Chase Turberville

Working Titles: Typography in Film

Working Titles

First impressions can count for a lot. In film, those opening title sequences can set the tone, or land with a whopping thud. Today, we not only focus on some great sequences, but the actual typography uses within them. We could go all day on this, but we kept it small and diversified.

So grab some popcorn and Milk Duds (or the candy you snuck in) and let’s take a look at some of our favorite uses of typography in film.

Peter Pan (1957) Unknown Artist

My son, Gray’s, favorite film. I’ve always been enamored with the work that must have gone into hand lettering each word, and there’re tons of 'em. I love the all caps, kinda wonkified calligraphy paired with that slab serif. And speaking of that condensed slab serif, those swashy terminals get me every time.

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Psycho (1960) Saul Bass

Probably my favorite Saul Bass title sequence. From the lines that slice through the screen, to the skewing and breaking of the actual word “Psycho” to emulate the psyche of our dutiful Bates Motel owner. Masterful stuff here. And let's not forget that we're at the infant stage of the 60s.

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb (1964) Pablo Ferro

I love how the handwritten, off-kiltered typography marries so well with the quirkiness of this film. It’s also reminiscent of how pilots used to write messages on the bombs they would drop on their victims. The soft string and horn music lend itself to such a strong contrast to the content of this classic Kubrick flick.

The Good The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) Iginio Lardani

Ooo-weee-ooo-wee-oooo. This is a letterpess lover’s dream sequence. It’s like the type was stolen out of the drawers of Hatch Show Print, and there was no limitation to how many typefaces were used. And man do they look lovely together. Obviously made with intention to look like wanted posters in the wild west, there’s no bad or ugly in these titles, just the good stuff.

Alien (1979) Richard Greenberg

Vertical shapes begin to appear like some sort of spaceship navigation console. It’s abstract and foreign and begins to creep up on you as the sequence progresses. I love the simplicity of the letterforms paired with the vastness and complexity of space in the background.

Se7en (1995) Kyle Cooper

This one shows up in a ton of “best of” lists, but for good reason. I still get the heebie jeebies from this grunged up type over the film’s serial killer making his intricate puzzles. This style seemed ripe for the picking for two reasons: 1) grunge music hit the mainstream around this time and 2) Vaughan Oliver’s album cover design was tremendously influential in the 80s and early 90s.

Gattaca (1997) Michael Riley

One of the most underrated films. The title sequence takes a macro look at the process of shedding nails, hair, and skin; something the main character must go through to hide his true DNA makeup. The typography overlaid on top is a mashup of serif and sans serif. The sans serif coming in a second before, to highlight the letters in the word “Gattaca.” This is a perfect analogy for the mixed identity two characters share throughout the film.

Rushmore (1998) Wes Anderson

Not necessarily the title sequence, but close enough. You can’t talk about typography in film and not mention Wes Anderson’s gratuitous use of Paul Renner’s Futura Bold. The typeface had been around for decades before that, but it’s hard to not notice its influence and resurgence in the design world since.

Catch Me If You Can (2002) Olivier Kuntzel & Florence Deygas

A very stylized, Saul Bass-inspired title sequence that never gets old. The lines that connect the type work perfectly as design elements that hide and uncover things throughout. The combination of Hellenic Wide and aptly-named Coolvetica is a perfect balance of old and new and a great exercise of visually pleasing typographic contrast.

And that's it! What are your favorite uses of type in film?

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