Puns, sex and urban legends: How English movie titles are translated into French

If you've ever browsed French cinema listings or Netflix, you will instantly notice that the titles of English-language movies often have quite unexpected translations.

Puns, sex and urban legends: How English movie titles are translated into French
Take note of the translation of you're watching an English-language movie in France. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

It is of course completely normal for the titles of books, films, TV series and other artworks to be translated in a non-literal way – usually the translator will try and get something that conveys the sense and message of the artwork, rather than going for a word-for-word translation.

But from concepts that get lost in translation to untranslatable puns and – of course – the French fondness for English phrases, some titles may surprise you. 

The untranslatable ones

Some concepts just don’t cross international borders.

Groundhog DayUn jour sans fin (an endless day) – Groundhog day in the US and Canada is a festival celebrated on February 2nd that is said to predict spring weather.

The festival doesn’t exist in France, or in the UK come to that, but while British audiences just had to accept a film with a weird title, in France it was translated as ‘an endless day’, which more accurately describes what the film is all about.  

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsArnaques, Crimes et Botanique (scams, crimes and botanicals) – the film’s English title is a pun on the phrase ‘lock, stock and barrel’ which means complete, with ‘smoking barrels’ as a nod to the gun storyline.

Puns are pretty hard to translate in general, but a mixture of two puns obviously had the French translators reaching for the white flag. Instead they’re gone for a three-word list that offers a pretty fair overall summary of what the film is all about. 

The Shawshank RedemptionLes Évadés (The Escaped) – Frank Darabont’s slow-burn classic prison drama based on Stephen King’s short story couldn’t really translate into French, so you can’t blame them for not trying. Instead, they kept it simple.

Home AloneMaman, j’ai raté l’avion (Mummy I missed the plane) – another example of deciding not to bother trying to translate a phrase and just giving a straightforward description of what the film is about comes from Home Alone.

Con airLes ailes de l’enfer (the wings of hell) – the 1997 US film centres on a prison break aboard the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System aircraft, nicknamed ‘con air’, with ‘con’ the English abbreviation for convict (prisoner). Not having an exact French-language equivalent, the translators went for the frankly much more poetic ‘the wings of hell’.

Die HardPiège de cristal (The Crystal Trap) – Bruce Willis’s famously festive film gets a completely different name in French – and Spanish and Italian, come to that.

It gave French distributors a bit of a problem when the sequels came out, but they solved it by ignoring any links between the first film and those that followed completely. Die Hard 2: Die Harder translated to 58 Minutes Pour Vivre (58 Minutes to Live), while Die Hard with a Vengeance – which, in English, also pretty much glossed over Die Hard 2 for aesthetic reasons –  became Une journée en enfer (A Day in Hell)

The totally different 

TwilightLe saga du désir interdit (the story of forbidden desire) – Stephanie Meyer’s series of teen vampire romance novels, later turned into a film franchise, appeared in the English-speaking world with the series name ‘twilight’.

A French translation of this time of day of course exists (crépuscule) but instead French translators decided to spell out the theme of the series – forbidden desire. The books appeared in France under the titles of Fascination (fascination) Tentation (temptation) Hésitation (hesitation) Révélation (revelation) L’Appel du sang (the call of blood) and Midnight Sun.

The A TeamL’agence tous risques (the risk-all agency) – similarly with The A Team, French film distributors apparently decided that audiences needed to be clearly informed of the premise – a group of agents who would take on any mission, even the most risky.

Airplane!Y a-t-il un pilote dans l’avion? (Is there a pilot on the plane?) – they kept the name of the 1980 disaster movie spoof, surely? No, the French decided to rename that, too  … and don’t call me Shirley.

The improvements

No time to dieMourir peut attendre (death can wait) – if you didn’t know better you might assume that the cool, classy ‘death can wait’ was the original title of the latest James Bond film and ‘no time to die’ the awkward translation. In fact, it was the other way round.  

JawsLes dents de la mer (the sea’s teeth) – the title of the Spielberg movie in English just refers to the shark, but the title in French refers to both the shark itself and the greater sense of the unknown dangers of the deep. 

The weird and/or sexist  

Mean GirlsLolita malgré moi (Lolita despite myself) – French schoolgirls are mean, bitchy and cliquey too, so there are plenty of options in French for a near-literal translation of the title of high-school drama Mean Girls.

Instead the translator went for the fairly problematic option of ‘Lolita despite myself’ – by which we can assume he never read Nabakov’s classic novel (first published in France, incidentally) telling the story of the paedophile Humbert Humbert and his victim Lolita.

Little WomenLes 4 filles du docteur March (the four daughters of Dr March) – it’s a film (based on a book) entirely about the lives of women, the four March sisters and their mother. Dr March barely features (because he’s away fighting in the American Civil War) but that doesn’t stop the French version from deciding that it’s all about him.  

The inexplicably sexy ones 

Sometimes English language movie titles remain in English but with different titles – for example The Hangover in France is Very Bad Trip. But there is also a distinct trend to just add the word ‘sex’ or ‘sexy’ to an English language title to, well, sex it up a bit . . .

Not Another Scary Movie – Sex Academy 

Out Cold – Snow, Sex and Sun

Wild Things – Sex Crimes

Euro Trip – Sex Trip

The English titles for French films

With all the effort that goes into translating English titles into French, you might get a surprise when you start viewing something with an English title, only to find that it’s as French as a snail-filled baguette.

Family Business – the Netflix series about a Paris family who get drawn into international drug smuggling is smart, funny and completely French – it just has an English title.

LOL – although there is an American remake of the teen film LOL, the French version (starring Sophie Marceau) came first.

In France people use the acronym MDR (mort de rire or died laughing) in text speak, but the filmmakers obviously reckoned that the English acronym was well enough known for the title.

The film is entirely in French, with only a very brief foray into English when the characters go on a school trip to London (and experience rain and horrible food, naturally).

MILF – the American acronym MILF (Mom I’d like to F**k) really hit the mainstream thanks to the 2003 film American Pie and by 2018 French film-makers were confident that it was well enough known even in France to use as the title of a French movie.

The film depicts three older women who take a road trip to try and rediscover their youth and friendship – no prizes for guessing what they end up doing.

We asked our French friends if there is a French equivalent of MILF and no-one could suggest one. 


For all that French cinema distributors are happy to have the odd partially or wholly English title, strict language rules in French-speaking Canada mean that movies there often have completely different titles.

For example American Pie – released under its English name in France – became Folies de graduation (graduation madness) in Quebec, while Ghost also kept its original title in France but was released as Mon Fantôme d’amour (My ghost love) in Quebec.

. . . and the myth

There’s an urban legend that The Matrix appeared in France as Les jeunes qui traversent des dimensions en portant des lunettes de soleil (young people who travel in dimensions while wearing sunglasses) but in fact the film appeared in France as Matrix, although it was La Matrice in Quebec. 

Member comments

  1. Sorry to change the gist of the article (!)
    We always swore we wouldn’t laugh at ‘funny French names’ although the village of St Merd has always pressed this to the limit. (Encouraged by a French friend too)
    However on our way to the B&B when coming back and having resisted a giggle at the pronunciation of Arras on the GPS (it had been a long journey), we were instructed to turn down the rue des Phosphates. Sadly this came out as’ Rue Deaf as Farts’ which convulsed us so much we missed the turning and had to make a long detour.

    1. Hahaha! Laughing at dodgy sat-nav pronunciations is one of the best things about a French road trip, no question

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Meet Sophie Adenot – the new ESA astronaut and ‘proud Frenchwoman’

The European Space Agency has unveiled its new class of astronauts - one of whom is Sophie Adenot, who will be the second French woman to take up the role of career astronaut.

Meet Sophie Adenot - the new ESA astronaut and 'proud Frenchwoman'

Among the group of 17 European astronauts France is represented by career astronaut Sophie Adenot and astronaut reserve Arnaud Prost.

The “new class”, five of whom will work as career astronauts and 11 will be part of the reserve pool, will be the third group for the European Space Agency – an inter-governmental organisation “dedicated to the exploration of space.”

They will begin with 12 months of basic training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, before joining the existing corps, and will eventually be able to perform long-duration spaceflight missions, notably aboard the international space station, as well as joining the crews for future missions to the moon.

The space agency also appointed its first disabled astronaut, British Paralympic sprinter John McFall, to be part of the new class. According to the ESA, no major Western agency has ever sent a “parastronaut” to space. McFall lost his right leg in a motorbike accident in 2000.

Here’s what you need to know about Sophie;

She was picked out of thousands

Chosen from over 22,500 candidate’s, France’s Sophie Adenot, 40, hails from the Burgundy area in north-east France.

She speaks several languages

Aside from her mother tongue, which is French, Sophie is fluent in English. She also speaks German, Spanish and Russian. 

She is also an avid parachutist and yoga teacher

Adenot has several hobbies, including outdoor sports like skiing and mountain biking, but most notably she is also a certified yoga teacher, in addition to having her scuba diving license and being a trained skydiver. 

On her profile of the ESA website, Sophie Adenot explained that in addition to all of her experience as a pilot and her hobbies, she also has “fifteen years of experience” in helping to make science more accessible by giving lectures and lessons to children.

She has broken gender barriers

More than twenty years after Claudie Haigneré was named France’s first female astronaut, Adenot will be the second French woman to be a career astronaut with the European Space Agency.

However, she has broken gender barriers before. A trained engineer with specialisation in aircraft flight dynamics, with degrees from MIT in Boston, USA and Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse, France, Adenot went on to join the French Air Force in 2005 and become a helicopter pilot. In that role, she worked as a combat search and rescue pilot, having conducted several rescue operations in “hostile or desert environments,” according to Ouest France.

She made history in 2018 when she became France’s first female helicopter test pilot to test prototypes, and in 2021 she was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Adenot has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours on 22 different machines.

She was awarded the Order of Merit

In 2022, Adenot received the National Order of Merit and the Medal of the National Assembly (la médaille de l’Assemblée nationale) honouring her actions as an inspirational ambassador for gender equality in science in 2021.