It seems almost passé to include “The Movie” in a movie title. We all know that you’re making a movie. You don’t need to literally spell it out for us. But some movies over the years have seen it necessary to do so. And we’re going to explore why certain movies have or have not used “The Movie” in their titles.
And at the end I’ll share two final example of films from the same series that helped me form a theory about why “The Movie” is no longer necessary. Let’s get this “The Movie” discussion in motion!
Comic Books Then and Now
“The Movie” is only necessary when you have an established intellectual property that people recognize in one format, and it is now being transformed into a film. Comic books are a great example of this. 1966’s Batman: The Movie was the progenitor of the modern superhero film. A lot of people prefer to ignore its place atop the pantheon of comic book movies, but its wonderfully ridiculous tone makes an enjoyable comedy, even if it doesn’t take its source material seriously at all. Superman: The Movie came more than a decade later. Neither of these films actually has “The Movie” on their title screens. It’s just on the box art and marketing for the films.
The thing is, Superman: The Movie deserves its name because “The Movie” signifies that it is the definitive take on the character of Superman in a film. And that is absolutely true. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is (and probably always will be) the best. Everyone else who has come after him has been a reaction to his brilliant performance. Interestingly enough, Alexander and Ilya Salkind went on to produce Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie, so they weren’t exactly consistent in their use of “The Movie” in their film titles.
Batman: The Movie, on the other hand, is nowhere near the most iconic take on the Dark Knight. The film is a farce. A funny one, mind you, but still a farce. More definitive versions of Batman came with 1989’s Batman and 2008’s The Dark Knight. Batman: The Movie may not be the film by which all other Batman films are judged, but it wasn’t really trying to be. It was simply the first attempt to translate the style of a comic book into a film, complete with “Biff” and “Pow” words showing up on screen when characters get punched or kicked. So in that case, it was just trying to announce that it was a silly comic put to film. And it succeeded in the attempt.
Since 1989, very few comic book movies have actually used “The Movie” in their titles. The only one that comes to mind is 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I distinctly remember the VHS copy of that film had “THE MOVIE” under the title to underscore the fact that it was not the cartoon show… even though the design of the title in the film mirrors the one used in the old cartoon show.
All of the other Turtles movies have wisely avoided any reference to “Movie” in their titles. Once the first film breaks the mold and shows that it’s more than its comic book and animated TV show roots, its sequels, reboots, and reimaginings are free to coast in its wake.
X-Men, Spider-Man, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Iron Man, and other comic book adaptations are also free to build on the goodwill of the original Batman and Superman films that came before them and leave off any reference to “The Movie” in their titles because people already understand that they’re watching a movie, not reading a comic book.
Comic book films are good vehicles for selling action figures, but action figures don’t always have be inspired by a film. Sometimes they inspire action-packed movies. The Transformers: The Movie is an animated film that debuted 30 years ago in the middle of the original TV series’ four-season run. And the whole purpose of that show was to sell the preexisting toys. But it somehow managed to offer memorable characters and fun stories and even became a beloved childhood memory to many people because there was more in it than meets the eye.
The clumsily titled The Transformers: The Movie wasn’t exactly a box-office smash, but it paved the way for 1987’s G.I. Joe: The Movie, which I would argue is a brilliant film. Both of those films got the live-action treatment more than two decades later in the forms of 2007’s Transformers and 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as well as their sequels. Again, neither of those live-action films had to say they were movies in their titles because the precedent had already been set.
Also, in 2014 we got the surprisingly fantastic The Lego Movie, which had no business being as great as it was. It’s probably the most iconic way to make a movie about toys, right up there with the Toy Story films. The Lego Batman Movie is coming up in 2017, so it looks like the Dark Knight is returning to his old ways. Let’s hope it’s a teensy bit less campy than Batman: The Movie.
We sometimes see TV show-based films using “The Movie” in their titles to avoid confusion. These include:
- Twilight Zone: The Movie
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
- Hannah Montana: The Movie
- Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (which is based on an Internet video series, but close enough)
- Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Other films add to their TV show titles, like
- Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
- Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
- X-Files: Fight the Future
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
The film version of Police Squad comes up with a creative title that references the sadly short-lived TV show it is based on: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. When Firefly got the big-screen treatment, writer/director Joss Whedon gave it the more specific name of Serenity, which is the name of the Firefly-class starship featured in the TV show, rather than calling it Firefly: Serenity or Firefly: The Movie.
But the most popular thing to do seems to be to just leave the title alone and let it speak for itself. Can you imagine The Fugitive being called The Fugitive: The Movie? That would just sound terrible. The same thing goes for these TV-shows-turned-films:
- The Untouchables
- The Beverly Hillbillies
- George of the Jungle
- The Avengers (1998)
- Sex in the City
- The A-Team
- Land of the Lost
- The Green Hornet
- The Dukes of Hazzard
Not all of those films are great, but at least they had the good sense to leave “The Movie” off their titles and just trust that audiences are smart enough to tell the difference between the show and the movie. They all learned from The Transformers: The Movie.
Saturday Night Live
Let’s get a little more specific and talk about multiple movies inspired by a single TV show. Films based on Saturday Night Live skits usually have pretty straightforward names, like The Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and The Ladies Man. But the one that stands apart from the rest is, appropriately, It’s Pat… The Movie. It’s Pat is the rare movie that is just about universally hated by everyone who’s actually taken the time to see it. It’s the lowest-rated entry in the collection of SNL movies for good reason.
Animated films based on cartoon TV shows are a mixed bag when it comes to their titles. Some fit a nice mold by having “The Movie” at the end of their title, like Jetsons: The Movie and Tom and Jerry: The Movie, and Hey Arnold! The Movie. But most of them do something a little different, putting “The” and “Movie” on opposite sides of the full title:
- The PowerPuff Girls Movie
- The Wild Thornberrys Movie
- The Lizzie McGuire Movie
- The Simpsons Movie
- The Peanuts Movie
- The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
- The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
- Shawn the Sheep Movie
The Care Bears movies mostly fit this pattern with The Care Bears Movie and Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation while the Rugrats movie titles are bit of both with a third category thrown in at the end:
- The Rugrats Movie
- Ragrats in Paris: The Movie
- Rugrats Go Wild
Here are a few other animated films that take the Rugrats Go Wild approach and do something different with the titles of the animated series they’re based on:
- The Chipmunk Adventure
- Duck Tales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
- Beavis and Butt-head Do America
Plus, I know it’s not a cartoon, but Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is about as close to a cartoon as live action gets. And Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is no less zany than that TV show.
First of Its Kind
While we’re on the topic of animated films, let’s be sure to mention the ones based on Pokémon:
- Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back
- Pokémon: The Movie 2000 – The Power of One
- Pokémon 3: The Movie
- Pokémon 4: The Movie
Pokémon managed to get away with audaciously calling its first film “The First Movie” because the popularity of the video game and TV series it spawned virtually guaranteed its box-office success. Plus, they had already basically completed the second film when the first one was released.
If you want to see an example of this strategy backfiring, look no further than Doug’s 1st Movie. Not even Disney could dig its way out of the hole it dug for itself with that flop.
Here are a few other animated movies that are either similar to Pokémon or based on a video game:
- Digimon: The Movie
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie
- The Angry Birds Movie
Okay, This Is Getting Ridiculous
Let’s end with some funny entries that make a point of ridiculing their own existence.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is the insanely long title of the “movie film” based on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I just love that they spell out the colon and where the film is meant to be shown. It treats its audience like a bunch of numbskulls, and I personally thoroughly enjoyed it.
Another Adult Swim show (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) got a sizable budget increase to make Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.
I never watched much of Drawn Together, but how can anyone not think that The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie! is hilarious? They combine the two main ways of putting “The Movie” in a title, and the result is glorious to behold.
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Baby Burn has a fascinating backstory because apparently the director was trying to make a commentary on studio meddling and filmmakers wanting to take their names off of projects to protect their integrity. The problem is that life imitated art, and the director was so frustrated with the resulting film that he actually took his name off the project, and An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Baby Burn’s directing credit went to… Alan Smithee!
Just one more. During the end credits of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, newspaper headlines are flying by, showing the Wyld Stallyns’ exploits. At one point, a Hollywood magazine excitedly announces the production of “Bill & Ted: The Movie!” How meta.
Star Trek: The Movie
In conclusion, there are two films that sum up the trend of adding “The Movie” to film titles:
- 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- 2009’s Star Trek
Both of those films launched new Star Trek film series. The earlier one felt the need to add gravitas to its title by appending it not with the standard “The Movie,” but the much loftier sounding “The Motion Picture.” Why say something quick when you can draw it out and make it as long as possible? The latter Star Trek film, however, wastes no time telling you what it is. And the differing approach of their titles lends itself to the two films’ diverging paces. One takes its time while the other is anxious to get where it’s going as quickly as possible.
Perhaps audiences’ desire for faster-paced entertainment is the reason we don’t see many movies that take the time to add “The Movie” to their titles anymore. That’s my theory.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
1. “Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is (and probably always will be) the best.”
….No probably about it. He WILL always be the best heh.
“the sadly short-lived TV show it is based on: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. ”
…Actually, I never thought it sad but actually a blessing that it was so short-lived because they could have only kept up those gags as sharp and witty as they were for so long before it became stale had it lasted a full season.
3. And I’d also add to your list The Muppet “Movie” which made sense being called that as it was a bigger version of the then highly popular, The Muppet “Show”.
4. “Both of those films launched new Star Trek film series. The earlier one felt the need to add gravitas to its title by appending it not with the standard “The Movie,” but the much loftier sounding “The Motion Picture.”
…Two reasons why I always thought they did this using “The Motion Picture”. First, to distinguish it from Superman The Movie which it was coming off the tail end of and more so because it was the first time we were able to see The Enterprise up close in glorious 70mm screen (the tour scene) instead of a 19 inch tv screen and that alone justified it’s gravitas title.
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