Written by Lindsey Cook
If someone mentions either There Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men in front of me, I have to pause for a moment and think about which film is which. When you really sit and look at the two films, there’s not really that much in common, but for 13-year-old me, I only knew these movies as two Oscar frontrunners about manly men in the west, directed by auteur filmmakers, each featuring iconically insane performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem, respectively.
But it wasn’t just the content similarities that got me; their titles were vaguely similar enough to trip me up, vague being the operative word. If you wanted to, you could assign the title There Will Be Blood to the tale of Anton Chigurh and his atrocious haircut (and, you know, violent spree) and I’d accept it as fact. No Country For Old Men could easily describe the cutthroat world of turn-of-the-century aspiring old barons.
While I’ve since been able to distinguish between Blood and Country (although I may still have to think on it for a second) I’ve noticed this trend of oddly similar, interchangeable titles popping up more and more. While we’re used to conversations about how odd it is when two films with similar plots debut in theaters around the same time (A Bug’s Life vs. Antz, No Strings Attached vs. Friends With Benefits) the titles I keep confusing often have absolutely nothing in common content-wise; simply similar enough names to confuse me over which is which.
I suspect it has a lot to do with SEO marketing and the hashtag-ization of the world. Sure, it seems cool to give a project a one-word name like Heat or Gravity, but imagine how often random Tweets about the weather or laws of physics muddle searches when someone’s just trying to see what others thought of Al Pacino’s or Sandra Bullock’s performance in their respective films. I don’t need to tell you how annoying it is to search something with a generic title, like when HBO’s Girls was airing and I’d try to find GIFs of Adam Driver on Tumblr and had to specify #GirlsHBO otherwise I’d be greeted with some very NSFW imagery, with Adam Driver sadly nowhere to be found. It’s a lot easier to focus the online conversation with a distinct name like Girls5Eva than it is tracking if people are tagging #Music (the least of that movie’s problems, of course, but also, what a completely useless title from a search-ability perspective).
So instead of mysterious single-word titles that provide an air of mystery around what the film or television show is actually about, we’ve arrived at these vague phrases that, while they may make sense within the context of the work, aren’t catchy enough to stick for the casual viewer, leading to people like myself mixing them up for years to come—and I make it my business to try and stay informed about these things! I cannot imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t read Variety daily to try and keep these phrase titles straight in their mind.
Below, I’ve shared a few of the titles that are currently messing with me:
Don’t Worry Darling and Don’t Look Up
Also known as: the negative command titles
I know Don’t Worry Darling is the Harry Styles movie because I could picture him saying that to me when we eventually meet and fall in love. Don’t Look Up is, according to a quick Google search, Adam McKay’s new film with a star-studded cast featuring another object of Gen Z affection, Timothée Chalamet. Either way, I dislike having titles telling me what to not do.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Sometimes Always Never
Also known as: films describing how often some activity, explained in the movie (I presume), is performed
I won’t tell you how many times I had to type in these two titles in Google search to make sure I had them right, only for the other title to appear. Never Rarely Sometimes Always refers to a form filled out at an abortion clinic and Sometimes Always Never is about when to button sports jackets...I think. I’ve seen neither but have heard they’re both great! Also, The New York Times picked up on this oddity as well, if you want more on how these similar titles came to be.
The French Dispatch and French Exit
Also known as: French things
The first is an upcoming film from Wes Anderson starring Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (there he is again!) and the other stars fellow Lady Bird star Lucas Hedges, who I suspect needs better parental figures in this movie, as he does with all movies he stars in. Bottom line: if you want to make something sound cooler, put “French” in front of it.
Mare of Easttown and Mayor of Kingstown
Also known as: The [Name/Title] of [Adjective]town, or more generally [Name/Title] of [Place] (See: Frank of Ireland, John From Cincinnati (close enough))
Yes, yes, I know my beloved Mare and could never confuse her grown-out roots for some other show, but before Mare started airing, I remember hearing an announcement about Mayor of Kingstown, an upcoming series from Taylor Sheridan, on a podcast and getting way too confused hearing both these titles in audio format. I believe this podcast was also discussing an HBO Max show called Beartown, and that’s when I tapped out. Stop with the towns!
There’s also more generally the [Name/Title] of [Location] structuring, which I suppose is an easy way to give your audience an idea of both who the show is about and where it will be taking place. Tell me there’s a show called Frank of Ireland and I already have a better sense of what it’s about than most titles give me; it’s set in Ireland, and presumably about a man named Frank. Tell me I’m wrong.
I’m sure there are more titles out there that I’m forgetting, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment. What movie or TV show titles do you always mix up in your mind?