Let’s talk about titles.
Conversations about “good” and “bad” titles tend to baffle me. A good title is descriptive (without being too specific), simple, unique and interesting. Discussions outside of that sphere don’t hold water. That being said, I feel compelled to jump into the most recent title debacle stirring up the film world. Released earlier this year, the sci-fi film Edge of Tomorrow was originally called All You Need Is Kill after the Japanese novel it’s based on. After the studio ditched the original name, there seemed to be a general consensus that Edge of Tomorrow was an awful replacement; people called it “ultra-generic“, “bland” and “focus-group-approved excrement.”
Yet even if this wasn’t the prevailing opinion by a wide margin (do a Twitter search if you’re skeptical), I’d be confused by the argument. There are plenty of terrible title trends plaguing Hollywood these days. At least Edge of Tomorrow has one that’s not just the main character’s name. Just this year alone we’ve got Frank, Cesar Chavez, Noah, Veronica Mars, Locke, Maleficent, Tammy, Hercules, Lucy, Annabelle, Jessabelle, Paddington, Annie, Selma – and even Godzilla, technically.Even Tom Cruise’s last movie was Jack Reacher. At least Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit added a [vague and meaningless] subtitle. Next year will see the releases of Lazarus, Max, Mortdecai, Cinderella, Ted 2, and Victor Frankenstein, and probably more we don’t know about yet.
There’s nothing lazier than naming your movie after the main character, especially when the main character doesn’t have a particularly distinctive name. The name of Tom Cruise’s character in Edge of Tomorrow is Lt. Col. William Cage, and I think it’s a safe bet that the movie was almost called Cage, Lieutenant Cage or William Cage at some point. Give the producers some credit for at least making an effort to come up with something new.
For reasons that further stump me, some people think that they should have kept All You Need Is Kill. This is such a bizarre idea to me because All You Need Is Kill is a terrible title. It’s difficult to even get past the awkward syntax, let alone the faux-edgy “too-cool-for-you” aura it radiates. Most importantly, it has nothing to do with the film. All You Need Is Kill is better suited to a hyper-violent cinematic assault like The Raid 2, not the lighthearted and adventurous tone of Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe it makes sense for the novel, but it definitely doesn’t fit the film adaptation.
While many titles err on the side of generic, it’s also possible to swing too far in the other direction. Case in point: Live Die Repeat, which Edge of Tomorrow has been [kind of] rebranded as for its home video release. This new name is so openly descriptive that it’s boring. It almost fits the film too well. You see Edge of Tomorrow and wonder what that film is about. With Live. Die. Repeat., you already know. It smacks of dull corporate marketing that others have associated with Edge of Tomorrow.
That said, I don’t want to base an entire position on what Edge of Tomorrow isn’t. Let’s get one thing straight: it’s a great title for that film. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically Groundhog Day with aliens. Tom Cruise fights against alien invaders and every time he dies, he wakes up at the beginning of the first day of battle. Get it? He can never reach tomorrow, so he’s always on its edge. Edge of Tomorrow. It’s simple, it describes the film without getting too specific, and it sounds intriguing. It’s the perfect title.
I’ll concede that, taken on its own, Edge of Tomorrow isn’t a great name for a movie. The use of the word “edge” alone conjures images of wealthy studio heads trying desperately to connect with hip youngsters, while “tomorrow” has similar associations as a marketing buzzword due to its insistence on “the future.” Out of context, it seems like something cooked up in a lab specifically to sell a product. So in that sense, I understand the hatred.
But all of that is irrelevant. Edge of Tomorrow may resemble something hacked together by uncreative executives, but that doesn’t change the fact that it works. Is it a good title taken on its own? No, not really. Is it a good title for this film? Yes, absolutely. Nothing else should matter when you’re talking about whether or not a title is “good.” Titles don’t exist in a vaccuum; discussion thereof must necessarily include the works they represent. If you disregard that, you’re wasting your time.