As a sequel to my Titular Treatise, I would like to celebrate a number of film franchises which have shown continued imagination in their choice of titles. These series strive, and in most cases succeed, to circumvent the colon, the integer and the staid Roman numeral.
Winning the bronze award is The Fast and the Furious series, which somehow hangs its continuing identity on either or both of its principal F-words. The original title is brilliantly generic: it could be about airborne dogfights in World War II, a ruthless martial arts tournament or a teenage biker gang in ‘50s America.
The sequels perfectly illustrate title trends throughout the last decade-and-a-bit. 2 Fast 2 Furious came out when numbers were replacing homophones or orthographically similar letters at every available opportunity: Thir13een Ghosts, for example, or Cradle 2 the Grave (which isn’t even a sequel) and incidentally every goddamn text message I received from my flatmate at the time. I used to think 2 Fast 2 Furious was a stupid title but now I realise it’s ingenious, laying down the creative gauntlet for future episodes.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift surfed that ‘00s wave of colonised franchises where even the first instalment got a subtitle (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl etc). At either nine or ten syllables, depending on your pronunciation, it’s also the longest title ever given to a movie about car racing.
I assumed the series was roadkill after that, but not only did the fourth film recoup the original leads, it rebranded the franchise Fast & Furious to demonstrate the Twitter generation’s pathological rejection of the non-concise. This was an excellent move, getting rid of unnecessary “The"s and allowing the two follow-ups to be widely marketed as Fast 5 and Furious 6. Christ knows where they can go after that—maybe just a shiny italicised 7.
The silver award goes to the Batman series, or rather both Batman series. The second episode of the ‘90s run set the trend, following Batman with Batman Returns (no mention where he was supposed to have gone). When Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton, he went with the more optimistic Batman Forever and then camped it down with Batman & Robin.
Christopher Nolan’s reboot reportedly flirted with the colon—I remember reading about Batman: The Frightening and Batman: Intimidation Game, but they eventually settled on the history-rewriting Batman Begins. Batman: The Frightening Intimidation Game would have been good too. The Dark Knight followed, ditching the hero’s name completely in another example of successful franchise rebranding. So successful, in fact, that the trilogy was rounded off with The Dark Knight Rises, and this is certainly the reason that the latest Superman reboot is called Man of Steel.
Update. Since writing this in June 2013 we've had two more instalments of the Fast/Furious franchise. The seventh was known as Furious 7 but the eighth was released in the US as The Fate of the Furious. Not even F8. FATE. The Fate of the Furious. I mean, you have to respect that. In the same four years we've had Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which is rubbish, so although I can't be bothered editing the article text, I'm taking the silver award away from Batman and giving it to the Fast & Furious series. Batman is hereby demoted to bronze.
Collecting the gold award is Die Hard. The first sequel disappointingly whacked a 2 on the end and its unofficial marketing title (Die Hard 2: Die Harder) added the hateful colon. But the next three episodes have fun exploring various interpretations of the phrase “die hard”.
Die Hard with a Vengeance might mean that Jeremy Irons is a die-hard and bent on revenge (spoiler), or it could be the imperative, an order to die hard, and “with a vengeance” is the qualifier: that’s how fucking hard you die.
Live Free or Die Hard is a fantastic title that was nonsensically changed to Die Hard 4.0 for its UK release—although given the amount of last minute re-editing and the title change, it should be at least Die Hard 4.2. This could mean “live free or die… hard” as per the New Hampshire state motto and war cry of American independence, or a summary of the film’s opposing philosophies: McClane’s die-hard nature versus the anarchic techno-baddies’ desire to burn it all down and start again, or whatever the fuck they were doing, which was something with computers.
Finally, let’s hope, we have A Good Day to Die Hard. Apparently Bruce Willis hates the title but fuck him, the rest of us know it’s awesome. Grammatically it only stands up to one interpretation, but at least it’s the interpretation shared by the other titles in the series. Its principal strength is that it reaffirms the franchise’s refusal to settle for increasing digits.
The lifetime achievement award goes to the James Bond franchise. You might think they’ve had it easy, with twelve novels and nine short stories to plunder—but once the titles began to run out, the challenge of coming up with new ones must have been terrifying.
You Only Live Twice was the first adaptation where the plot deviated from the novel, although some elements were kept. By the tenth episode, The Spy Who Loved Me, it was a case of lifting the remaining titles and hanging new stories on them. Occasionally a detail or character name would be taken from Fleming’s original. Otherwise the books were basically paperweights.
The first Bond film with a non-Fleming title was Licence Revoked in 1989. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because the studio decided that US audiences wouldn’t understand the word “revoked” or would assume it referred to a driving licence—even with Timothy Dalton in a tuxedo pointing a gun out of the poster, and even though Lethal Weapon 2, released the same year, famously ends with Danny Glover telling Joss Ackland that his diplomatic immunity has “just been revoked”.
Licence Revoked thus became Licence to Kill and this set a precedent for using Bond-associated words or phrases as titles. GoldenEye was the name of Fleming’s house in Jamaica and The World is Not Enough is the Bond family motto, at least according to the genealogist in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service whose work I’ve never had time to verify. Quantum of Solace pinched the title of a (very good) short story.
Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day and Skyfall are therefore the only truly original Bond titles. The first two are bland attempts at the formula (assumed to be some vague optimistic philosophy about death, although Die Another Day comes from an A.E. Housman poem) but Skyfall does seem like something Ian Fleming might have come up with.
Left-over Fleming titles include 007 in New York, which you could never use for a film, Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity, which might work at a push and if the poster is good enough, and The Property of a Lady, which I can’t believe they haven’t already used. It was the name of the Fabergé egg in Octopussy, but so what? Nobody complained that Octopussy had already been killed in The Man with the Golden Gun.
In conclusion, the identity of a franchise is both more lucrative and more fluid than the identity of its components. When I asked for tickets to see The Dark Knight Rises, I just said “Batman, please” and the girl understood.
Originally published 14 June 2013, revised 13 June 2017