Why translation of movie titles is a real brainteaser

We are often puzzled by the way in which movie titles are translated. The distributor and/or their translation agency are responsible for this task, which is clearly not as simple as it seems. In this article, we discuss some points about the translation of movie titles and present a brief list of twenty amusing translations of movie titles…

Movie Titles: translation or adaptation?

While the practice of translation is always a work of adaptation, it is much more so when it comes to translating movie titles. This exercise is therefore one of the more interesting linguistic challenges to befall the translator. Obviously, the translation of movie titles is not exempt from the traditional difficulties of translation: when moving from one linguistic area to another, for example, the perspective changes. How should the the Russian villain in a typical Hollywood production be presented in Moscow cinemas? And what do we do about cultural references? But that’s not all.

The challenges of translating movie titles

In addition, there is the fact that the title of a film is supposed to summarize and condense a two-hour movie; the selection is often the subject of a long and drawn-out investigation by the director and / or studio. Therefore, the translator must riffle through nuances, overtones, polysemies and other approaches. And no context in which to base him or herself. That’s one of the difficulties of this exercise: a title should be evocative and should work with no other references than its own semantic values and connotations. We can not resort to contextual elements to supplement or clarify the meaning.

Halfway between literary and marketing translation

In addition, the translation of movie titles involves not only the tricky task of giving it meaning, but there are also rhythmic constraints (in this case, this comes closer to literary translation and more specifically, poetic) and commercial ones (here this brings us closer to marketing translation). In French, for example, the title of a film must not exceed nine syllables.

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