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25 American Movies With Hilarious Foreign Titles

by John-Erik Jordan

There seem to be several strategies when translating the name of a film into another language, and none of them work perfectly. You can go for a literal word-for-word translation, try to describe the film in the title, guess what the name might be based on the poster, or make up something completely new.

Famous examples of bad translations include the French title for The Matrix (1999), The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses (Les jeunes gens qui traversent les dimensions en portant des lunettes de soleil); the Japanese title of Army of Darkness (1993), Captain Supermarket (キャプテン·スーパーマーケット); and the unfortunate coincidence that the Chinese title of As Good As It Gets (1997) could also be translated as Mr. Cat Poop (猫屎先生).

I’ve decided to look for trends among bad translations by focusing on American film titles that are just really, really hard to convey in other languages.

AMERICAN SLANG

Director David O. Russell tends to use English idioms and slang in the titles of his films. For instance, “hustle” is a difficult word to translate, seeing as the connotation goes beyond cheat or swindle; it can mean anything you do to make money and was also the name of a 70s dance craze. It suggests everything that the film American Hustle (2013) is about: con-artists, briefcases full of cash, polyester and disco. But somehow the subtlety gets lost in translation:

  • American Bluff – France

  • The Great American Swindle (La gran estafa americana) – Spain

  • United States Cheat Bureau (美国骗局) – China

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) faced a similar problem. Although several countries translated “silver lining” (as in the nice part of a dark cloud) as something like “keep on the bright side”, France and Sweden made up completely new titles:

  • Happiness Therapy – France

  • You Make me Crazy! (Du gör mig galen!) – Sweden

I ♥ Huckabees (2004) had the nerve to use a heart symbol in the title. While this shouldn’t have been too confusing (most countries opted for “I love Huckabees” in their own languages), a few countries decided to name the film after particular details of the plot:

  • Strange Coincidences (Extrañas coincidencias) – Spain

  • Multinationals Go Home! (Multik haza!) – Hungary

  • The Psycho-Detectives (Os Psico-Detectives) – Portugal

At the far end of the slang spectrum, Keenan Ivory Wayans’ blaxploitation spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! (1988) was way too culturally specific to even try to translate:

  • Overdose of Gold (Sobredosis de oro) – Spain

  • Run, Run … Then I’ll Take It! (Scappa, scappa… poi ti prendo!) – Italy

  • Ghettobusters – Germany

BAD TITLES WON’T DIE

The Die Hard series has titles that are notoriously hard to translate. Direct translation attempts miss the mark, so every country seems to have found a different strategy for naming these über-American action films:

Die Hard (1988)

  • Die Slowly (Stirb langsam) – Germany

  • Very Hard To Die (Πολύ Σκληρός για να Πεθάνει) – Greece

  • Action Skyscraper (Aksjon skyskraper) – Norway

  • The Glass Trap (Szklana pulapka) – Poland

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

  • The Jungle 2: Red Alert (La jungla 2 - Alerta roja) – Spain

Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995)

  • Die Hard: Mega Hard – Denmark

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

  • Die Hard 4.0: The Most Expensive of Your Life (Die Hard 4.0 - Legdrágább az életed) – Hungary

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

  • Tough Nut To Crack: A Great Day to Die (Kietas riesutelis. puiki diena mirti) – Lithuania

Bruce Willis dubbed into German (don’t pretend you aren’t curious):

THE ROBOTS ARE MOBILIZING

The Chinese characters for “story” used in most movie titles, zǒngdòngyuán (总动员), literally translate to “general mobilization”, which sounds militaristic and vaguely threatening. This trend is particularly apparent in Pixar films:

  • Toy General Mobilization (玩具总动员) – Toy Story

  • Super People General Mobilization (超人总动员) – The Incredibles

  • Seabed General Mobilization (海底总动员) – Finding Nemo

  • Food General Mobilization (美食总动员) – Ratatouille

  • Machine Implement People General Mobilization (机器人总动员) – WALL-E

Speaking of machine implement people – or robots, as the characters 机器人 can also be translated – when The Terminator came out in 1984, most countries opted to keep something close to the original title, but a few went rogue:

  • Electronic Murderer (Elektroniczny morderca) – Poland

  • The Dealer of Death (A halálosztó) – Hungary

  • The Relentless Exterminator (O Exterminador Implacável) – Portugal

On a side note, when the dubbed version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out in Spain (soberly titled, Terminator 2: El juicio final), Arnie’s famous “Hasta la vista, baby” was changed to “Sayonara, baby” in order to maintain the spirit of the catchphrase being in a foreign language.

Arnie’s famous phrase in Japanese (via Spanish):

COMEDIES ARE “ACE”

In China, the titles of popular films tend to get reused, even when the new films are not sequels or even related. This is likely why every Pixar film since Toy Story got the “general mobilization” treatment as a way of branding them all as Pixar films.

A similar trend happened with the word “ace” and it’s all Jim Carrey’s fault. To translate the “ace” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the Chinese title used the characters 王牌 (wángpái), which literally mean “king card”. But “Ace” didn’t stop there. Not only does it feature in the title of almost every Jim Carey movie, it seems wángpái has become Chinese shorthand for “silly comedy”:

  • Ace Big Liar (王牌大骗子) – Liar Liar

  • Ace God (王牌 天神) – Bruce Almighty

  • Ace Big Cheap Spy (王牌大贱谍) – Austin Powers

  • Ace Announcer (王牌播音员) – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

The Anchorman sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2014) got a totally different treatment on the Iberian peninsula:

  • To Hell With the News (Al diablo con las noticias) – Spain

  • F— the News (Que Se Lixem As Notícias) – Portugal

BAD TRANSLATION, OR ACCIDENTAL POETRY?

Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) is an iconic American Western that is actually Italian, but was filmed in Spain. Most countries (including the U.S.) literally translated the original Italian title, C’era una volta il West. It seems that China tried to translate the title, whereas the Swedes came up with something that sounds like a Bob Dylan/Captain America mashup:

  • Western Department of Memories (西部往事) – China

  • Harmonica: The Avenger (Harmonica - En hämnare) – Sweden

Check out Charles Bronson’s harmonica/gunslinging skills:

Sometimes the rules of bad translation are broken when a new title ends up being better than the original. For example, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) was known in Spain as Batman: Knight of the Night (Batman - El Caballero de la Noche) and in Japan, John Frankenheimer’s paranoid cold war thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was called Sniper Without A Shadow (影なき狙撃者).

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