Top Ten Great German Titles For English Language MoviesQuite some time ago, I made a list about bad German titles for English language movies, which are quite many, to be honest.
But I thought: "hey, it wouldn't be fair if I wouldn't also acknowledge when the translation job was done well."
So I made this list.
Before the 90s, it was common to give every movie that's released over here a German title, as not all too many people spoke English well. Many of these titles, though not all of them, had nothing to do with the original English ones and were completely independent. When it became the norm for people to also be able to speak the English language, fewer and fewer movies had a German title, and were marketed under their original name. Occasionally, movies were then marketed with a bilingual double title, with the German one sometimes being a literal translation of the English one, sometimes not. But also this trend got less and less popular. Nowadays, only two genres still frequently use German titles that are highly different than the original: comedies and literary films. Often, the English titles of comedy movies don't indicate the genre and even sound somewhat cool (e.g. "The Heat" doesn't sound like a comedy). Germans expect a comedy to have a furious, chaotic and silly title, so that the humorous nature immediately becomes apparent. Literary adaptations on the other hand are usually named after the books they are based upon, and for books there still is the same norm as for old movies from the 50s: the title is usually always in German, and is often heavily different from the original.
To be included on this list, the title must be dramatically different from the original. Slight variations don't count (e.g. it's common for German movies to remove the articles of the titles - "The Matrix" becomes "Matrix", "The Shining" becomes "Shining", "The Hangover" becomes "Hangover",... you get the idea). What also doesn't count is a literal translation of the original title (e.g. "The Bird" turns to "Die Vögel") or a bilingual double title containing both the original and a direct translstion (e.g. "The Village - Das Dorf").
The Top Ten
The title refers to the song that Charles Bronson's nameless character plays on his harmonica throughout the movie.
The movie is far more popular than the Dollar trilogy over here in German language territory, it's the single most famous Western, one of the most famous movies ever made and the titular song is one of the most famous movie themes, next to "Psycho", "Jaws" and "Star Wars".
"Play Me the Song of Death"
The German title is adapted from the German title of the novel. The superior Swedish adaptation starring Noomi Rapace giving one of the best performances of the 2000s decade also has this title. The sequels to the Swedish movie are titled "Verdammnis" ("Damnation") and "Vergebung" ("Forgiveness").
The titles all sound very mysterious and poetic, and very different than both the radically feministic Swedish titles and the Lisbeth Salander centered English ones.
"Delusion", "[mental] Blindness"
Simply put: a description of the good and evil of the world. I am not religious, but it's a great description of life - it's beautiful in and of itself, but it has disturbingly ugly sides that are hard to handle.
"God's Work and the Devil's Contribution"
The German title sounds like a progressive rock album of the 70s... which sure is a good thing. It's very mystical.
"The Discovery of Infinity"
Even when I praise the German titles, I always acknowledge the original English ones. Except for this one. I always thought that original title to be way too direct and in-your-face, with two trigger words indicating something sinister. The German title is much more elegant, and therefore more infernal. The sequel is also called "Tanz der Teufel 2", the second sequel "Armee der Finsternis" (a literal translation of "Army of Darkness"). The remake kept its English title.
"Dance of the Devils"
The movie consists of five short movies based on stories by O. Henry. By the high quality of this film, I personally like the comparison to precious pearls much better than to a poker hand.
Both titles are great, as they focus on different aspects of the movie's plot. The English title refers to the movie being set in high society circles, with the press soaking up every detail about the wedding. The German title focuses more on the characters and their feelings on the very night before the wedding.
"The Night Before the Wedding"
The original title has something heroic about it, something that shows that despite all the war, your comrads are important.
As I have often told you, for modern Germans things such as honor in war don't exist, it's all about killing. Therefore, the German titles is neutral and simply lets the term "soldier" spread associations.
"The Soldier James Ryan"
May I say that the two titles work best in combination?
Like, Butler's character abides the law... but it's the law of revenge.
"Law of Revenge"
This is a title I didn't like at first. It sounds like a sentence, not a movie title, and also comes off as a bit childish. But it stuck with me. The way it's phrased, it feels like it's honest and impulsive. You expected life to be good, but it back stabbed you.
"Fate is a Mean Traitor"
"The White Shark"