Not every movie title is as effective as this summer's buzz-magnet, "Snakes on a Plane."
Some are so bland, they tell you nothing about what's in store. Others are so obtuse, they leave you standing outside the multiplex scratching your head. Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of movie names:
They are what they areThe upcoming Samuel L. Jackson action flick "Snakes on a Plane" just lays it out there. Similarly, Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" is about two Port Authority police officers who were trapped beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers. Such simplicity lends to the solemnity of the subject matter, as it did earlier this year with the devastating "United 93."
Looking back, Alfred Hitchcock had a string of classic, catchy titles: "Psycho," "The Birds," "Strangers on a Train," "Rear Window." They all reach out and grab you by telling you exactly what they're about.
Several recent comedies have achieved this feat: "Wedding Crashers," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Say no more.
And of course there's "Titanic," an apt name that's far more concise than James Cameron ever would have dreamed of being with the film itself.
Great films with bad titles"The Squid and the Whale" — is it a documentary like "March of the Penguins"? Or an animated kids' movie with an all-star vocal cast? Neither — it's a small gem of a dark comedy about divorcing writers and their kids.
"Sideways" starred Paul Giamatti as a wine snob on a road trip. OK, so ... sideways is how you store wine bottles ... but it's also a metaphor for these characters, who are going nowhere in life, right? Too much of a reach — but the film itself is beautifully written.
"21 Grams" was an intensely acted drama starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. Supposedly 21 grams is what you lose when you die, it's how much your soul weighs. Wow, that's heavy, man.
Other great films have titles that are just clunky: "Erin Brockovich," "The Shawshank Redemption" and (this is blasphemy, but) "The Manchurian Candidate."
Bad films with great titles"Eyes Wide Shut," Stanley Kubrick's last film, is a neat little turn of phrase. The film itself is draggy and laughably self-important.
"The Notorious Bettie Page" sounds way more daring and sexy than it really is, despite the subject matter: the legendary pinup girl from the 1950s.
"The Fast and the Furious" is indeed both, but that doesn't make it good, and that doesn't mean it merits two sequels.
"She Hate Me" is a twist on the nickname Carolina Panthers running back Rod Smart took for himself back in his XFL days. The movie is one of Spike Lee's worst.
"Steal This Movie," which plays on the book titled "Steal This Book," sounds provocative and subversive. The movie, starring Vincent D'Onofrio as political activist Abbie Hoffman, is a by-the-numbers biopic.
Then there's "Maid in Manhattan," another clever pun and, in the Jennifer Lopez canon, one of her least offensive efforts. But still, it's just another forgettable J.Lo romantic comedy.
Great genre titles
Some of the cheesiest horror movies have some of the most memorable titles ever. How can you resist "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" (which also belongs in the they-are-what-they-are category), "The Blob" or "Beware! The Blob" (the 1972 sequel directed by Larry Hagman)? "It!" "Them!" We can't stop screaming!
Then there are the classic Westerns, the work of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, with lyrical, romantic titles that have withstood the test of time: "The Searchers," "The Wild Bunch," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "A Fistful of Dollars" and (of course) "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," is a fast-paced film noir, not just an onomatopoeia. "Awesome! I ... Shot That," which contains an expletive we can't repeat here, is a Beastie Boys concert movie, shot by the rap trio's fans.
"John Tucker Must Die" could be a martial arts film starring Steven Seagal, or it could be an awkwardly translated foreign film. It's actually a high-school romantic comedy.
There's "Wah-Wah" — huh? — about life in Swaziland in the late 1960s; "XX/XY," which you'd never guess is about a three-way love affair, starring Mark Ruffalo; "Kazaam," featuring Shaquille O'Neal as a rapping genie (not nearly as good as his screen debut in "Blue Chips"); and of course, "Gigli," which would have been a confusing title anyway, but now has become synonymous with failure thanks to the artist formerly known as Bennifer.
Painfully genericWe'll just list a few, see if you can figure out what they're about, or care enough to even try: "Pulse," "Zoom" and "Brick." "Set It Off," "Turn It Up," "Bring It On" and "Stick It." "Enough" and "Always."
For some reason, a lot of movies in this category star Harrison Ford: "Firewall," "Random Hearts," "Frantic," "Witness."
And we cannot forget "Crossroads," the coming-of-age road trip movie that Britney Spears made before she became Mrs. Federline — when she was not a girl, but not yet a woman.
Just right"Star Wars." The first one, before George Lucas mucked it up with his protracted, overly punctuated prequels. Simple, powerful, iconic. Theoretically we're supposed to refer to it now as "Episode IV," but do you know anyone who actually does this?
"Animal House." Doesn't that make you want to join?
"The Devil Wears Prada." Yes, it's based on the book of the same title, but it's such a vivid image it just sucks you in.
"Rebel Without a Cause." Bold, imaginative, precise and descriptive.
And finally, "Beerfest." Whether or not the movie is any good, who cares?