Nine Foreign Films That Were Given More Effective English Titles

German title: “The Sky Over Berlin”

One of the funnier aspects of foreign distribution is when distributors in one country change a movie's title in order to make it more appealing to the locals. An infamous example is the Jack Nicholson comedy As Good As It Gets, which was retitled Mr. Cat Poop for the Hong Kong market. There are times, however, when creative American marketing executives actually come up with English titles for foreign movies that are more evocative than their originals. Here are nine of them.

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The English translation of the late Stieg Larsson's bestseller cemented the title. In Sweden, both book and film are called Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women. Blunt, but not as intriguing as a girl with a dragon tattoo.
  2. Wings of Desire. Wim Wenders' dreamy fable about an angel who seeks to become mortal after falling in love with an acrobat was perfectly matched with its English title. The original German title was Der Himmel Über Berlin, or The Sky Over Berlin. To be fair, "Himmel" also means heaven, so there's a clever double meaning there, but it's still a comparatively drab title.
  3. Hard-Boiled. John Woo's shoot-'em-up classic was called Lat sau san taam, or Hot-Handed God of Cops, back in Hong Kong. I have to admit that the Chinese title is kind of awesome. Incomprehensible, but awesome.
  4. Run Lola Run. Tom Tykwer's breathless chase movie is known in its native Germany simply as Lola Rennt, or Lola Runs. The English title better captures the speed and dry humor of the film.
  5. The Professional. Although Luc Besson's cult thriller is in English and was shot in New York, its original title, Léon (the main character's name), was not used for the U.S. release, presumably on the grounds that "Leon" sounds like it could be a comedy. Loyal American fans of the film (which I thought was terrible) tend to refer to it by Besson's title.
  6. Through a Glass Darkly. One of Ingmar Bergman's more harrowing dramas - and that's saying a lot - is called Så som i en Spegel, or As in a Mirror, in Sweden. Not bad, but not nearly as compelling as the English title.
  7. Winter Light. Bergman again. The English title for this film has a poetry to it. Nattvardsgästerna, or The Communicants (meaning those who receive Communion in church), not so much.
  8. Lady Vengeance. Park Chan-wook's third film in his "Vengeance Trilogy" had its title dumbed down so that American fans of violent Asian cinema could see its connection to his earlier film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (which itself was titled Vengeance Is Mine in Korea). Still, it's a better sell than the literal translation of the Korean title Chinjeolhan geumjassi, which means Kind-Hearted Ms. Geum-Ja. Anyone who's seen this brutal film will understand that Park's original title is used somewhat ironically.
  9. La Vie En Rose. But Mark! you might say. This title is in French! True, but the Edith Piaf biopic, which earned its star Marion Cotillard an Oscar, was not called that in its native France. No, there it was La môme, or The Kid. Most French people know the legendary singer as "la môme", her nickname. Sort of like how you could make a biopic about Bruce Springsteen, call it The Boss, and most Americans would get it - whereas the French might retitle it Born in the U.S.A. and the Chinese would call it The Screaming Rock and Roll Man.