Lost in translation

19 Oct
The Italian movie industry is quite prolific and has given us many fine films including the Academy Award winner “Life is Beautiful” from several years ago and last year’s “The Great Beauty.” Of course there are the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone, Fellini’s famous “La Dolce Vita,” and even “Cleopatra” was filmed in Rome at CinecittàBuono Bruto CattivoStudios. Did you know that Italy has the biggest dubbing industry in the world? Many of American movies and TV shows are dubbed in Italian or sub-titled in Italian. We can watch “The Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS,” or “Law and Order” for example, in Italian or in English with sub-titles.  Naturally, as Italians are aficionados of American culture and entertainment, most major American pictures make their way into the dubbing studio for release in Italian.  Many of them end up with unusual titles that are far from a direct translation, resulting in some generally hilarious English re-translation or are cause for some head-scratching at the very least.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Jim Carrey’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was strange enough in English, but the Italian translation Se Mi Lasci Ti Cancello translates to If you Leave Me, I’ll Wipe the Slate Clean or alternately depending on your interpretation of cancello, it might be If you Leave Me, I’ll Cancel You. Huh?
esplosiva1985’s “Weird Science” was a fun movie. In Italian perhaps even more fun as it is entitled La Donna Esplosiva, which can be restated as The Explosive Woman or  The Bombshell. I like the second one.
My curiosity about Italian names for movies and TV shows came when the annual showing of “The Sound of Music” hit my radar. It should literally beTutti insienetranslated as Il Suono di Musica, but no: In Italy it’s called Tutti Insieme con Appassionatamente or All Together Passionately. Strano.
Having stumbled upon a few fun titles, I did some research for other amusing tidbits. Enjoy!

English Title

Italian Translation

What the Italian title means in English

 The Shawshank Redemption
 Le Ali della Libert­à
The Wings of Liberty
The Producers
Per Favore, Non Toccare le Vecchiette!
Please Don’t Touch the Little Old Men!
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Una Pazza Giornata di Vacanze
A Crazy Day of Vacation
Risky Business
Fuori i Vecchi i Figli Ballano
When the Elders are away, the Sons Dance
Growing Pains
Genitori in Blue Jeans
Parents in Blue Jeans
Trading Places
Un Poltrone per Due
A Seat (or chair) for Two
Home Alone
Mamma Ho Person L’Aereo
Mom, I Missed the Plane!
The Seven Year Itch
Quando La Moglie e in Vacanza7 Year
When the Wife is on Vacation
Scappo dalla Città – La Vita, l’Amore e le Vacche
I’m Fleeing the City – Life, Love and Cows
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Millennium: Uomini che Odiano le Donne
Millennium: The Men Who Hate Women
Murder She Wrote
La Signora in GialloSignora Giallo
The Woman in Yellow


Odiano DonneInterestingly, it is perhaps the American movie industry that misnamed Steig Larssen’s book and thus the movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In Swedish it is Män som hatar kvinnor which means, naturally, “Men who hate women.”
And there is an explanation for The Woman in Yellow as Jessica-what’s-her-name did not wear yellow to my knowledge. In Italy, murder mystery books were Libro Giallotraditionally printed with yellow (giallo) covers. The genre is called gialli. You can go to www.amazon.it and find books under Gialli e Thriller.  Some still have yellow covers or bindings.
Literalists that we Americans tend to be, I have not been able to find Italian movie titles translated as disparately or amusingly.  Here are a few you might know very well in English.

 Italian Title 

English Translation

La Vita è Bella
Life is Beautiful
La Grande Bellezza
The Great Beauty
Profumo di Donna
The Scent of a Woman
Il Buono, Il Bruto, Il Cattivo
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (although due to the artistic license taken with adjective order, the Italian direct translation would be “The Good, The Ugly, The Bad”)
Per un Pugno dei Dollari
(For a) Fistful of Dollars
Not unlike the U.S., despite the abundance of material produced throughout the world and dubbed or subtitled for the vast network of cable channels, there’s still never anything on TV here.  “Ice Road Truckers” anyone? I mean Guida I camion tra I ghiacci. Questionnable  in any language.

10 Responses to “Lost in translation”

  1. Giuliana November 12, 2014 at 17:45 #

    Yes, when I learned that the actual title was “The Producers” I was shocked. I think that was a time Italians loved long titles! 🙂

    For a reverse situation, I found it funny that the Italian classic comedy “I Soliti Ignoti” became “Big Deal on Madonna Street” in English.


    • gooddayrome November 12, 2014 at 20:26 #

      Hi Guiliana. I suspected there were a lot of terrible English translations of Italian movie titles as well. I just am not familiar with enough Italian movies. That’s a great one! Thanks for popping in and reading!


  2. Ken October 23, 2014 at 04:40 #


    This is a topic I’ve never given much thought to, but I sure enjoyed reading all the “translations”. How could they get some of them so wrong (“The Producers” is a good example)?
    Some of the Italian versions of popular shows seem to be translated reasonably accurately, such as Ballando con le Stelle.


    • gooddayrome October 25, 2014 at 07:48 #

      Hi Ken! I don’t think it is a matter of getting a title wrong as much as a change or twist that makes the title more culturally significant or appealing. How else can one explain the “translation” of

        The Sound of Music

      ? Many are translated literally, but that doesn’t make them very funny. 🙂


  3. Christine October 19, 2014 at 18:32 #

    Oh, that is too funny! I’ve watched my share of Italian films with English subtitles and occasionally those give me a good laugh, too.! Grazie!


  4. mvaden1948 October 19, 2014 at 18:08 #

    I have forwarded your blog to my classmates from my Italian class.
    My last two visits to Venice included an apartment with way too many cable TV channels. Just like home….all those channels and nothing to watch. I didn’t care that it was all in Italian but most of it was someone selling something….or something like “Ice Road Truckers”. I finally found a station that played Italian music videos (from people like Zucchero) and stuck with that. It greatly improved my understanding of Italian and appreciation of Italian pop music.

    I particularly love the translation you listed for “The Producers”!


    • gooddayrome October 19, 2014 at 19:00 #

      The Italians have definitely embraced TV selling, i.e., QVC, as well as game shows, The Voice, etc. I wonder though about the impression they get of America through some of our more bizarre exports!


  5. gooddayrome October 19, 2014 at 17:13 #

    Thanks Marcia! It was fun to research and write, too.


  6. Marcia Kakiuchi October 19, 2014 at 17:00 #

    I totally enjoyed reading this post about movie translations!


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