This is an article about the definite article we all know as the word “The.” This word says a lot through its presence or absence, and we can clearly see that in movie titles. Here are a number of ways “The” dramatically affects the meaning of movie titles
“The” can be used in movie titles to show reverence for religious things that most people would recognize and consider important.
The Nativity, The Bible, The Ten Commandments, The Passion of the Christ
One exception is the 2014 film Son of God, which lacks “The” at the start of its title. I suppose it’s such a well-known name for Jesus Christ that “The” isn’t necessary.
Other titles use “The” to show that there’s something special about the particular thing it’s naming that isn’t necessarily limited to its spiritual value.
The Robe, The King’s Speech, The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, The Revenant, The Hangover, The Deer Hunter, The Exorcist, The Towering Inferno, The Fugitive, The Shawshank Redemption
A Person’s Name
It generally wouldn’t make sense to put “The” in front of a person’s name.
Ben-Hur, Gandhi, Lincoln, Patton, Rocky, Rudy, John Rambo, Noah, King Arthur, Alice in Wonderland
However, that’s not always the case. Put something after a person’s name or include a whole family and you’ve got grounds to add “The.”
The Truman Show, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Incredibles, Meet the Robinsons
With superheroes and other people with titles, it can go either way. Film titles can emphasize either the man or the title he wears. Let’s imagine if all of these movies started with “The.”
The Man of Steel, The Batman, The Birdman, The RoboCop, The Iron Giant, The Iron Man, The Ant-Man, The American President, The Raging Bull, The Taxi Driver, The Twelve Angry Men, The Thing
They all work, but the ones that don’t normally have “The” definitely sound strange. Why is that? Because it seems to put too much emphasis on the character or to grant his title more authority than it seems to require.
Wouldn’t Make Sense Without It
Of course, some films need “The” purely because they wouldn’t sound right without it.
Fiddler on Roof, Rumble in Bronx, Back to Future, Blast from Past, Sky Captain and World of Tomorrow
The missing word in all of these titles really makes a difference. They sound horribly incomplete without a simple “The” in them. Certain nouns desperately need a definite article in front of them to give them weight.
Changing the Meaning
These titles would still technically make sense without “The,” but their meanings would all be altered to an absurd degree in most cases.
Departed, Prestige, Shining, Happening, Haunting, Conversation, Game, Recruit, Graduate
Many of these words, by themselves, could be taken as verbs instead of nouns. “The” clarifies how to say “Graduate” and implies the importance of each of these things. They are all distinct from other things that could share their name. Oh, and it’s super important for The Shining to retain its full name because otherwise this could happen:
A Slight Variation
I’m going to switch gears a little and talk about the word “A.” This word implies there’s more than one of the thing it refers to. When you add it to a movie title, it leaves open the possibility that there could be more stories to come or that the person or event isn’t necessarily the only one worth noting.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Beautiful Mind, A Night to Remember, A Clockwork Orange, A History of Violence, A Star Is Born, A Wrinkle in Time, An American Werewolf in London
And interestingly, Star Wars was originally going to be called The Star Wars. I’m glad it wasn’t, but let’s just take a quick look at all of the subtitles for the episodes that have come out so far in this series.
A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens
Notice anything? All but one of these titles have “The” in them. A New Hope is the only one that does not. It simply has “A.” I know that “A New Hope” was added to the title after the fact, but it’s still quite meaningful in more ways than one. It’s not just saying that Luke Skywalker is the one who’s going to redeem the Jedi, but also that he’s not the only one who can do it. As Obi-Wan and Yoda say in The Empire Strikes Back, “That boy is our last hope.” “No, there is another.”
A Tone of Finality
Speaking of space operas, let’s end our discussion of “A” with a little film called 2001: A Space Odyssey. The “A” in this title implies there are many more odysseys that await us in space. The film’s sequel is called 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It’s not a year we make contact, but the year. It’s definitely stressed as being a more significant year than 2001. But if I can delve into Arthur C. Clarke’s book sequels a tiny bit, they go like this.
2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, 3001: The Final Odyssey
The second and third books in the series avoid “A” and “The” altogether, but the final book in the series is subtitled The Final Odyssey. This means it’s the end of the road for this series of stories. There will be no more odysseys beyond this one.
You can see this same tone of finality in other movies whose titles use “The” in front of “Last” or “Final” to hammer home the importance of their subject matter.
The Final Countdown, The Last Emperor, The Last Starfighter, The Last Airbender, The Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, The Last Boy Scout, The Last King of Scotland, X-Men: The Last Stand
However, I admit that there are exceptions, such as Last Action Hero and the Highlander series. Every sequel to the original Highlander has a subtitle that starts with “The” except for the 2000 film Highlander: Endgame. To be fair, that wasn’t the last Highlander film, though it was the last one starring Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod.
Adding to the Title
Some movie series start with a film devoid of “The,” but later get one added to them either because the sequel demanded one or because they got rebooted and taken in a new direction.
Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Spider-Man 1,2, and 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Batman Begins is an unostentatious film just trying to tell a compelling Batman story and bring back dignity to the character after his reputation had been sullied by the infamous Batman and Robin. However, its two sequels saw Batman become more of a legend and so it was appropriate for him be referred to by the title of “The Dark Knight” instead of by the name “Batman.”
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man films were happy to be what they were: mostly excellent comic book movies. The rebooted films had a lot to live up to. They picked one of Spider-Man’s many nicknames and ran with it. Unfortunately, they never got to complete their stories and fulfill their amazing potential.
And the Ninja Turtles movies have gotten progressively worse with each incarnation. The secret of the ooze proved to be a monumental disappointment that was never worth exploring in the first place. We’ll see if the turtles coming out of the shadows will be worth our while.
And then there are sequels that add “The” to clarify that they’re part of a larger series of films.
The Twilight Saga, The Divergent Series
As a side note, Raiders of the Lost Ark does include “The” but only to denote the significance of the Lost Ark. It’s not focused on the raiders of that sacred artifact. But the later films all start with the name of the main character, Indiana Jones.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
In fact, a later version of the original film revises its title to say Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This implies Jones isn’t one of the raiders, although he really is. He just has a conscience about his role in it.
Get Thee Hence
Some film franchises begin with “The” in their title and then get rid of it in later entries because it’s no longer necessary.
The Fantastic Four (1994), Fantastic Four (2005)
Marvel’s The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Fast and the Furious, Fast and Furious
Captain America: The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, Civil War
The filmmakers probably didn’t want to call the upcoming Captain America sequel Captain America: The Civil War because as Americans we tend to only recognize one Civil War when we put “The” in front of it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has two uses of “The” in its subtitle. But none of the other films in the series have it in them, except in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” part, of course.
There’s also The Terminator, which spawned Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys. “The” just becomes superfluous after a while. It’s good at introducing an idea in the first film, but it can be discarded in later entries because we’re familiar enough with it that we don’t have to be reminded of its importance.
Here are a few exceptions to this. All of these films spawned at least two sequels that never got rid of “The.”
The Karate Kid, The Hunger Games, The Godfather, The Bourne Identity
These Are Getting Out of Hand
Some movie titles go overboard with their use of the word “The.” I realize that these are all based on books by rather verbose writers, but they’re still worth noting.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair
And finally, sometimes the absence of “The” gives a movie title an unsettling aura. It doesn’t sound wrong, but it feels like there’s something missing or just a little off-kilter about it.
Psycho, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner, Gladiator
Without “The,” none of these titles point to a definitive subject. They become rather subjective and even more fascinating as we explore their full implications as the story unfolds.
There’s a lot more to say about the films I brought up and even more about all the ones I didn’t. But all good things must come to an end. Does “The” play any other important role in films besides in the title? For now, I’ll just say: The End.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
The video above is the property of its creator.
Wow! I’ve never given THE so much thought. A funny and insightful post.
It’s the thought that counts. 🙂 Thank you. This was a fun one.
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Excellent and well thought-over post.
To add: I always struggled with the absence of ‘the’ in Hunt for the Red October. It just doesn’t feel right. After reading this, I finally can articulate why 😀
It’s funny you should mention that because I had planned on talking about Tom Clancy films: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears. The use of “The” makes the first and last titles a bit more forceful than the other two, but they’re all great titles.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about Room vs. The Room. 😉
Ooh yeah, there’s kind of a big difference between those two films. Good old Tommy Wiseau.
This is amazing!
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