Hollywood isn’t known for its lack of hyperbole. From bombastic campaigns informing moviegoers “If you see one film this year, make it this one!” to self-aggrandizing award shows, going to the Cineplex is often like having a group of people shouting at you for three hours. So how does an intrepid movie studio make its film stand out from the rabble? Why, by adding an exclamation point to the title, of course! Sometimes that small pit of punctuation tells you everything you need to know about the movie. Other times? Not so much. Let’s take a look at various uses of the world’s most exciting punctuation to figure out what that exclamation point is trying to tell the audience and whether it’s necessary.
On the surface, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is the perfect employee, husband, and father. Under the surface, Whitacre lies about literally everything. The exclamation point is actually quite useful in the title, adding a sunny exterior to a word — “informant” — that’s generally used in a far more sinister context. And it reflects the tone of the movie, which is done in a sunny fifties style while telling the story of a man who destroyed hundreds of lives and stole millions of dollars. Without that exclamation point, you think you’re going into a thriller like Enemy of the State. With it, you know you’re in for a quasi comedy more along the lines of Catch Me If You Can.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
A 2008 documentary about a heavy-metal band that never quite made it, Anvil! uses its exclamation mark to emphasize the real-life, This is Spinal Tap nature of the film. Like the two-man band itself, Anvil! has humongous energy right out of the gate but then looses steam. By placing the exclamation point in the middle of the title, the filmmakers have hinted at the slide from initial excitement to dry reality.
Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!
Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) is a movie star feeling disaffected with Hollywood life. Rosalee (Kate Bosworth) is the girl from a small town who wins a date with him and captures his heart. And Pete (Topher Grace) is the nerdy small-town shop clerk who secretly loves her. Here the exclamation point is trying to evoke a feeling for the movies of yesteryear, while at the same time calling to mind the excitement of a contest, and it works about as well as the movie as a whole (which is to say, not well at all).
Baz Luhrmann’s neo-burlesque musical is gaudy, over-the-top, and heartfelt. And though it flitted with real history, it creates its own, using the historic Moulin Rouge and figures like Toulouse-Lautrec in its own colorful version of reality. So how do you convey that this is no historical epic but a sexy alternate history? By adding an exclamation point to the title. A noble attempt but ultimately a feeble one. The producers would’ve been better off adding “Nicole Kidman in Lingerie” to the end of the title.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
Three drag queens on a road trip covet a note — reproduced in the film’s title — from the gay icon Julie Newmar. That’s the generous explanation. The less generous explanation is that, like the movie, the exclamation point is an exercise in utter kitsch, and one that is executed quite poorly.
Clearly meant to hark back to the disaster pictures of the fifties and sixties (and, in fact, Airplane! is a remake of the far more serious 1957 flick Zero Hour!), this exclamation point also works to point out how ridiculous the movie will be. Everything is done with mock over-the-top seriousness, from the classic Shirley line to the insane violence against children. Every line delivered by the all-star comedy cast including Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen ends with an exclamation point, so why not put one in the title too?
Tora! Tora! Tora!
The three exclamation points here — a rarity for a movie title — are not meant to convey any particular emotion but are there because the line is said in the movie itself. Shouted, in fact, making these exclamation points both accurate and necessary. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the code for “complete surprise achieved” was “tora” (“tiger”). Hence the phrase, shouted three times in the movie and in the title.
Why is the exclamation point here? No good reason. What is it trying to convey? Perhaps the presence of John Wayne as the titular McLintock, which is pretty cool but hardly needs to be exclaimed. Perhaps it represents the sharp sounds of the two uncomfortable spanking scenes in the Western, from which the movie oddly draws much of its comedy. Other than those not-too-plausible justifications, the movie’s use of the exclamation point is useless.
A joyous celebration of all things American, this movie has an exclamation point that is just redundant (and probably marks the only time anyone has been that excited about the state of Oklahoma). Though the story is as silly as any musical of its time, with romantic mix-ups galore, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic broke new ground for film musicals, mixing story and song in perfect harmony. Perhaps subsequent adaptations can honor the show better by pulling out the inexplicable punctuation.
Wouldn’t you add an exclamation point at the end of the title for a film about giant nuclear ants attacking the Earth? (As in, “Oh no, it’s them!”) Keying in on the atomic paranoia of the day, the “them” of the title could mean foreigners, spies, or anyone trying to attack America. In this case, it’s irradiated bugs, but whether it’s bugs, humanoid aliens, Soviet spies, or the whole Red Army coming to kill you, you’re going to need that exclamation point when running for your life.