Making Subtle Titles That Tease

The title of your movie isn’t as important as the structure of your screenplay, but it can be the first thing someone sees that either intrigues them or turns them off. That’s why you don’t want a lousy title. Instead, choose a title that suggests your story’s premise but leaves it up to the imagination of the reader.

Look at the following movie titles that are too obvious and direct:

  • Robinson Crusoe on Mars
  • It! The Terror From Beyond Space
  • Shark Kill

Now look at similar movie titles that basically told the exact same story but with a more subtle, enticing title:

  • The Martian
  • Alien
  • Jaws

“The Martian” is basically the story of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which was the actual title of an old science fiction movie from 1964 that told the story of a man trapped on Mars. “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” was a low-budget science fiction that inspired “Alien.” The plot is the same where a spaceship returns to Earth, only to discover that a monster has sneaked aboard the ship and is slowly killing crew members one by one. Even worse, the weapons the crew members have can’t seem to stop it.

“Shark Kill” is one of those low-budget movies where a shark kills people in the water. “Jaws” is a more subtle version of that same story that’s far superior because it focuses on the emotions and motives of the hero rather than just the gore of watching a shark eating another person over and over again.

Notice that “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” accurately describes the plot of “The Martian,” but “The Martian” is a better title because it’s more suggestive and subtle that intrigues people. Who is the Martian? When we find out it’s an Earthman stranded on Mars, then the story becomes clearer, but until we know the actual plot, “The Martian” could as well be a story about a real Martian coming to Earth.

“It! The Terror From Beyond Space” is also too direct and comes across like the low-budget science fiction film that it is. “Alien” is much more subtle and mysterious. What is alien? What does the alien do?

If you’re at a loss for a title for your screenplay, start with something obvious and direct. Then scale it back to something less obvious and more mysterious and intriguing. You don’t want to get too abstract, but you also want to avoid being too direct. The best title hints at the story without giving it away.

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