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I have always wondered who is responsible for movie titles in foreign countries. Sometimes they only change a little, sometimes I have the impression I am watching a whole new movie. They have nothing to do with the original. Sometimes it is English as well but a completely different title.

Why do we need them at all?

Some examples for Germany:

Original Title                   │ German Title (and my personal translation 
                                 │                word-by-word back to english)
━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━╈━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
"Made in Dagenham"               │ "We Want Sex" (no kidding!)
                                 │
"Finding Neverland"              │ "Wenn Träume fliegen lernen" ("When dreams learn to fly")
                                 │
"North by Northwest"             │ "Der unsichtbare Dritte" ("The invisible third")
                                 │
"Cradle 2 the grave"             | "Born 2 Die"
                                 │
"Monty Python and the holy grail"| "Die Ritter der Kokosnuss" ("the knights of the coconut")

I could continue a long time but I think these few examples give an expression what I am talking about. This is a homepage with lots of other examples for all german-speakers out there.

Similiar question: Why do many movie titles differ between the us and uk

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And sometimes it even varies for the same movie. A good example is The Astronaut's Wife, which is aired on TV sometimes under the English title and sometimes under the literal German translation (IMHO depending on the channel being a public or private one). –  Sonny Burnett Jun 26 '13 at 14:51
1  
In Brazil we have the same problem. A curious one(and funny) is the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" that is "O Massacre da Serra Elétrica" what stands for "The Eletric Chainsaw Massacre". Is funny because seems that the people how named it doesn't even watched the movie or didn't notice that Leatherface do not use an eletric chainsaw. –  Cine Esgoto Jun 27 '13 at 13:35
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@CineEsgoto This is ridiculous, imagine Leatherface using a silent chainsaw! Thanks for this example :) –  fiscblog Jun 27 '13 at 13:41
    
It's usually the local film distributor's responsibility. Although major studios often have their own distribution company in important foreign markets. Disney even has a division called Disney Character Voices International to oversee translation and dubbing in foreign countries... –  Oliver_C Feb 25 at 14:59
    
... For german speakers: Deutsche Filmtitel: Ich bin Mittäter and Englische Filmtitel sind hip give a little more insight (e.g. the local distributor does have to seek approval from the international distributor or producing studio). –  Oliver_C Feb 25 at 15:01

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The movie's producers are responsible for each title. There are several considerations:

  • How well they believe a title will attract an audience
  • Whether the title resembles any title ever used before in that region
  • How well the title matches the movie's content based on cultural traditions in that market

The title is one of the most important aspects of marketing. The big studios have offices—mostly for marketing—in major centers around the world. Some people in each office are responsible to assist selecting a title with proper considerations.

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1  
I'd add that especially with some English-to-English transformations it may be also for the reason that many non-English speakers are maybe more likely to recognize certain often used words than other rarely used words. I think this might have been the reason for renaming Cradle 2 the Grave into Born 2 Die from the example, since I guess more non-English speakers are going to recognize/understand the latter phrase than the former. So it's more understandable while at the same time keeping a "cool" English title... –  Sonny Burnett Jun 26 '13 at 14:45
1  
...Though in this particular case it might also have been for a more direct reference to the very successful Romeo must Die. –  Sonny Burnett Jun 26 '13 at 14:49
    
All in all a lot of effort. Do we hence use by default the original titles only on this platform? –  fiscblog Jun 27 '13 at 7:08
1  
@fiscblog If with "platform" you mean Movies & TV, then I'd say since this is an international site driven by English language, it would be preferable at least for English-language movies to use the original title. For non-English-language movies, it is probably not that easy to decide if to use the English title (since the site's language is English) or the original title. But a Wiki or IMDB link helps to clear any confusions. In the end this might be a good meta-question. –  Sonny Burnett Jun 27 '13 at 7:54
    
@ChristianRau Ok I merged it into a meta question –  fiscblog Jun 27 '13 at 8:48

In Poland, my home country, that problem exists too.

There are lots of bad translations, the best known example is The Sting which was translated literally to "Żądło", as it is the organ of some insects. The English meaning for "trick" was lost, making no sense in the Polish title.

The other example (closer to your question) is Die hard, translated to "Szklana pułapka", which means "Trap of glass". This could make sense for the first movie of the series, but gets no in others.

In case of old movies (before 1989) this could have been translator's idea, as no copyrights were there in Poland. But now this still sometimes is strange, eg. "Music and Lyrics" translated to "Prosto w serce" which could be somehow (very loosely) related to "pop! goes my heart", but it directly means "directly to the heart" and this connection is not clear.

I don't know how it is in Germany, but might be that marketers said that changing title will attract more audience. I remember the "Dirty Dancing" as it was translated to "Wirujący seks" (Whirling sex), I was 14 or something like that, so I was very interested to watch this, and I know I am not the one who was much disappointed.

I think that the title should not only match the meaning, but sound also in similar way. If it is short, it should not be long in translation. If it is some idiom, another idiom should be used, etc. This might be issue.

Now, when "Dirty Dancing" is aired on tv, the title is not translated, which makes some sense, as this is hard to translate. It would require to use more words and the Polish title would not be so compact.

(PS. Greetings to everyone as this is my first post here)

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Hah Die Hard is a very good example. In German they translated it into "Stirb Langsam" (meaning "die slowly") which is a bit ridiculous, whereas the original English title rather means a "die-hard", a determined person you cannot get rid of easily, and thus a description for John McLane himself (though the original titles also started to play with the literal meaning, but "die difficult" would still be much more appropriate than "die slowly"). But now "Stirb Langsam" has become such an iconic established franchise it would be more confusing if they started to change it. –  Sonny Burnett Jun 27 '13 at 12:43

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