Movie Poster Typography

Typography must work well with the art to make the movie poster successful and has become critical to its success as a whole. A viewer can witness that advances in typography and graphic design by comparing movie posters from the 1920's to the movie poster through present day.

The movie posters of the 1920's through the 1930's were pretty bland. They appeared as if they could be the cover of a book. The posters were frequently hand-rendered with concise typography either on the edge of the movie poster or the type was added, as a second layer, on top of the artwork. There were many other trends for this period. These trends included: bright text, thin black or white strokes on the lettering, and on thicker type, heavy drop shadows. A great example of this period is the King Kong movie poster from 1933. The art is hand drawn, the text is at the edge and on top of the artwork, the text is also bright and made to look three dimensional to grab attention and separate it further from the piece.

The 1940’s through the 1950’s was another leap forward in advancement of movie poster presentation. This time period had a definite momentum toward making the typography and artwork cohesive. The type was no longer being simply pushed to the side or places on top of the art. It was slowly beginning to incorporate itself with the typography. Designers started to use more contemporary and eye-catching fonts during this span of time. One of the better examples of this period is the poster for the movie Sunset Boulevard. A typeface can be seen incorporated on the film and the film is part of the artwork for the movie. This typeface is also contemporary for the time period. There are still hints of the pervious time period with some type smacked on the lower left side of the poster. The art does not look to be drawn, but instead, a mesh of photographs. The words in the poster are not flashy or extremely bold but the background is and I feel that that helps draw more attention to the text.

The typographic fonts of the 1960’s through the 1970's spanned a large range of different styles. Like the previous time periods, this period also had its defining trends. These included: Bold block lettering, &lquo;cartoon text with outlines, and in letter detailing. The text was also shaped, warped, or tilted and the spectrum of color for these posters was limitless. I feel the movie poster for Piranha is a great example for this period. It has the distinctive bold block lettering and a wide use of color. The title for it has also been manipulated. It has the suggestion of a wave by the slight arc up at the R and a slight arc down at the H. The text and the art in this piece doesn’t seem to be entirely cohesive but I believe that the alteration of the title helps tie the piece together a little bit more than had it been left alone and static in the middle of the piece.

It wasn't until the 80s and 90s that typography and utilizing it became a true form of art itself. Each and every movie poster seemed to have a font that was specifically made for that movie and corresponded to the subject of the movie. The font fit the feel of the movie. Type wasn’t so strict anymore with the “norms” or “standards” they were expected to meet. Artists varied the shape and spacing of the text in order to reach a resolution since they had little restriction. The Terminator movie poster is a pretty nice example of this time. The typeface that was designed actually reflects the movie. From looking at the type and the picture I can conclude that there’s a metal quality to the movie. The coloring of the font gives me that. The typeface also looks masculine and bold. It is in all caps. From these aspects and a few others, I believe this movie is an action flick targeted to guys about something industrial and dangerous.

The new millennia brought about a whole new perspective of typography and definitely a radical one; “anything goes.” Since new technologies and methods of composing art, designers had no restrictions. Computer graphics and photo editing pushed designers to new heights. Fonts could now be made of anything- leaves, shells, pills, or even snow. Photo manipulation enabled the use of lots of special effects like rain, blood, or even lightning.

So with little restriction to the imagination, graphic designers can take physical objects, take pictures of them or scan them in, alter them however they please, and create a whole new and personalized typeface.

We see several unique things done with these new technologies. An excellent representation of the transition from the 90’s to today can be seen in the movie poster for As Good as it Gets. There is a lot of color to the point of ugliness but the font they used is really unique. It looks like a ribbon of cream and it makes it incising to want to know what the movie is actually about. There seems to be some photo manipulation used here. The picture was, most likely, taken and colorized in Photoshop.

Typography also soared to new heights by composing the artwork of the piece itself. This was done by altering the letter forms and using the characters to make a picture. An example is the words “A Martin Scorsese Film” composing the top of a hat, the words “Gangs of New York” compose the body of the hat and “March 21, 2008” looks to be the brim of the hat. I really enjoy this type of design and I think it’s really clever. It seems to be a perfect unity between image and type and it still conveys the message the artist wanted to convey.

Typography in movie posters has certainly grown throughout the years. It is very evident when viewing some posters from the 1920’s through the present day. Designers have come a long way. I’m excited to see what new ideas come about because of new technology to make typography more eye-catching and awesome.

~by Julia Roehm