Sunday, May 03, 2009

More on movies with duplicate titles (this time it's "Outrage") -- but still no problem

As I noted on my movies blog (entry May 2, toward the end of the entry) there are two independent movies coming out soon with the name of “Outrage” and they are totally different. The one getting all the attention right now (starting March 8) is about closeted gays in politics, directed by Kirby Dick. But there is a totally unrelated thriller by Ace Cruz with the same name coming out (pun unintended) soon.

Any casual look at imdb shows that this happens a lot. Often there is a feature film, and various obscure short films by the same name. Sometimes a TV film will duplicate the name of a theatrical release distantly related in subject matter. For example the TV “Swing Vote” is about a jury trying an abortion-related case, whereas the Touchstone feature is about a presidential election. There is a site that catalogues all duplicate movie titles on Netflix and here is that applicable link.

As far as I know, there is nothing instrinsically wrong with two films having the same name, or two books having the same name. With books, usually there is a secondary subtitle to distinguish them. (There’s plenty of duplication on Amazon; look at “Honor Bound”).

Where you get into issues usually is with a franchise of multiple movies (or books) around a name or a character (like “Superman” or “Harry Potter”). Usually the name becomes a trademark for associated toys or clothes, or (often) has an existing mark for comic books; often the franchise is set up as a “brand” (of stylized movies in a series) so that it becomes a trademark.

Duplication of names in movies is much more likely with independent films, which tend to be made for niche audiences. The English language, with its multiple sources, and heavy use of idioms and irony on words, invites the likelihood of the multiple use of the same word or phrase. Niche audiences are not likely to become confused since most independent film buffs know what they want to see in advance, although a theater chain like Landmark would have an issue if it happened to show both “Outrage” movies at the same time in the same theater in different auditoriums.

Suburban mall blockbusters intended to satisfy the bean counters of major studios might be a different matter, however. I have a feeling you might run into trouble it you called another movie “Kung Fu Panda” (which probably became a “brand” when AMC used it for its cell phone silence pre-feature video).

I notice that the (Kirby Dick) “Outrage” movie poster has the phrase “Do Ask Do Tell” underneath the title – of course, that’s the primary title of two of my books and my main website. But the “common English” phrase obviously has a political or moral meaning that applies in all cases. It may become the idiom that survives “don’t ask don’t tell”.

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