This week, I’m taking a look at some German film title translations that, when translating back into English, provide some giggles.

Why do film titles get translated?

Simply put, money and marketing. While there are linguistic and cultural elements linked to the translation of many film titles, commercial marketing and money-making are naturally the driving force behind it. At least, I think that’s true for modern cinema.

However, if we’re going to dig a little deeper, then there are of course a number of different ways in which film titles get translated and a number of reasons behind those translations. If the film titles is relatively short and, as a good title should, encapsulates the essence of the film, then a simple word for word translation is used. Films like Back to the Future (Zurück in die Zukunft), Love Actually (Tatsächlich…Liebe) and Us (Wir) are good examples here.

However things become more complicated if linguistically, a direct translation doesn’t make any grammatical sense in the translation language. They can also lead to complications if the English film title uses a local idiom (local to the country of origin) or colloquial language. And sometimes, it just culturally doesn’t work.

We even experience the above throughout the English language and it’s variants. Think about how many film titles get changed “across the pond”, i.e. between Britain and America. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Neighbours (an American film) became Bad Neighbours in Britain.

It all comes back to money in the end. The role of the film title is to entice the audience in. To make them want to learn more about the film and pay money to go and see it.

Okay, I get it, now show me the funnies

So now know a little bit more about why film titles get translated, let’s take a look at some that tickled me when I first discovered them!

Despicable Me

German: Ich – Einfach Unverbesserlich

Direct Translation: Me – Simply Incorrigible (side note – I don’t even know what incorrigible means in English and I’m a native speaker…anyone want to help me out?!)

Toy Story 4

German: A Toy Story: alles hört auf kein kommando

Direct Translation: A Toy Story: everything listens to no command

Airplane!

German: Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug.

Direct Translation: the unbelievable trip in a crazy airplane

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

German: Bube, Dame, König, Gras

Direct Translation: Jack, Queen (or Lady), King, Grass

I wonder if there are any clips online of the German dubbed version because I am DYING to hear how they do Vinnie Jones!

Dodgeball

German: Voll auf die Nüsse

Direct Translation: Right on the nuts / Straight on the balls

The Parent Trap (1998)

German: Ein Zwilling kommt selten allein

Direct Translation: A twin rarely comes alone

Made of Honour

German: Verliebt in die Braut

Direct translation: In love with the bride


Now you’ve had a good giggle at these, feel free to check out my other funny language posts. I swear that the best part about becoming bilingual and learning other languages is the memes and the hilarity that comes with it.

Up next, I’ll be talking about not going home for Christmas for the second year in a row and having a bit of an existential crisis. So, nothing out of the ordinary.

Bis zum nächsten mal / until next time,

Steffi x

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