Coming up with a title for your screenplay is no picnic. You need a title that sums up your story, stands out and rolls off the tongue. Or at least that’s what the best movie titles do.
The best movie titles are instinctive. They’re memorable because they perfectly encapsulate the movie and sound cool or distinctive. The audience doesn’t have to think about remembering the title, it just lodges in their memory.
Moreover, the best movie titles are ones that you want to say. They just sound cool when you say them. It sounds shallow but this can create a strong impression of the movie at hand, a shortcut to standing out amongst the crowd. There’s almost a viral effect to this. The best movie titles catch on and spread.
It’s particularly important to nail a distinctive and memorable movie title when writing a screenplay at the development level. You’re sending your screenplay out to screenplay readers, producers, agents, screenwriting competitions. And you want your screenplay’s title to stand out and engage the reader.
In this sense, the best movie titles draw the reader in before a word of description or dialogue. They sound good, they encapsulate the story and at their best, even cast the story in a new light.
Sometimes a movie title will be upfront and simple, sometimes it will only make sense at the end of the movie. Sometimes it might even take some figuring out. However, all these outcomes are evidence of a strong movie title.
The 25 Best Movie Titles
Want to know how to create a great movie title? Check out our article on how to craft movie titles. However, in this article, we’re going to take a look at the 25 best movie titles (in no particular order).
What do they say about what makes a great title? And how can thinking about this help you to reach your own great movie title?
Let’s jump in…
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A memorable and unique title, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes its name from Alexander Pope’s 1717 poem Eloisa to Abelard. The poem itself is a reflection on a love from many years prior, sharing a storyline with the film.
This might seem an alien reference if weren’t for the fact that the poem is quoted within the film by one of the characters.
“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot. The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned”
The reference to the poem sums up the movie’s central theme of love and memory. It encapsulates the idea of wiping painful memories seen as a route to a ‘spotless mind’. This speaks to the concept behind the movie, a service that wipes painful memories of loved ones from the brain.
So the title brilliantly captures the main concept and theme of the movie. But it also does so in a way that feels distinctive. It feels unlikely that another movie will come along with this title.
The movie could have easily been called ‘memory wipe’, for example. But in reaching for something altogether more poetic and mysterious, the title stands out and reflects the movie’s unique concept.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
In One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the clever title encapsulates the core storyline of the movie in a catchy way.
The film follows McMurphy, a prisoner who fakes insanity to escape from a prison labour camp, and once in the specialist mental health ward plans to become a free man.
The use of the description of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ plays with the historical British use of the word Cuckoo to describe someone who is behaving in a ‘crazy’ fashion.
The title hints that one person will ‘fly over’ over this cuckoo’s nest. However, this person is not necessarily whom the audience might initially expect, creating an interesting twist.
This is a great example of a film title that creatively yet clearly hints at the story. It’s a memorable and unique title in its language but it also foreshadows the story.
3. There Will Be Blood
In the epic drama, There Will Be Blood, we follow the story of ruthless oil tycoon Daniel Plainview.
The title has biblical roots, which can be found in Exodus chapter 7 ‘The Plague of Blood’, where God, through Moses, is putting pressure on Pharaoh to release the Israelites:
“And they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt..”Exodus 7:19
The biblical connection runs deep, as Daniel bears similarities to Pharaoh. Both want to be all controlling and are willing to manipulate, use and sacrifice anyone around them who gets in their way, no matter the consequence.
This title gives a clear indication of the sort of character we are dealing with, the genre of film we can expect and its dramatic content. You better believe that you will eventually see some blood in the film.
Moreover, the title addresses one of the movie’s key themes, the idea that in such a relentless pursuit of oil in a capitalist fashion, there will, inevitably, be blood.
4. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is another title which even if you have not seen the movie, you will most likely recognise.
The movie originally had a different title, The Psychedelic Soldier. However, screenwriter John Milius was inspired to change the title to Apocalypse Now, as a way of making fun of hippies who in the 70s were wearing pins with the words ‘Nirvana Now’.
The words ‘apocalypse now’ are never spoken throughout the film and the title remains elusive in this regard. However, in the film’s final act the words are seen scrawled in graffiti in the background.
It’s a chilling moment of recognition when it comes, with a feeling given that the camp Willard has finally found, amidst the wider horror of the Vietnam War in general, really is the ‘apocalypse now’.
5. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a movie that effectively uses the title to encapsulate the overall storyline and tone of the film.
The title is taken from the practice of shooting horses who are severely injured to put them out of their misery. It, therefore, raises a painful question of people being put out of their misery if they are unbearably suffering too.
- Ultimately, unable to escape her depression, Gloria asks Robert to kill her.
- Afterwards, when he’s asked about his motive for killing her by the police, Robert replies “they shoot horses don’t they?”.
- This sums up Gloria’s depression, with Robert suggesting it was best to put her out of her misery.
The title is highly emotive, pointing the audience to the bigger picture that the themes grapple with. It’s unusual to have a question as a movie title, but the contemplative nature of the movie means it couldn’t suit better.
6. Raging Bull
Raging Bull is based upon the true story of Jake LaMotta. The story follows the middleweight boxer as he achieves his first boxing title. His professional growth is stunted when his personal life, full of paranoia, jealousy and rage, takes over.
The title comes from Jake LaMotta’s boxing name, ‘Raging Bull’. These words are visually evocative, creating a clear image in the audience’s mind of the strength and anger of the boxer in the ring and in his personal life.
‘Raging Bull’ is not just the protagonist‘s stage name but a perfect summation of his approach to and journey through life. It’s a title that on the surface doesn’t seem particularly extraordinary. But once one has seen the movie itself, it’s hard to shake it from the mind, such is the power of the title in capturing the movie’s mood and power.
7. Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures follows a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S space programme.
The movie title contains a double meaning.
- It refers both to the women who were hidden and forgotten by history in the NASA story.
- Whilst it also uses the word ‘figures’ in relation to the innovative mathematical research the women were producing for NASA.
The title encapsulates the overall story, the wordplay instantly demonstrating the nature of this true story, both in terms of its historical resonance and its subject matter.
8. Good Will Hunting
The title of Good Will Hunting, once again plays on the use of double meanings, similarly to Hidden Figures.
- The title suggests that on one level Will Hunting, our protagonist, is himself good, giving the audience a clear hint about his personality. This also relates to how people perceive him throughout the movie, seeing him as someone worth ‘saving’.
- It also indicates that Will is hunting for and with goodwill, reminding the audience that there are good and bad ways to hunt for meaning in life.
- Will is seeking to find the good path, at least most of the time. Whilst others all seek the good path for him.
It’s a movie title that rolls off the tongue and in its double meaning and linguistic wordplay prompts curiosity.
9. Shaun of The Dead
A different way of playing with the meanings of words is presented in the title, Shaun of The Dead.
- The film title is inspired by the 1978 Dawn of The Dead, the classic zombie film.
- The adaptation from the original title to Shaun of The Dead, immediately gives the audience insight into the genre of the film, providing a comedic twist linking it to the comedy element of the zombie genre throughout.
The title is memorable and lighthearted, giving a clear protagonist to the story whilst also revealing the comedy inherent in the movie’s execution.
However, the title also gives a strong clue as to the style of the movie, one where other movies are constantly referenced. The movie’s visual language is in itself a pastiche and homage, just like its title.
10. The Silence of the Lambs
Where to start with this movie title? The Silence of the Lambs is a striking, chilling and relatively opaque movie title. It’s a unique and memorable title in the imagery it creates. Whilst it also hints at some core themes.
Firstly, the reference to lambs conjures up biblical imagery, imagery surrounding slaughter (in the reference to lambs to the slaughter) and imagery to do with innocence and purity.
Is Clarice Starling the pure and innocent lamb? Will she be a lamb to Hannibal Lecter’s slaughter? These are all questions that the title provokes.
- Moreover, lambs are directly referenced when Clarice Starling recalls a traumatic childhood memory of witnessing lambs screaming as they’re about to be slaughtered.
- She remembers trying to save one of the lambs.
- Hannibal Lecter puts Clarice under the spotlight about seeking to stop the slaughter of the lambs, imploring her to think that it was not worth it as the lamb she saved was killed anyway.
- Furthermore, Lecter makes a reference to Catherine, a woman whose murder Clarice is trying to prevent.
- In making a reference to the lambs, perhaps Lecter is suggesting that just because Clarice might save one woman it won’t save her from the trauma of the bigger picture.
“You think if Catherine lives, you won’t wake up in the dark ever again to that awful screaming of the lambs.”
The way in which the title is referenced explicitly but not directly, avoiding the actual mention of ‘silence’ encourages the audience to think about the metaphor illustrated. It’s a neat trick, the circumventing of the title proving more powerful and effective than its explicit mention and explanation.
11. The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street is another evocative and efficient title. The film follows Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who cheats his way to the top at the expense of all those around him.
- The title visually evokes a character who is hungry and ruthless in their pursuit to get to the top of the financial ladder.
- The comparison with the ferocity of a wolf is powerful because wolves are territorial, vicious and show no mercy when provoked.
This provides the audience with a clear idea of the protagonist’s character and the lengths he will go to for money and primacy on Wall Street. The title’s use of alliteration catches the attention but also captures the mood and themes of the movie.
12. Bird Box
Not all movie titles are immediately clear in how they connect to the movie itself, and one such example of this is Bird Box.
- The movie is a post-apocalyptic horror-thriller, where a mysterious force is decimating the population, and the only certainty is if you see it, you die.
- Survivors must avoid coming face-to-face with an entity that takes the form of their worst fears.
There are many ways to interpret the title, one being in the final scene of the film, when all the survivors are enclosed in a building just like birds within a bird box. A bird box would usually be where birds are kept under human care. But ironically here, in the protagonist‘s final designation, is where humans start to live under the care of birds.
The imagery created by the title, teamed with the intrigue around its definitive meaning, helps it to stick in the audience’s mind, leaving them questioning long after the film has finished. Furthermore, its alliteration and punchiness help it roll off the tongue. It’s hard not to see its idiosyncratic, catchy name as part of its viral appeal.
13. The Lobster
The Lobster is a dark comedy set in the near future, where adults are shipped off to a government-mandated singles’ retreat and given 45 days to find a mate. If they are unsuccessful, the singleton is turned into an animal and released into the woods.
The title of the film is significant on multiple levels, from literal to figurative. The clearest cut explanation is that the lobster is the protagonist‘s animal of choice if he is unable to find a partner.
- On a more symbolic level, it holds general thematic significances.
- The lobster is an aquatic, cold-blooded, hard-shelled creature. The characters similarly have become hardened by the atmosphere and the prospect of being turned into animals.
- They have developed a protective shell and have become detached and defensive, like a lobster.
- In desperate times lobsters will turn to cannibalism, picking on the weakest for the survival of the strong. This is a key element in the film where humans, who are forced to mate systematically, shed the element of caring that previously separated man from beast.
It’s both an incredibly simple title, in that it references the key premise (of humans turning into animals and the lobster being the protagonist‘s choice) but also a complex one in its deeper subtext.
Moonlight might seem like a relatively simple title. But it has profound significance in the way it’s referenced throughout the movie.
Firstly, literal moonlight drapes significant scenes, such as Chiron’s sexual experience with Kevin on the beach.
But it’s also referenced in a key speech Juan gives to young Chiron.
Juan: I was runnin’ and hollerin’, and cuttin’ a fool, boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said…
“Runnin’ around, catching up all that light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You blue, that’s what I’m gon’ call you. ‘Blue’.”
Chiron: So your name ‘Blue’?
Juan: [Chuckles] Nah….At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
The moonlight frames how this woman sees Juan. But Juan tells Chiron that he can’t let other people define who he is.
This is a key theme and narrative drive for the movie, Chiron coming to terms with who he is and shrugging off society’s labels.
15. A Clockwork Orange
The movie title, A Clockwork Orange, is shared with the classic novel which inspired it.
The story follows Alex, a psychopath imprisoned for murder and rape. To reduce his sentence Alex volunteers for an experimental treatment conducted by the government. The source text explains the premise behind the title as referring to a person who:
“Has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or the Almighty State.”
This evokes the disturbing concept of a person who appears naturally wholesome and good, but whose behaviour and morality is mechanistically controlled.
The title is memorable because it conjures up a striking visual image. Most when first seeing it will ask “What is a clockwork orange?”. In a sense, the answer doesn’t matter. But there is a subtext and impression that the title creates that helps convey the movie’s tone and themes.
16. A Streetcar Named Desire
Another movie that shares its name with the source text is A Streetcar Named Desire.
- The story follows Blanche DuBois, who travels by streetcar (bus) to her sister’s house in New Orleans.
- The title refers to an actual streetcar line in New Orleans, the one that Blanche takes to her sister’s house.
- This particular streetcar ultimately bears a huge amount of significance, being that Blanche’s visit is the catalyst for the story. A seemingly innocent family visit turns out to eventually be much more.
However, it also serves as a metaphor for the power of desire as the driving force behind all of the characters’ actions. Desire is a key running theme and the mention of this in the title helps put it front and centre.
In general, the technique of using emotions in titles is an effective method of encapsulating key sentiments that drive the characters and their arcs.
17. Kill Bill
Kill Bill‘s short punch title perfectly sums up the movie both in terms of its plot and its style.
The movie follows a pregnant assassin called The Bride who for four years had been in a coma, induced by a brutal attack by her ex-boss, Bill. When she awakes, she sets out to seek revenge on him and his associates.
The plot is relatively simple, driven by a single aim and goal. And the title reflects this. Moreover, the title reflects the movie’s style in that its stylish rhyme and punchiness mirrors the stylistic execution of the movie.
This is very much a case of a movie title doing what it says on the tin. The title is Kill Bill and that’s exactly what the main drive of the story is in terms of the protagonist‘s goal.
The striking movie title of BlacKkKlansman neatly refers to all elements of the story it tells.
The movie is about an African-American detective who embarks on a mission to infiltrate his town’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
- So the title refers to the protagonist as the ‘black klansman’.
- This would be a striking title enough, prompting curiosity in its meaning.
- However, the extra k in the middle of these two words provides a direct reference to the KKK, who sit at the heart of the story.
It’s an example of a title that has fun with the possibilities for titles that the story creates. Whilst in doing so, it only adds to its own ability to convey the essential story strands, which uniquely overlap.
19. Spirited Away
Spirited Away follows 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents, who stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. Things go wrong when her parents are turned into huge pigs, and Chihiro must enter the resort full of supernatural beings and work there to attempt to rescue herself and her parents.
The title has a clever double meaning with the words ‘spirited away’ referring to something that has been removed without anybody noticing. This is exactly what occurred with Chihiro after she is separated from her parents. Additionally, the place where Chihiro is ‘spirited away’ to is the land of spirits.
The title has a magical sound to it that perfectly captures the feeling of the film. It’s not only an accurate reflection of the movie’s content but it ends up serving as an encapsulation of how it makes the audience feel when watching it.
This movie title shows how a title can become great when it seems to somehow capture the movie’s spirit and the feeling that it evokes.
20. Sorry To Bother You
A double meaning can also be seen in Sorry To Bother You. The film follows telemarketer Cassius Green, who discovers an alluring method for success.
This title has a sharp double meaning.
- It brings to mind a cliche that telemarketers use with customers.
- But it’s also a sarcastic disclaimer for the whole movie, as the narrative is supposed to be a slap in the face to anyone who feels complacent about issues plaguing the USA.
- The movie critiques capitalism in a sharp and confronting way. And the title is almost a challenge to the audience, a repudiation of any chance they might be shocked or confronted by the movie’s message.
The power of the title is created through the writer’s ability to present a political message in an amusing way. It’s a reference to the subject matter at hand (telemarketing) but also speaks directly to the audience. In this, it’s quite a rarity as a movie title and is all the more memorable as a result.
21. Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire is a rags-to-riches story about a teenager from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’.
This is another movie title that incorporates the overall storyline of the film and gives insight into the main protagonist of the story.
- The term ‘slumdog’ is used as slang to refer to a slum dweller, giving us a clear understanding of who the protagonist is and where they come from.
- The TV show which he enters, ‘Kanu Banega Crorepati?’ is an Indian version of the game show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’.
The title even contains a message about the innovative structure of the film. There isn’t really much mystery as to whether or not the protagonist wins the contest. That’s not where the tension and narrative progression lies. It’s more about the reveal of how the protagonist knows the answers.
So the reveal of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ isn’t a spoiler. If the narrative was more about the tension of whether or not he will win, it might not be so prudent to give away this in the title. However, because of the movie’s non-linear structure, the reveal is right there in the title and helps to draw the audience in.
22. The Sound of Metal
The Sound of Metal contains multiple meanings as a movie title, as well as viscerally evoking the main storyline.
- The title refers, first and foremost, to the heavy metal style of music that the protagonist plays.
- Furthermore, it references the style of the sound that the protagonist hears when he first loses his hearing.
- Whilst it also refers to some of the sounds that the protagonist can hear, referencing a scene specifically where he and a child tap on a metal slide, hearing the thud of the taps.
The narrative progression is hidden in the title.
- First, we meet the protagonist playing in his band.
- Then we witness him struggling with losing his hearing.
- And then finally we see him coming to terms with his deafness and learning how to appreciate the sounds he can (such as the tapping of the slide).
In its multiple meanings, The Sound of Metal is a brilliant title. But it also shows how much a title can do. In a sense, the whole movie can be found in just these three words. This is the essence of the best movie titles, a whole world and story contained within one phrase.
23. The Day After Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow starts when a worldwide storm begins to plunge Earth into a new Ice Age. The protagonist, Jack Hall, begins a dangerous trek to New York to try and save his son from the disaster.
The title shares its name with a song from Blitz!, a 1962 musical written by Lionel Bart, set in the Second World War. The song looks forward optimistically to a post-war world.
The Day After Tomorrow movie is somewhat the reverse of the optimism of Bart’s song. In the movie, on the day after tomorrow, most of mankind will be gone. The title is impactful, being more interesting than the technical term for the day after tomorrow which is ‘Overmorrow’.
Furthermore, its link to the Lionel Bart song highlights the challenge facing the characters, subtly hinting at the imagery of war, hope and perseverance. What will happen on the day after tomorrow? We can only hope that the characters will make it through to find out.
24. Back To The Future
Back To The Future is a movie title that has stood the test of time.
At first, the title may seem a little strange – a movie about a time machine set mainly in the past that uses the word ‘future’ in the title.
However, the title of the film gains its name because after travelling back in time, Marty is desperately trying to get back home, which is in the future.
The title is also a reference to the expression, which refers to when someone has to stop overthinking the past and instead needs to focus on working to improve the future.
It’s one of those titles that catches the eye and is fun to say, an irony contained within it. Furthermore, the use of the phrase within the movie gives it an almost catchphrase like quality.
25. The Revenant
The Revenant follows Hugh Glass, who after being severely injured in a bear attack, is abandoned by his hunting team. Hugh uses his skills to survive and take revenge on his companion who betrayed him.
The title cleverly uses the word ‘Revenant’, which is derived from the French word ‘revenir’, meaning ‘to return’.
This captures the overarching storyline. It’s most prominently demonstrated when Hugh, the protagonist, crawls out of his grave, intent on seeking revenge against the man who left him for dead. This is effectively highlighted when Hugh says:
“I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already.”
Furthermore, this is reinforced by speculation that the term ‘revenant’ is another way of saying ‘zombie’.
The title is short and interesting, making the audience want to work out what it means. It’s also an impressive use of exploring the etymology and meaning of words, and how they can unexpectedly show the movie’s key hook.
The Revenant could have easily been called something simpler and more immediately understandable. But in thinking outside the box and exploring other options, a unique, poetic and meaningful title is created.
This kind of creative thinking is how the best movie titles are created.
This article was written by Alice Wass and edited by IS Staff.
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3 thoughts on “Are these the 25 BEST Movie Titles? What Makes a Great Movie Title?”
I enjoyed the list, but I noticed that your parenthetical desciption of a streetcar when writing about “A Streetcar Names Desire” is “(bus)”. A streetcar is most definitely not a bus. If you have to clarify the word, “trolley” would be more appropriate….Just don’t use it in New Orleans. 😀
1) Really enjoyed your article, Thank you.
2) “The Silence of the Lambs” is of course delivering (brilliantly) Thomas Harris’s novel. That’s where the credit lies, not with the makers of the movie. You are absolutely right that for original stories/screenplays we must give the title due thought.
Sure, but how many messed up book-to-movie adaptations have you seen? This could have been one of them. The filmmakers deserve great credit…