Film or book titles which are commonly used as metaphors

I was listening to a radio report on health care reform when a commentator compared the debate to the film Groundhog Day. I’ve heard this film used to refer to events which seem to repeat themselves frequently.

The film Wag the Dog has been used to suggest a leader trying to misdirect public attention regarding a scandal. When Clinton launched cruise missiles during the Lewinsky scandal, everyone accused him of wagging the dog.
(big faker. No one ever heard from that Bin Laden guy ever again!)

Any other titles that can be used like this?


Rambo – a person who wants to solve things by violence.

I thought the term “the tail wagging the dog” had been around a while before the film.

It has, but that means the subservient leading the dominant. Cite

Obviously, the title of the film borrows from that idiom. However, in this case, it evolves to mean specifically an overt act to distract attention from a public scandal.

Catch-22 and Rambo are great examples.

I’ve also seen people say they are gonna go Scarface on someone, but I’m not sure that counts.

Elmer Gantry
The Ugly American
Scrooge (OK, he was in A Christmas Carol)

An early example would be Frankenstein, in the sense of a creation that destroys its creator.

Also Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for an outwardly respectable person with a dark side.

How about “The Bible”? I guess the etymology refers to a generic “holy book.” It shifted to mean the guiding work of Christianity, and these days also gets applied to any definitive work/major book of instructions on nearly any other topic, as in “Oh, you have to buy his book, it’s the absolute bible of homebrewing.”

Moby Dick is pretty synonymous with an object of extreme obsession. Though technically people might be referring to the whale, rather than the book.

What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.

Many of these existed before the movie – Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Catch-22. The movies may have helped popularize them, but these metaphors were really created by the books.

Star Wars, used as a reference to SDI-type space-based systems, definitely isn’t based on any book. The Russians loved the metaphor, because it made the US look like warmongers for pushing it. As Ben Bova pointed out, in his day this would have been called a “Buck Rogers” device. I heard SF-type things called “Buck Rogers” devices as a kid, even though there hadn’t been a Buck Rogers movie in many decades, and the comic strip was obscure.*

*“Buck Rogers” doesn’t count – he existed as a book and a comic strip before they made the movie serial, and it was the comic strip that really lead to his popularity.

In the thread title, I include movies or books. Both are welcome. I was typing on my blackberry, so the word book was not in the OP for the sake of brevity.

Peter Pan, for someone who never grows up.

Pinocchio, for a liar.

Gargantua, for anything gigantic.

Gaslighting, meaning to make someone doubt their own sanity. From the movie with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer (it was a play first).

“Godzilla” has gone one step further: it’s produced spin-offs in culture, all the “-zilla” terms like “bridezilla”.

Horror/SciFi has seems best at producing these. Lots of geeks use “The Matrix” to refer to their office “worlds” where the bosses view of reality doesn’t match those of the plebes.

“Heaven’s Gate” – used as a metaphor for a project that’s spun out of control and / or is way over budget.

Or, perhaps, for an artificial entity who wants to become “a real boy”. Riker uses the name in this sense when he first met Data in the NextGen pilot episode.

1984 crops up often when a new of planned government measure is deemed police state-ish.

Romeo and Juliet

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Paradise Lost (if you’ll accept that as a book)

Brave New World - yeah I know it’s Shakespeare, but I think the common metaphor comes from the book

Heart of Darkness (if you’ll accept that as a book)