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Film Titles That Hilariously Got Lost in Translation

Film Titles That Hilariously Got Lost in Translation

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The phrase “lost in translation” has been around ever since people could communicate with one another. However, it’s still as relevant today as ever, especially in the film industry. In an ironic twist, the translated title for the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation”— which is about a young American actor struggling with his career, living in Tokyo and falling for a young woman—fell into that category. The Portuguese translation of this famous movie title turned out to be Encontros e Desencontros “Meetings and Failures in Meetings,” which doesn’t particularly grab an audience’s attention.

Although most people probably don’t think about movie titles in other languages until they encounter one that is obviously and hysterically wrong, for people in the motion picture industry, a poorly translated title can mean disaster at the box office.

Several factors can contribute to a film’s badly translated title, and this is not necessarily due to the translator’s incompetence or an egregious misunderstanding of the film’s concept. In many cases, this is due to marketing issues related to film production.

If you are interested in learning more about why translating movie titles is such a challenging but rewarding linguistic task and to see some further hilarious examples, please keep reading on!

Why is it so difficult to translate film titles?

When it comes to movie titles, you can write a lot about how they are created. You can talk about the differences between foreign titles and their original counterparts or how they have to succinctly encompass the film’s entire plot and set the mood and expectations for the viewer. When it comes to the translation process, however, a much more interesting issue is how film translators work and how foreign film titles are created. You’ve probably come across a foreign-language title that sounded completely different from its original; sometimes, a title sounds so strange that it’s hard to believe it was ever an actual title!
Titles of films are often changed when distributed worldwide; these titles often do not accurately reflect the original’s meaning when translated back into English. There are several strategies for translating a film’s title into another language, and sometimes a lot of linguistic creativity is involved.
One method is to go for a literal word-for-word translation, while another is to guess what the name might be based on the initial pre-release poster or to create something entirely new that fits the film’s spirit. Most of the time, it isn’t just one translator making this decision but a whole localization and marketing team deciding how the translated name will impact their revenue in their respective markets.

The film industry is a typical business

The movie industry has a constantly growing international market. As a result, it has to find ways to reach audiences who speak other languages or have different accents than American actors. This means hiring foreign actors and creating subtitles or dubbing for the film. It also means ensuring that all titles are translated correctly, as many mistakes have been made and many laughs have been had from mistranslations. This means that in-house translators are often used, but translation service companies with native speakers in numerous languages and voice-over specialists are usually hired.
As you can expect, the title needs to be approachable, intriguing, short and catchy. In most cases, if a movie title were directly translated, it would most likely sound bad, and why would anyone go to watch a movie with an unappealing title? Adopting the transcreation process can make the title sound much more attractive from a marketing point of view.
Another issue that can arise at the translation stage is what happens if the film ends up being successful and gets a sequel or two down the line. This is especially evident with the Alien franchise when they localized the names into Hungarian.
AlienA nyolcadik utas: a Halál (The eighth passenger: Death)
AliensA bolygó neve: Halál (The planet’s name is Death)
Alien³A végső megoldás: Halál l (The Final Solution is Death)
Alien: Resurrection Feltámad a Halál (Death Rises)
The translated versions try to keep the word “Death” recurring to ensure that the audience knows it is part of the same series.
Wordplay can also be a challenge. For example, in “Shaun of the Dead” (a play on the George Romero zombie film “Dawn of the Dead”), the pun “Dawn of the Dead” doesn’t translate well, so in French, it’s called Shaun et Les Zombies (Shaun and the Zombies).
The title of a movie can be just as important as the content itself. Sometimes, the title is intended to be funny and gets people talking about a film before seeing it. Movies with titles like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”, and “VelociPastor” have such clever names that they’re hard not to notice. Sometimes producers deliberately choose strange-sounding titles for their films because they know how well word-of-mouth works and that audiences will talk about these movies long after they’ve left the theatre.
Another great example is the 2020 film “Birds of Prey”, which had its full title “, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”, plastered on posters just before release and even managed to have translations that encompassed the concept of the original title in most other countries. This sparked excessive speculation and articles online to discuss what might happen in the film based on the title and trailers.
In these instances, an excessive and ridiculous title piqued their audiences’ enthusiasm. However, translating those can sometimes prove challenging if you solely rely on a literal translation.

Translation of movie titles is not always needed

The film industry, like any other, is governed by similar laws. There’s supply and demand, as well as better and worse productions. Arie Barak, a public relations expert representing the studios of Fox, Disney and Sony in Israel, says that globalization is making it more common for big-budget films to retain their original titles, particularly with blockbusters and well-branded superheroes like Batman and Spiderman. But other times, literal translations are enough to get the point across.
But money is the bottom line, he said, so while Hollywood studios may want to keep a title that works in the U.S., they are more than happy to adapt it for foreign audiences. That’s how his firm came up with one of the strangest Hebrew translations in recent years, turning the animated comedy flick “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” into an Israeli version called גשם של פלאפל (It’s Raining Falafel).

Funny Film Translations

As it turns out, the translation of movie titles is a complicated process influenced by various factors. Business, marketing, and sometimes purely literary issues all play a part in determining which title to choose for a foreign audience. The selection of the original movie title is the responsibility of the director, who must summarize an hour and a half, or sometimes even three hours’ worth of content, into one word or phrase. There are also examples where the title does not refer to the story at all; its only purpose is to evoke specific emotions among the audience.
Below are some more examples of hilarious film title translations from their respective regions.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

(Israeli) גשם של פלאפלIt’s Raining Falafel
(Turkey) Köfte YağmuruIts Köfte Rain Meatballs
(Ukraine) Мінлива хмарність, часом фрикаделькиMinimum Cloudiness, Sometimes
(Chile) Lluvia de Hamburguesas Hamburger Rain
Changing meatballs to falafel and köfte are perfect examples of using localization services to appeal to local audiences instead of simply translating the words. Meatballs are not something Israelis relate to culturally, and as explained earlier, using falafel was a better equivalent of a local food staple. In Turkey, the title apparently translated just fine, and the film was renamed “Raining Kofte,” which is a local version of the meatball.

Léon: The Professional

(China) 这个杀手不太冷 This Hit Man Is Not as Cold as He Thought
(Turkish) Sevginin GücüPower of Love
Léon is meant to be portrayed as a heartless, robust and professional assassin, and gradually when he reluctantly takes in 12-year-old Mathilda, he starts to grow fond of her, and with the “power of love” he realizes that he isn’t as cold of a killer as he thought. The translated titles spoil the film’s point but can be seen as a way to get people into the movies.


(China) 冰血暴Ice Storm
(Mexico) Fargo. Secuestro voluntarioFargo: voluntary kidnapping
(Hong Kong) 雪花高離奇命案 Snowflake High’s Bizarre Murder
An accidental murder happens in a small Minnesota town, and the persistent police try to solve the case. The foreign titles emphasise the coldness and the snowfall in the setting while spoiling a bit of the plot and how ridiculous it can sometimes be.

Deep Impact

(China) 天地大冲撞Heaven and Earth Clash
(Russia) Столкновение с бездной Collision with the Abyss
(Thailand) วันสิ้นโลก ฟ้าถล่มแผ่นดินทลาย The End of the World, the Sky Collapsed and the Land Collapsed
These foreign titles show the biblical notion of a comet crashing into Earth. Rather than it being a purely factual and scientific endeavour which is mostly what the film is about, the foreign marketing teams try to cater to their wider audiences.


(German) Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug The Unbelievable Trip in A Wacky Aeroplane
(Finland) Hei me lennetään!Hey, we’re flying!
The sarcastic and lengthy German title perfectly captures the absurdity of the film. By just reading its name, you know exactly what you are walking into, even if you didn’t see the film’s exaggerated poster of an aeroplane twisted into a knot beforehand.


(German) Mein Partner mit der kalten SchnauzeMy Partner with the cold Snout
The German language is known for being very straightforward, so this title, while being extremely specific about the concept of the movie, is still mildly amusing.

Annie Hall

(German) Der StadtneurotikerThe Urban Neurotic
(Brazil) Noivo Neurótico, Noiva NervosaNeurotic Groom, Nervous Bride
As this is widely regarded as Woody Allens most memorable film, the emphasis on his neurotic acting and behaviour in the translated titles, shows that outside of the English speaking regions, most people went to watch his films for his performance rather than the plot.

Knocked Up

(Israel) הדייט שתקע אותי The Date That Screwed Me
This masterful title has a wonderful double meaning, and it definitely works towards the film’s benefit.

Home Alone

(France) Maman, j’ai raté l’avion!Mom, I Missed the Plane
While the film’s plot is about Kevin being stuck home alone, he got stuck at home because he missed his flight. Hence, the French title did a decent job of capturing the instigating factor of the film rather than the Christmassy comedic aesthetic the film was trying to portray.

The Dark Knight

(Finland) Yön ritariKnight of The Night
(Iceland) RökkurriddarinnThe Twilight Night
Finland and Iceland won the award for this film’s most creative and unique titles. They stand out the most, and Finland’s rhyming is perfect.


(Mexico) Juno. Crecer, correr y tropezar Juno: Growing up, Running, and Tripping
(Peru) Juno. Embarazada por accidente Juno: Pregnant by Accident
As Juno is a coming-of-age story about a young woman dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, keeping the title vague gives the impression that the story is about the titular character. However, by indispensably spelling out the plot in the Mexican and Peru versions, it comes off more as a warning to its audience, as this is what might happen if you aren’t careful.

Thelma and Louise

(Mexico) Un final inesperadoAn Unexpected Ending
Unlike almost every other country where they opted to call the film “Thelma and Louise”, Mexico decided not only to be different but also spoil the film’s ending in its own title. So, instead of keeping it simple, they added a few words to it, not as a tagline, but as part of the title: Un final inesperado.
It is definitely not unexpected anymore. Additionally, some movie posters in Mexico included a picture of the ending, adding insult to injury.


(Mexico) VaselinaVaseline
(Hungary) PomádéPomade
(Taiwan) 火爆浪子Hot Prodigal Son
Go back to the ’50s with this musical comedy again, where two unlikely and very different teens find love. Grease refers to the hair cream that the boys use to keep their “ducktail” hairstyles intact. In Mexico, though, the title is translated to “Vaseline”; in Hungary, it is “Pomade”. They really managed to capture the essence of those singing greasers.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

(Malaysia) Austin Powers: Perisik Yang Berkelakuan Sangat Baik Di Sekeliling Saya
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Behaved Very Nicely Around Me
Malaysia’s strict censorship standards and conservative sexual norms prompted this one. The original US title was much too crude for a Malaysian audience, so it makes perfect sense for them to alter it. For all the trouble they went to localize for family values, it’s difficult to imagine who would want to watch a movie about a spy behaving very nicely.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

(Danish) Drengen der druknede i chokoladesovsenThe Boy Who Died in Chocolate Sauce
Based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, a remake of the original film was released in 2005 and understandably renamed “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. However, in the Danish version, the title is quite misleading, as no child in the film died in chocolate sauce. However, they ate a lot of chocolate, and the Danish title is much more ominous and exciting.


(France) S.O.S. FantômesS.O.S. Ghosts
(Netherlands) Het bovennatuurlijke superspektakel Supernatural Super Spectacle
(Taiwan) 魔鬼剋星 Devil Buster
(Serbia) Истеривачи духова Exorcists of Spirits
The translated titles managed to keep with the theme of calling and busting ghosts, with some slight degree of supernatural and biblical overlap. This keeps in line with how those cultures view the afterlife and the unknown.

The Fault in Our Stars

(Sweden) Förr eller senare exploderar jagSooner or Later, I’ll Explode
(Norway) The Fault in Our Stars – Faen ta skjebnenTFiOS – To Hell with Destiny
While the film is a sad experience dealing with the harsh reality of living with a terminal condition, these titles take a more aggressive approach than the softer original title. The Swedish version somehow manages to take it so far that it starts to feel comical.


All these examples contribute to the fact that the work on movie translations is a particular and demanding field that can give translators much satisfaction, especially when working on large and well-known productions. The person who deals with this must be thoroughly familiar with all the nuances, overtones, ambiguities, and other aspects of the movie and must understand how to translate for their desired markets. Such a translator cannot base their work on their values and associations; hence, they must take the point of view of the director and all the people who worked on the production.
We hope you enjoyed this blog and were entertained by the various foreign film translations. If you have a film that needs subtitling, dubbing or localization, feel free to get in touch with us, and our ever-growing team of excellent natural language translators is available in over 60 other languages.
And if you have a funny foreign film title from your native language, drop by and let us know! We are always happy to hear from you!
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