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Mad Lib Thriller Title
Many spy, thriller, and speculative fiction novels follow a specific formula in their titles;

  1. The...
  2. Noun or person's name, often something esoteric and classical that sounds like it could be code for something (often Gratuitous Greek).
  3. Noun with political or symbolic undertones.

This creates a feeling of conspiracy, like the reader has just glimpsed the title on a sealed manila folder and now needs to dig through the secrets of powerful men to discover... just what is The Antigone Cypher?

Compare The Crime Job and The Case Of. The Mad Lib Fantasy Title is another genre's version of this, but while the Fantasy title is likely to have specific words in it, it's not necessarily a three-part formula.

A random title generator following this formula is here.


  • Robert Ludlum did this almost exclusively:
    • The Bourne...
      • Identity
      • Supremacy
      • Ultimatum
      • Not written by Ludlum:
      • Legacy
      • Betrayal
      • Sanction
      • Deception
      • Objective
      • Dominion
      • Imperative
    • The Parsifal Mosaic
    • The Hades Factor
    • The Janson Directive
    • The Sigma Protocol
    • The Aquitaine Progression
    • The Prometheus Deception
    • The Icarus Agenda
    • The Holcroft Covenant
    • The Scarlatti Inheritance
      • Parodied in Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 405 ("Being from Another Planet"). During the film a bookshelf is shown, and Joel and the 'Bots begin rattling off a Long List of fictional titles from "the Ludlum library".
      • Ludlum also parodied it himself, by having one character write bestselling thrillers which always have a single-word title connected to the action like "TANK!" or "SHARK!" — other characters comment on how predictable he is for it.
      • Also parodied in Series 4 Episode 6 of Armando Iannuccis Charm Offensive, which had a round called "The Bourne Ulti-Ludlum" whereby panel members drew [the] + [normal noun] + [exotic noun] from hats to create titles like "The Byzantium Potato". "Who thinks potato is an exotic noun?"
  • The Middle Man (along with The Big Bang Theory) does this for EVERY EPISODE:
    • The Pilot Episode Sanction
    • The Accidental Occidental Conception
    • The Sino-Mexican Revelation
    • The Manicoid Teleportation Conundrum
    • The Flying Fish Zombification
    • The Boy Band Superfan Interrogation
    • The Cursed Tuba Contingency
    • The Ectoplasmic Pan-Hellenic Investigation
    • The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown
    • The Vampiric Puppet Lamentation
    • The Clotharian Contamination Protocol
    • The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome
  • Adam Hall relied on this formula for his Quiller spy novels — The Quiller Memorandum, The Tango Briefing, The Cobra Manifesto, etc, until The Peking Target. Then after that it was Quiller Northlight, Quiller Barracuda, Quiller's Run and so on.
  • From the Modesty Blaise series we have:
    • The Xanadu Talisman
    • The Impossible Virgin
    • The Silver Mistress
  • The Gun Seller (something of a parody of thriller novels in general, written by Hugh Laurie)
  • The Secret Agent
  • The Secret Pilgrim
  • The Secret Servant
  • The Damascus Cover
  • The Ambler Warning
  • The Chinese Paymaster
  • The Ipcress File
  • The Looking-Glass Wars
  • The Odessa File
  • The Parsifal Mosaic
  • The Unlikely Spy
  • The Incongruous Spy
  • The Moneypenny Diaries
  • The Human Factor
  • The Holcroft Covenant
  • The Killing Zone
  • The Russia House
  • The Pelican Brief
  • The Hudsucker Proxy—which is odd, seeing as it's a screwball comedy.
  • The Phantom Menace
  • The China Syndrome
  • The French Connection
  • The Eiger Sanction
  • The Cobra Event
  • Tintin: The Calculus Affair, and a few others.
  • Parodied in the Discworld novel The Last Continent, where a humorous aside notes how any self-improving book you bring along for beach reading seems to transform into a conspiracy thriller with at least one Greek letter in the title, like The Gamma Imperative or The Mu Kau Pi Caper.
  • Tom Clancy's Powerplay series, 'Bio-Strike'
  • Whether live or animated, classic Star Trek liked these titles, with examples such as "The Corbomite Maneuver", "The Alternative Factor", "The Enterprise Incident", "The Lorelei Signal", "The Ambergris Element", and many more.
    • Next Generation continued to carry the tradition, although a bit less enthusiastically: "The Icarus Factor" and "The Vengeance Factor" are perhaps the only inarguable examples, with others, like "The Naked Now," as borderline cases. Star Trek: Voyager also got into the act, with "The Omega Directive," "The Voyager Conspiracy," and "The Killing Game."
  • This Penny Arcade comic pokes fun at a similar theme among espionage video games.
  • Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol.
  • Peter F. Hamilton's sci-fi trilogy Night's Dawn has a different name for the series, but the individual novels are:
    • The Reality Dysfunction
    • The Neutronium Alchemist
    • The Naked God
  • Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective
  • The Santa Clause
  • Michael Crichton liked this one:
  • Most books about Artemis Fowl (not the original one of course):
    • The Arctic Incident
    • The Eternity Code
    • The Opal Deception
    • The Atlantis Complex
    • The Graphic Novel... oh, wait. Coincidence? I think not...
  • Every episode title from The Big Bang Theory, although it's played for laughs ("The Fuzzy Boots Corollary", "The Hamburger Postulate", etc.). It should be noted that these are intended to sound scientific, rather than thrilling.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Macra Terror"
    • "The Sontaran Experiment"
    • "The Shakespeare Code" - a deliberate pastiche of this title type
    • "The Sontaran Stratagem"
    • The Expanded Universe Telos Novella The Dalek Factor.
  • Real Life example: Israel's nuclear strategy is called "The Samson Option." Note that this isn't the official name. There is no official name, since there is no official status of Israel's nuclear capability.
  • Jo Walton has said that, if she hadn't been sticking to theme naming for her "Small Change" series, Ha'Penny would have been called The Hamlet Bomb.
  • The original US edition of Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers was titled The Dawson Pedigree, though later editions have reverted to Sayers' title.
  • In Warehouse 13, Claudia Donovan tries to hack into the Warehouse computer and finds out that this was anticipated, and she's activated something called the "Donovan Contingency". Her reaction: "Cool! I'm the star of a Ludlum novel."
  • Parodied in a Saturday Night Live segment for fictional author Harlan Kane's new novel, The Abacus Conundrum. Other books by the author include The Medici Codex, The Genghis Rubicon, The Harlequin Protocol, The Ichabod Formula, The Pinochet Sudoku, the Nostradamus Mechanism, The Godiva Gyroscope, The Pokemon Directive, The Vespucci Containment, The Fuddrucker Ultimatum, The Marmaduke Betrayal, The Brenda Effect, The Picasso Embrogio, and Mac For Dummies.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
  • Every episode of the Men In Black cartoon was titled in this style as "The (Insert Subject Here) Syndrome''.
  • The Laundry Series is entirely named “The (Something) (Document(s))”:
    • The Atrocity Archive
    • The Jennifer Morgue
    • The Fuller Memorandum
    • The Apocalypse Codex
    • The Dharma Initiative
  • Novelist Salman Rushdie amuses himself by making up Mad Lib Thriller Titles for Shakespeare plays. Some of Rushdie's inventions:
  • Strangely enough of all of Ian Fleming's works, only a single James Bond short-story actually fits this pattern and its story and title were never used for a movie: "The Hildebrand Rarity"
  • xkcd: The Corliss Resolution (to The Fermi Paradox)
  • S.S. Van Dyne (the penname used by Willard Huntington Wright) had a strict format for his Philo Vance novels: "The" (six letter noun) "Murder Case". He only broke the format once, for "The Gracie Allen Murder Case".
  • An animal which seemingly disappears from the fossil record only to reappear at a later point is known as a "Lazarus taxon".
  • In, Gone Home, Katie's father was a writer of novels with titles like these, such as The Accidental Pariah and The Accidental Savior. Later, you discover he's in the process of writing The Accidental Human.
  • When he isn't using The X of Y, David Eddings does this, as in The Elenium and The Tamuli
    • Elenium:
      • The Diamond Throne
      • The Ruby Knight
      • The Sapphire Rose
    • Tamuli (the first book, Domes of Fire belongs elsewhere)
      • The Shining Ones
      • The Hidden City
  • The Xanthos Obelisk, The Letoon Trilingual, The Pyrgi Tablets... what do you mean, they're all just bilingual inscriptions?
  • The Caine Mutiny. It's not a thriller, but the title fits, and is ominous enough.

A few trope names have a Mad Lib Thriller Title as well. Coming soon to a wiki near you:
Mad Lib Fantasy TitleGenre Title Grab Bag    
Mad Lib Fantasy TitleTitle TropesMagic Ampersand

alternative title(s): Mad Libs Thriller Title
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