When translators get creative and change titles

From “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Devil’s Seed”

Why do professional translators change movie titles? You probably think it´s much easier (and even honest) simply to translate them literally. In fact, if you type something like “bad movie translations” in Google, you’ll see a lot of collections making fun of them. But the truth is that these “bad translations” of movie titles are more a matter of localization than translation and, although difficult to believe, not only is there a reason for it, but it can help us understand what localization really is and why it´s important.

Let’s do things differently from what these collectors do on the Internet and try to find the reasons behind the translations, although it may be impossible in some cases. Shown below is a list of 6 examples in which the localization process changed the title of the film and why:

   1. Film: Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

      Translation: Crimen Perfecto (Perfect Crime)

      Reason: Culture

The original title of this film refers to the telephones that were used in the United States at the time, in which the finger dial positions referred to both numbers and letters, somewhat similar to the keypads of current phones. However, telephones in other countries like Spain didn´t have letters; therefore, the literal translation wouldn´t have been understood by anyone and that´s why it was changed to “Perfect Crime”.

   2. Film: Los Amantes Pasajeros “The Passenger Lovers” (Almodovar, 2013)

      Translation: I´m so excited

      Reason: It´s a pun

“Los Amantes Pasajeros” is a pun since the word “pasajero” has a double meaning; on the one hand, it means “passenger” but it also means that something is ephemeral, or happens very fast. The original idea was very good, since the story happens on a plane, but it was impossible to convert it into other languages, since a literal translation wouldn´t make sense. That´s why they decided to change the title for English speakers. An example the other way around would be the movie “The Pacifier”, about a marine who becomes a babysitter, also impossible to translate into other languages.

   3. Film: Coco (Lee Unkrich, Andrián Molina, 2017)

      Translation: Viva, A vida é uma festa! (Viva, life is a party!)

      Reason: Meaning

Disney Pixar’s last film wasn’t difficult to translate into other languages since the title was a proper name, simple and easy to remember, until the time came for Brazil. In Portuguese, “coco” means both “coconut” and “poop” and although it´s pronounced differently than in the film, they didn´t want to take any risks. The name refers to the grandmother of the star of the film, called Mama Coco, who doesn´t appear too much in the film, fortunately. So, they decided to call the grandmother Lupita, and ignore her completely in the title, calling the film “Viva, A vida é uma festa!” It has to be said that unlike in Brazil, the title wasn´t changed in Portugal, since the market is smaller and the producers, apparently, didn´t care that much.

   4. Film: Las brujas de Zugarramurdi “The Witches of Zugarramurdi” (Álex de la Iglesia, 2013)

      Translation: Witching & Bitching

      Reason: Pronunciation

The Basque word “Zugarramurdi” was difficult to read and pronounce even for Spanish people, so it would seem almost impossible for English speakers. Therefore, for the English-speaking public they decided to change the name completely by calling it “Witching & Bitching”. Something similar happened when the famous film Beetlejuice was brought to Spain in 1988. On this occasion, instead of changing it, they decided to convert it directly into the pronunciation in Spanish: “Bitelchus”.

   5. Film: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

      Translation: Tiburón (Shark)

      Reason: Impact

The famous movie that made everyone think twice about taking a swim in the sea in summer had to be localized necessarily. The literal translation in Spanish of the original title would be “Mandíbulas” which, although objective and realistic, sounds out of place. So, when the film was brought to Spain, the title was changed to “Tiburón”, a clear example that a title can be changed completely without committing an atrocity that no one understands

   6. Film: Moana (Disney, 2016)

      Translation: Vaiana / Oceania

      Reason: Name taken

The last Disney princess found that her name was already taken in some European countries and she had to change it, which many fans disliked, by the way. The name of the Hawaiian girl was changed to Vaiana in Spain, since Moana is registered by the perfume company Casa Margot, S.A. for one of their products and protected by trademark rights. In Italy it was changed to Oceania because in this country the princess would share the name with a porn actress, something that Disney didn’t want for its princesses.

It´s easy to understand why many of these “bad translations” occur. Sometimes, though, no matter how hard we try, there are titles that we just can´t understand. So, let’s see if any of you can make sense of the following “treasures”: somebody thought the perfect translation for “101 Dalmatians” in Mexico would be “The night of the cold noses”, for whatever reason. In China, the film “Leaving Las Vegas” by Mike Figgis is titled something like, “I’m drunk and you’re a prostitute”, and look at this spoiler: in Spain, the easily translatable “Ice Princess” is called “Dreaming, dreaming … I triumphed skating!”. However, the prize goes to the well-known “Rosemary’s baby”, called “The Seed of the Devil” in Spain. Can you guess who the father is?