'Very bad' French movie posters are just hilarious

Fake French movie posters with the French flag in the background
(Image credit: @juanbuis on Twitter / Rafael Garcin via Unsplash)

Translating film titles is something of an arcane art. With the exception of 2006's Snakes on a Plane, a lot of thought goes into choosing a name for a movie that succinctly sums up its premise but also sounds good, captures the attention of potential viewers and sells the film.

This makes titles hard to translate. In English, 'Jaws' sounds more powerful and emotive than 'Shark', but translated directly into another language, it might sound like an episode of a documentary on anatomy. As result, film titles often change completely. And most bizarrely, they sometimes get translated into a more direct description of the film in English (if you're looking for things to watch, see our pick of the best design-related movies).

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A designer on Twitter has pointed out that such English-to-English translation is big in France, where many Hollywood films are given titles that read like very blunt plot summaries... a little like Snakes on a Plane. The Hangover becomes 'Very Bad Trip', The Other Guys is 'Very Bad Cops', No Strings Attached is the more direct 'Sex Friends', Step Up 2 is translated as 'Sexy Dance 2' and Not Another Teen Movie is renamed 'Sex Academy'. 

It's almost as if there's a new language emerging here: French Cinema English, and the phrases 'very bad', 'sex' and 'sexy' are de rigueur. To celebrate the comically bizarre trend, Juan Buis has been taking ideas for how other movie titles could be translated for the French market, and he's been designing hilarious posters that implement some of the best suggestions. 

In his posters for French movie titles, Titanic becomes 'Very Bad Ship', Batman is renamed 'Sexy Bat', The 40-year-old virgin is simply 'No Sex Man'... and Twilight? 'Sexy Vampire', obviously.

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People are replying to the thread with more suggestions, including for other products as well as films, and it's becoming difficult to tell which are genuine localisations used in France and which are jokes. So why do French translators do this?

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Well, as a translator, I can vouch for the fact that translating a title, be it for a novel or a film, is one of the most difficult tasks you can get. Often, you'd love to be able to keep the original, but you know most people in the target market won't understand it. In many countries, a large part of the population has a good knowledge of English but not to the point of understanding subtle plays on words or cultural references.

The Tom Cruise film Knight and Day for many people would just look like it had a typo in the title, so in France it was named simply Night and Day, dispensing with the wordplay. English is kept to show it's a Hollywood film, a fact that can sell in itself, and often simply because it sounds better and is more succinct and direct than any alternative that anyone could think of. It gives any visiting tourists a chuckle as a bonus.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.