What’s in a Name: Film Titles Lost in Translation

What’s in a Name: Film Titles Lost in Translation

The right translation can be crucial for many aspects of big business, and business doesn’t get much bigger than Hollywood.

Attracting foreign audiences to a film can bring with it millions of dollars in box office revenues, but sometimes language throws up a barrier or two.

Lost in Translation

Translators have found that some words cannot always be directly translated. Take for example the recent blockbuster “American Hustle”.  It seems that many languages don’t have an equivalent word for ‘hustle’ that properly reflects the complexity of the term.

This has led to a raft of alternative titles, from “American Sting” in Portugal to “American Scam” in Quebec. France used “American Bluff”, while in Turkey it is known as “Trickster”, according to the Houston Chronicle’s website Chron.com.

Some of the translations move away from the ‘con trick’ meaning altogether and go more for a statement on society. Argentina has the film as “American Scandal” while in Hebrew it is “American Dream”.

A change is as good as a rest

Professionals in the world of film translation say there is often a need to ‘reframe’ cultural phenomenon or linguistic expressions that may be unfamiliar to overseas ears. Altering titles so they make a local reference can create familiarity, which is reflected in larger audiences.

Arie Barak is with a public relations company that represents Disney, Fox and Sony in Israel. He said that with ever increasing globalization, more and more people are familiar with well-established brands such as Batman and Superman. This means it is better to stick to the original title as much as possible, rather than appear fake or out of the loop.

But in the movie business money is what really talks, and Hollywood studios will take the pragmatic line in most instances. So if audiences don’t ‘get it’, then a rejig is in order.

Such situations can lead to moments of creativity. The animated film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a ‘difficult’ title to begin with. But to a culture that doesn’t really use meatballs, such as in Israel, an alternative has to be found. And so Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs becomes…….It’s Raining Falafel. According to Mr Barak, the gamble paid off and the film did well in the country’s cinemas.

When translations go bad

Hebrew can be a tough language to translate into, explains Avi Edery, deputy chief executive of the New Lineo cinema chain in Israel.

“It’s not as rich as English sometimes and you cannot translate word by word all the time.”

And so sometimes translations prove strange and baffling.

Here are some of the more unusual Hebrew film title translations:

  • Terminator  – becomes – Deadly Mission
  • Alien – becomes – The 8th Passenger
  • Top Gun – becomes – Love in the Skies
  • Lost in Translation – becomes – Lost in Tokyo

And Hebrew is not the only language to encounter problems. French also has it fair share:

  • The Dukes of Hazzard – becomes – Sheriff, Make Me Afraid
  • The Hangover – becomes – Very Bad Trip
  • Step Up – becomes – Sexy Dance
  • No Strings Attached – becomes – Sexy Friends

TranslateMedia provides translations for the TV and Film Industry. Contact us for a no-obligation quote.

Written by Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf is Head of Digital at TranslateMedia. He has an interest in how technology can help businesses achieve their marketing objectives. He's been working in digital marketing and web development since 2001 across a wide range of industries and clients.

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