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Movies That Didn't Lie In The Title To Get You To Show Up

What really is in a name? As a great man once posited, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. And it's true for movies, too; would a classic movie be any less great if it'd had a different name? Surely not, but in Hollywood, there's often a lot riding on a name of a major motion picture, unlike Shakespeare's supposition in "Romeo and Juliet." A good name can get audiences interested, but a bad one could confuse or turn off prospective moviegoers.

Some movies can intrigue with a cryptic title that they hope will drive audiences to theaters to learn more or excite with a bombastic name that makes you want to rush out to the theater. But this can be fraught with problems when they don't sound like the movie on offer. Thus, studios will spend millions of dollars on marketing, with everything from posters, trailers, and social media advertising to clue us in on what a movie is all about.

But then there are those movies whose titles alone did all the work, spelling out the meat of the story right there at the outset, like a temporary first-draft title somebody forgot to change. Were they really struck on by accident, or were they a stroke of genius? Well, let's take a look back and find out for ourselves because we've found some movies whose titles alone told the whole story.

Snakes on a Plane

A film famous for its over-the-top silliness, stars an acclaimed and well-respected actor, with a title that turned it into one of the web's biggest memes? No, we're not talking about 2022's "Morbius" starring Jared Leto but the 2006 action movie "Snakes on a Plane" with Samuel L. Jackson. With a title like that, how could you not love it? Everything you need to get you excited about the film is right there in the title: trapped in a speeding jetliner, passengers must contend with a horde of deadly snakes.

With Samuel L. Jackson  — star of acclaimed dramas like "A Time to Kill," gritty action movies like "The Negotiator," and even comedies like "The Man" — the movie really could have been anything from a nail-biting thriller to a tongue-in-cheek comedy. But with its straightforward title, audiences knew right away that they shouldn't take it too seriously and that it would be more akin to a B-movie. And it almost didn't happen, as its original planned title — the bland "Pacific Airflight 121" — was changed at the insistence of Jackson himself.

Though it wasn't a barn-burner at the box office, the title "Snakes on a Plane" was enough to get the internet abuzz in the pre-social media days. Ahead of its release, it was dubbed "the most internet-hyped film of all time" with fans loving the movie's title so much that they even invented an iconic catchphrase that was ultimately added to the film.

Honey I Shrunk the Kids

If you're making a family film that's meant to appeal to kids and adults, sometimes using a title that describes everything you need to know is the best way to appeal to a large audience. This may have been what was on the minds of the producers and director Joe Johnston when crafting their 1988 classic "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." Originally written by "Reanimator" scribe Stuart Gordon as "Teeny Weenies," the film went through a couple of name changes, including "Grounded" before settling on its final name.

The movie tells the story of Wayne Szalinski, a husband and father played by Rick Moranis, who invents a machine that shrinks his children down to nearly microscopic size by mistake. From there, the kids go on a series of adventures around the house and in their own yard. They nearly drown in a puddle of mud, befriend a forager ant, and battle a deadly scorpion, all within just a few yards of their back door.  

Though perhaps somewhat clunky the first time you hear it, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" informs the audience of the story much better than its early working titles. The title also puts in mind classic 1950s B-movies like "The Incredible Shrinking Man," and you'll find that B-movie homages are a common theme among films with literal titles.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

The subgenre of teen slacker comedies were birthed in the early '80s, came to prominence in the 1990s, and comedian Seth Rogen has made a career out of them in the 2000s. But they often tend to have pretty simple, literal titles that describe the film pretty directly in just a few words, like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" But no slacker comedy title can beat the precise nature of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," a film with such a mundane story that's summed up almost entirely in those seven words.

Set in the suburban hellscape of central New Jersey, the film introduces Harold Lee and Kumar Patel (John Cho and Kal Penn), a pair of stoners who discover the fast food burger joint in a TV ad and set out to find it. A mini road comedy, the duo wind up sidetracked by some extreme sports nuts, a nasty raccoon, and some horribly racist cops, among other things. They even get chased by the actor Neil Patrick Harris, who for some reason is in New Jersey.

An unexpected hit, the film's plain and simple title may have helped it at the box office, where it more than doubled its budget. Thanks to that success, the movie received a pair of sequels, while a fourth has been rumored for years.

Hobo with a Shotgun

When you've got a vigilante action movie, a title can make all the difference. A great moniker like or "Death Wish" or "First Blood" can draw in audiences with a thirst for over-the-top, guns-blazing destruction. But don't underestimate a title that gets its point across succinctly, like the 2011 low-budget actioner "Hobo with a Shotgun." Starring aging acting legend Rutger Hauer, the film revolves around an intransigent man who is tired of the rising crime rates and decides to take matters into his own hands with a pump-action shotgun.

A modern-day B-movie of the highest order, Hauer stars as the titular hobo. Wandering into the city of Hope Town, nicknamed "Scum City," he sees a beleaguered community under the thumb of the Drake, a vicious crime boss. With an inept and corrupt police department unwilling to do anything about it, the central character picks up a gun and gets to work on a mission to take him down.

With fun action, loads of violence, and an uncompromisingly brutal protagonist, "Hobo with a Shotgun" is a satisfying exploitation flick for the 21st century. And with the help name that gets right to the point and is unapologetically in-your-face, the movie has achieved cult status with a subset of fans who love action-packed, gun-toting heroes on a rampage.

Killer Clowns in Outer Space

Iconic horror movies from the golden age of cinema loved to hit you over the head with their movie titles. From "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" to "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" there was no better way to get bottoms in seats than to tell audiences what they expected to see on the big screen: a fish-like monster from the swamp, invaders from the stars, or a big gelatinous blob of man-eating protoplasm. Thanks to those catchy titles, teens and kids flocked to theaters to see these grotesque monstrosities wreak havoc on a town's unprepared populace. 

Flash forward to the 1980s, and tongue-in-cheek sci-fi/horror movies were paying respect to their forebears with remakes of '50s classics. But even new movies were paying homage, with the 1988 movie "Killer Clowns from Outer Space" sounding very much like the kind of movie that would alarm parents and delight children in the days of drive-in movie theaters. In the movie — as you might expect — an invading group of murderous, psychopathic aliens from outer space descend on a small town, and they resemble nothing so much as twisted, malformed circus clowns. It's ludicrous, but it works. Sure, the movie sounds silly, but the makers of "Killer Clowns from Outer Space" knew precisely what they were doing, and it's been an underground classic ever since.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

A title can do more than attract an audience to the theater and get people excited to see it. It can even do more than give viewers an idea of what to expect — describing in near-literal terms the plot of the film. Sometimes, as was the case with the 2008 sex comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," it can be the key ingredient that gets the movie off the drawing board and into production. 

As you'd imagine, the movie is all about a pair of platonic friends — Zack and Miri — who make their own adult film together. They do it because they're strapped for cash and think they can make a little extra money from it. But when they make plans to follow through, it threatens to wreak havoc on their lives and their relationship. Writer and director Kevin Smith told the Seattle Times the studio greenlit the film based on the title alone, proving that a straight-forward name can make the difference between a movie being made or being shelved.

But with a controversial subject matter smack dab in the middle of its name, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" also caused problems with movie theaters. According to Smith, there were some chains and independent movie houses that were reluctant to put such a salacious title up on a marquee.

Cocaine Bear

Horror movies and B-movies love to utilize straightforward titles that leave nothing to the imagination, and the 2023 survivalist horror slasher "Cocaine Bear" does likewise. But this one is not the brainchild of a brilliant screenwriter who thought getting a bear crazed on crack would make for a brutally vicious killer the likes of which only the '70s classic "Grizzly" had seen before. No, this time, it's inspired by a remarkable true story that more than passes the sniff test.

In 1985, a very real drug-smuggling operation resulted in an entire duffel back of cocaine being mistakenly dropped by Andrew Thornton, a parachuting drug mule, according to the AP. It landed in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and by the time the authorities located it, all they found was a torn-open bag, a big pile of the illegal powder, and a dead black bear who'd apparently overdosed on the stuff. Of course, the movie invents a little more, with the bear going on a drug-fueled rampage, but it wouldn't be much of a movie without that part. Incidentally, the true story of Thornton also served as the basis for Season 4 of the FX crime series "Justified."

Sure they could have called the film something more poetic or cryptic, but why not get right to the point? The trailer to the black comedy "Cocaine Bear" landed to riotous applause, in no small part thanks to its buzz-worthy title. 

Hot Tub Time Machine

From "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" to "Back to the Future" to "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," classic time travel movies love finding an unconventional method of traversing the space-time continuum, whether it be a DeLorean, a pay phone, a 23rd-century Klingon starship. But in 2010, the sci-fi comedy "Hot Tub Time Machine" chose something a bit different, and from the title, you can probably figure out what method of travel they used.

The movie centers on a group of childhood friends who grow weary of their unfulfilling adult lives. But after a night of partying while on vacation, they fall asleep in a hot tub only to find themselves in 1986 the next morning, with a chance to change their futures. It's all fairly predictable, though plenty entertaining, and from the name on the poster, movie-goers likely knew exactly what they were in for when they bought a ticket.

A modest success, "Hot Tub Time Machine" even got itself a follow-up. Like the "Back to the Future" sequel, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" takes the gang into the future for some wild history-changing fun.

Planet of the Apes

It can be difficult to be objective when looking at the title of a franchise that has been popular for decades, as audiences can get used to just about anything over time. Raking in millions at the box office since the 1960s, "Planet of the Apes" is one of the best and most beloved sci-fi franchises ever. But step back for just a moment and you'll realize just how on-the-nose the title of its first installment is, accurately capturing the basics of the plot in just a few simple words. There's no mystery in "Planet of the Apes," no misdirect or greater meaning.

The original 1968 classic, penned by "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling, saw a trio of Earth astronauts land on — you guessed it — a planet ruled by apes. In this upside-down world, intelligent, walking, talking primates dominate the planet, with an educated, civilized society, while ordinary humans are mostly mute and slaves to the monkeys. Starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, "Planet of the Apes" was an instant hit and sci-fi ground-breaker, but believe it or not, it was based on a book with an even more straight-forward, name: French author Pierre Boulle's 1963 novella that was marketed in English as "Monkey Planet."

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

Teenagers can be tough to lure to the cinemas. Their famously cynical attitudes and their notoriously mercurial tastes combine to be a studio executive's worst nightmare. So when making a movie for the teenaged crowd, it's often best to keep the title simple and direct, to communicate the story, the tone, and ensure that young audiences know just what to expect. That's where a movie like "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" comes in.

Starring Christina Applegate, who was then starring in "Married... with Children" on TV, the movie is pretty much just what you'd guess from the title: A teenage girl and her siblings are left alone when their babysitter dies, and madcap hijinks result. The title may be cumbersome, but it definitely gets the idea across. This is a tongue-in-cheek dark comedy about a group of kids on their own and trying to hide all the trouble from their mother who is far away from home. It's mostly focused on the older teen Sue Ellen (Applegate), who is suddenly thrust into the role of a reluctant mother figure. But the over-long moniker did a better job than the title initially chosen in its original draft, which was more cryptically named "The Real World."

The Men Who Stare at Goats

While it's true that a literal movie title can often be an asset, it's not always the case. Where something like "Hot Tub Time Machine" is just wild, zany, and a good descriptor enough to attract its target audience, "The Men Who Stare At Goats" does the opposite. Starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey, it's a war movie about a group of purported psychic soldiers who use their metaphysical gifts to help the war effort.

Sure, the title is definitely as dead-on as any on this list: It accurately recounts the story of the film, where the soldiers who claim to have paranormal powers believe they can kill with a stare, and practice their skills on goats. Unfortunately, due to a confluence of factors, it may have been doomed from the start by its overly simplistic and literal title. While there's no way to know for sure, it seems possible that the movie's name could have confused audiences, leading to an underwhelming box office and mixed reviews. Between its all-star cast and war-time setting, the overly-accurate title just didn't add up for audiences. Still, the title didn't lie, and there's some achievement in making such an odd moniker mean something. 

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

An iconic B-movie parody, the 1978 film "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" left everything out on the table, and we don't mean the rotting veggies. The name is so ridiculous some audiences may have thought there was more to it than what it sounds like; alas, it is indeed the story of a race of deadly, man-eating tomatoes invading a small town and gobbling up men, women, and children in increasingly more violent and bloody ways.  

Written and directed by indie filmmaker John DeBello, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" doesn't hold back, going much further than the films it's parodying ever did. But it isn't just disgustingly violent, it is also downright silly, and even features a goofy theme song that sounds like it hails from a 1930s Broadway musical and has to be heard to be believed. If the title doesn't give away just how ludicrous the movie was going to be, the opening musical number definitely does. 

Perhaps owed in part to its catchy title, the movie received three sequels. 1988's "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" even featured early career appearances from George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston, while a children's TV cartoon landed in 1990.

Stop! Or my Mom will Shoot!

A good comedy is usually the perfect place to use a straightforward title that describes the movie's story. Whether they worked for the bad ones though is up for debate, and the failure of the 1992 Sylvester Stallone comedy "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" proves that even a fun, clever title might not be enough. A film that the former "Rocky" star was tricked into doing thanks to his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger — who had just had a big hit with his family comedy "Kindergarten Cop" — it was roundly roasted by critics and bombed at the box office.

But as the title would suggest, it's all about a man whose mom is a pistol-packing powerhouse. Stallone plays Joe Bomowski, a tough-as-nails cop who has a contentious relationship with his mother, who is nothing but a nasty nag. Things don't get any easier for him when mamma Bomowski is the witness in a brutal murder and refuses to sit things out, becoming his partner in the chase to catch a killer.

Though it may boast a cute title, "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" remains one of Stallone's worst efforts. Even the star himself has mentioned many times that it's a movie he never should have made.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

A family-friendly fantasy comedy starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, "The House with a Clock in its Walls" almost sounds like it could be a horror movie. But even if it doesn't contain the same levels of spooks and scares as "The People Under the Stairs," it does indeed center on a mysterious house with a strange clock within its walls. 

It all focuses on a little orphaned boy named Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), who moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Black) after the death of his parents. Not long after he begins hearing strange tick-tock sounds from the house, and it's quickly revealed that his uncle and his neighbor Florence (Blanchett) are a witch and warlock. According to his warlock uncle, he'd taken ownership of the house from a fellow spell-caster (Kyle MacLachlan) who'd hidden a diabolical clock in its walls that he's never been able to find, or understand why it keeps on ticking.

A bizarre fantasy film that sees little Lewis take up the dark arts himself, "The House with a Clock in its Walls" takes audiences on a mind-bending trip through the unknown. Its title is perfect, too, deftly weaving together elements of intrigue and directness that helped lure audiences to the tune of $131 million dollars