Street Appeal: The Meanings in Addresses as Movie Titles

By  · Published on March 9th, 2016

New Line Productions, Inc.

Two of my niche film studies interests come together this week with the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane: movie locations and movie titles. The former just goes along with my general love of geography, plus the study of the importance of place and space in cinema, both physically and virtually. The latter is something I just take too seriously, the naming of creative works and how they ought to have real significance to what they’re attached to. I guess it’s related to my experience in both academic and blog writing and needing to establish the work with a clever but pointed title or headline.

10 Cloverfield Lane, of course, is titled after its location, a farm house with that specific street address. Well, it’s the setting, not the place it was shot. There’s a difference. And you need to be careful when naming a movie after a street address. Like having a telephone number not starting with a 555 prefix, it could invite unwanted breaches in privacy for whomever it belongs to in real life. As far as I’ve been able to tell through Google Maps searches, though, there is no actual 10 Cloverfield Lane anywhere in the world. There are plenty of Cloverfield Lanes, but somehow no residences or businesses are at number 10.

And as far as I know before seeing the movie, the address title of 10 Cloverfield Lane has no real meaning other than to tell us it’s set at the fictional place. Also the main part of the title ties it ever so vaguely (and slightly, if at all, narratively?) to 2008’s Cloverfield, the name of which had no substantial meaning to begin with. But the title got me thinking about otherss that are so specific in their street location. Most have greater significance than just the stamp of a random number, name, road type. I’ve tried to classify them all from most meaningful to least below.

The Metaphorical Moniker: A Nightmare on Elm Street

One of my favorite street-named movie titles, albeit without specific number location, is A Nightmare on Elm Street, and admittedly that initially had to do with the fact that I lived on an Elm Street as a kid. But “Elm Street” is a lot more than just a common, easily identifiable yet general place ‐ the 15th most common street name in the US, in fact. It wouldn’t work as well as A Nightmare on Main Street, however, because that’s just too generic. “Elm Street” sounds more suburban, and also there’s a connotation of shadiness. Something going on in the shadows of suburbia.

But why Elm and not the more popular Oak, Pine, Maple or Cedar? That may have to do with the specific Elm Street in Pottsdam, New York. A Nightmare on Elm Street writer/director Wes Craven taught at Clarkson University in Pottsdam and the story goes that his students would film horror spoofs at a particular fraternity house on Elm. But Craven always denied such origins. I’m therefore inclined to accept the metaphorical reasoning for the title, and the reason for Elm specifically would seem to me to be about the other trees having additional, potentially confusing meanings. Elm is more exact, simple.

The Broadly Specific: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Going more specific than most in its use of an address, Chantal Ackerman’s feminist classic is also quite symbolic in a broader sense. Like the film, it’s long and very precise. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles indicates a certain location, one that actually exists in Brussels. But it’s also an address that’s rather ordinary, much like the activity of its ordinary character for most of the movie’s 200-minute running time. Vincent Canby stated it perfectly at the start of his 1983 review: “Like its blunt title, [Jeanne Dielman] deals in unadorned facts. “

The Broadly Representational: Wall Street

A lot of non-numbered address location titles are set in either Los Angeles or New York City and they offer an immediate idea of fairly specific setting with an even more specific feeling. We know these streets almost as well as we know the cities themselves. LA’s got Sunset Blvd. and Mulholland Dr., while NYC’s got 42nd Street and anything with Broadway in the name, Pickup on South Street, Across 110th Street, the quite precise Miracle on 34th Street and of course Wall Street. The last refers to a particular spot in Manhattan but also an abstract idea related to what happens there, namely of money and capitalism.

The Cool Slang Name: 21 Jump Street

Columbia Pictures

The literal meaning of the title of the TV series 21 Jump Street, which was later adapted into a movie of the same name, is that address is where the undercover police division is housed. And there are actual Jump Streets in the world, including one in North Georgia. But the address for the title wasn’t chosen at random. “Jump Street” is urban street slang for the start, as in the phrase “I knew this movie would be funny from jump street.” It comes from African-American culture in the 1970s and mainly referred to poor place of origin but in the show’s context could more likely mean a case’s beginnings.

As for the precise number of the address, that’s clearly to do with an age of adulthood. Although 18 is legal adulthood age, there are still 18 year olds in high school, but 21 has a definitive indication of being grown up, able to drink and everything. The main characters of 21 Jump Street are police officers in their early 20s (the actors playing them were 20 to 24) posing as high schoolers. Someone could have literally stated at some point, “I knew you guys were really 21 from jump street.” Amusingly, the sequel 22 Jump Street explains its change in title address with the headquarters moving across the street.

The Real Place: 84 Charing Cross Road

Sometimes the address in the title is chosen because it’s a real place, the movie tells a true story and it’s set in that location. There’s Murder at 1600, the number referring to the Pennsylvania Avenue address of the White House, and there’s 10 Rillington Place, about real murders occurring at that London home (I’ve seen the Cloverfield Lane number claimed as reference to that film) and there’s 51 Birch Street, a documentary by Doug Block about his parents who lived at that spot. The best use of such an address, however, is 84 Charing Cross Road because it has additional relevance. It’s a film about a correspondence by mail. The real place with that address now, by the way, is a McDonald’s.


Randomly Named Spot in a Crime Thriller: 99 River Street

The most common use for an address title is with crime films. We can go back at least far as the 1928 Universal crime comedy 13 Washington Square, but mostly it’s the serious variety, such as 711 Ocean Drive, Fifteen Maiden Lane, 13 West Street and 99 River Street. Many are set in NYC but don’t have the easily pictured neighborhood the way Pickup on South Street does. Set across the river in New Jersey, 99 River Street came out the same year as that one and it’s the best example because it’s such a great film yet also an all-bases-covered sort of noir, complete with the address title. Narratively the fictional place is significant, but that’s all there is to the name.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.