Greatest Movie Typefaces

Orange striped Juno Movie Poster

There are so many factors that go into a successful marketing campaign for a new film release. If it’s a big budget Hollywood picture then millions will be spent on every conceivable advertising outlet, and something as seemingly small as choosing the typeface for the promotional poster or credit sequence can have a huge impact on people’s perception of a movie.

For the more experimental type designs in cinema, you have to look at the independent and short film sectors. The truly iconic lettering becomes synonymous with the movies themselves, so when you’re picturing the film in your head, the typeface looms large. Here’s my selection of the ones that have, or will, stand the test of time.

Top: An illustrated poster for the indie hit “Juno” (2007) with Ellen Page and Michael Cera.
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The 1960s poster for “The Night of the Iguana” featuring that striking typeface on the right side.

The Night of the Iguana

Adapted from a Tennessee Williams novel, this sweltering film set in a Mexican village stared some of the biggest names of the time, including Ava Gardner, Richard Burton and Deborah Kerr. The typeface, as seen on this poster designed by Howard Terpning (who also created posters for such classics as “Gone with the Wind”) is simply lovely. The type is very 60s, relevant for its time and similar ones can be seen in films like “Psycho” (1960). There’s some uncertainty as to whether this type was designed by the legendary Saul Bass, but even if it wasn’t it certainly bares all his marks as a graphic designer.

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The elegant flowing letters of “Bambi”’s title sequence.

Bambi

Animated Disney features always start off beautifully, especially if you’re looking at the classic period during the later period of the 20th century. Films like “Alice in Wonderland” (1951) and “Peter Pan” (1953) begin with ornate, decorative opening title sequences featuring art nouveau inspired typography in colourful palettes. “Bambi” is a great example from this period. Against a soft green backdrop, mimicking the verdant forests of the film, “Bambi” is written across the screen in diagonal pale yellow lettering, dominating the frame. It feels like Walt Disney himself has signed it. It’s a classic and it works so well

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The Japanese and English opening credits for “Ponyo” (2008) by Hayao Miyazaki.

Ponyo

Recently retired master of Japanese animation and head honcho at the unrivalled Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki has made countless masterpieces. Alternating between adult themes (“Princess Mononoke,” 1997) and children films (“My Neighbour Totoro,”1988), “Ponyo” definitely fits into the latter category. It is in fact one of the greatest children’s animated films ever made. The opening credits for the film are just one of the many gorgeous design flourishes to be found in the course of its running time. A hand drawn delight, the audience is taken on an ocean voyage painted in bright primary colours. The typography, in both the original Japanese and English, is perfect. It’s sweet and colourful to be appeal to the eyes of children, but contains enough artistic creditability to please the design conscious in the audience.

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The fleshy pink “Suspiria” (1977) typeface as seen here on the film’s poster.

Suspiria

Vintage horror films are great sources when looking for interesting and off-beat design inspirations. Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” is still admired today for its visual flair, involving a kaleidoscope colour scheme and more importantly its iconic typeface and poster design. This fleshy florescent typeface, crawling, which is crawling with veins so as to look like someone’s brain, appeared most famously in the trailer for the film. Jumping out at you against a pitch-black backdrop, the effect is terrifying and enticing. Colour defines the success of “Suspiria” and the main type design captures this spirit expertly.

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The opening credits for “Juno” (2007) designed by Smith & Lee.

Juno

The opening credit sequence for indie hit “Juno” is a work of work. Created by design studio Smith & Lee, it leads us through an animated neighbourhood walk as Juno (Ellen Page) swigs from a bottle of Sunny Delight and contemplates life. The typeface itself works perfectly for the film. The sweet indie vibes and crackling teenage dialogue that struck a chord with so many viewers is captured beautifully in a typeface that’s messily coloured in with felt tips and juts out at odd 3-D angles. Just like the teenagers, and adults, in the movie.

Images © respective film studios.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.