The other evening I was with an Italian watching The Impossible, the excellent film about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami starring Naomi Watts. Halfway through the gut wrenching story, the Italian turned to me and said, and I quote, “Why is this called ‘The Impossible’? The Impossible WHAT? It should be called ‘The Tsunami’!” This question/request could not have been better scripted, because my friend Jennifer and I have been laughing for ten years about the Italians’ desire for movie titles to be more like one-word plot synopses, requiring little or no stretching of the imagination or any kind of symbolic thought. American movie and TV titles are often translated with this in mind, or seemingly with nothing in mind whatsoever.

With Jennifer’s help, here’s a list of our favorites. Please let me know if you run across others.

1.    Jaws


The Shark“. Just “The Shark.” The French version was called “The Teeth of the Ocean,” which is actually pretty good and gets two thumbs up from me. It’s got the same ominous ring to it that “Jaws” has, requiring the viewer who knows nothing about the film to actually stretch that imaginative muscle just…a…bit. I was laughing about the Italian title to an Italian girl once and this was her actual response: “But if you just call a film JAWS, no one is going to know it’s about a SHARK.”  If only someone had told Spielberg and the rest of America that.

2.    The Shawshank Redemption


The Wings of Liberty.” Yes, “The Shawshank Redemption,” which I maintain has the best ending in all of film history tied with “The Last of the Mohicans” was turned into the banal “The Wings of Liberty.” Again, I was shaking my head over this one day to an Italian who said, “But ‘Shawshank’ doesn’t mean anything in Italian!” And I said, “It doesn’t mean anything in English either, it’s a proper name.” And he said, “Then how does anyone know what it’s about ?” And I said, “HOW DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT ‘THE WINGS OF LIBERTY’ IS ABOUT?”

3.    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


If You Leave Me, I Delete You.” Apparently this marketing decision really backfired, as people were expecting to see a typical Jim Carrey romp and instead saw this dark film (which I still haven’t seen!). Meanwhile, people who appreciate Carey’s more serious work (The Truman Show, Man on the Moon) stayed away because they thought it was going to be another slapstick.

4.    The Producers


Such a classic movie. The original with Gene Wilder is so much better than the recent remake, folks. Anyway, in Italian, “The Producers,” which obviously has a very literal translation that would have worked perfectly in Italian, became…”Please Don’t Touch the Old Women.” I’m pretty sure there aren’t any old women in this film. Nothing about this title makes any sense on any planet on any day.

5.      Leatherheads


Did anyone see this movie? I think I started to watch it on a plane and dozed off. I was surprised it even came out in Italy until I remembered, Italians love Clooney. He does all kind of cheesy commercials here that he would never do in the States. He has a big fat house here and dated an Italian showgirl for a few years. Anyway, “Leatherheads” became “In Love, No Rules.” I can actually appreciate that “Leatherheads” cannot be translated, but turning the football movie into a love story is pretty shameless. Check out the computer-generated cover art – these two never posed together like that – compared to ever poster for the movie in the States, showing an old-school college football team. No Zellweger in sight in those.

6.     Walk the Line


When Love Burns the Soul.” I can also appreciate that “Walk the Line” cannot be translated into Italian. But just imagine a movie in America coming out with a title like “When Love Burns the Soul.” I’m gaining weight just thinking of the cheesiness.

7.   Weird Science

Weird Science


8.    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller

A Crazy Day of Vacation.” I mean, all that’s missing is “…in which the protagonist goes to a baseball game and drives a Ferrari” and you may have the most literal film title since “Lo Squalo.”

9.        Risky Business

Risky Busi

When the Old People are Away, the Sons Dance.” There’s nothing for me to add.

10.    The Cosby Show


Moving into TV now, my beloved Cosby Show aired in Italy as “The Robinsons.” Yes, they substituted one totally pronounceable American surname with another one. When I tell Italians about this one, even they think it’s stupid.

11.    Growing Pains


This one is Jennifer’s Favorite. “Parents in Blue Jeans.” !!!!  Completely unexplainable. I am certain they didn’t wear jeans all the time. The parents are wearing suits on this very DVD cover.

12.    Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

La Signora del West

The Lady of the West.” Yes, they put “West” in English for some reason. You know the more I think about this one, the more it’s growing on me. I might even like it better than the original.

13.    Trading Places

Trading Places

Gah this is an awesome movie. For some reason, marketers in Italy thought Trading Places should be known as “A Chair for Two.” I don’t remember any prominent chairs in this movie, and there isn’t even one on this cover art.

14.    Home Alone


Here, too, they could have translated “Home Alone” quite literally and it would have worked. Instead we get, “Mamma, I Missed the Plane.”

15.    The Seven Year Itch


Going back to Hollywood’s golden era, instead of “The Seven Year Itch,” this Marilyn Monroe classic got slapped with “When the Wife is on Vacation.” Doesn’t quite render the same point, does it?

16.    The Sound of Music

Sound of Music

All Together Passionately“!

17.    Vertigo


“Vertigo” has a translation in Italian. Why not use it? Because “The Woman Who Lived Twice” focuses on the hot blonde in the equation, and not the squirrelly James Stewart, is my guess.

18.    Avanti


What’s crazy about the translation of this old Jack Lemmon comedy is that the title in America is already in Italian (“Avanti!” means “Come in!”). So they took the already-in-Italian title and changed it to “What happened between my father and your mother?” Motives remain unclear.

19.    Breaking Away


Ok, I admit I wasn’t even sure what this movie was, but I looked it up and Dennis Quaid is in it and he’s been on my list since Innerspace, so it must be at least watchable. Anyway, someone brought it to my attention as an example of an American movie with an English-language title, on which Italy turned around and bestowed a different English-language title. That’s right. The poster below is the Italian version of the film in the poster above.

20.     Friday the 13th, Part 2


Guys, what you need to know is that Friday the 13th Part 1 was translated literally. “Venerdi 13.” It got the point across, Italians went to see it, and it did well. Why, then, someone decided to call the sequel “The Murderer Sits Next to You” remains a mystery.


21.     Teen Wolf


A teenaged high school student discovers he is a werewolf. Naturally, let’s call it “The Desire to Win.”

22.     Murder, She Wrote


THE LADY IN YELLOW“!!! “MURDER, SHE WROTE” IS CALLED “THE LADY IN YELLOW”!!! Like all of these titles, it makes sense in Italian. But ketchup on pasta makes sense to some Americans too, and that doesn’t make it as good as the original.

Got any examples of your own friends? If I get lots of suggestions, I may do a Part 2 to this post. And call it something completely different.