ScreenFonts: Land Of The Lost, The Hangover, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Year One, Whatever Works

We often – and rightly so – lament Hollywood’s remake and sequel frenzy. Well, maybe I’m imagining things, but this episode of ScreenFonts features more than a few posters that look very familiar, with one even being an outright déjà vu. And they’re not tributes nor spoofs; it just seems to be several cases of lack of imagination. Let’s see what you think.

As far as movie posters for comedies go, the poster for Land of The Lost is actually not bad at all. The alternate design packs extra punch by having the Tyrannosaurus Rex literally burst out of a blank poster in pursuit of Will Ferrell. It’s just a pity the position of the movie title in the latter example is a little haphazard.

Most importantly I’m relieved they didn’t use the obligatory red heavy sans serif like Gill Sans Ultra Bold/Gill Kayo or Futura Extra Bold/Flyer for the movie title. House of Terror is a contemporary interpretation of the cover lettering on vintage pulp literature, a genre which has also been revisited by Rian Hughes. For a refreshingly modern and innovative take on this style make sure to check Tomas Brousil’s Orgovan, especially the Punk cut.

Away We Go has a poster that perfectly fits in last year’s list of Hand Drawn Movie Posters on the Abduzeedo blog. And indeed, it is again for an indie movie. In this design the photographic parts are beautifully integrated in the illustration. I particularly like the hand rendered extruded Helvetica, with some lovely shading that reminded me of John Downer‘s presentation at TYPO Berlin 2009. People who attended his talk now know why sign painters prefer 3D effects to the left, not to the right: it’s all in the “E”. ;) Although the type on the poster obviously is done by hand, there is a nice selection of similar typefaces available as digital fonts in this list.

The poster for The Hangover manages to nicely set the tone and translate the atmosphere of the flick in one single image. The confused look on the protagonists’ faces, the bloodshot eyes, the dishevelled clothes, the missing tooth and sunglasses-wearing toddler – nope, this sure ain’t no British costume drama. Strangely, the luminous Futura caps that refer to Las Vegas (the setting of the movie) instantly made me think of the Dreamgirls posters.

Thanks to its horizontal orientation there is more room in the alternate design to further elaborate the image and include background elements from the hotel room. Yet I am not convinced that was necessary at all, as the portrait poster is clear enough and has more impact thanks to its simpler design. Plus you can clearly see this image was pieced together in Photoshop. The composition looks a bit artificial as a result.

Yet there seems to be a problem with that portrait poster, and specifically the character teaser posters that were derived from that design. Several people correctly pointed out the similarities with the poster for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which was also done by Crew Creative Advertising. When you show the latter amidst some Hangover posters it makes you do a double take. This suspiciously looks like a recycling job.

Another case of recycling is the movie poster for the romantic comedy My Life In Ruins. The whole set-up with the lead standing/sitting under an arch in a white wall, smiling, head tilted sideways, with somebody behind her back, red flowers framing both top corners of the poster, and blue sea and sky with a rocky shoreline in the background… it is too much alike the poster for last year’s Mamma Mia! for it to be mere coincidence. This impression is strengthened by the similarities between the movies. Both are romantic comedies set in Greece, and some reviewers flat-out called it “this season’s Mamma Mia!”. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman even suggested “It’s as if a producer saw Mamma Mia! and said, ”Give me that same feeling – only easier on the brain!””. So, it’s not bad enough they resort to doing knock-offs of recent popular movies, but they copy them right down to the poster design. Talk about lack of imagination.

There’s an equal lack of imagination on display when it comes to the typography. Lithos? For a movie which is set in Greece? Come on, talk about a cliché. I thought we were well over Lithos since the early nineties. As I mentioned in the Penguin Awards post there’re a number of faux Greek designs available, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record: be wary of cultural clichés. I stand by my suggestions of RTF Cadmus, Palatino Sans (Informal), or Magma.

Interestingly the Greek localised version of the poster steers well away from those Greek-inspired typefaces, although they did add a – horrendous – three-dimensional carving effect to Warnock Pro. I don’t care for those literal renderings of incised architectural lettering like Artworld, but more stylised interpretations like FF Primary or FF Archian Plastic are acceptable if used appropriately.

We are now switching to self-service. Take the movie poster for The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Notice the three-quarter close-up portrait of Denzel Washington looking worried at the top, the dark areas and saturated colours, and the movie logo set in glowing, distorted Neue Helvetica Extended caps. Now compare this one to the movie poster next to it, think up some witty wordplay with déjà vu, and you can pretty much do your own joke I guess. Normal service resumes now.

I promise this is the last one, because frankly four in a row in one single ScreenFonts episode can suffice. Year One safely sticks to the movie poster conventions for comedies – yes indeed, the movie title is set in a very bold red sans, in this instance Flyer. Now take a look at the poster for Superbad, another comedy featuring a duo of “losers”. The design, the position and body language of the two actors, the general appearance and position of the movie logo, … I mean, even Michael Cera’s facial expression is identical in the two posters! Really, enough is enough.

The movie poster for Moon harkens back to the classic seventies and eighties science fiction movies. The simple but striking dark image with the central octagonal shape and the type set in Microgramma/Eurostile Extended puts a nice contemporary twist on the visual style of these existential sci-fi meditations. Plus the design exudes a feeling of desolation and desperation that perfectly matches the content of the movie.

The alternate poster looks just as good, but the asymmetrical composition with the stark black background and the concentric circles with moiré effect has an even more pronounced seventies feel to it. I suspect the wide grotesque may be the same typeface that had me stumped on the Faubourg 36 poster, and I wouldn’t mind eventually finding out what it is.

It is common knowledge in type geek circles that for over 25 years now Woody Allen has invariably used the same type treatment for the credit title sequences of his movies – simple white text set in Windsor on a black background. But it’s not often his typeface of choice also appears on the movie poster, as is the case with Whatever Works.

As Randy J. Hunt at some point wrote:

I’m currently taking a typeface design course with Ed Benguiat, and just last night he described a time when he would have breakfast at the same New Jersey diner every morning. Among the other that would dine there was Woody Allen. On one occasion, referring to Benguiat as a “printer,” Allen asked him what a good typeface was. Benguiat had an affinity for Windsor and suggested it to him that morning. He’s used it in every film since.

Sometimes all you need is a very good idea and a little restraint, just enough self-control to let the concept speak for itself. If you need to make a poster for a documentary about the modern food industry, find a symbol for food and one for commerce, and the simple amalgamation does a bang-up job. And so it happens on the Food Inc. movie poster, which features a cow with a barcode on its side instead of the black spots. I don’t see why they used two different sans faces – Gill Sans at the top and Gotham for the movie title – but I guess I shouldn’t be too nitpicky. Although I think the humanistic style of the typefaces doesn’t sit well in this context. Some tech face would’ve been more appropriate for the industrial/commercial subject of the documentary.

And the last entry in this episode is a very strong design as well. By isolating the eyes of female lead Shohreh Aghdashloo in the movie poster for The Stoning of Soraya M. the designers manage to make two powerful connotations at once – the eyes with which the witness sees what transpires, and the eyes which are the only visible feature of veiled women in traditional Islamic culture. Basic Commercial is an obvious, if not very original choice of typeface, but for some reason I quite like how the movie title is set.

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  1. i really hope Moon screen in Auatralia some time, the posters and trailer look great. The website uses the image from the alternate poster:

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Jul. 10, 2009
  2. The alternate Moon poster has been discussed on the Type ID Board:
    I came to the conclusion that it’s ITC Blair.

    Posted by Jan on Jul. 10, 2009
  3. oh i just found out that moon will be screen in oz in august! yay!

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Jul. 10, 2009
  4. The comedy poster trends are becoming obnoxiously careless. On top of what was mentioned about the Year One poster, why are the characters standing on a shiny/glass/apple reflective surface??? No taste.

    Posted by Luke Williams on Jul. 21, 2009
  5. great post. absolutely agree that the MOON posters are exceptional.

    and much as i think FOOD, INC. is a very pithy design, the first time i saw it i had as much of a double take as you had from the “remakes” above. check out the album cover for pink floyd’s 1970 album ATOM HEART MOTHER:

    Posted by Chris Hyams on Jul. 21, 2009
  6. Absolutely loved this post! And I agree, both posters of MOON are excellent.

    Posted by Carina on Jul. 21, 2009
  7. To be fair in regards to the Year One poster, Micheal Cera only has that one facial expression.

    Posted by Calvin Lichty on Jul. 5, 2010

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