Darmok and Gwyneth Paltrow at Tanagra [OT]

Cidu Bill on Sep 6th 2017

B. A.: Not for the first time, I heard a reference today to a “Sliding Doors moment,” in a manner suggesting that the writer of the article expected most readers to understand the reference without further context. This made me wonder what other movie titles might have entered our collective consciousness as metaphors.

I’m not talking about well-known quotes, but film titles that are now part of our culture but wouldn’t have meant anything on their own before the film (or, if you’re going to be picky, the book the film was based on) came out.

Sophie’s Choice and It’s a Wonderful Life come to mind from very opposite directions.

Filed in Bill Bickel, Sliding Doors | 68 responses so far

68 Responses to “Darmok and Gwyneth Paltrow at Tanagra [OT]”

  1. Cidu Bill Sep 6th 2017 at 11:13 pm 1

    Twelve Angry Men (even though most people use it incorrectly: the kid wasn’t necessarily innocent)

  2. James Pollock Sep 6th 2017 at 11:15 pm 2

    “Fifty Shades”

  3. James Pollock Sep 6th 2017 at 11:17 pm 3

    “China Syndrome”

  4. Rick Sep 6th 2017 at 11:45 pm 4

    Strangers on a Train.

  5. Rick Sep 6th 2017 at 11:52 pm 5

    Groundhog Day.
    Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None.

  6. Stan Sep 7th 2017 at 12:14 am 6

    The Matrix

  7. Brent Sep 7th 2017 at 12:23 am 7

    I had to look up “Sliding Doors”… I’m guessing it’s like “Groundhog Day”, referring to a trope that had been done before many times in SF but the movie brought it to the masses. Everything else here I’ve heard and understand.

    “Inception” seems to be another… I regularly find people using it to mean recursion because of the movie (which got it right, they just use it to represent the wrong device).

  8. James Pollock Sep 7th 2017 at 01:39 am 8

    “High Noon”
    Nearly any of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.
    “Triumph of the Will”
    “Batman and Robin” (A metaphor for ridiculous excess)
    “Eyes Wide Shut”
    “The Longest Day”
    “Full Metal Jacket”
    “Animal House”
    “Rebel Without a Cause”
    “Reefer Madness”
    “Casablanca” (More Americans know about the movie than could point to the city on a map, I bet).
    “Dr. Strangelove”

  9. Mona Sep 7th 2017 at 01:49 am 9

    I had to IMDB “Sliding Doors”. I have never heard of it before.

  10. Olivier Sep 7th 2017 at 02:23 am 10

    “Usual suspects”?

  11. fleabane Sep 7th 2017 at 03:19 am 11

    As an aside, I think “sliding doors” is a particularly interesting one in that the movie is not very well-known and poorly reviewed. And yet it evokes such a basic concept that the phrase has really caught on *without* the benefit of the movie itself.

    I think the phrase “groundhog’s day” also caught on without the benefit of the movie itself. But that’d be harder to argue as the movie is well-known.

    I think part of this is that imediately after the movie came out there was a Frasier and a Malcolm in the Middle episode on the sliding door theme. And after Groundhog day there were dozens of similar tv shows and sci-fi novels. In this cases the movies really only served as a method of anchoring the idea and not as ideal representations themselfs.

    Oddly enough that *didn’t* happen with Back to the Future which is only used to refer to the movie even though the theme has been down ad nueseum and usually refered to as “Back to the Future-like”.

  12. Arthur Sep 7th 2017 at 04:23 am 12

    I’m not 100% sure what B. A. had in mind, but here’s my list.
    But before the rest of my list, I have to mention Gaslight,
    which has even become a verb.

    Auntie Mame
    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    Flight of the Phoenix
    Galaxy Quest
    Home Alone
    Jurassic Park
    Manchurian Candidate
    Men in Black
    Mister Roberts
    Rain Man
    Red Dawn
    Risky Business
    Rosemary’s Baby
    Seven Samurai / The Magnificent Seven
    Sixth Sense
    The Truman Show

  13. Stan Sep 7th 2017 at 05:01 am 13

    Oh my god. Why didn’t I think of this earlier?

    Catch 22

  14. Kilby Sep 7th 2017 at 05:58 am 14

    @ Stan (13) - The question is, why didn’t everyone think of that earlier; it’s clearly the best answer so far!

  15. Carl Sep 7th 2017 at 06:26 am 15

    Going the other way, in July I discovered that not a single person in a roomful of high school juniors had seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

  16. narmitaj Sep 7th 2017 at 07:19 am 16

    Being There
    This is Spinal Tap (though usually just a “Spinal Tap” moment)
    Brazil (the Gilliam movie, not the country)
    2001: A Space Odyssey (”it all looked a bit 2001″)
    The Godfather
    Dr Strangelove
    The Terminator
    The Third Man (more a British spycraft concern)
    The Time Machine (more book than film though)
    Blade Runner (speaks of a certain futuristic urban milieu of rain and neon, completely at odds with the literal meaning of the words alone or in combination)
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Thelma and Louise
    Dog Day Afternoon
    Soylent Green
    Logan’s Run (the disposal of adults beyond their useful time)
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    Jurassic Park
    The Right Stuff
    Brief Encounter
    Wag the Dog (though probably the saying is better known than the film)

    and a newish one

    Ex_Machina (which, like Westworld, is the rather Philip K Dick concern about people, androids/robots, and what makes humans human).

    Many of these, like Close Encounters, Godfather and Brazil, are based on previously existing terms, but the films made the meaning either much better known or different - for instance, something that is a bit “Brazil” is a mad dystopian future, not a big South American country, and Godfather is some kind of criminal kingpin and not a relationship of mysteriously vague care duty provided by an unrelated adult to a friend’s new child. Others, like Dr Strangelove, Goldfinger and, I guess, Zelig, start from scratch.

    Some may be a bit obscure now, like Soylent Green (shorthand for overpopulation, food shortages and in the film, processed cannibalism - though that last was not in the book, Make Room! Make Room!).

  17. Divad Sep 7th 2017 at 08:27 am 17

    Strong second for Gaslight and Catch-22, prime examples of titles becoming words, Sophie’s Choice is up there too.

    And how about:
    Bad Day at Black Rock
    Field of Dreams
    National Lampoon’s Vacation
    Blues Brothers (and most of John Landis other films)
    and most of John Hughes.

  18. ty Sep 7th 2017 at 08:35 am 18

    I don’t believe I’d ever heard the term Bucket List before the film came out. Now it’s everywhere.

    I don’t think Usual Suspects qualifies, since it is from a quote from a previous movie, then a phrase on its own, then a movie title.

  19. Mitch4 Sep 7th 2017 at 08:50 am 19

    Yes, I think the popularity of the phrase “usual suspects” derives from “Casablanca” and not the much later film. At least in the form “round up the usual suspects”.
    Though I am not familiar with it, I suppose people could speak of “a Usual-Suspects deception” for the kind of indirection practiced in the later movie.

  20. Mitch4 Sep 7th 2017 at 09:00 am 20

    I really really hope people don’t think of “the butterfly effect” in terms of the movie with that title. It seemed to me to illustrate almost diametrically the opposite of what the phrase was meant to convey. The various causal/probability paths seemingly had an inertia to always converge on a fixed scene, just with some variables swapped around. The phrase should instead suggest a wild divergence.

  21. padraig Sep 7th 2017 at 09:17 am 21

    I think “Twilight Zone” and “Jaws” deserve special mention, because you don’t even have to say their names. Just “doot doot doot” out the theme music. You don’t even have to do “Twilight Zone” all that well to be understood.

  22. padraig Sep 7th 2017 at 09:18 am 22

    p.s. Nobody nominated “The Big Lebowski” yet?

  23. Irene Sep 7th 2017 at 09:40 am 23


  24. JHGRedekop Sep 7th 2017 at 10:06 am 24

    “Usual Suspects” — the movie — can be used to refer to a specific kind of unreliable narrator situation. This use is distinct from the “round up the usual suspects” situation.

  25. Olivier Sep 7th 2017 at 10:50 am 25

    “The good, the bad, and the ugly”.

  26. larK Sep 7th 2017 at 11:13 am 26

    To everyone trying to distinguish the movie “Brazil” from the country of the same name for what is meant by the reference — there’s absolutely no need! The reference fits the country to a T, anyone familiar with the country but not the movie would understand perfectly what was meant. Gilliam claims that he named the movie only because he had a vision of the movie with the song “Aquarela do Brasil” playing in his mind, but I find it dubious that he just randomly happened to connect those two; I think much more likely he was generally aware of “the country of the future (forever destined to remain so)” — someone like him was surely aware of Brasilia, the futuristic capital built by fiat by basically one architect in the 50s — what I mean is that unconsciously a stylistic, dystopic, out of control bureaucracy linked to Brazil the country in his mind, which linked to the song, which lead to one of the best interpretations of the song ever with typewriters — the theme song to the whole Brasilian bureaucratic system of cartórios, notary offices whose required stamps rule every aspect of the dystopia that is Brasil. To anyone at all familiar with Brasil, the above linked click perfectly captures it, no further knowledge of the film is necessary.

  27. Laurie Sep 7th 2017 at 12:14 pm 27

    The title of your post was great! I loved both the movie and the Star Trek episode!

  28. Mona Sep 7th 2017 at 02:26 pm 28

    I would say “The Sting”, but it meant what it means before the movie came out.

  29. James Pollock Sep 7th 2017 at 03:08 pm 29

    Not to be disrespectful to anyone, but at least half of the suggestions so far, I have no idea what the metaphor attached to the movie title is supposed to be. (This was also true of “Sliding Doors”, which I’d never heard of, as movie OR as metaphor.)

    This is particularly true of the longer lists. For example, of Arthur’s list at 12, I’d only list
    Home Alone
    Manchurian Candidate
    Men in Black
    Rain Man
    Rosemary’s Baby
    Seven Samurai / The Magnificent Seven
    Sixth Sense
    The Truman Show

    And I’d be hesitant on “Men in Black”, and “Psycho”, because I think those titles were already memetic before the movies (that is, the movies became iconic enough to occupy there title memes, but by displacing what was there before rather than creating something new. I eliminated “Red Dawn” for this reason, too.

    From narmitaj’s list at 17
    The Godfather
    Dr Strangelove
    The Terminator
    Thelma and Louise
    Soylent Green
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    The Right Stuff

    Westworld is a bit iffy.

    I’m curious if y’all looked at my long list and had similar reactions.

    Catch-22 and the Matrix, I agree, were obvious ones that I overlooked. And Star Wars.

  30. narmitaj Sep 7th 2017 at 06:42 pm 30

    1984 - though that was famous as a book before it was a couple of films.

  31. James Pollock Sep 7th 2017 at 07:13 pm 31

    Charlotte’s Web

  32. Ted from Ft. Laud Sep 7th 2017 at 07:22 pm 32

    While I recognize most of the film titles listed in this thread (though there’s a good number I haven’t actually seen), I’m not sure that I get the “meaning” of most of them (except as referents to the movie/story). Some - like Catch 22 - clearly have a specific meaning, but that was explicitly spelled out in the book/movie - it isn’t something that somehow just attached itself to that title from the movie to give it a metaphoric meaning. Some in these lists perhaps do, but most just strike me as fairly iconic movies whose title evoke those movies themselves, or are titled for things that evoked the metaphorical meaning even before the movie existed.

  33. Ted from Ft. Laud Sep 7th 2017 at 07:25 pm 33

    And when I can’t post a response for a couple of hours due to internet problems, I should probably go back to see if someone else said pretty much exactly what I was going to say in the interim, before I go ahead and try posting again…

  34. Singapore Bill Sep 7th 2017 at 10:10 pm 34

    I’m surprised to not see Fatal Attraction. “She went Fatal Attraction on him.”

    Sliding Doors is not good, but this is the second reference to it I’ve run into in the last few days. Can’t recall hearing the reference before that.

  35. Singapore Bill Sep 7th 2017 at 10:12 pm 35

    Hey, B.A., did you hear it on the Hello Internet podcast? If so, it would only be one reference, really.

  36. B.A. Sep 7th 2017 at 10:27 pm 36

    Oddly enough, Singapore Bill, what inspired the question wasn’t Hello Internet, but rather Hello Saferide :

    The relevant line, which is a little hard to make out, is “It’s my scariest sliding doors memory.”

  37. Mark in Boston Sep 7th 2017 at 11:17 pm 37

    I’m just not seeing the metaphors, with a few exceptions. “Manchurian Candidate” is a metaphor now, because of the movie, but “The Right Stuff” was a metaphor before the movie. Who uses “Psycho” as a metaphor because of the movie? It’s not a metaphor; it’s a slang term for a psychopath. It was so before the movie, and it is now.

    Here’s what I consider a real one: Sometimes in software development, a person is told to interact with a computer that is running an application that is under development. In actuality, the computer display is controlled by a human in another room. For instance, the test subject speaks into a microphone: “What is the capital of Italy?” and the human in the other room types “Rome.”

    This is called a “Wizard of Oz interface” because it’s all run by the “man behind the curtain.”

  38. Mark in Boston Sep 7th 2017 at 11:28 pm 38

    I would count “Romeo and Juliet” as a metaphor because of the play. It’s been made into a movie, but it was a metaphor before movies were invented.

    Certainly “Lolita”, but more because of the book than the movie. I think many more people have read the book than seen the movie.

    If TV shows count, then “The Brady Bunch”. After my mother died, my father, who had three children, married a divorced woman who had three children. We were a real “Brady Bunch”, metaphorically speaking. There were a lot of people to fit into a three-bedroom house, but I was in college so I was only home during the summers.

  39. Dave in Boston Sep 8th 2017 at 12:12 am 39

    I would like to nominate the phrase “episode one”.

  40. Arthur Sep 8th 2017 at 12:35 am 40

    Who uses “Psycho” as a metaphor because of the movie?

    Anyone who’s been afraid to take a shower.

  41. James Pollock Sep 8th 2017 at 01:05 am 41

    “but ‘The Right Stuff’ was a metaphor before the movie.”

    It was, but the book brought it to the mainstream, where it hadn’t been, before.

    “Who uses ‘Psycho’ as a metaphor because of the movie?”

    The word psycho meant “psychopathic person”, usually “killer” before the movie.

    After the movie, it means “don’t get in the shower”.

  42. Cidu Bill Sep 8th 2017 at 01:07 am 42


  43. Rick Sep 8th 2017 at 01:24 am 43

    The Perfect Storm, perhaps.

  44. Cidu Bill Sep 8th 2017 at 02:35 am 44

    I think “perfect storm,” though popularized by the movie, pre-dated it by a couple centuries.

  45. James Pollock Sep 8th 2017 at 03:47 am 45

    “I think ‘perfect storm,’ though popularized by the movie, pre-dated it by a couple centuries.”


    The term came to prominence with the movie, and I don’t remember ever hearing it earlier.

    I didn’t see it, and there’s a better “perfect storm” in the novel “Heavy Weather”, by Bruce Sterling.

  46. Cidu Bill Sep 8th 2017 at 05:01 am 46

    OED, looked it up earlier this evening

  47. Dr Steve Sep 8th 2017 at 06:05 am 47

    JP #2: The term “China Syndrome” has been used facetiously by nuclear engineers since the 1950’s. It meant, as mentioned in the eponymous movie, a nuclear reactor meltdown so bad that the molten nuclear fuel would melt its way through the reactor vessel and the containment building to the center of the earth on onto China. (Technically, from the US such a meltdown would end up in the southern Pacific Ocean!)

  48. Tracy Sep 8th 2017 at 12:44 pm 48

    Rain Man

  49. Tracy Sep 8th 2017 at 01:07 pm 49

    Ug, my last one’s been done.

    How about the widely accepted fake holiday - May the fourth.

  50. Lola Sep 8th 2017 at 07:02 pm 50

    Tracy - as in May the fourth be with you?

  51. Lola Sep 8th 2017 at 07:11 pm 51

    Curious Yellow

  52. Mark in Boston Sep 8th 2017 at 09:00 pm 52

    Is “Deep Throat” (the early-70’s X-rated movie) a metaphor, as in “She deep-throated him”?

    I think it’s not a metaphor, because it is a description of the act itself.

    The Watergate “Deep Throat” was called that because (a) he was “deep” in with the people involved, (b) he talked, as a throat does, and (c) it’s funny to call someone “Deep Throat”, because of the movie. So I would say that that use of “Deep Throat” is metaphorical.


    “She deep-throated him.” — Not a metaphor.

    “I heard from my Deep Throat that there’s going to be a layoff.” — Metaphor

    For the record, the name of the Watergate movie, and the book it came from, is “All the President’s Men”. This is a take-off on an earlier book and movie title, “All the King’s Men”, which thereby became a metaphor if it wasn’t before.

  53. Stan Sep 8th 2017 at 09:11 pm 53

    “How about the widely accepted fake holiday - May the fourth.”

    May the 4th is actually a big deal in the city I where I’m living here in China at the moment (Qingdao). In fact, there’s an entire square and statue dedicated to that day.

    Granted, it’s got nothing to do with any type of metaphor we’re discussing here. Still, I thought this may be an interesting bit of trivia and perhaps a new destination for the bucket list of any hardcore Star Wars fan.

  54. Arthur Sep 8th 2017 at 11:56 pm 54

    How about the widely accepted fake holiday - May the fourth.

    I’m not sure why you think this is more fake than most other
    holidays. For instance, Kwanzaa has become fairly mainstream,
    but it was deliberately created from nothing other than a desire
    to have a holiday celebration.

  55. James Pollock Sep 9th 2017 at 12:57 am 55

    ” it was deliberately created from nothing other than a desire
    to have a holiday celebration.”

    Um… all holidays were deliberately created from nothing other than a desire to have a holiday celebration.

    Give people an excuse to drink beer and have fun, and you shouldn’t be surprised if some folks take you up on the deal. People who aren’t even Scots celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and Americans celebrate the fifth of May without even knowing what they’re celebrating (it’s the defeat of the French… yes, French… army at the battle of Puebla.)

  56. Winter Wallaby Sep 9th 2017 at 02:05 am 56

    Stan #51: I was familiar with the Chinese May the 4th, and was baffled by Tracy’s comment - I had to Google to find the May the 4th that she was referring to.

    Of course, the other significant Chinese date in May is May 35th, which is technically not even in May. . .

  57. B.A. Sep 9th 2017 at 02:17 am 57

    May the 4th is just a joke, isn’t it? Like Talk Like a Pirate Day.

  58. Arthur Sep 9th 2017 at 02:26 am 58

    B.A., Google gets “About 2,250,000 results” for “star wars day”.

  59. Ted from Ft. Laud Sep 9th 2017 at 02:34 am 59

    Mind you, Google gets “About 3,220,000 results” for “Talk Like a Pirate Day” - I’m not sure what either of those facts indicate.

  60. Kilby Sep 9th 2017 at 03:36 am 60

    @ Ted (57) - Google produces 3 million results for “talk like a pirate day” only if you leave off the quotes: the resulting pages may contain any combination of those words in any order, and there is no guarantee that all of them will be present. If you put the phrase in quotes (so that the entire phrase has to be present), then the number of results drops down to just below 1 million.

  61. B.A. Sep 9th 2017 at 04:08 am 61

    “A joke” in the sense that nobody’s pretending it’s a real holiday, the same way nobody’s pretending The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real deity: That doesn’t mean either concept isn’t both popular and amusing.

  62. Brent Sep 9th 2017 at 06:06 am 62

    @James Pollack (53): Traditionally people would be creating holidays out of the desire to attend to the religious observances already there (which is a celebration). Creating them out of the desire of making a celebration is backwards to that. Not that it matters… that’s certainly the way things are done now.

    And St. Patrick is the Irish patron… Scots do St. Andrew’s and Burns Night, which haven’t caught on so much with other groups.

  63. James Pollock Sep 9th 2017 at 11:16 am 63

    “Traditionally people would be creating holidays out of the desire to attend to the religious observances already there”

    And the “religious observances” were opportunities to party. Saturnalia, anyone? Harvest festival? Thanksgiving?

    “And St. Patrick is the Irish patron”

    St. Patrick, however, was NOT Irish. Did you miss the theme of taking someone else’s holidays and making them your own?

  64. Winter Wallaby Sep 9th 2017 at 11:48 am 64

    . . .nobody’s pretending The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real deity.


  65. James Pollock Sep 9th 2017 at 12:21 pm 65

    “nobody’s pretending The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real deity”

    As real as any other.
    His Noodly Appendages are seen in many forms, and go by many names.

  66. Meryl A Sep 13th 2017 at 02:25 am 66

    Yes, there is a sliding doors type Frasier episode. Husband is currently watching the reruns every night and we have seen the entire series about 4 times in a row - and the Saturday and Sunday night (okay, technically early Sunday/Monday am) are running in their own sequence. And I mean we are watching RIGHT now.

    Husband does not remember seeing the movie Sliding Doors though.

  67. Meryl A Sep 13th 2017 at 02:30 am 67

    This comes up related to other media - depending on whether one thinks of the books or TV shows - I have heard references to Little House on the Prairie in a similar vein, to mean the late 1800s (or “olden times”)

  68. Olivier Sep 18th 2017 at 05:47 am 68


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