Lost in translation: pardon monsieur?


Translating film titles goes often together with epic fails. Commercial interests and artistic licence are constraints for the translator, and often deliver diverse results. Four categories and a little contest are your today’s dose of happiness 🙂

Translation English-English

Interestingly enough, some English titles go through a re-translation in English for the international versions. The 1000 words of the “International English” is the core of those titles. No more idioms, Anglo-Saxon references and odd counterintuitive words: K.I.S.S. ! Here is a couple of examples:

English version = French version (date of release)
Phone Booth = Phone game (2002)
Analyze This = Mafia Blues (1999)
Capote = Truman Capote (2005) (capote = condom, rubber!)
Capitaine Future = Capitaine Flam (TV show, 1978-1979)
Harsh Times= Bad Times (2007)
Murder at 1600 = Meurtre à la Maison Blanche (1997) The White house is located 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas = Le Grinch (2000)
Law & Order becomes New York District (TV show, 1990-…).
Into this category are included the forever-traumatised victims of the weird th English sound: the next titles lost the “the”: Da Vinci code (The Da Vinci Code, 2006), Last kiss (The Last Kiss, 2006), Fast & Furious : Tokyo Drift (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, 2006), Fog (The Fog, 1980 and 2005).

The sequels

Sequels do not always suffer from 2, 3, 4, The Revenge, … is Back or another shi**y title: I find the next ones pretty well made-up. Maman j’ai raté l’Avion (Home Alone, 1990) became Maman j’ai encore raté l’Avion (Home Alone 2, 1992). Y’a t-il un Pilote dans l’Avion ? (Airplane Flying High, 1980) became Y’a t-il Enfin un Pilote dans l’Avion ? (Air Plane II: The Sequel, 1982).

Epic win!

Some rare titles survive through the translation. They are as catchy and inventive as the original.
Arnaques, crimes et botanique stands for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998): “Swindling, crimes and botanics”.

Dr Strangelove is renamed Docteur Folamour (1963).

The New Avengers ? No idea! Well, I know the famous Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir instead (TV show, 1976): “Bowler hat and leather boots”.

The French Pippi Longstocking is called Fifi Brindacier (= SteelWisp) : an exception, since it does not refer to her socks: Pippi Långstrump, Pippi Langstrumpf, Pipi Calzaslargas, Pipi Mediaslargas, Pippi Calzelunghe etc. (novels, TV show and films).

A last example of good adaptation: the Rugrats (TV show, 1991-2004) are the Razmokets in French (= Carpet Skimmers).

Beyond the Rhine

Let’s not forget the German films. Big surprise when I discovered the original title of The Edukators (Les Édukateurs in French version): Die fette Jahre sind vorbei (2004) means The fat years are over.
Lola rennt (1998) was francised in Cours, Lola, cours! which sounds pretty good. Any influence from Forrest Gump? Der Untergang (2004) went out the window: La Chute in French version. What a pity…
A couple of literal French titles for German movies: La Vie des autres (Das Leben der Anderen, 2007), Les Faussaires (Die Fälscher, 2008), La Bande à Baader (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, 2008), L’Expérience (Das Experiment, 2001).

Did you know… ?

According to the legend, the cinema adaptation of the play „The Madness of George III“ was accompanied by an adaptation of the title as well. The international audience (i.e. non-UK viewers) could have mistaken it as the sequel to two precedent unseen episodes ; this would explain the transformation in “The Madness of King George”. Director Hytner did not really solve the mystery, confessing the rumor being “not wholly untrue”. Adding “King” and removing “III” fuelled pro- and contra- arguments.

The release of Saw VI in October 2009 is probably going to hatch the buzz in the francophone internet: an horror movie Saucisse (sausage), that’s a rich occasion for mock-up posters and new memes 🙂

Lost in Translation (2003) (original and French version) was modified in Traduction infidèle in Quebec. It is borrowed to Robert Frost’s definition of the poetry (American poet, 1874-1963): Poetry is what gets lost in translation.


How would you adapt “Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tot“ (2006) for his release in English- or French-speaking countries ? (Who dies earlier is longer dead)




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