From the Mouth of Maddox: Germany’s bastardisation of Hollywood

As I have said in my previous entries, Germany is one of the few nations in Europe that doesn’t watch English language films in English. The good people of this nation wait another two weeks or so for a film to be released here in dubbed German. I don’t have an issue with this, although it does make it quite a lot more complicated for me to watch the films I would like to see in the cinema here. With the script being translated and the actors being given new voices (which for the most part bear no recognisable connection to the original, creating quite spooky alternate versions of well-loved actors and actresses in my life, the title of the film must also be dealt with. What’s the point of going to all the effort of meticulously translating the subtle, idiom rich language of the film and then releasing it onto the unsuspecting German masses with a name that may or may not make the slightest bit of sense? 

A lot of the time, the translations are pretty straight forward and explain in clear German what the film is about, as an example, the phenomenal “Back to the Future” trilogy is called “Zurück in die Zukunft” which is nice and clear to anyone, even if it may cause a sense of existential time related concern while also making little actual sense to anyone not aware of what the film is in fact about. In spite of it not helping the potential viewer gain an insight into the awesomeness they could be plugging into their eyeballs, it is honest and faithful to the original, and I like that.


However, there are a lot of times where it is clear that some bureaucrat in the German film titling association decides that some film titles are too vague in English and that they might indeed cause some bafflement for the general public. The solution? Just rename it completely, translation be damned.
Without a shadow of a doubt the example which best shows how this can be an issue comes in the classic Leslie Nielsen film “Airplane!”. Now, the English title is clear enough, it’s about an airplane, but what happens if Germans who are devout followers of the world of aviation decide that they fancy an informative documentary on that steel bird in the sky? They’re going to be a bit surprised to find themselves some minutes later watching a nice young woman mock felate an inflatable autopilot. Plane lovers might not appreciate this and so, in the minds of the German film association, the title must be changed to show that it is not a sensible thing at all. So, to protect the plane devotee from being lured in by accident, the film title was indeed changed to “Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug” which in English translates as “The incredible journey in a crazy airplane”. Phew, disaster avoided.


There are some amazing examples of how names of films have been massively changed for the people of this fine nation, most of which make little or no sense when we look at them, here’s a few of my top pick for you to peruse (and please, forgive any translations which are not 100% perfect):

Original Title

German Title Translation into English
The Avengers  Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone With screen, charm and melon
The Pope must die  Ein Papst zum Küssen A Pope to kiss
Once upon a time in the west  Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod Play me the Song of Death
Animal House  Ich glaub’ mich tritt ein Pferd! I think I’m kicked by a horse!
Tremors Tremors – Im Land der Raketenwürmer Tremors – In the land of Rocket Worms
Pushing Tin Turbulenzen und andere Katastrophen Turbulences and other catastrophes
Ruthless People Die unglaubliche Entführung der verrückten Mrs. Stone The incredible kidnapping of the crazy Mrs. Stone
The Man who knew too little Agent Null Null Nix – Bill Murray in hirnloser Mission Agent Zero Zero Nothing – Bill Murray in a brainless mission
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  Ferris macht blau Ferris makes blue
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Bill & Teds verrückte Reise durch die Zeit Bill & Ted’s crazy journey through time
Shawshank Redemption Die Verurteilten The conviction

With a lot of these titles, the decision to change the name is often understandable. However, sometimes the effort goes too far. In “Once upon a time in the west”, some of the dialogue was actually changed in translation so as to get one of the main characters to say “Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod” as opposed to “Keep your loving brother happy”. I know this guy was the bad guy in the black hat and all, but he’s gone from a villain who has concern for sibling affection to a man who wants to dance a morbid jig. All this to cram in the (made up) name of the film.

As I have already said, I have, in principle, no issue with the renaming of films in another language in a way that allows the person looking at the name to glean an insight into what they are about to put themselves though having forked over many Euros for a ticket, popcorn and such things, but the fact is, a lot of the names changed to “make sense” do not make sense in English either. “Airplane!” suffers from the same issue in English and yet I have heard of no stories of angry plane-buffs picketing cinemas in 1980 to voice their concerns about the fact that they were lured, under false pretenses, into the cinema.


The fact is that names of films can paint a picture, but it matters not if they do or not. If we look at the IMDb top ten films of all time, only “12 Angry Men” and “Fight Club” really speak, in any way at all, to the essence of the theme of film, but even they only hint at some key elements as opposed to letting us know what we are in for before we even sit down and watch them. Film titles should be alluring, but not give away too much. Sure, there are exceptions; there is no need for subtlety in the naming of the latest Steven Segal film, who cares? We all know what we are going to get, a slightly out-of-shape man with fat fists and a ponytail kicking the arses of innumerable North Koreans whilst exploding all in his wake.

So, German film association, leave the translation alone if you can. If a film is good enough, people will want to see it based on trailers, reviews and word of mouth, there’s almost always no real need to warn people in advance, no matter how funny I may indeed find some of the new titles.


One thought on “From the Mouth of Maddox: Germany’s bastardisation of Hollywood

  1. hi,

    dont know if you know this, but theres a chance to see the movies u like to see in english, not in all cinemas tho mainly the bigger ones.
    they are usually listed with an (OT or OV) after the title.

    i agree with the movietitle thing for the most part, but u have a couple of mistakes in the translation or they dont makes sense to translate word for word because they are proverbs.

    shawshank redemption is better translated with the convicted ones.
    but youre right, i dont know anyone who goes to the cinema and picks a random movie just by its title , but back in the day it probably made sense to give the audience a hint of whats to expect.

    btw. i dont think the voices are to far off, from the actors original, although we dont translate dialects at all, like in game of thrones it really feels off

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