03 August 2019
How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Very Long Titles
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
I've always been fascinated by titles. It's usually a case of Whoa, what a great title, and then Why couldn't I have thought of one like that? And, thankfully less often, What was the author thinking?--I could've done better than that. The truth is, the titles of movies, novels, and stories come in all categories--good, bad, and ugly.
I think some are so well done they're worth mentioning: The Guns of Navarone, Atlas Shrugged, The Eagle Has Landed, The High and the Mighty, The Caine Mutiny, Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird, "The Tin Star," Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jurassic Park, Lonesome Dove, The Grapes of Wrath, The Silence of the Lambs, Blazing Saddles, The Princess Bride, The Maltese Falcon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, "The Gift of the Magi," Ben-Hur, Sands of the Kalahari, Dances With Wolves, East of Eden, Back to the Future, A Fish Called Wanda, The Seven-Year Itch, Our Man Flint, The Usual Suspects, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Gypsy Moths, No Country for Old Men, The Sand Pebbles, Fail-Safe, Gone With the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and so on. The one thing all these have in common is that they are unique--each is one of a kind.
An aside, here. I also love the way some authors of fiction have used their titles almost as marketing trademarks: Janet Evanovich's numbers: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly; James Patterson's nursery rhymes: Jack and Jill, Three Blind Mice, Along Came a Spider; Sue Grafton's alphabet: A Is for Alibi, B Is for Burglar, C Is for Corpse; Martha Grimes's English pubs: The Old Silent, The Dirty Duck, Jerusalem Inn; John D. MacDonald's colors: The Green Ripper, The Deep Blue Good-by, A Purple Place for Dying; Robert Ludlum's three-word titles: The Bourne Identity, The Matarese Circle, The Rhinemann Exchange; James Michener's one-word titles: Centennial, Chesapeake, Hawaii; John Sandford's "prey" titles: Night Prey, Winter Prey, Mind Prey; etc.
Does length matter?
One thing that I find interesting is that there are a LOT of movie and novel titles that are long--some of them extremely long. And some of those titles are surprisingly good. Another thing that's interesting, at least to me, is that some of the longest titles aren't that hard to remember; they're just long. In fact I can recall some titles that aren't very long but are hard to remember, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, etc.
As you might've expected, I've put together a list of some very long movie titles. They're in no particular order, but my favorites are at the top of the list. As you also might've expected, some of the titles farther down the line are bad and some are ugly. I'll leave it to you to decide which are which.
Note: Only titles of eight words or more are included. (I hated to leave out It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and, yes, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I had to draw the line somewhere.) I also didn't include any documentary titles or any titles containing colons, parentheses, or "or." Examples:
- Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Shoot First and Pray You Live (Because Luck Has Nothing to Do With It)
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes
Here, then, after my lame disclaimers, is my lineup:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain (1995)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Seeking a Friend at the End of the World (2012)
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991)
Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971)
Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forgive Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mom's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad (1967)
Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God . . . Be Back by Five (1998)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972)
Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)
Quackster Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)
To Woo Fong, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
The Ranger, the Cook, and the Hole in the Sky (1995)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest (2002)
A Quiet Little Neighborhood, a Perfect Little Murder (1990)
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (2011)
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993)
It's Better to Be Wanted for Murder Than Not to Be Wanted at All (2003)
I Could Never Have Sex With a Man Who Had Such Little Regard for My Husband (1973)
The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957)
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1991)
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)
Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)
What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love (2013)
The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charente Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1967)
The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure (1916)
What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body? (1972)
The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Super Bad About It (2010)
I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney (1993)
You Gotta Walk It If You Like to Talk It or You'll Lost That Beat (1971)
The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space (1965)
The Heart of a Lady as Pure as a Full Moon Over the Place of Medical Salvation (1955)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)
Since I've neglected them so far, here are some long-titled novels and children's books:
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell
Grab Onto Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way, Bryan Charles
The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski
The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It, Lisa Shanahan
The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, Edgardo Vega Yunque
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
And to My Nephew Albert I Leave the Island What I Won Off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game, David Forrest
Sheila Devine Is Dead and Living in New York, Gail Parent
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List, Janette Rallison
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judie Viorst
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente
Okay, back to the movies
The best (in my opinion) one-word movie titles: Vertigo, Giant, Shane, Fargo, Goldfinger, Tombstone, M*A*S*H, Goodfellas, Unforgiven, Psycho, Nashville, Crash, Rocky, Papillon, Casino, Platoon, Holes, Ghostbusters, Splash, Memento, Twister, Witness, Deliverance, Seabiscuit, Chinatown, Sideways, Titanic, Hondo, Flashdance, Poltergeist, Network, Spartacus, Jaws, Signs, Aliens, Misery, Casablanca.
And, last AND least, some two-letter and one-letter titles: Pi, Go, RV, It, Up, If . . ., F/X, I. Q., Da, E.T., M, G, W., Z, O, $.
Had enough of this? Good, because those are all I can think of. As always, please let me know of any I've missed, and maybe some of the titles of your own stories and novels. Do your titles tend to be long or short--or does it matter? Do you have any that are very long or very short?
I'll close with the longest movie title of them all (I think). Brace yourself:
Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh-Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead, Part 2 (1991).
Don't you wish you'd thought of that one?