Question: what do the films Bee Movie, Super 8 and Lesbian Vampire Killers have in common? Answer: they all had their respective titles before they had their respective plots.
Bee Movie was borne of Jerry Seinfeld’s off-the-cuff remark that it seemed like a funny pun, Super 8 began life with JJ Abrams’ desire to pay tribute to that particular format (and Steven Spielberg’s instant agreement to collaborate once he heard the title) and Lesbian Vampire Killers was the result of a competition to conjure the most commercial name for a film. In hindsight, the winners of that competition were extremely lucky not to have been brought to trial for crimes against cinema.
Anyway, the point of this slightly bloated introduction is to prove that, sometimes, films don’t need a watertight premise or a cracking script to get off the ground - they just need a title.
Which made us think, there must be more movies out there with the same back-story as these three. So, we've compiled a few suggestions. If you think we've missed any out, drop us a comment...
(Picture credit: All Star)
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Broadly speaking, film titles are concerned with ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’, while film plots are concerned with ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. With a title like Snakes on a Plane, the initial ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’ must have seemed so commercially appealing that the eventual ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ simply had to be cobbled together. Because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see a film called Snakes on a Plane? What’s that? Anyone with more than seven brain cells? Oh.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Once you've got a pun-tastic title like this, the plot basically writes itself. The Santa Clause... There are clauses in contracts... So, maybe Santa has a contract with a clause which states that if Tim Allen knocks him off a roof while he's delivering presents, that means Tim Allen has to immediately dress up like Santa and deliver the rest of his presents to the children of planet earth. Cue huge financial success and two additional franchise installments, including the extra-pun-tastic The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
Maid in Manhattan (2002)
You’ll soon notice that puns are a recurring theme in this list. Maid in Manhattan was the early 'Noughties' (we apologise for using that term) J-Lo vehicle about a chambermaid and a high-profile politician who fall in love in, wait for it, Manhattan. It's surely a fine example of 'Title First, Plot Later', as there are literally hundreds of equally 'lowly' jobs that J-Lo's character could have been employed to do, none of which would made for such a catchy title. Receptionist in Manhattan? Traffic Warden in Manhattan? Person Who Turns On The Tap For You In A Nightclub Toilet In Manhattan? No, no, no.
Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991)
In 1989, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids set the bar high for films with exciting-yet-conversational titles. In 1991, this dark teen comedy set that bar even higher. Clearly inspired by the success of Disney's miniaturized blockbuster, the folk behind Don't Tell Mom... must surely have constructed their film's plot around this attention-grabbing name. Also, as anyone who's seen John Carpenter's Halloween will tell you, babysitters in perilous situations always make for excellent films.
Going Ape! (1981)
When Foster’s (Tony Danza) father dies, he leaves Foster with a whopping $5million inheritance… which he can only collect on the basis that he looks after three unruly pet orang-utans! Seeing as no-one – literally no-one - could ever have willingly concocted that plot, we’re left with no alternative but to assume that Paramount wanted to make this neatly-titled simian comedy at any cost.
Yes, yes – we know this one’s based on a comic book of the same name. And yes, yes – we know it hasn’t even been made yet (it's currently in production and set to star Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges). However, you can't possibly convince us that the creators of RIPD (a deceased police department, in case you didn’t realise) weren’t so utterly enamoured with the symmetrical perfection of this spoof acronym that they started writing their plot right there on the spot.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Here’s how we assume the conversation went:
EXEC 1: The Back to the Future trilogy was pretty successful, right?
EXEC 2: Yeah. People love time travel.
EXEC 1: You know what people also love? Hot tubs!
EXEC 2: They sure do. If only there was such a thing as a ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’.
EXEC 1: There can be, Exec 2. There can be. Get me a scriptwriter on the phone.
EXEC 2: Hang on, I’m on already on hold for John Cusack.
My Stepmother is an Alien (1988)
Stepmothers have long been a staple of popular comedy and aliens have long been a staple of popular science fiction. Consequently, combining the two would surely make for a brilliant sci-fi comedy, right? And what better way of combining the two than by - get this - making the stepmother an alien! In the Eighties, kids, it was as easy as that to get a project greenlit.