Choosing a name is impossible to quantify in terms of ticket sales
By Todd Cunningham
As a movie title, "Gravity" doesn't seem like anything special, but the space epic has shattered box-office records for October.
"Machete Kills," on the other hand, was catchy, memorable and told you immediately what the movie was about -- all the boxes the experts say should be checked when naming a movie. It bombed.
That fits right in with the words of the late movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who famously explained that "what makes a good movie title is a hit."
What makes a good movie title is also totally subjective. All involved agree that a bad title can hurt a film and most believe a good one can help, but determining which is which is extremely tricky, and quantifying the impact that a film's name has on its box-office performance is all but impossible.
None of that keeps Hollywood film executives from staying up late worrying about them, however. Lionsgate's Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger prison break movie "Escape Plan," for example, is on its third title.
Many movies are based on material from another medium, like a novel, a comic book or a play. They come with their own titles, but those are frequently switched for the big screen, usually for the better. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" was a fine title for Philip K. Dick's novel, for example, but "Blade Runner" made a much better movie title.
The titling process on original films, which begins with the script and continues through development, consultants' reviews and market-testing with focus groups can take years -- and leaves plenty of room for leeway. The movies can represent investments of millions, so there's plenty of motivation to get it right. And several recent films have undergone title tweaks.
Sometimes a change is a no-brainer, as with Relativity Media's animated family film "Free Birds," which is opening on Nov. 1. Holiday tie-in or not, there was no way the studio wanted to see its box-office results associated with the film's original title, "Turkeys."
Film titles often evolve, and studios frequently register two or three titles for the same movie with the Motion Picture Assn. of America's Title Registration Bureau early in the process. "Escape Plan," opening Friday, was called "The Tomb" and "Exit Plan" during its development.
Marketing concerns are almost always behind the changes.
When Universal recently dated its Seth Rogen-Zac Efron comedy for May of 2014, it changed the name from "Townies" to "Neighbors." The studio didn't provide its rationale, but the original title was provincial and East Coast-centric, which would have made it a tougher sell nationally.
Short, sticky, informative and intriguing are all qualities that a good movie title has, according to the experts, but even that varies from film to film and genre to genre.
Family movie titles don't have to be intriguing or even informative. But if a title is simple and memorable -- think "Turbo," "Planes" and "Cars" -- kids will bug their parents to take them to the movie.
The bar changes with movies that target adults, particularly independent movies, which need to pique interest as well as be memorable. "Reservoir Dogs," "She's Gotta Have It" and "Blood Simple" may not tell much about the movies, but were catchy enough that the movies found their niche.
Last month's R-rated Joseph Gordon-Levitt sex comedy "Don Jon" was called "Don Jon's Addiction" when Relativity picked it up at Sundance earlier this year.
"Addiction is a loaded word and has negative connotations," explained Relativity's President of Theatrical Marketing Russell Schwartz. "But 'Don Jon' was not only tighter, it conveyed a feeling that was much more in line with the movie's character and that made it easier to market."
A unique title -- like James Cameron's 2009 "Avatar" -- is often the goal, but how much that title mattered to the all-time box office topper is a matter of debate. It works the other way, too. When last year's "Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" became one of the biggest bombs of all time, how much did that title have to do with it?
It's important to remember that the process doesn't take place in a vacuum.
The Weinstein Co. and Warner Bros. got into a high-profile spat earlier this year over "Lee Daniels' The Butler," which TWC wanted to call "The Butler." That was the name of a 1916 silent comedy short from Warner Bros., and the studio refused to budge, so TWC was forced to change it -- choosing to add the name of its director.
Disputes like that are rare, however. The MPAA says between 3,000 and 4,000 movie titles are submitted per year. The organization then sends out notifications to its members and gives them 10 days to respond. That brings somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 objections, the organization says, the vast majority of which are settled via negotiations between the companies or, as is more rare, via arbitration.
Some of the best movie titles never see the light of day.
Months ago, Relativity was preparing for its September release of "Malavita" -- literally "The Bad Life" in Italian -- in the U.S. It was looking for a title that would click with American audiences for the Robert De Niro-Michelle Pfeiffer comedy about a mob family planted in France as part of the witness protection program.
They considered going with "We're the Blakes" -- the family's fake name in the film -- but that was before Warner Bros. came out with its Jennifer Aniston-Jason Sudeikis comedy "We're the Millers."
After polling viewers following several test screenings, they decided to go with "The Family," playing on the double entendre around the mob.
But the title audiences most sparked to -- and the studio would have loved to have used -- was "Badfellas," a take off on Warner Bros.' 1990 gangster hit "GoodFellas," which also starred De Niro.
"That would have been a good one," Schwartz said. "But we didn't want to deal with the legal headaches."
More at TheWrap:
15 Books That Scored Better Big Screen Titles -- 'Cruel Intentions,' 'Die Hard,' 'Goodfellas'
Woody Allen Reveals New Colin Firth-Emma Stone Movie Title, First Images
12 Years a Slave' vs. 'Gravity' -- Who Filled the Seats at the Academy?
Authenticity and integrity shine through in his latest role
TORONTO (AP) -- Chiwetel Ejiofor arrived, he thought, prepared for the first day of shooting "12 Years a Slave." To play Solomon Northup, a free man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and who later chronicled his experience in a book, Ejiofor had studied Northup's memoir, visited plantations and learned how to, as Northup did, play the violin.
But all that work could scarcely ready him for the intense reality of performing a slave's labor in a Louisiana summer.
"Then you're there on the first day and it's 108 degrees and you're picking cotton," says Ejiofor. "How is that accomplishable? I don't know how to do this without delirium setting in. Then you realize: Now we're in it. This is what this is. It is a delirium. It is down the rabbit hole."
Ejiofor's titanic and steadfast performance in Steve McQueen's unblinking portrait of mid-19th century slavery has already been hailed as the performance of Ejiofor's career. After Fox Searchlight releases the film Friday, Ejiofor is likely to become a fixture on the fall awards circuit, a best-actor Oscar nominee and a name pronounced with considerably more familiarity. (It's CHOO-ih-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for.)
Many have already known the 36-year-old British actor's strong, sensitive presence from Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things," Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" or, on the London stage, as an acclaimed Othello. But "12 Years a Slave," which Ejiofor initially hesitated at taking on, is unique in its challenges.
The film brings audiences along on Northup's nightmarish journey, taken from his family in Saratoga Springs, shipped south and traded among plantations of varied ugliness. (Michael Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, an especially monstrous cotton plantation owner.) The film, perhaps more than any before, depicts the plain, inhumane realities of slavery, including long takes of a beating and when Northup was left hanging by a noose all day long, tiptoeing frantically to stay alive.
One expects such a psychological descent to scar an actor, but playing Northup had the opposite effect on Ejiofor.
"I felt enriched by being in Solomon's shoes for so long," he says. "Going to that place was so fascinating and there was such a strength and dignity and duty to Solomon and his soul and his survival instinct that I felt there was as much to take away from it that was redemptive as there was that was harsh or difficult."
With deep, soulful eyes, Ejiofor captures Northup's indomitability, his undiminished integrity. McQueen, the British director of "Hunger" and "Shame," compares Ejiofor's dignified genteelness to Sidney Poitier.
"There's a humanity to him, which would obviously be tested to a breaking point in this film," says McQueen. "I was thinking that he could hold it together, that he could get to the finishing line."
Ejifor's parents, a doctor and pharmacist, immigrated to the United Kingdom from Nigeria. His family fled during the Biafran war of the 1960s, the very backdrop of a film Ejiofor recently shot in Nigeria: "Half of a Yellow Sun." ''It's the reason I'm sitting here," he says of the war that brought his family to Britain.
Ejiofor's father, who was also a popular musician ("a deeply good natured man," he says) died in a car accident on a return trip to Nigeria, with Ejiofor in the car. Eleven at the time, Ejiofor has a scar above his left eye from the crash.
The actor's first film, ironically, was Steven Spielberg's slave uprising tale "Amistad" (Ejiofor played a translator). But instead of staying in Hollywood afterward, the 19-year-old returned to London to work in theater, he says, "to get my feet firmly planted on the ground."
With a warm chuckle and an inviting openness, he still exudes that humility. Fassbender calls him "the perfect partner to dance with."
"It takes an extraordinary person as well as actor to be Solomon Northup, and take the audience in the mirror-image sort of way, through this story," says Fassbender.
Ejiofor recalls at one point being so emptied during the shooting of "12 Years a Slave" that he would, rather than walk 10 feet to a bench, lie on the floor as the camera and lighting were adjusted. But the actor says it was essential to show, in full, the brutality Northup endured to be faithful to his story.
"If you don't get inside that experience of being there all day, out in the sun, hung by your neck, just barely able to stay alive, then you don't know the depth this man is prepared to go to in order to keep himself alive," says Ejiofor. "Then again, you don't understand Solomon."
"12 Years a Slave" is out in theaters Oct. 18.
Monsters and robots go head to head in 'Pacific Rim' now out on Blu-ray and DVD
From acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro comes this action packed spectacle "Pacific Rim" where legions of monstrous creatures begin a war taking millions of lives consuming humanity's resources for years on end. To combat their effect on mankind, it is up to the Jaegers to be the last hope against the mounting apocalypse.
To celebrate "Pacific Rim" arriving on Blu-ray and DVD, our friends at Warner Bros. would like to give one lucky winner the special edition combo pack which includes hours of bonus features.
Follow these easy steps to enter the giveaway and in the meantime, enjoy this awesome infographic!
And now for the deets on the giveaway:
1. Like MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter
2. Tweet and comment the following message: I want to win the @MSNMovies #PACIFICRIM giveaway!
3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: I want to win @MSNMovies #PACIFICRIM giveaway!
4. Stay in touch with MSN Movies Facebook to see if you’ve been selected as the winner
Good luck MSN Movies fans! We'll be selecting the winner on Oct. 23.
A side by side look at the 1995 cult classic starring Alyssa Milano and the newly released flick
Just in time for Halloween, Anchor Bay Films presents you with a remake of the cult classic "Embrace of the Vampire." A story of a evil spirits, disturbing nightmares and forbidden desires, check out these two exclusive clips from the latest release and the 1995 original starring Alyssa Milano.
"Embrace of the Vampire" is out on DVD Oct. 15.
Here's an exclusive clip from the cult classic starring Alyssa Milano and also a similar scene from the new release.
Filmmakers and stars step up to ensure a modern representation of Carrie
By Derrik J. Lang
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Carrie" is going viral.
In the new take on the supernatural coming-of-age story out Friday, beleaguered high school student Carrie White's torment doesn't merely occur within the gym showers or on stage at the prom. It's also online, one of a few modern updates dropped into filmmaker Kimberly Peirce's reimagining of the landmark 1974 novel by Stephen King.
There are references to the "Today" show and "Dancing with the Stars," tunes from Passion Pit and Krewella playing at the prom and Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) searching about her burgeoning telekinetic powers online. Outside the movie, "Carrie" is also being marketed with a hidden camera stunt that's racked up nearly 40 million views on YouTube.
However, the most profound use of technology in this contemporary "Carrie" occurs while she's antagonized.
"It's how you raise your story to the level of myth," said Peirce, who previously directed "Boys Don't Cry" and "Stop-Loss." ''Too much specificity is a bore. I thought the characters needed to have cellphones, but they should probably only use them a few times. Otherwise, we're beating the audience over the head with it. That's why it was carefully chosen."
The shy outcast isn't only ridiculed by fellow students when she experiences her first menstruation — and doesn't know what's happening — after gym class. The moment is also captured on a smartphone and later uploaded to the Internet by mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday). It's played again on screens during their prom after bullies dump pig's blood on the teen.
This isn't just Carrie 4.0 though.
Moretz — who at 16, is the same age as the titular character — believes the broadcast of the digital video amplifies the internal rage of this version of the introverted young woman, who's been sheltered throughout her life by her religiously fanatical mother Margaret (Julianne Moore). It's a new reading of the tale that's spawned three movies and a Broadway musical.
"When that blood is dropped on her, I do think she would've walked away if that video had not been put up on the screen," said Moretz. "I do think she would have walked out of that gym, gone home, cried and been fine — figured her life and moved back into her shell. Without the video, I don't think the telekinesis would've taken over her body."
Are you looking forward to the new "Carrie"? Sound off on MSN Movies Facebook.
When it came to filming that iconic scene, which has been endlessly imitated and parodied in the decades since director Brian De Palma's "Carrie" debuted in 1976, Moretz said she was showered with phony blood just twice. The bigger challenge for the young "Kick-Ass" and "Hugo" actresses was unleashing a totally new interpretation of the classic cinematic moment.
"I had to forget about all that," said Moretz. "As an actor, I just needed to live in my character and not think about Sissy Spacek's performance or how this is an iconic scene or anything like that. Carrie is Carrie. She doesn't know blood is going to be dropped on her. She just won prom queen and thinks her life is going to turn around for the better now."
With the aid of computer-generated effects, the blood-soaked mayhem Carrie wreaks is certainly more expansive than De Palma's original "Carrie" film, as well as the 1999 sequel and a 2002 made-for-TV movie. Peirce was tasked with balancing expectations of both "Carrie" fans and modern moviegoers — without turning Carrie into one of the X-Men or Transformers.
"I faced it with humility," said Peirce . "On some level, of course, I was scared I wouldn't live up to it, but then I just thought, 'I love Carrie. I'm going to ground this moment. I'm going to make this as specific and real as possible.' I do think I ended up making it different. It's the same reason why people are able to bring a new reality to Shakespeare and other works."
Moore also purposely veered in a new direction with her nuanced take on Margaret White, wildly portrayed in the original film by Piper Laurie, who along with Spacek earned Oscar nominations for their performances. The veteran "Short Cuts" and "The Hours" actress plays a quieter, self-mutilating rendition of Carrie's unhinged and overprotective mother.
The filmmakers focused more on the novel than the original film, with screenwriter and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa incorporating additional elements from King's book. While the issue of bullying has become more relevant in recent years and is paramount to the story, the cast and crew didn't set out to make A Very Special "Carrie."
"It's a difficult issue to address," said Moore. "There's a huge spectrum when it comes to bullying. There are a lot of things that come under that heading like teasing that aren't necessarily bullying. It's not something you can be pithy about it. I kept going back to Stephen King's impetus for writing the book, and that's how damaging isolation can be to people."
A debut that started from humble beginnings
By Eric Kelsey
BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - Barkhad Abdi, a tall wisp of a man with a narrow face and a wide grin, sat on the sofa in his hotel suite with one eye on the television and another on a view of the Hollywood Hills.
The 28-year-old Somali-American, who had worked the past year at his brother's mobile phone store in Minneapolis, could hardly have called himself an actor when he began production in British director Paul Greengrass' thriller "Captain Phillips."
But it took a lecture from Greengrass before Abdi, who portrays the Somali pirate Muse alongside Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, was able to fully grasp the role and play it in a way that has critics saying is worthy of awards consideration. The true-story maritime drama will be released in U.S. cinemas on Friday.
"The pressure was high," Abdi said, who speaks with a Somali accent in short, measured sentences often punctuated with a smile or by a clap of his hands for emphasis. "I had doubts in myself a lot of times, but there's no going back."
The actor said he relied heavily on Greengrass' advice during the early days of shooting, and especially after one rough day on set when he said he had difficulty capturing Muse's emotional state during a particular scene.
Greengrass "took me aside and said, 'You know the similarities between you and the real Muse?'"
Abdi said Greengrass' question caught him off guard.
"I'm thinking that this guy (Muse) is a criminal. Why did you compare me to him?,"' Abdi said he asked Greengrass.
The director's message to Abdi was succinct: Muse took a risk in being a pirate and failed. Abdi took a risk in wanting to become a film actor, and if he didn't do it well, he was going to fail too.
"Captain Phillips" focuses on Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse's tense five-day interaction with Richard Phillips, played by Hanks, the captain of a Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacked by Muse and three other Somali pirates in 2009 while en route to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
The docudrama, distributed by Sony Pictures unit Columbia Pictures, in which Phillips is taken hostage by the pirates onto the cargo ship's lifeboat and later rescued by the U.S. Navy, leans heavily on the emotionally charged real-life encounter between Muse and Phillips.
Muse was sentenced in 2010 to more than 33 years in U.S. prison for his role in the hijacking.
Greengrass said Abdi, who was born in Mogadishu and spent time as a refugee in Yemen before emigrating to Minneapolis with his family in 1999, was chosen from more than 700 actors who showed up to a casting call in the city in part because of his uncommon appearance and charisma in front of the camera.
"He was able to be both menacing, but he also had a kind of humanity, too," said Greengrass, whose best known for his action-realism in films such as "The Bourne Supremacy" franchise and the 9/11 docudrama "United 93."
Abdi's name has already popped up on several critics' ballots as a possible nominee for the best supporting actor Oscar, according to Hollywood awards tracker Goldderby.com.
Scott Foundas, film critic at trade publication Variety, also praised Abdi's performance for is power and intensity.
"In a movie that affords little dimensionality to its characters, Abdi finds notes to play you scarcely realized were there, until this reedy young man with jutting brow looms as large as Othello," Foundas wrote.
Taking a chance
But not all have been so supportive of the actor's role.
Abdi, who was cast with three of his friends as pirates, said that there were some within Minneapolis' large Somali community who resented that they would take a role as villains.
Abdi said he gave the criticism some thought. The film did justice to the Somali pirates, he said, and the opportunity was one he felt was too big to miss.
"I'd rather take the chance," Abdi said. "Rather than me blaming someone else later and saying, 'I could've done better than him.' I'd rather take it and see how far it goes. It was a big risk."
And following Greengrass' advice, Abdi learned that by relating to Muse, he himself was not far removed from being left in a destitute situation in his home country.
"He's a young man who's about my age, but he wasn't as lucky as me," Abdi said of Muse.
"I had parents that took me out so I could be a better person. He didn't have that chance. He was just a gangster who didn't have any other options. We know why he's a gangster. We can give him a reason."
The writer/creator of 'Downton Abbey' tackles the bard in this entertaining new film
Writer Julian Fellowes has been on a roll ever since he won the Oscar for his first screenplay in 2001. That was for Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park” and he has been involved in all sorts of projects, from the popular Broadway musical version of “Mary Poppins” to screenplays for other high-profile films such as “Vanity Fair,” “Separate Lies” (which he also directed), and “The Young Victoria.” Fellowes has also written several British TV series but none that were so revered on both sides of the pond as “Downton Abbey,” the broadcasting phenomenon he created about an aristocratic family and their servants living on a large country estate in post-Edwardian England. Fellowes has written every episode of the popular series, whose fifth season has just started running in the UK. It will air on PBS here beginning in January. Fellowes has admitted that his new film version of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Carlo Carlei, was a bold thing to attempt, but he was eager to help make the story more accessible to modern audiences. The film stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld as the young lovers, and features an international cast including Paul Giamatti, Natascha McElhone, Damian Lewis, Lesley Manville, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Stellan Skarsgard. I sat down with Julian Felllowes in Los Angeles.
MSN Movies: Before we talk about “Romeo and Juliet,” I have to mention what a fan I am of “Downton Abbey”—I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the next season. Were you surprised by the great success of the series here in the States?
Julian Fellowes: Yes, actually! It has been quite thrilling the way it’s gone over here—people who love it really love it and they’re absolutely devoted to it! It’s funny—you sit alone in your room typing out these scripts and then you find that 150 million people are waiting for you to decide what happens next. There’s something rather extraordinary about that. I feel very blessed. I mean, most people, even quite successful writers, have a career without ever having an experience like this!
If I thought I could get anything out of you about the upcoming season, I’d lock the door and start torturing, but I know you’d never tell me anything!
(Laughs.) People think they want to know but they don’t, really! Because when you do weaken every now and then and tell them something they then accuse you of spoiling it for them! It’s extraordinary to me how the show has become some an all-embracing whirlwind, complete with spoofs on “Saturday Night Live,” and now the one with P-Diddy. Have you seen that?
No, I haven't!
He puts himself right into the scenes! There he is, in full costume, talking to Maggie Smith! I don’t begin to know how you do something like that, but he’s very funny and it makes you realize how you’ve gone into the zeitgeist in some way.
For all that acceptance, you had to know when you took on reworking "Romeo and Juliet" for this film that you'd get a lot of criticism from some quarters.
It’s a funny thing, really, because, as you know, rewriting Shakespeare has been going on ever since he the day he died! The real peak of it was in the 19th century—there was one guy who was even rewriting the endings. Romeo and Juliet go off and live happily ever after, Cordelia lives at the end of “Lear.” Of course we would never go that far! Listen, I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining about being criticized, I understand that point of view and I think it’s reasonable enough. But the truth of the matter is that if we had filmed three and a half hours of “Romeo and Juliet,” using all of the original language, we wouldn’t have a very big film audience. We quite consciously wanted to appeal to an audience that might not be naturally inclined to go see a Shakespearean play—we wanted to find a way to get those people to enjoy Shakespeare. I mean, all of the great speeches and all of the great references are still in, about 80 percent of the movie is Shakespeare, but we wanted to put it into a rhythm that would work better for modern audiences—90 minutes instead of three and a half hours.
Were you worried about cutting that much of the play?
.. And of course, the muscles don't disappoint
By Sara Morrison
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson posted a photo from the set of his 2014 summer blockbuster "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" to his Facebook page on Friday.
"Honored to have these magnificent Friesians lead my chariot into battle daily. Amazing to experience their power & beauty. They work hard & eat a lot.. my kind of animals. ," he wrote next to the photo himself with four horses, his back to the camera.
Also from TheWrap: Dwayne Johnson, McG to Team on Big-Screen Version of 'The Fall Guy'
In an earlier FB post, Johnson posted a few photos of himself with his calorie-laden "cheat" days from his strict "Hercules" training diet.
"And if you're kickin' ass w/ your training/diet goals Enjoy yourself a damn good #LegendaryCheatDay too;)," he advised.
"Hercules: The Thracian Wars," starring Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, "The White Queen's" Rebecca Ferguson and four Friesian horses, hits theaters July 25, 2014.
Here's an earlier shot from the set Johnson posted on Sept. 28: