do, he never said what he did.
39. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
40. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
41. Get ready for rush hour.
42. Same make. Same model. New mission.
44. The last man on Earth is not alone.
45. Three decades of life in the mafia.
46. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
47. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.
48. It will lift you up where you belong.
49. When he pours, he reigns.
50. Man has met his match. Now it's his problem.
51. He took someone else's idea and America ate it up.
52. Anyone can save the galaxy once.
53. Escape or die frying.
54. Terror has no shape.
55. She gets kidnapped. He gets killed. But it all ends up okay.
56. Infiltrate hate.
57. There are no clean getaways.
58. We are not alone.
59. And you thought Earth girls were easy.
60. A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.
61. The true story of a real fake.
62. Today the pond. Tomorrow the world.
63. The park is gone.
64. Miracles do happen.
65. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.
66. Shoot first. Sightsee later.
67. A major league love story in a minor league town.
68. One man's struggle to take it easy.
69. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.
70. Love is in the hair.
71. The Coast is toast.
72. The world will be watching.
73. The snobs against the slobs.
74. The first casualty of war is innocence.
75. What a glorious feeling.
76. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.
77. Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners.
78. Size does matter.
79. All it takes is a little confidence.
80. Trust me.
81. Eight legs, two fangs, and an attitude.
82. He rules the roads.
83. For three men, the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.
84. Don't let go.
85. Work sucks.
86. Five reasons to stay single.
87. A story about love at second sight.
88. They're here.
89. Go ahead . . . make his day.
90. Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?
91. Vampires. No interviews.
92. On the air. Unaware.
93. Earth. It was fun while it lasted.
94. Good cops. Bad hair.
95. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.
96. Things are about to get a little hairy.
97. The happiest sound in all the world.
98. Every journey begins with a single move.
99. Life is in their hands. Death is on their minds.
100. In space no one can hear you scream.
And the corresponding movies:
1. Jurassic Park
3. The Silence of the Lambs
4. Groundhog Day
5. The Sixth Sense
6. E. T.--the Extra-Terrestrial
7. You Only Live Twice
8. Jaws 2
10. Finding Nemo
11. Get Shorty
12. Bonnie and Clyde
13. Easy Rider
14. Annie Hall
15. The Shining
16. Dirty Harry
17. Animal House
18. A Quiet Place
19. Back to the Future
20. The Graduate
21. Grosse Pointe Blank
22. The Magnificent Seven
23. Lethal Weapon
24. Mars Attacks!
25. Erin Brockovich
26. The Poseidon Adventure
28. Apollo 13
30. American Graffiti
31. High Noon
32. The Social Network
33. The Shawshank Redemption
34. Alien vs. Predator
36. Edward Scissorhands
38. True Lies
39. The Big Lebowski
40. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin
42. Terminator 2
43. Blazing Saddles
44. I Am Legend
47. Dumb and Dumber
48. An Officer and a Gentleman
50. Blade Runner
51. The Founder
52. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
53. Chicken Run
54. The Blob
55. The Princess Bride
57. No Country for Old Men
58. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
59. Bad Girls From Mars
60. A Fish Called Wanda
61. Catch Me If You Can
63. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
64. The Green Mile
65. The Blues Brothers
66. In Bruges
67. Bull Durham
68. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
69. The Hunt for Red October
70. There's Something About Mary
72. The Hunger Games
75. Singin' in the Rain
77. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
79. The Sting
80. Liar, Liar
82. Mad Max
83. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
85. Office Space
86. Four Weddings and a Funeral
87. While You Were Sleeping
89. Sudden Impact
90. When Harry Met Sally
91. From Dusk Till Dawn
92. The Truman Show
94. Starsky and Hutch
95. The 39 Steps
96. An American Werewolf in Paris
97. The Sound of Music
98. Searching for Bobby Fischer
99. Twelve Angry Men
How'd you do? (Paul Marks, David Edgerley Gates, and Lawrence Maddox, I'm figuring you guys got a lot of them right.)
Anytime I think of this kind of thing, I can't help picturing a bunch of movie folks sitting around a conference table, suggesting and rejecting and finally agreeing on just the right "teaser" to put on the poster. I think that'd be fun.
When all's said and done, though, movies--with or without taglines--are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get…