How can the best idioms and most common phrases help screenwriters find their next screenplay stories and titles?
Movie titles matter. A great title can sum up the story of your screenplay in just a few words — which is great for the marketability of your script — or can conjure a story itself.
The Tom Hanks film Cast Away showcases a marketable title that sums up the concept and also has an intriguing dual meaning behind it. The main character is literally cast away from his world, specifically from the love of his fiance — and he literally becomes a castaway when his plane crashes, and he washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island. The title alone inspires the concept of a screenplay.
Learn how to master character names and movie titles with this free guide.
When you marry common idioms and phrases to screenplay titles, the results can offer an easily relatable title and a compelling wordplay to explore.
Read ScreenCraft's How to Write Screenplay Titles That Don’t Suck!
He's literally the Devil's advocate.
The title is taken from the phrase idle hands are the devil's workshop. In the film, a teenage slacker's right hand becomes possessed with murderous intent.
This title is intriguing because there are so many applicable meanings. The two characters are Americans in Japan and are constantly at battle with meanings of things that are lost in translation between American and Japanese culture and language. The saying also points to what is lost in translation between the relationship between the two characters. Is it love? Is it mentorship? Is it comradery between two individuals stuck searching for a place in life?
How You Can Use Idioms for Your Scripts
Wordplay is always a fun way to create great movie titles.
You can be literal, figurative, blunt, or ironic.
You can take portions of idioms and common phrases and use them to hint connections of theme, stories, and characters.
You can use them as launching pads for concepts, stories, and themes.
Here we feature some of the most common idioms and phrases — and their meanings — that you can play with to find that great title to your script or inspire that next compelling cinematic story or television series. We'll also include some fun ideas and tips to get your creative juices flowing.
1. Bob's Your Uncle
It's as simple as that.
A comedy about some strange guy named Bob that may or may not be a character's uncle?
2. Blue in the Face
Weakened or tired after trying many times.
Possibly a great title for a biopic of The Blue Man Group or a unique story about a character trying to be part of that strange performance group?
3. A Storm in a Tea Cup
A big fuss made about something of little importance.
An excellent title for a drama that touches on characters making a big idea out of nothing, or quite the contrary.
4. Hold Your Horses
Wait a minute.
A comedy about a big city character being left a horse ranch in a will?
5. Kick the Bucket
A story about a character that sees life as it would be if they had died?
6. Head in the Clouds
Living in a fantasy.
A possible fantasy that literally takes place in the clouds?
7. Pardon My French
Sorry for cursing.
A French exchange student tries to navigate mid-80s America?
8. When Pigs Fly
That will never happen.
An alternative version of Dumbo, but with pigs on a pig farm trying to escape a slaughter farm?
9. Cat Got Your Tongue
You're unable to speak.
A body-switch comedy where a woman and her cat switch bodies?
10. Chew the Fat
Chat in a friendly way.
The Big Chill via adults attending a weight loss camp?
11. Fish Out of Water
Someone in unfamiliar surroundings.
A young mermaid princess is allowed to walk the Earth for a single day.
12. All Talk and No Trousers
Someone who talks big but doesn’t take action.
Perhaps take either half of this phrase as a title and showcase a character that finally takes action?
13. More Holes than Swiss Cheese
Something that has a lot of problems.
A dramedy entitled Swiss Cheese that centers on a character with multiple issues?
14. Sharp as a Marble
Describing someone who isn't that smart or witty.
A drama or comedy about a character nicknamed The Marble?
15. Hot Potato
An issue which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed.
A political comedy detailing the ridiculousness of politics?
16. Penny for Your Thoughts
A way of asking what someone is thinking.
A story about a lonely suburban turn-key child in the Eighties that sets up a booth offering a service where neighbors can share their most inner thoughts?
17. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
People's intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.
An inspiring drama entitled Louder Than Words about a mute boy that runs for class president?
18. Add Insult to Injury
To further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavorable situation.
A comedy entitled Insult to Injury about a once-promising football star that gets injured?
19. At the Drop of a Hat
Without any hesitation.
A series of multiple storylines connected around the moment during high school graduation where graduates throw their graduation hats in the air and drop to the ground?
20. Back to the Drawing Board
When an attempt fails and it's time to start all over.
A movie entitled The Drawing Board that tells the story of a recently laid-off businessman who decides to pursue his dream of becoming an animation artist?
21. Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Looking in the wrong place or accusing the wrong person.
Either an animated feature about a lost dog or a detective series about an investigator that always gets the dangerous cases?
22. Beating Around the Bush
Avoiding the main topic or not speaking directly about the issue.
A recently divorced woman decides to venture through the dangerous "Bush" of Australia?
23. Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
A good invention or innovation. A good idea or plan.
A film called Sliced Bread that tells the story of an inventor searching for the next big invention?
24. Blessing in Disguise
Something good that isn't recognized at first.
An action flick about a master-of-disguise spy that finds true love?
25. Burn the Midnight Oil
To work late into the night.
The story of a man obsessed with finding the next great oil field?
26. An Arm and a Leg
The story of a military veteran dealing with what he's lost in war?
27. Cross That Bridge When You Come to It
Deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.
A drama entitled Cross That Bridge about a troubled man that must face his past.
28. Cry Over Spilt Milk
Complaining about a loss from the past.
A drama entitled Spilt Milk about a troubled woman who can't let go of the past — until she meets a man struggling with the same dilemma?
29. Cut Corners
When something is done badly to save money.
The story of a contractor who always cut corners in the houses he was hired to build, only to be sued and sentenced to live in one of those terrible houses?
30. Cut the Mustard
To succeed, live up to expectations, or become adequate enough to compete or participate.
The story of a lowly hot dog vendor at a Major League Baseball team stadium that tries out for the team in open trials?
31. Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures
When you are extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.
An action feature either called Drastic Times or Drastic Measures that that deals with a desperate character taking desperate actions.
32. Elvis Has Left the Building
The show has come to an end. It's all over.
A biopic of the late icon or an original story about a fan discovering someone in their neighborhood that might be an elderly Elvis that faked his own death to escape the pressures of fame?
33. Far Cry From
Very different from.
A little boy discovers a strange creature in the night that is very different from anything anyone has ever encountered?
34. Under the Weather
A story about a weatherman battling a local station competitor for the biggest story?
35. Benefit of Doubt
Believe someone's statement, without proof.
A series about a lawyer that takes on the most difficult defense cases?
36. In the Heat of the Moment
Overwhelmed by what is happening in the moment.
A quirky dramedy about a woman dealing with the pressures of life while suffering from extreme anxiety?
37. It Takes Two to Tango
Actions or communications need more than one person.
An easy title for a romantic comedy about two singles who take Tango lessons?
38. Jump on the Bandwagon
Join a popular trend or activity.
A period piece called The Bandwagon about a group of hippies that take a van to Woodstock?
39. Keep Something at Bay
Keep something away.
A contained horror-thriller called At Bay about a family defending their small island cabin from strange creatures?
40. Kill Two Birds with One Stone
Accomplishing two different things at the same time.
A suspense-thriller entitled One Stone about a hitman who is hired to kill two rival gang leaders?
41. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Do not disturb a situation as it to avoid trouble or complications.
A series called Sleeping Dogs about an investigation into a criminal family?
42. Method to My Madness
Despite one's seemingly random approach, there actually is structure.
A horror feature entitled Method to Madness about a serial killer?
43. On the Ball
When someone understands the situation well.
The story of a professional basketball player going back to his inner-city roots to rediscover his passion for the game?
44. Once in a Blue Moon
Something that happens rarely.
Strange things begin to happen when the moon turns blue?
45. Picture Paints a Thousand Words
A visual presentation that is far more descriptive than words.
A movie called A Thousand Words about a man who falls in love with a woman in a painting and tasks himself to find her in real life?
46. Piece of Cake
Something that is easy or simple.
Two women decide to open a cake store after they leave their husbands that had affairs?
47. On the Fence
Not wanting to make a decision.
A story about a Texas ranch worker that finds immigrants crossing the border just beyond his boss's ranch fence?
48. Speak of the Devil
When the person you have just been talking about arrives.
Okay, this has been used a lot. But we'll give it a go.
The story of a character that jokes about making a deal with the Devil for something, only to see the Devil himself appear with contract-in-hand?
49. Straight From the Horse's Mouth
To hear something directly from the source.
A political thriller entitled The Horse's Mouth that features a character trying to find out the truth about a political conspiracy?
50. Wouldn't Be Caught Dead
Would never do that.
A movie entitled Caught Dead about a character that is forced to do things he said he'd never do?
Inspiration is always a thrill to find. And sometimes screenwriters can find it by looking in the strangest places. Hopefully, these 50 idioms have inspired you to find creative ways to title and conceptualize your next scripts!
What ones did we miss?
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies