When “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” opened earlier this month, it quickly fell to earth like a wounded dove. The hyped superhero flick earned just $33 million in the U.S. during its opening weekend, making it the worst opening for a DC film since 2010’s “Jonah Hex.”
So what to do? It’s too late to just gratuitously drop in Batman. The only thing left is to tweak the title. Which is what several theater chains did, billing the film as “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey,” in a desperate effort to attract Harley fans who may have been confused by the previous name.
Can a movie’s title really make or break a movie’s fortunes? Maybe.
It certainly has important work to do, imparting crucial information.
“What you really want to avoid is, ‘What the hell is that?’ ” writer and producer Bruce Feirstein tells The Post.
“You want a title that positions the film in terms of genre,” Robert Marich, author of “Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics” tells The Post. “Movie marketing boiled down is getting the core demographic excited. If you don’t have them, you’re in trouble.”
For some reason, Hollywood loves one-word titles.
It may have something to do with not trying to throw a long and complicated title at a harried public. Or it might have even started in an effort to choose a title that fit easily onto the old-fashioned movie marquees.
Whatever the case, it’s hard to argue that titles like “Jaws” and “Saw” aren’t evocative.
One film that’s eschewing the one-word trend is April’s “Sometimes Always Never,” about a father (Bill Nighy) searching for his missing son.
The title definitely has a nice ring to it. But incredibly, there’s another movie opening in two weeks called “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” — although it has a plot that’s completely different. (It’s about a rural Pennsylvania woman who travels to New York City for an abortion.)
“What are the odds on that?” asks “Sometimes Always Never” director Carl Hunter.
Hunter’s film was originally called “Triple Word Score” (because its plot involves Scrabble) but was changed during production to reflect a line of dialogue that Hunter felt was poetic. As a former graphic designer, he also liked how the new title would look on the film’s poster.
The director says he first heard about the other film when a friend e-mailed him from Sundance.
“It doesn’t seem like it will have a negative impact on my film,” Hunter says. “It’s kind of nice that it makes my film more visible. I feel like it’s a gift.”
Early on, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was called “A,” for abortion, an allusion to “The Scarlet Letter.” The title is now drawn from a questionnaire the woman seeking an abortion has with a social worker.
“Obviously we weren’t aware of the other movie,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” writer-director Eliza Hittman tells The Post. “We didn’t think it would create complications. It’s not really relevant.
As modest indies, these two films had fewer people to convince about a title. But big studio films often sift through dozens of possibilities, testing some with focus groups.
Sometimes they hit on something by accident. The 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” was supposed to be called “Tomorrow Never Lies.” (It’s about an evil media baron.) But when the resulting press release was issued, it contained a typo calling the film “Tomorrow Never Dies” instead.
“I was told by the producer, ‘Shut up and write,’” says Feirstein, who penned the script. “He said, ‘Let it go. Don’t fight this one.’”
Last year’s Oscar hopeful “1917” was strongly titled.
“Anybody who’s educated should know it’s about World War I,” Marich says.
Best Picture winner “Parasite” is also given good marks.
“The second most important thing the title should impart is some kind of secondary context that is implied but not completely explained,” Marich says. “It’s a secondary meaning that gives the consumer something to think about that’s explored over time.”
Bad titles? Nic Cage’s 1994 rom-com “It Could Happen to You.” It’s been used a thousand times before.
Or last year’s “Ad Astra.”
“It’s Latin for ‘to the stars,’ ” Marich says. “But that’s little-known to most moviegoers.”
“My personal first impression of the word ‘ad’ is that it means advertising.”
Movies with title changes
Title changes happen for all kinds of reasons, both legal and creative. Here are half a dozen films that ditched or adjusted their original monikers.
1. “The Prince and the Showgirl,” 1957
The film was adapted from Broadway’s “The Sleeping Prince,” but Warner Bros. boss Jack Warner was worried about the film getting hurt by the play’s poor reviews and demanded a title switch.
2. “Edge of Tomorrow,” 2014
The Tom Cruise sci-fi flick was based on a book called “All You Need is Kill,” but the studio changed it. “I don’t know that people want to be bombarded with that word [kill],” producer Erwin Stoff told “The Hollywood Reporter.”
3. “Ghostbusters,” 2016
The all-female reboot later carried the subtitle “Answer the Call,” which showed up on the DVD, for example. According to the director, the phrase was added by the studio to differentiate it from the 1984 original for cataloging purposes.
4. “The Village,” 2004
The M. Night Shyamalan thriller was supposed to be called “The Woods,” but ran afoul of another film in production with that title. After arbitration, Disney and United Artists worked out a compromise, changing the Disney title.
5. “Pretty Woman,” 1990
Probably the most famous title change belongs to this Julia Roberts rom-com. The original title was “3,000,” after the amount of money Richard Gere’s character pays to Roberts’ prostitute. But that moniker sounded too sci-fi for the studio. The change came too late for director Garry Marshall, who had cast jackets made bearing the “3,000” title.
6. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” 2013
The director was forced to add his name to the title after the Motion Picture Association of America Title Registration Bureau ruled that simply calling it “The Butler” stepped on the toes of a 1916 Warner Bros. short film.