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
Most people know this film under its shortened name Marat/Sade, but the real title of the Peter Weiss play adaptation is actually much longer. The story takes place in an insane asylum, centering on a performance directed by the Marquis de Sade about Jean-Paul Marat — the radical figure prominent during the most violent part of the French Revolutionary era, who was eventually murdered in his bathtub. The inmates become equally uncontrollable as their play evolves. The long-winded, frenetic title is fitting.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This is the kind of name you would expect from a movie directed by Michel Gondry and co-written with Charlie Kaufman. The title is taken from a passage in Alexander Pope’s poem Eloisa to Abelard about a tragic romance, in which the only salvation is forgetfulness:
“How happy is the blameless Vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot; Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”
To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar
A road film about New York drag queens (surprisingly played by Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo) who idolize a photo of Catwoman actress Julie Newmar needs a title like this to suit its colorful characters.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 mockumentary, in which the actor plays a Kazakh journalist traveling across America, goes to great lengths to stay in character — even where the film’s title is concerned. Everything is crafted around the horny and jovial Borat and his unique way of expressing himself.
All of giallo cinema
We’ve already shared our tremendous appreciation for the Italian horror subgenre known as giallo and the lurid and stylish poster art of the 1970’s-era films. Gialli movie titles are equally evocative, poetic, and strange. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin , Don’t Torture a Duckling , Five Dolls for an August Moon , The Bird with the Crystal Plumage , and perhaps our favorite, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key are just a few of the best. Like many foreign films, gialli’s titles prompted some hilarious and completely unrelated translations across other languages, too.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space and other low budget gems
We don’t mind when low budget films give away all their goodies in their eccentric titles, because at least we know what we’re in for — apart from questionable special effects and acting. Killer Kowns and Killer Tomatoes reveal their bizarre baddies up front, while Russ Meyer’s bold vixens are well represented with titles like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. The best title in the low budget category may be The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?. The weirdly random punctuation sometimes seems to overshadow the actual name.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Grant Heslov’s 2009 war satire The Men Who Stare at Goats takes its title from the book by Jon Ronson about bizarre, psychological techniques used by the United States Department of Homeland Security in the War on Terror. This includes psychic experiments on actual goats — an act strange enough that no other title is needed to describe the film more perfectly.
My Own Private Idaho
Director Gus Van Sant named his movie after a 1980 B-52’s song of the same name, which immediately wins the moody drama quirky points. Although not as outlandish as some of the other titles on our list, the film about best friends and street hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) who embark on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery is beautifully summarized in its unusual name.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
One part brilliant satire by one of cinema’s greatest auteurs, Stanley Kubrick; one part astounding performance (three, in fact, since he played a trio of roles) from genius comic and stellar actor Peter Sellers; one part Cold War insanity and absurdity, and Dr. Strangelove was born. Kubrick considered a list of potential titles for his farcical nuclear masterpiece that were equally compelling, but we’re glad this one stuck with the meticulous filmmaker. Other titles considered were:
Doctor Doomsday Don’t Knock the Bomb Dr. Doomsday and his Nuclear Wiseman Dr. Doomsday Meets Ingrid Strangelove Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying Dr. Strangelove’s Bomb Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus My Bomb, Your Bomb Save The Bomb Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day The Bomb of Bombs The Doomsday Machine The Passion of Dr. Strangelove Wonderful Bomb
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Most of what you need to know about Andrew Dominik’s 2007 western-drama is in its lengthy title. Brad Pitt tackles the role of real-life outlaw Jesse James and Casey Affleck his obsessed killer — an act that Dominik posits James actually orchestrated, targeting the unknowing Ford. Critic Peter Bradshaw explained the motivation — and its relation to the film’s title — best:
“With the taunts and whims of a lover, he encourages Ford’s envious, murderous fascination, and grooms him as his own killer, so that his own legend will be pristine after his death. He engineers a character-assassination of Ford, and the title, knowingly, gets it precisely the wrong way around.”