French Movie Titles

Posted July 27, 1999 at 2:17 am 15 Comments

After a brief survey of movie theaters in Paris, Lyons, and Montpelier, I’ve decided that there are three ways in which the title of an American movie can be translated into French.

There are a few movies whose titles are translated quite literally.  For example, the French version of Message in a Bottle is simply titled Message dans une bouteille, and The Mummy becomes La Momie.  Literal translation presents a small problem when the title consists of an idiomatic expression that cannot be directly translated without losing the spirit of the title; in this case, a suitable French alternative is typically chosen.  Hence Face-Off becomes Volte-Face (About Face) and She’s All That becomes Elle est trop bien (literally, She Is Too Good). film1.jpg (22165 bytes)
film2.jpg (22294 bytes) In a second, far more prevalent form of translation, the title is translated not from English to French, but from English to English; a new English title is carefully chosen that consists of English words that the majority of the French public will understand.  Since this method of retitling preserves the movie’s American feel while ensuring its title’s comprehensibility, it seems at first like a good idea.  However, I’ve noticed that this method tends to substantially reduce the subtlety of most movie titles.  For example, the movie Dance With Me became Passion Dance, and Cruel Intentions turned into the rather blatant Sex Intentions.   Never Been Kissed was renamed College Attitude (in French, Middle School Attitude), and Varsity Blues became American Boys.   Perhaps my favorite example of a film whose title suffered from this translation method is the movie Wild Things, which was rechristened Sex Crimes.

A third type of translation, possibly the most common of all, is a form in which the English title is translated from English to French and then rather gratuitously embellished.  Thus Notting Hill becomes Coup de foudre à Notting Hill (Love at First Sight at Notting Hill), Air Bud becomes Air Bud, star des paniers (Air Bud the Basketball Star), and Patch Adams becomes Docteur Patch.  The most ludicrous example of this embroidered retitling is the renaming of the movie The Matrix to Les jeunes gens qui traversent les dimensions en portant des lunettes de soleil (The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses).  Whoever is in charge of marketing American films to the French public seems to have decided that the French prefer the obtrusive and the revelatory to the implicit and the suggestive.

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  1. this was amusing! i love the titles that the french pick…like la cloche et l’idiot for dumb and dumber. haha it’s quite amusing.

    Comment by Allison — March 15, 2006 #

  2. I would like to know the French title of the film, “Scoop” Woody Allen

    Comment by gerry — August 20, 2007 #

  3. Gerry, as far as I know Scoop wasn’t renamed and was sold in France as Scoop

    Allison, I am not sure where you saw the title for the Matrix translated like this but I never saw this title anywhere in France, they kept the original name, the Matrix. I’d be interested to know if you have found different information though as I am doing an article on film title translation

    Thank you

    Comment by Alexia — September 8, 2007 #

  4. I would like to know the title of “les oies sauvages” in english please

    Comment by moise sembene — October 15, 2007 #

  5. do you have the movie the “quiet man” in french? please let me know.
    thank you- susie

    Comment by susie — November 16, 2007 #

  6. i want to know the original title for the film (elles craquent tous sauf une) thanks

    Comment by krishen v. — January 10, 2008 #

  7. I would like to know the title of “les oies sauvages” in english please

    WILD GEESE

    Comment by s — April 12, 2008 #

  8. i would like t knowthe title of the following in english please detour du ballon malediction du lapin garou and bebe mille balles

    Comment by liz — March 16, 2009 #

  9. heyhey, I would like to know that the title is of the movie “Taken” released january 2009 us in french, would it just be prendre?

    Comment by Matthew. — March 24, 2009 #

  10. Huh? Where does that part about The Matrix come from? I have NEVER heard that one before. The only alternate French title that we have is ‘La Matrice’. I’d like to know the source as I am French and had never heard such a ridiculous title until now.

    Comment by Miki — April 6, 2009 #

  11. […] For a long time I resisted watching Jason Reitman’s ‘Juno’. On paper it was the kind of film I avoided like a virus, yet reviewers kept telling me to see it. Even my most trusted blog buddy William Rycroft gave it the thumbs up, albeit with the disclaimer “many will find the film to be relentlessly quirky” and that “elements of the film have a whiff of Wes Anderson” – two qualities I can’t say made me exactly impatient to see ‘Juno’, and both of which proved correct. Nonetheless I found myself, against my better judgement, selecting Juno from my local DVD vending machine (do these only exist in France?), having scrolled aimlessly through many titles, most of which translated, sometimes amusingly, into French: Le Secret de Brokeback Mountain, for example, but more on that here. […]

    Pingback by Quirk of hate — April 18, 2009 #

  12. Jaws = Les Dents du Mer

    Comment by Jonny — July 7, 2009 #

  13. My daughter, now living in France, was laughing one night about the translation of movie titles and how inaccurate they could seem to American sensibilities. I would love to see un update for more recent movies.

    Comment by Christine Crenshaw — August 8, 2009 #

  14. The best place to go to get the French titles of UK, US files etc is:

    http://www.allocine.fr

    Type in the English name and voila ! the French one should appear in the preview…

    Comment by John — September 17, 2009 #

  15. Brilliant!!

    I came across this gem:

    The Horse Whisperer = L’Homme qui murmurait a l’oreille des chevaux

    Comment by Nenagh — November 19, 2009 #

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