What’s in a film title?

May 24, 2018 3:30 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Writing a film title is key to film marketing…

“Empty heads are very fond of long titles” – German proverb.

In a previous post, I spoke about the rise of the ‘colon’, discussing the increase in the number of sequels, prequels and spin-offs. This post looked at the dropping of numerical sequels and that they have been replaced with a colon and small sub-title.

This leads on nicely to this post, I want to have a look at and investigate: “what’s in a film title“?

The basics of a film title are that you don’t want to give the story of the film away but you need to give enough to then be able to entice the audience in. In practical terms, these titles take up a lot of space on a poster and also in time on a TV spot.

I’ve taken a 6,316 film list sample, kindly provided by moviesite, and started to look at trends within the film titles from 1997 – 2017.

Looking at the graph below, there appears to be a steady increase in the size of the title, on average, of the films from 1997 to 2017. There are a couple of reasons for this, including the inclusion of 3D, 2D, IMAX in the titles, as well as the increase in the sequel names. Even taking this in to account, there is a jump from 13 words (1997) to 17 words (2017). I’ve even taken out the preceding “A” and “The” from the titles.

So what about the average number of letters per word? Well, this has stayed at a similar level throughout the years from it’s lowest point of 5.7 (2000) and highest of 6.2 (2009). So whilst the number of words has increased, the average number of letters have stayed the same suggesting that readability is not affected.

Another way in which to view this data is by the count of letters, as a scatter graph…

OK. The answer to the question that you are now asking yourself (and me) is what is the film with 80+ letters? The answer to your question is: “Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan!”. As you can see, there has been a significant rise in the number of letters within film titles from 2005.

So what about alpha-stacking? Do movie studios attempts to increase the number of letters starting at the beginning of the alphabet so that when this is released on VOD, audiences see their film first? This isn’t something new and is a well used tactic within marketing. Let’s take a look:

So, it appears that there is a significant lean towards films that start at the beginning of the alphabet. Whilst some may suggest that this is due to alpha-stacking, we also need to take in to account the popularity of letters within our every day vocab. The Concise The Oxford Dictionary (9th edition, 1995) looked at popularity of letters within the alphabet. As you can see this matches very well with the film title release chart – with a few exceptions. Letters such as B, M and S show as a more popular choice of letter within the titles. This is due to the increased number of adjectives within the titles: such as BIG – which shows 36 times (1% of all film titles). This is very similar to that of “C” etc. etc.

Alpha-stacking is becoming less of a practice, especially with the way in which companies such as NETFLIX personalize their search and home pages for their users.

What about the words themselves?

The most used word was “man” (82 occurrences), “love” (78), “movie” (65), “War” (55).


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This post was written by noxford

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