The Steven Seagal films with too many words in their titles

Under Siege
Share this Article:

Steven Seagal once reportedly had a bee in his bonnet about the names of his films being three words long. Might he have had a point?


Try three issues of Film Stories magazine – for just £1: right here!

Not including sequels, what are the three biggest-grossest films of Steven Seagal’s movie career?

It’s not a quiz question, I’ll tell you. Going on global numbers, they’re 1992’s Under Siege, 1996’s Executive Decision and 2001’s Exit Wounds. And those three films have something in common.

Again, not a quiz question. They each have two words in the title. Just a random piece of trivia? Sure. But as it turns out, it may just have been the source of some disagreements between star and studio.

After all, the majority of Steven Seagal-headlined theatrically-releases films have three words in their names: the likes of Marked For Death, Out For Justice, On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below and such like. Yet it’s the two-worders that outgross them. And this had been something of a bugbear for Seagal himself.

“I always hated the fact that the studios insisted on using three-word titles”, he told Variety all the way back in 1992. “It was always their idea”.


Now growing up, I always thought the template for naming a Seagal film was fairly clear. Something pretty dramatic, or suggesting menace, backsides being kicked, or wrongs being righted. Thus, reading an article that Seagal was grumbling? My original instinct was to dismiss it, and not just because Steven Seagal has in more recent times turned into Steven Seagal.

Yet the thing is, 1990s Steven Seagal might just have had a point.

Let’s look at the film Out For Justice. That was going under a different name for some time until 1990s Warner Bros marketing bosses decided that fewer words were needed. The title for a while was The Price Of Our Blood, and the changing of that did not put Mr Seagal in the best of moods. “My original title was a real Mafia title and related to the film”, he insisted to Variety. “Then they decided to put the other title on it, which didn’t have much to do with the film”. The resultant box office of Out For Justice? A solid $39m, and a comfortable profit for the studio. Yet it was a few dollars down on the previous year’s Marked For Death, the second most successful three word titled film of Seagal’s career.

But Warner Bros, at least until 1992, was unrepentant. “All of the titles had that certain Steven Seagal ring to them”, a studio marketing source insisted. “As soon as you heard the title, you knew what you were getting. Studio marketing people always felt that this was one more way to sell one of his films”.

Steven Seagal movie titles

True. But then, from leftfield, came a gamechanger.

The most successful film – in box office terms at least – of Seagal’s career arrived in 1992. He would play a cook who just happened to also double up as an asskicker, and it’d be directed by Andrew Davis, who’d follow it up with The Fugitive. The film in question? It was called Dreadnought. Only it wasn’t! Because that was the original title of the film in question, and of course it’d turn into Under Siege – the first two-word title of Seagal’s career – by the time it made it into cinemas.

But, guess what? Warner Bros at one stage wanted to triple the length of the film’s original name. The cads. After Dreadnought didn’t test well in market research, the latest wheeze was Last To Surrender, a moniker that Warner Bros also sounded people out about. Neither screenwriter and executive producer Jonathan Lawton, nor Seagal himself, were in any way impressed.

In fact, Seagal wrote Warner Bros a letter over the proposal to call his new film Last To Surrender. Seagal said no, bluntly. As Lawton reasoned, “the marketing department felt that Steven was always in movies with three-word titles and they didn’t want to change. We really wanted to try something else”.

And they got their way. The movie sailed – arf – into cinemas in 1992, and promptly banked $83m in the US alone, and a further $73m – double arf – overseas. There was little argument when the sequel came along and had a longer title – Under Siege 2: Dark Territory – but at least that had an actual number two in it, so it doesn’t entirely ruin this article. Over $100m was brought in worldwide.

Given that Seagal was so passionate about two word titles though, it’s surprising he didn’t double down on this. In fact, Double Down would have been a great title, thinking about it. His next film would be his directorial debut, and that’d be called, er, On Deadly Ground. Firmly reverting to formula, the $50m budgeted film (yep) squeaked a living when it earned $78m worldwide, but who knows what would have happened if, say, the word ‘on’ had been dropped from the poster.

But! Whaddya know, it turns out the original name for the movie was just two words long, and Warner Bros changed it. The film was at one stage going to be called Rainbow Warrior when Seagal originally got involved, but altered by the time cinemagoers got to see it.

In fairness, there are mitigating factors behind Seagal’s other two-word hits. He wasn’t the star attraction in the fun Executive Decision after all, and wasn’t even top billed. And then, for 2001’s Exit Wounds, the movie’s draw was said to be more his co-star, the late rapper DMX, than that bloke who could knock up a souffle whilst punching your bastard face in.

What’s followed since is inconclusive evidence. Seagal hasn’t had anything close to a hit in cinemas for over a decade – the last serious venture was 2010’s Machete – and the overwhelming majority of his contemporary film work would only see the inside of a cinema if someone stuck a DVD in a carrier bag and smuggled it in with them. Bluntly, it doesn’t matter how many words have featured in the titles of motion pictures such as End Of A Gun (way too many), Beyond The Law, Attrition, Sniper Special Ops or Born To Raise Hell, the hard truth for Seagal is that the main audience for his work in recent times appears to have been the Russian state.

If only he’d kept things simple. What, for instance, if 2005’s Today You Die has just been called You Die? Surely that was all that was holding it back from box office gold. He must be kicking himself. Although given the state of his last few films, he’d probably hire a stuntman to do it for him…

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this