Movie titles: the rise of the infernal colon

Numbered sequels are out of fashion, and titles are getting longer and more ungainly as a result. We chart the rise and rise of the dreaded colon in movie names…

As we established a few weeks ago, sequels have been around in one form or another since the dawn of filmmaking itself, and in an indirect way, Johannes Gutenberg is to blame. But in the course of researching that article, it became apparent that the way sequels are named has changed considerably over the decades.

While the titles of films like The Son Of Kong and The Return Of The Pink Panther made a reference back to the names of their predecessors, the habit of simply slapping a number or numeral after a title didn’t really begin until the 50s and 70s, with the films Quatermass 2 and The Godfather Part II.

Movie producers gradually dropped the word ‘part’ from titles as the 80s wore on, though that practice has made a resurgence of late – Hostel: Part II and The Hangover Part II, for example.

Most recently, though, a new sequel naming convention has arisen, which involves the use of one of these: the dreaded colon.

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Through the 80s and 90s, it became increasingly common to see a weird collection of words after a film’s original title. As our article on worst sequel titles pointed out a few years back, the most dreadful of these include the nonsensical Highlander 2: The Quickening, The Howling III: The Marsupials and Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood.

Since that article was written, however, the practice has become more common than ever. The film producers of Hollywood, apparently worried that audiences can’t count anymore, have taken to dropping the convention of adding a numeral at the end of a film’s title, and adding a subtitle instead.

What would, therefore, have once been called Resident Evil 2 (or if you’re feeling a bit more pretentious, Resident Evil Part II) was instead released as Resident Evil: Apocalypse. What would have been Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, or Pirates 4, or Pir4tes if you’re into that whole text speak thing, was instead branded Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

This new naming convention has resulted in some really ungainly constructions in recent years. Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call – New Orleans is one example. The forthcoming Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is another. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life is absolutely hideous, as is Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach. To be fair, the films themselves were pretty bad, too, in the latter two cases.

In the instances above, we’ve got a title and then what are effectively two subtitles. At this rate, we’ll be seeing films with names like Pirates Of The Caribbean: Eight Galleons: Squawking Parrots: Captain Jack’s Revenge by the end of the decade.

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In fairness, some subtitled films provide some quite useful information. The forthcoming xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, as ugly as it appears to the casual reader, actually means, xXx: Look, We’re Sorry About The One With Ice Cube In – This One Stars Vin Diesel Again, So Please Come And See It. xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage also deserves some sort of award for containing the most instances of the letter X in a non-porn movie title.

Right now, the trend among movie titles appears to be following a similar phenomenon in the automotive industry. Cars, in the UK at least, almost always start off small and compact, and then gradually grow in size with each iteration, until by their third generation, they’re huge, heavy, and almost unrecognisable from the vehicle that first bore its name.

This is now the case with movie titles. What begins as something fairly snappy and memorable gradually mutates, over its sequels, into something that takes several seconds to recite. Just look at what happened to the mother of all blockbusters, Star Wars. Released in 1977 with a two-syllable title, it was reissued four years later with the lengthier new name, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

After the Star Wars movies came out, it seemed as though the whole of Hollywood was bitten by the colon bug. The simply titled First Blood was followed by Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Breakin’ was followed a few years later by the remarkable Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Following those trailblazing efforts, the colon has gradually sprouted up everywhere like moss. By 2003, we’d already begun to see subtitles appear in films that didn’t even have a sequel yet – just look at the whopping, forty character title, Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World.

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These days, we’re used to seeing film titles that are so complex that we can’t even be bothered to say them out loud anymore, such as The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, or The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian was so long that it could barely be squeezed on to the film’s poster.

The growth of lengthy, ungainly sequel names may partially explain the unexpectedly huge success of the fifth Fast & Furious movie. While the movie’s producers insisted on marketing it under the frankly horrible banner of Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist in some territories, almost everyone ended up referring to it by its original title, Fast Five.

As film titles go, Fast Five is just about perfect. It tells you everything you need to know: that it’s the fifth film in the series, and that things happen quite quickly in it. Fast Five is also quick and simple to recite to the person sitting behind the counter at the cinema, which is extremely handy if you’ve just stumbled out of a pub and are feeling rather refreshed.

I hope the simple elegance of Fast Five’s moniker ushers in a new age of short, snappy names. The kind of titles we can easily mumble after a few beers without stuttering or getting confused. And I also hope we’ll see a gradual reduction in the use of the dreaded colon as a result.

A kind of colonic irrigation, if you will.

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