You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a book (or any story) by its title. Choosing the right title won’t help you write a great screenplay, but choosing a wrong title can sink your chances of attracting the right audience.
The title of a movie instantly tells us several things. First, it tells us what the movie is about. Second, it tells us the tone of the movie.
Think of your favorite movies. “It’s a Wonderful Life” tells us that it will likely have a happy ending, although it could have some dramatic or suspenseful moments.
“Death Race” tells us that it’s probably an action or horror film with plenty of people getting killed. Most likely, this isn’t a comedy.
If you’re stumped for a good movie title, consider these options:
- Use a character’s name
- Describe the setting, time, or location of the story
- Hint at what the story is about
- Define the mood or tone
Examples of movie titles that use character names include “Thelma and Louise,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “WALL-E,” and “Ocean’s Eleven.”
If your movie is about a historical figure, using the character name as the title makes perfect sense like “Patton” or “Schindler’s List.” If your story is fictional, then using character names in a title can be a little riskier. After all, until anyone saw the movie, did anyone care who Thelma and Louise were?
Describing the setting, location, or time can be useful for historical periods (“Titanic”) or science fiction (“2012” and “Planet of the Apes”). If the location or setting plays a big role in your story, it might be a good title too such as “Fargo.”
Perhaps the best title choice is one that teases and hints at the story itself. “Toy Story” is obviously about toys and probably a kid’s movie or a comedy, “Snakes on a Plane” pretty much tells you everything you need to know that it’s an action thriller and probably not a romantic comedy or a introspective movie. “The Sting” tells you what happens, but since not everyone understands what a “sting” might be, it also intrigues the audience to learn more about it.
Titles can also hint at the mood of the story. “Up” is a simple and vague title, but it hints at an optimistic movie and fits in perfectly with the balloon carrying the house away story. “Nightmare on Elm Street” pretty much tells you it’s a horror movie. “Legally Blonde” tells you that it’s probably about a blonde in some legal setting, but the catchy title intrigues you to want to learn more.
Titles can make a powerful first impression so choose them wisely. You want your title to be interesting and intriguing, without being boring. Let people know what your story is about and prepare them for action (“Kill Bill”), a love story (“The Proposal”), horror (“Dawn of the Dead”), or comedy (“Dumb and Dumber”).
Remember, your title must be consistent with your story. Anyone looking at a movie called “The Butcher of Blood” would be disappointed to find that it’s actually a romantic comedy. Likewise, nobody would want to watch a horror story called “The Happy Princess and the Unicorn.”
Think of the best title possible. Then start writing your script and when you’re done, go back and see if your title still makes sense. A good title can steer you in the right direction and help keep you focused on the theme and tone of your story, so pick one now before you start writing your blockbuster masterpiece.