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Mad Lib Thriller Title

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Many spy, thriller, and speculative fiction novels follow a specific formula in their titles:

  1. The...
  2. Noun or person's/place'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. Also, often some type of document.

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, The Case Of, and Ominous Legal Phrase Title.


    open/close all folders 

    Robert Ludlum 
Robert Ludlum was quite fond of this trope, so he deserves his own folder... The Ludlum Folder.
  • The Bourne...
    • Identity
    • Supremacy
    • Ultimatum
    • By other authors:
      • Legacy
      • Betrayal
      • Sanction
      • Deception
      • Objective
      • Dominion
      • Imperative
      • Retribution
      • Ascendancy
      • Enigma
    • Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy, a video game based on the Matt Damon Bourne movies, follows this naming pattern.
  • The Janson Directive. Also its following sequels by other authors:
    • The Janson Command
    • The Janson Option
    • The Janson Equation
  • The Scarlatti Inheritance
  • The Osterman Weekend
  • The Matlock Paper
  • The Rhinemann Exchange
  • The Gemini Contenders
  • The Chancellor Manuscript
  • The Holcroft Covenant
  • The Matarese Circle
  • The Parsifal Mosaic
  • The Aquitaine Progression
  • The Icarus Agenda
  • The Scorpio Illusion
  • The Apocalypse Watch
  • The Matarese Countdown
  • The Prometheus Deception
  • The Sigma Protocol
  • The Tristan Betrayal
  • The Ambler Warning
  • The Bancroft Strategy
  • The Covert-One series of novels, written by other authors supposedly based on Ludlum's ideas, also follows this naming convention:
    • The Hades Factor
    • The Cassandra Compact
    • The Paris Option
    • The Altman Code
    • The Lazarus Vendetta
    • The Moscow Vector
    • The Arctic Event
    • The Ares Decision
    • The Janus Reprisal
    • The Utopia Experiment
    • The Geneva Strategy
    • The Patriot Attack
  • 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" starting with the relatively innocuous The Horshack Conspiracy before spinning out into nonsense like The Migraine Containment, The Crankshaft McNogginbee, and The Greengreen Gagrinegagrinega.
  • Also parodied in Series 4 Episode 6 of Armando Iannucci's 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?"
  • Ludlum even 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.

    Other Literature 

    Comic Books 
  • Tintin: The Calculus Affair, and a few others.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Every episode title from The Big Bang Theory ("The Fuzzy Boots Corollary", "The Hamburger Postulate", etc.). It should be noted that these are intended to sound scientific, rather than thrilling.
  • Doctor Who:
  • Jeopardy! had an entire category about this trope in the “Battle of the Decades” tournament called “Make Your Own Spy Novel Titles” where contestants would see a “word equation” and you had to give the title which sounded like a spy novel. For Example,
    • Clue: “The + a Mongol emperor's poetic palace + a type of papal teaching letter first issued in 1740“. Correct Response: “The Xanadu Encyclical”.
  • British game show, The Krypton Factor.
  • Lost features The Dharma Initiative.
  • The Middleman does a variation of this (with two meaningful-sounding nouns or, occasionally, adjectives in the middle) 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
  • Generally averted in episode titles for The Professionals, despite the frequent appearance of government conspiracies or foreign spies. However "The Ojuka Situation" involves the attempted assassination of a foreign head-of-state by the agents of an unnamed power.
  • The first series in the BBC's Quatermass franchise was called The Quatermass Experiment.
  • 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.
  • Whether live or animated, classic Star Trek liked these titles, with examples such as The Corbomite Maneuver, 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.
    • Star Trek: Voyager also got into the act, with The Omega Directive, The Voyager Conspiracy, and The Killing Game.
  • 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."

    Video Games 


    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Corner Gas Animated episode "Spy Me to the Moon", Davis gets an advanced copy of the last book in the Max Braylorn Spy Trilogy, "The Braylorn Redundancy".
  • Every episode of the Men in Black cartoon was titled in this style as "The (Insert Subject Here) Syndrome''.
  • In season seven of The Venture Bros., every episode written by Doc Hammer has this style of title in homage to Robert Ludlum, due to Hammer's admitted distaste for coming up with pun episode titles. Each episode commentary on the DVD has fellow writer Jackson Publick quiz Hammer on the episode's title due to how esoteric some of the titles get, such as "The Rorqual Affair" and "The Inamorata Consequence".

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • The Moscow Criterion was a Cold War era term referring to the ability of British nuclear weaponry to pierce Soviet defences and annihilate Moscow.
  • An animal which seemingly disappears from the fossil record only to reappear at a later point is known as a "Lazarus taxon".
  • The Xanthos Obelisk, The Letoon Trilingual, The Pyrgi Tablets... what do you mean, they're all just bilingual inscriptions?
  • The Manhattan Project, the US programme to develop the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

A few trope names have a Mad-Lib Thriller Title as well. Coming soon to a wiki near you:

Alternative Title(s): Mad Libs Thriller Title