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What do I call this thing I wrote?

We’ve all been there. You’ve got the draft polished. Ready to go. Or you’ve just completed the outline, and it’s time to send it out for some feedback.

It’s the culmination of hard effort, a lot of typing, and conquering the blank page.

Only one problem left: What do I call this project I've created?

You’ve breathed life into the characters, built out an extensive world, and watched the plot unfold before your very eyes. So why is it so hard to come up with the right title? Nothing seems right!

Yet it’s a common issue. Even for green-lit films written by seasoned Hollywood professionals!

A fitting title can feel quite difficult to craft. A project’s title is the first thing the audience will know about your script. It needs to be eye catching and distinct, while also introducing the audience to what the film/show is about. Titles can make or break an audience watching a film or TV show.

So with all of that added pressure, what are some things to keep in mind when crafting a title?

Let’s take a look at some guidelines that can affect you coming up with your title – with examples from already made movies!


2022 horror hit SMILE was originally called SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH ROSE, until test audiences began struggling with the title. The execs at Paramount, instead decided to change the title to something cleaner that focused on a visually distinct element – the smile that crept over victim’s faces.

A title like SMILE works well because it’s short, memorable, and still encapsulates the feeling of the horror film as a single image in the audience’s mind that sticks with them.

Similarly, Jordan Peele went with a short title for NOPE to evoke audiences who don’t like horror films, and reflecting back at them on that level.

But then consider an alternative: a total mouthful of a title that will feel super distinct and

stand out. Recent Best Picture winner EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is by no means a short title, but it is a fitting one to the multiversal drama.

Whether short or big, the title has to be appropriate to the script and want to bring the audience in. The key here is the cleanness of the wording, and how much an audience member can gleam from the many (or few) words present.


A good title is your story’s first impression on the world. Therefore, why not have a title that directly expresses your story’s themes, or what protagonist the audience is going to follow, or the location that the story takes place in?

A title can feature the main character, which keeps the name short and clean while also letting audiences know who they are investing in. ATOMIC BLONDE was originally called COLDEST CITY after the graphic novel it was based on. But director David Leitch has gone on record saying they wanted a title that would reflect the final product of the film and the badass performance of the lead Charlize Theron.

In this case, the hero herself guided the title of the film, about this kick-ass woman, rather than the cold war setting of the film.

Or take M. Night Shyamalan’s KNOCK AT THE CABIN, which literally is the inciting incident that starts the protagonists down their journey into the apocalypse.

The title includes the location and alludes to a mystery and tension. When crafting your title, consider what feelings you want to illicit from the audience.

What will tease them into watching?


If you are still struggling with coming up with a fitting title, then maybe something more esoteric would work for your project.

After all, for many years screenwriters have turned to books, poems, and songs for their titles. Something provocative that lends itself to the script and its themes.

The Ridley Scott noir scifi BLADE RUNNER’s title nowhere resembles the Philip K. Dick novel it is based on, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?

And Blade Runners are not referred to in the film itself or in the novel it is based off of. It’s a distinctive name, and one forever associated with the dystopian cityscape with Harrison Ford searching for robots.

So where did the title come from?

Simply put Hampton Fancher, the screenwriter, pitched the title among a few others and Ridley Scott loved it. It was only then that Fancher revealed that “Blade Runner” was the title of a book by William S. Burroughs based on the book THE BLADERUNNER by author Alan Nourse, which is surprisingly another dystopian story set in an overpopulated world where anyone who needs medical treatment must be sterilized, since anyone sick or injured is deemed unfit to reproduce by the government.

But Fancher wanted something unique sounding and felt the phrase had distinctiveness. And Blade Runner is now in the national cultural vocabulary.

Writers, don’t be afraid to pull from obscure sources such as books or songs! The name should be memorable or distinctive and compliment your project.

Or you can pick a title for its provocativeness, and while it may not say much about what the script is ultimately about, there’s enough intrigue to bring in the audience.

ARRIVAL was originally named STORY OF YOUR LIFE, which became problematic for director Denis Villeneuve and producer Shawn Levy. Not only is it a multiword title, it was also close to that similarly named One Direction song, and ultimately says more about the protagonist rather than the science fiction in the film.

ARRIVAL became an action that that described the events of the film (aliens arriving), but was still enigmatic and mysterious and gives away nothing of the core emotional story or twists.

Titles do not have to give the entire plot away. But there has to be enough to entice audiences.


Of course, in Screenwriting, there are no “rules”.

But here are some basic guidelines that should help you weed out any names that would hurt your project:

- NO GENERIC NAMES: Some movies have one word titles. However, a lot of thought goes into these titles to make sure they compliment the film and are a great introduction into the story. The key is to be distinct and evoke and image or feeling. Generic titles can be perceived boring.

o Imagine if every horror movie was named “Killing”

o See how that sounds?

- NOTHING CONFUSING: The only thing worse than a boring title is a confusing one. Titles can be weird, mysterious, and funny. There can be words that turn off the audience.

o At that point you could have lost the audience before you’ve even began.

o THE MAN WHO AGES BACKWARDS WHILE LIVING FORWARDS is off-putting for an audience and doesn’t make sense but THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON elicits that this story is unique and different and surrounds the main character Benjamin.

- NOTHING SIMILAR OR THE SAME: Lastly, you will want to do your research and not have anything that sounds too similar to a title that already exists, especially in the same genre.

o CRETACEOUS PARK just sounds like a knockoff of JURASSIC PARK, and all versions of the script could be compared to the hit franchise.

Take time with any title you craft.

Think on it. Get feedback on it. Come back to it if necessary.

But do not settle for a lesser title. It is how your script will be immortalized. So make sure it is worthy.


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