June 24, 2008
Movie Naming Sequel: Oh, The Horror – The Horror! (Part II)
In the last blog on horror films, I discussed the importance of optimizing a movie title’s descriptiveness and brevity and how that could translate into profitability.
In the list of films I mentioned, I purposely omitted films like Friday the 13th, 28 Days Later, and Se7en.
The reason? The common trait among these film names is the inclusion of a number. Somehow, there is something salient about numbers in movie titles.
At the very least, a number makes a movie name stand out from other names that are (more often than not) number-less.
At the very least, a number adds a mysterious quality behind the name. Take for instance Jennifer 8, a mediocre thriller starring Andy Garcia. What does the “8” stand for? And why is it juxtaposed to a woman’s name?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Sadly, not enough inquiring minds went to the see the film, which died on the vine. But its poor showing may not necessarily be attributed to its name or branding strategy but rather to the overall quality of the film (of which there was none).
More successful films in that regard would be Se7en, 28 Days Later, and The 6th Sense, where each film capitalized upon the mystery of what those numbers represented.
Curiosity led people to discover that Se7en was about a psychopath who kills victims according the seven deadly sins.
Curiosity led people to discover that 28 Days Later was about a bicycle courier who wakes up 28 days after a post-apocalyptic disaster only to find himself one of the only survivors in London, now rife with virus-infected sub-humans.
And curiosity led people to discover that The 6th Sense was about . . . well, I can’t really explain without spoiling it, but you get the idea.
The worldwide grosses for these films respectively were: $316.4 million ($30 million original budget), $82.7 million ($8 million original budget), and $672.8 million ($55 million original budget).
A film like Friday the 13th may not have seen those kinds of grosses in 1980, but it sure recouped its initial investment during its first weekend. Out of an original budget of $700,000, it earned over $5.8 million in its opening weekend alone! (And that was just domestic gross.)
But mystery doesn’t really apply with regards to this title’s number.
Rather, a film like Friday the 13th benefits from a whole host of superstitious myths, which surround the number “13.” Thus, to piggyback on a familiar myth deeply ingrained in our public consciousness is to reach out to a massive audience who already believes in (or has a curiosity towards) that sort of hokum.
In many ways, Friday the 13th had it easy – it didn’t have to educate an audience on what that number meant.
And it’s numerous sequels show that audiences have something new in the public consciousness that surpasses the wickedness of the number “13” – and that is Jason Vorhees.
This hockey-masked killer has become a household name with other fictional characters like Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter.
So what can we say about adding a number to a movie title? It may not necessarily guarantee box office success, but it does provide a hook for audiences to find out more about the film and figure out the significance of the number.
And that initial hook is sometimes all that a successful film, named with a number, needs.
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