Anagram Movie Reviews, F.A.Q. / by William Poundstone

My Twitter feed (@WPoundstone) is devoted almost entirely to anagram movie reviews. In case that's not self-explanatory, I rearrange the letters of a movie's title to get a short commentary on the movie. 


Let me answer a few questions I get from readers. First—

Why anagram movie reviews?

I joined Twitter in April 2009. I wasn't a big social media person, but the 140-character limit struck me as an interesting challenge. In the early years Twitter users were trying to figure out what to do with it (I guess they still are). My idea was anagram movie reviews. It fits in 140 characters, and there's a constant stream of new material.

My friend Larry Hussar and I had been playing this game long before Twitter. We would occasionally send each other movie title anagrams by e-mail. The premise wasn't original with us. We'd seen an article on it somewhere (in Games magazine?) The one I remember was THE TOWERING INFERNO = NOT WORTH FIRE ENGINE. That's definitely a classic to live up to.

I figured, Larry and I were already wasting time with this, so why not share the results with others? 

How do you come up those anagrams?

I cheat. Meaning, I use a website, One Across Anagram Search. You type in a word or phrase and it gives you every possible anagram. Sometimes hundreds—pick any you like. I am more an editor than a creator of anagrams.

OK, it's not quite that simple. Sometimes you have to play around, try an actor's name or slang that's not in the website's dictionary. Sometimes there so many potential anagrams that you have to filter them by a word or two you think you want to use (TOM and ASININE for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE—ROGUE NATION).

Larry does anagrams by hand, on paper—and even occasionally in his head. I lack that kind of patience. 

Which movies work best?

Well, it's easier to be funny when the movie is really bad. I do prioritize films where there's already critical blood in the water. (Rotten Tomatoes is useful in this regard.)

Long titles help, obviously. Some titles just happen to have an optimal combination of letters, allowing an unexpected profusion of anagrams. Examples were A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (= SEE WILY INDIAN SHOOT LAME TWIT; HEY, WIT WAS ALL TOO MID-NINETIES, etc.) and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (TOO-IMPORTANT THUG CAST; I'M ATOP CUTTHROAT TONGS, etc.)

Why don't you use hashtags (#AnagramMovieReviews)?

In the early days of Twitter, I worried that hashtags might be confusing to new users. Though that's no longer the case, I still feel that 98 percent of hashtag usage is a typographic cry for attention, like using all caps or Comic Sans. (And I already use all-caps for movie titles and anagrams.) I don't imagine that many people want to search for anagram movie reviews, and those who do know they don't need a hashtag to do so. 

What's "Does the Dog Die (dot com)"?

It's an entirely earnest website intended to tell parents whether a movie shows the death of a pet—in case their kids would be upset. I've found that the site also reviews violent grown-up movies from the bizarre perspective of someone who only cares whether an animal dies. I occasionally post DTDD reviews as a parallel example of film-reviewing-under-absurd-constraint.

What don't you like about movies today?

Easy question. I don't like sequels with numbers in the title. Sometimes I can work it in but it always seems forced. 

On other other hand, I have no problem with the "pretentious" use of Roman numerals in sequel titles, as the I's are simply folded into the letter set.

What's your favorite anagram review?

I suppose that the anagrams that please me most are not necessarily the one that please my Twitter followers. I like this one, one of my shortest: