If you watch television or have ever been to the cinema, you will surely have come across a title that has left you somewhat baffled. Because if there is one thing we like doing across Europe, besides dubbing the voices of the characters, it’s translating the titles of films (most of them originating from English due to them being produced in America). What usually happens in these cases? As you would expect, there is not always a rigorous process when it comes to literal translation. Of course, sometimes literal translations are not possible, or it simply does not fit the plot or context, so minor modifications are needed to make it easier for the audience to understand. But this onlu often works up to a certain extent. As we will show you below, there are some cases of complete and utter translation disasters!
A movie where an overworked mother and her daughter do not get along very well until they switch bodies and each is forced to adapt to the other’s life for (and hence its name) one freaky Friday.
But not all the countries decided to translate this simple name into something similar. In Spain, for example, the chosen name was “Ponte en mi lugar” (which means, literally, “put yourself in my place”).
Hungarian translators, nevertheless, decided to create a title similar to the Spanish one but in its negative form: “Nem férek a bőrödbe” (“I do not get into your skin”).
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic left a little more to the imagination for movie viewers, translating it as “Mezi námi devcaty” (which literally means “Between us”).
Translated as “shark”, “white shark” or “shark’s jaws” in many European languages, except in French. For some unknown reason, they decided to call this film “Les dents de la mer”, a metonymy that makes the aquatic protagonist of the story sound a lot less dangerous.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Everybody knows this story of the poor but hopeful boy that sought one of the five golden tickets which could send him on a tour of Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory (even though some people might remember only the latest cinematographic version with Johnny Depp, directed by Tim Burton).
The Spanish translators decided to associate chocolate with fantasy (we do not disagree about this), so the 1971 version based on Roahl Dahl’s book was translated as “Un mundo de fantasía” in Spain (“A world of fantasy”).
On the other hand, in Denmark, the movie was entitled “Drengen, der druknede i chokoladesovsen” (“The boy drowned in the chocolate sauce”), giving a very big spoiler about what happens during the visit to the factory to the golden ticket holders.
Die Hard follows John McClane, the off-duty officer from the New York Police Department as he faces a group of highly organized criminals led by Hans Gruber. These criminals hold a robbery in a Los Angeles’ skyscraper under the pretext of a terrorist attack and use hostages, including McClane’s wife, to keep the police at bay.
In this case, we have to admit that the prize for creativity goes to the original English title of the film, for revealing very little of the content. Meanwhile, the Portuguese, Norwegian and Spanish translations give a few more details (the latter also being quite creative and metaphorical). In the aforementioned countries, the films were respectively renamed “Assalto ao Arranha-Céus” (“Assault on the Skyscraper”), “Aksjon skyskraper” (“Action skyscraper”) and “La jungla de cristal” (“The crystal jungle”).
Named after one of its protagonists, This film analyses the relationship between a comedian (Alvy Singer) and a singer from a nightclub (Annie Hall), mostly from Singer’s perspective. Singer reflects briefly on his childhood and his early adult years before settling in to tell the story of how he and Annie met, fell in love, and struggled with the obstacles of modern romance, mixing surreal fantasy sequences with occasional moments of emotional drama.
Again, the translations of this film tend to reveal the plotline. Let’s take a look at both the German version (broadcast in Germany and Austria) and the Greek translation. If we combine the meaning of one (“Der Stadtneurotiker”, which means “The city neurotic”) and the other (“Νευρικός εραστής” – “Neurotic lover”) we end up with a title that perhaps reveals to us more than it should.
Written by Marta Guillén Martínez – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She holds a Degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Alicante, Spain and she did her European Voluntary Service on communication and european youth mobility in Milan, Italy. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian.