Two new films are opening wide this weekend: The Mechanic and The Rite. They’ll compete against recent releases like The Green Hornet and The Dilemma, not to mention newly-minted Best Picture nominees The King’s Speech and The Fighter. (Meanwhile, fellow nominees The Social Network and The Kids Are All Right have just hit DVD stores.) Coming soon to theaters: The Roommate and The Eagle. What do all these movies have in common? It’s the The — the definite article, language’s precision instrument, “T-H-E,” a word that seemed bit old-fashioned and archaic just a few years ago, at least in movie titles.
Not anymore. Now, “The” is everywhere. This year, it’s popping up in a highly-anticipated literary adaptation (The Help), a highly-anticipated WTF auteur film (The Tree of Life), and a highly-anticipated franchise reboot (The Muppets). One of the most highly-anticipated movies of the year is a Hollywood version of a novel with two — Two! — definite articles: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Oh PopWatchers, I love the The in movie titles. It’s like a staccato drum solo that opens a great pop song, or a gunshot that starts a 100-meter dash. The can be terse, or expansive, or sarcastic. Try to say any of the titles above without it. Fighter. Green Hornet. Dilemma. Social Network. The names die on your tongue. They sound vague, indistinct. The The gives them precision. For much of the 2000s, the vast array of major titles were straightforward phrases without any linguistic adornment. Most major releases were just character names (Shrek, Spider-Man) or narrow descriptions that read like marketing pamphlets (Kung Fu Panda, 300), or vague descriptions that read like Swedish pop songs (Up, Avatar). Look at the list of movies that were nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 2005: Crash. Munich. Capote. Brokeback Mountain. Good Night, and Good Luck. You know what I hear? Blah, Blah, Blah, Blahblah Blah blah, and Blah Blah, blah Blah Blah.
The turning point, I think, came in 1999. That year, four of the films nominated for an Oscar sported the definite article: The Green Mile, The Insider, The Cider House Rules, and The Sixth Sense. But the winner was American Beauty, one of those terrible Dude-it’s-so-MEANINGFUL! titles that could either be a modern art sculpture or a Bruce Springsteen song. Not even the three-year assault of The Lord of the Rings could hold back the anti-The mayhem. (Although let’s have a special kudos for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which qualifies as a literal orgy of definite articles.)
But something has changed in the last few years. At last year’s Oscars, The Hurt Locker triumphed over Avatar. The makers of the teeny-bopping Twilight franchise purposefully added a titular mouthful to their sequel titles: The Twilight Saga. Personally, I thank Christopher Nolan. At a time when most superhero movie sequel titles looked like software updates — X2: X-Men United, anyone? — Nolan titled his Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight. Like the movie itself, it wasn’t really like anything we’d seen before. Small wonder that, in an attempt to drum up excitement for his Wolverine sequel, Hugh Jackman has been proudly noting that the title will be sporting a new look: Say hello to The Wolverine! And I love it, PopWatchers. I already believe that The Wolverine will be infinitely better than its predecessor, which I believe was titled X-Men Origins Mac OSX 10.5: Wolverine.
PopWatchers, I ask you: Wouldn’t almost every movie title be better with The? The Raging Bull? The Citizen Kane? The Rebel Without a Cause? The Alien, The Aliens, and The Alien3? Shouldn’t George Lucas have gone with his original instincts and called it The Star Wars?