Guest Post: Film Titles – A Puzzling Matter.

Having enjoyed Joseph’s articles on translating film titles (The Good, the Bad and the Inexplicable and the sequel), I accepted his ‘challenge’ to talk (well, write) about English film titles translated into Romanian: the good and the bad.

As a film lover and a linguist, I could go on and on and on and on (you get my drift) about this topic, but I’ll try to be brief (sort of).


The Good

In this category, I am going to include films whose titles have been translated literally and worked just fine (without resorting to unnecessary gimmicks and metaphors, although I have to admit I do like the French title for ‘Jaws’ – ‘Les dents de la mer’) and those whose titles have been changed for the best.

Literal translation

Some films titles that have kept the same meaning as the original and are excellent examples that sometimes a literal translation can work: ‘The Godfather’ (Nașul), ‘Jaws’ (Fălci), ‘The Sixth Sense’ (Al șaselea simț), ‘Black Swan’ (Lebăda neagră).

Slightly changed

Some translators have done a brilliant job. Speaking of brilliant, take for instance ‘A Beautiful Mind’. The Romanian translation  – ‘O minte sclipitoare’ – means ‘a brilliant mind’, which definitely conveys the idea of the film. Had the translator used ‘frumoasă’ (the exact equivalent of ‘beautiful’), it would have sounded awkward.

To Kill a Mockingbird’  – the only change was made to mockingbird, which was rendered as ‘singing bird’. The change is perfectly justified, as there is no popular term for ‘mockingbird’ in Romanian and using the scientific name was obviously not a choice. Although there is a bird called ‘gaiță’ which can mimic other birds’ sounds, this word is also used with a pejorative connotation (a person who talks a lot without saying anything meaningful). So, excellent choice.

Finding Nemo’ became ‘Looking for Nemo’ (În căutarea lui Nemo). While English is a lot more flexible in using the gerund form, somehow that does not work the same way in Romanian, as a noun would be used in constructions such as the one in the title.  And since the corresponding noun for ‘finding’ would have sounded clumsy, the translator found the perfect solution. Well done!

Some Like It Hot’ – ‘Unora le place jazz-ul’ (Some like jazz). Well, with so many different meanings of the word ‘hot’ in English, I am afraid it would have been impossible to find a perfect equivalent, so I think the title is pretty decent.

The Bad

Now comes the fun part that you’ve all been waiting for!

To be fair, there are titles that cannot be easily translated as they convey a (sometimes, ‘double’) meaning which must be looked for in the word collocation/formation or even more deeply, in the setting, history or tradition of the characters involved. Words of foreign origin – loan words – puns (especially if they are the result of ‘merging’) may be extremely tricky and require special attention. In my opinion, no title should be translated before the film has been watched to the very end and thoroughly understood. A foreigner doing a translation into their mother tongue had better check a few film reviews before making up their mind what to do with the title. The top film critics of the world have probably written a word or two about it.

There are several categories of badly translated titles. Some, the less horrifying category, may not be far from the original but still don’t have the same effect upon the viewer as the original ones would do. Others tend to keep little of the original meaning (together with its underlying impact) simply because they have not looked at it as carrying a metaphorical meaning instead of the literal one. A third group comprises those titles which are not at all translations of the original ones but adaptations or interpretations, someone’s idea regarding the ‘essence’ of the film which is not always what the director and screen writer had in mind.

Why turn ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘ into ‘The prison of angels’ (Închisoarea îngerilor) when there is a proper noun followed by another quite ‘translatable’ common noun in that title?

Or why pick one of the least relevant meanings of the word ‘dark’ and decide to translate ‘The Dark Knight‘ in such a way that it comes to mean ‘The Black Knight’ (Cavalerul Negru)? Does the character seem to wear too much ‘black’ in the film or should the translator have found another word?

Déjà vu’ starring Denzel Washington was translated ‘Dincolo de trecut’ (Beyond the past). While it sounds great, it could have very well been left as ‘Déjà vu’, as this French borrowed term is used in Romanian in the same way, so there would be no confusions.

But my pet peeves are the titles whose translations contain spoilers. Why ruin it for the viewers? See below:

The UnbornMisterul Gemenilor (The mystery of the twins). Great! Thanks!

Bruce AlmightyDumnezeu pentru o zi (God for a day). Hmmm, I wonder what the film may be about?

There would be a third category – the untranslated (which can sometimes work and sometimes… not really), but I’m afraid I will bore you to death, so I’ll stop for now.

The list and comments above are, of course, subjective (some may have a different opinion), but I would say I have tried to be as objective as possible (as an experienced linguist).

There are so many things to explore when it comes to film translation, that one post is not enough. While writing this, I also delved deeper into the topic and wrote another article, Challenges in Film Translation published on our blog, which deals with issues such as slang, swear words and nicknames. Hope you enjoy both reads and comments are always welcome.


About Alina
I am a former teacher, translator and interpreter with over 8 years’ experience, now Managing Director at 
Inbox Translation, a London based translation agency. I am a language geek who likes to keep up to date with what’s happening in the industry. When I am not writing on my own blog, I am writing on other people’s. You can get in touch on Google+ and LinkedIn.


Joseph: I just want to quickly thank Alina for agreeing to be a guest writer and especially for the excellent post; if any other readers out there would like to tackle a topic from my blog from a fresh perspective or in another language pair then please do get in touch ( or leave a comment). I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and it would be great to publish some similar posts in the future!

Film titles in translation: The Good, the Bad and the Inexplicable.

The title says it all really: a blog about the translation of film titles.

Given the magnitude of the film industry, this relatively small sector of translation is clearly of utmost importance. With so many films released which are all vying for the public’s hard-earned cash, the power of a title cannot be overstated; it needs to be snappy, intriguing or iconic in order to fulfil its role of capturing the attention of the film’s desired target audience, and the same applies to films all around the world.

Yet so often the resulting translated titles seem completely baffling, coming out as something seemingly unrelated. There must be an explanation as to why the changes are made?!


There are some cases when it is much more clear than others, one such example is the Italian version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which was released as Se mi lasci ti cancello (If you leave me, I’ll erase you); this title builds upon the already established reputation of Jim Carrey as a funnyman and leaves the audience expecting yet another wacky comedy. This is hardly an ethical decision as the film is a far cry from earlier roles such as Ace Ventura, but the end results presumably justified the means. Similarly, Bend it Like Beckham‘s Italian translation as Sognando Beckham (Dreaming About Beckham) ensures that the key mention, from a marketing perspective, of Beckham’s name is retained while the rest of the title is deemed quite irrelevant.

Other times it is a little less clear why the decision has been taken to alter a title, although  the author of this aptly named blog, Crap French Film Titles, seems to have the secret of title translation nailed in his subheading ‘dumb it down, sex it up’, as this select set of examples clearly demonstrate:

In Italian we have The French Connection as Il braccio violento della legge (The Violent Arm of the Law) making it very clear what the film is about and in French a few classics include The Italian Job simplified to L’or se barre (The Gold Clears Off), Meet the Parents becoming Mon beau-père et moi (My Father-in-law and I) and A Nightmare on Elm Street as Les Griffes de la nuit (The Claws of the Night).

When a film’s title is already amply self-explanatory it will generally stay the same or be translated very closely, although one bizarre example that I came across was the translation of Jaws. A pretty simple translation process here you would expect, but the translator’s faced with the task clearly disagreed: the French version adopted the passable Les Dents de la mer (The Teeth of the Sea) while the Italian version almost offensively underestimated the intellects of the general public with the title Lo Squalo (The Shark(!)).


There are even times when the translation does not actually seem applicable to the film it describes. The most famous case of this that I have encountered is the Home Alone series of films, the first of which which is translated in both French and Italian as Mum, I missed the plane. This title is just about understandable, but the sequel – Mum I missed the plane again and I am lost in New York – while obviously named to provide continuity from the first film and dumbing the title down like many of the films above, is factually incorrect as Kevin actually just gets on the wrong plane this time…


Of course it can be an extremely difficult task to transfer the title of a film successfully, especially when it is of a figurative nature or contains plays on words, and there are many examples of excellent, creative title translations such as Doctor Strangelove as Il dottor Stranamore and Docteur Folamour, but sometimes the best thing seems to be to just leave the title alone as much as possible (after all, what’s wrong with Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo?). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.