Movie Poster Typography: The Evolution

An effective movie poster is art and text working together. Typography has become more essential to a poster’s success since the start of cinema, though. Take a look at how movie poster typography has evolved from 1920 to the 2000s.

1920s – ’30s: Boring Text

Think about the cover art for novels – hand-rendered artwork and clear typography on the edges of the poster or layered on top of the art rather than integrated as a part of it. Here are some other typical trends of this time period:

  • Black, white, or brightly colored text contrasting strongly with the picture;
  • Thin black or white strokes on the lettering;
  • Heavy drop shadows on thicker kinds of type.

These classic posters show the first glimmer of merging text and art. For example, poster designs for the 1933 movie “King Kong” feature the film’s giant gorilla moving in front of the title’s text.

Movie Poster Typography

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1940s – ’50s: Text Takes Center Stage

This is the era with a distinct movement toward making the typography part of the artwork. Movie posters, such as the one for the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard,” put the typography front and center. Besides combining text and art more obviously, the biggest changes to typography involved using modern and eye-catching typefaces for the times.

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1960s – ’70s: Letting the Hair Down

Posters from the 60s took an extreme departure from the elegant-looking typefaces of the 40s and 50s and replaced them with a wide variety of styles. Here are a few 60s to 70s poster trends:

  • Diverse text – bold block lettering, “cartoon” text with outlines, and in-letter detailing
  • Tilted, warped, or shaped text
  • A rainbow of colors for both text and images

Art interacting with lettering is even more common here, and the 70s are responsible for such iconic images as the poster for the 1978 movie “Jaws.”

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1980s – ’90s: Branded Text

In the 80s and 90s, typography became artwork. The unique shape and color of the title was a branded image to associate with each movie. Lettering took on creative shapes and spacing, as seen in the 1990 movie “Night of the Living Dead.”

Textured text made to look like different materials was also in. The title for the 1984 movie “The Terminator” featured shiny metallic lettering to match the film’s cyborg and futuristic themes.

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2000s: Photo-realism

With the advent of computer graphics and photo manipulation, designers have the freedom to show any image they can dream.

  • Text made of anything – smoke, birds, negative space, even tongues
  • Lots of photo-realistic special effects, such as rain, mist, lighting, and blood
  • More extreme/artistic photography to stand up to shiny text effects

Since designers can digitally make text from physical materials, hyper real word/image fusions are popular. Contemporary movie posters often show photo-real scenes of impossible things, as is the case with the 2009 movie “Zombieland.”

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