Why Exactly Is 'Licorice Pizza' Called 'Licorice Pizza'? The Movie's Title Explained

Licorice Pizza is the new movie from director Paul Thomas Anderson which is picking up critical praise and controversy in equal measure.

Reactions of viewers coming out of screenings have been mixed. Some loved the evocative take on California in the 1970s, while others had some major reservations about its age-gap romance. Most viewers, however, are likely coming out of the movie with one question—why is the movie called Licorice Pizza?

After all, the film has a lot in it, but not once do we see any licorice or pizza, and the phrase is never used in the film.

Luckily for fans of the movie, Anderson revealed in an interview exactly why he gave his new movie such a bizarre name.

How Licorice Pizza got its title

In a Variety interview, the Phantom Thread, Boogie Nights and The Master director revealed that it took him "many months" to decide on a title.

In fact, when the movie's release date was announced in April, it was reported that the film would be called Soggy Bottom. The provenance of this title is more obvious—it is the initial name of the waterbed business ran by Gary Valentine (played by Cooper Hoffman) in the film.

However, Anderson denied that this was the title—rather, Soggy Bottom was the name of the production company he had created to make the movie. He said of the title to Variety: "In the long run, I couldn't live with naming a film Soggy Bottom."

licorice pizza title
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in "Licorice Pizza." The movie takes its name from a 1970s record chain. MGM

As the film is set in California in the 1970s, the director eventually settled on a title that evoked that time period for him. He explained: "Growing up, there was a record-store chain in Southern California called Licorice Pizza. It seemed like a catch-all for the feeling of the film. I suppose if you have no reference to the store, it's two great words that go well together and maybe capture a mood."

Where did that store get its distinctive name? It has been widely reported that the name comes from an old Abbott and Costello routine, but in a 1986 Los Angeles Times article, the company's then-senior vice president Ruth Sims said it came from the album Bud & Travis...In Concert, in which the folk duo joke that the record was so unsuccessful that it was being sold in feed stores as a "licorice pizza."

"Jimmy [Greenwood, company founder] thought that was funny and that it might make a good name for a store," Sims explained.

The stores were bought by the company Musicland in 1986, and rebranded as Sam Goody stores in 1987. Licorice Pizza the store does not appear in the film. In fact, Gary and Alana (Alana Haim) do not play much music at all in the film—though like many other Anderson films, the movie soundtrack has plenty of needle drops.

Licorice Pizza is far from the first Anderson movie whose title does not seem to have much to do with the action of the plot. Not every viewer, for example, will notice that many of the characters in Magnolia live on a street with that name—and fewer still will recognize that the name is a pun on Magonia, a place described by cult writer Charles Fort from which things fall out of the sky.

Licorice Pizza is in theaters now.