Translations of Movie (and TV) Titles from English

Back in June, we published a piece on the Best TV Shows to Learn UK/US English. In it, there were a number of considerations about accents, theme, vocabulary, and culture which can aide in improving English skills.

There’s a big difference between TV shows and movies; personally I’m much more of a TV guy. Movies are around 90min to 2hrs each, while TV shows are typically between 25 and 50min. This makes a movie much more of a commitment in terms of my time and energy, and I can fit in two or three different TV shows in an evening which gives much more of a variety.

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It’s not to say that one is right and the other is wrong. For language learners, a movie can take a bit more concentration if you’re trying to watch it from start to finish, but the overall benefit is the same.

What’s funny is the way that some of these titles are carried over into other languages. Metaphors, slang words, and innuendos are regularly used for the film titles making translating them into different languages that much more difficult.

The linguistic differences between Chinese and English are much more significant than languages like Italian or French, but translations of movie titles are pretty diverse regardless.

The 2007 comedy Knocked Up starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen looks at the story of a couple dealing with an accidental pregnancy. To be/get “knocked up” is a colloquial/slang term meaning to become pregnant. There is no direct/understandable translation in Chinese for the expression, so a more descriptive title of what the film is about was used: One Night, Big Belly

Sticking in China for a moment, we all remember the 1999 blockbuster The Sixth Sense starring Bruce Willis. A powerful and chilling movie with one of the most memorable lines in movie history, “I see dead people”. In Chinese, the title translates to “He’s a Ghost!”, which, spoiler alert, is exactly what the audience doesn’t know until the final scene.

1997’s “As Good As It Gets” was translated as “Mr. Cat Poop” while over in Taiwan, “Guardians of the Galaxy” becomes “Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team”.

Kids shows are no different, Pixar’s “Up” is “Grandpa Carl’s Flying House” in Japanese, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is “The Boy Who Drowned in Chocolate“ in Danish, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is “It’s raining Falafel” in Israel, and “Frozen” is called “Cold Heart” in Russian. “101 Dalmatians” in Spanish is “The Night Of The Cold Noses”. The list goes one…

This being said, it’s not just English to other languages; it’s also America to other English-speaking countries. “The Mighty Ducks” is known as “Champions” in Australia, “Zootopia” is known as “Zootropolis” in the UK, and the basketball film “Hoosiers” is “Best Shot” in both countries. (Author’s side note; Hoosiers is the greatest sports film in the history of all time. Ever. End of debate.)

How and why these titles come into being probably has a funny or even logical explanation. TV shows are no different, and even episodes of TV shows can have extremely challenging obstacles to overcome in order to follow the English version. The “Hold the Door” episode of Game of Thrones is just one example of this!

As we’re quickly approaching the Christmas season, this can lead to some extra time sitting around with some time to spare. There are a few classic Christmas films that come on “the tube” every season.

An example, and one that’s also embroiled in a long-standing debate is the Bruce Willis film “Die Hard”. While the setting of the film is surely during Christmas, I’d argue that all the guns, explosives, and cursing certainly don’t embody the Christmas Spirit, but that’s a longer discussion.

In German, we have “Die Slowly”, in Greek it’s “Very Hard to Die”; in Norwegian it’s “Action Skyscraper”, and in Polish it’s “The Glass Trap”.

The sequel, “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”, become The Jungle 2: Red Alert” in Spanish, and the follow-up “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” is “Die Hard: Mega Hard” in Danish.

Another Christmas classic is “Home Alone” which turns into “My Poor Little Angel” in Spanish, but “Mom I missed the plane” in Italian.  It’s A Wonderful Life – In Germany – asks the question “Is This Life Not Wonderful?”, while “Christmas Vacation” becomes “The Tree has Balls” in French.

The titles aside, what’s important is that you enjoy the film(s). So sit back, put your feet up, and grab some popcorn!

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Autore:

Shaune Peebles is a Canadian English teacher (and world traveller), with over 10 years' experience across Asia and Europe. Shaune discovered his teaching vocation in Guangzhou, where he worked for more than two years at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) and at the Wall Street Institute (among others), before moving to Italy with his wife in 2009. A long-time language trainer in Milan, he completed a certification in Curriculum Development Instructional Design from Mt. Royal University in 2016, and is currently working as a Customer Success Manager for Docebo.