For an English-speaking audience, this problem may seem non-existent since the film industry is dominated by productions in English. But when it comes to translating film titles into other languages, such as Polish, there is a lot of commotion. Why films may have completely different titles in different countries?
Through the years, some title changes became iconic, even though at first they were laughed at. Let’s look at one of the most famous Polish examples: “Dirty Dancing”. Even though most of Polish viewers know it under the original title, almost everybody can recall the translation: “Wirujący seks”, which literally means “spinning sex”. What does it have in common with the plot? Nobody knows.
Want some more? Here you are: “Terminator”. The sci-fi classic was translated in Polish to “Elektroniczny morderca”, i.e. “electronic murderer”. Close? Maybe, but not close enough. The problem lies in the word “terminator” since in Polish it means a person who is learning a new profession in a workshop. They are there for a certain period of time called “termin”, something like a deadline. So in fact „Terminator” for Poles could be a… “Deadliner”? We have told you that it’s not that easy.
The third example is „Die Hard”. The Polish film title was “Szklana pułapka”. It means “Glass trap”, which points directly to the location of the film’s main plot. Ok, fair enough, but what about the sequels? There was no skyscraper there. The title “Szklana pułapka” remained and just had the following numbers added for the continuity of the plot. Surprisingly, almost no one in Poland uses the title “Die Hard”. The Polish one stuck perfectly.
Important fact: The final decision about the title never comes from the translator. The distributing company is responsible for promoting the film and their goal is to attract as many viewers as possible. That is why when planning the marketing strategy, they make all decisions regarding the title.
Some film titles are so significant and strong that the distributors decide not to translate them. “Pulp Fiction”, “Whiplash” or “Kill Bill” are such examples. There is also the cultural reasoning for that. The term “pulp fiction” could seem foreign to Polish viewers since the pop-culture in Poland had its different ways and such type of literature was hardly ever found here. The other Tarantino film title was composed of two similar sounding words and their equivalents in Polish wouldn’t sound as good.
Sometimes translation can lead to losing something important. Such a thing happened with the title “Inglourious Basterds”. In Poland, it was titled “Bękarty wojny”, i.e. “bastards of the war”, with no spelling mistakes, which would directly suggest that it’s going to be a comedy.
The film “Captain America: Civil War” was translated to “Kapitan Ameryka: wojna bohaterów”, which means “war of the heroes”. Why? In the USA, the Civil War is a major historic event, shaping the whole identity of many people and institutions. Poles don’t relate to that. That is why the title was changed to something else. What is more, there is a Polish comedy series called “Wojna domowa”, i.e. “civil war”, and it has nothing to do with superheroes, but rather with everyday family life. The distributors definitely didn’t want to get it confused with Marvel’s blockbuster.
just had to have Polish titles, even though it could bring catastrophic
marketing damage. Luckily, most of them didn’t fail miserably. Let’s see some
of them: “Good Will Hunting” was translated to “Buntownik z wyboru”, i.e. “a
rebel by choice”. A clear reference to “Rebel without a cause”, but not exactly
matching the plot or the mood of the story. Another example? “Some like it
hot”, an all-time classic. In Poland, it was released as “Pół żartem, pół serio”,
which can be translated to “Half joking, half serious”. Close enough? You
There are many cases like that and no one can ever predict which version of the title will resonate with the audience more. On one hand, most people want to have it all translated to their mother tongue, but on the other, they often understand English well enough to see the differences. The choice is always difficult.