Typography is one of the most important elements in attracting an audience through a movie poster. A poster will be appealing as long as it offers the right elements for the target audience to create the right subconscious associations.
Pretty words, but what does this mean in practice?
It means that no one will want to watch an action film if the poster makes you feel calm and relaxed. Action films are intense; the stakes are always up to eleven, and dynamism is key.
Now how are you supposed to mimic those characteristics in a static image? Compositions involving diagonal directional lines, low-angle shots, and actors not looking at the camera will help you… but typography will be crucial.
The fonts used in this kind of poster are always adrenaline-inducing. They are dynamic because they suggest movement and, well… action.
It also helps that many times, on top of the normal type style, photoshopped effects simulate fire, light, or metal. Most action film posters choose sans serif types in a Bold weight.
Sometimes serif styles can also come in handy when the film’s plot revolves around historical issues, or the idea is to give out a sense of sophistication.
It can be difficult to grasp how this theory develops in real life. So to understand how typography effectively affects marketing in the movie poster industry, in this article, we’ll see which fonts some of the highest-grossing action franchises of all time have been using in their posters.
10. James Bond & Futura Black
Considered one of the founding members of the spy film sub-genre of action films, agent 007 has been a part of the movie industry for almost six decades.
Of course, over more than half a century, the concept of “action film” has varied greatly, and posters have evolved alongside that concept.
Recently, the type CA No Dr was created by designer Thomas Schostok as a tribute to the font used in the first James Bond film, back in 1962. But this type is no longer in use for the posters of the franchise.
Nowadays, the character’s logo tends to appear in the font 007 GoldenEye, designed by Filmhimmel. While in the upcoming sequel No Time to Die, the movie’s title appears in a variation of Futura Black. This is certainly not your average typeface for an action film.
The trick is that this font looks like a stencil, a form of typography generally associated with street art and industrial life, but because in these posters, it appears in golden color, the original association is subverted and creates a sense of vintage fashion.
As it was to be expected, this font is not available for free; James Bond is not cheap, you know…
9. Jason Bourne & Helvetica Neue Ultra Extended
Jason Bourne is kind of the heir of James Bond: he doesn’t only share the initials, but also the target audience of spy films.
Starring Matt Damon and full of mysteries to solve, the first trilogy of the saga earned worldwide praise. Even though their style choice is not too crazy, the posters of the Bourne saga are interesting from a typographical point of view, because they combine two different weights of the same typestyle in the title.
The word “Bourne” always has more visual relevance because it uses Helvetica Neue Ultra Bold Extended, while the first name of the character appears in Lightweight.
Some of the posters created to advertise the first movie also used the copy “You know his name” in a font that’s thought to be inspired by Beta Sans Normal, a geometric sans serif designed by Joshua Distler.
Geometric and angular types are quite common in action movie posters because they look contemporary and even futuristic, which helps to tell the audience, “This is where all is happening, this is where you have to be!”
8. The Expendables & Capture It
The Expendables seems to be the answer to the question “What would happen if we put all our heroes from the ‘80s and the ‘90s together, to make an overly self-conscious Action Film All-Star?” so of course, it was a blockbuster, and of course, it had a few over the top sequels.
The posters of the first films also used a stencil font in the title, but the final effect is far from the sophisticated one in 007 No Time to Die.
Here the font looks fuzzy like it was either painted with not enough paint or weathered over time. It is a font that feels both reliable and known, just like the actors in the film.
This font is called Capture.
Though the previous choice, Capture, was a great match with the movie’s concept, the poster design for the third film went for a different vibe, using a font based on ITC Machine with some added effects.
The change in style was probably influenced by the MCU movies, which have been making more money than anyone else in the industry, so we cannot blame The Expendables for paying attention to their marketing campaigns.
Nonetheless, stencil fonts are far from disappearing from action movie posters, a recent proof of its good health being Baby Driver.
7. Mission: Impossible & Impossible
The first movie of this rebooted TV saga was released twenty-five years ago (wow, Tom Cruise is that old?!), but it still shows a perfect example of a design choice that’s still quite relevant in action movie posters: the type that appears whole even though it’s technically broken.
The font was inspired by a design by Apostrophe, very appropriately called Impossible. This design divides the anatomy of the letters with a horizontal invisible line.
The detail is very subtle, but it greatly influences the general effect because it adds dynamism and slightly suggests movement. Newer versions of the same kind of effect can be seen in the posters of the series Black Mirror or Black Widow the movie.
6. The Transporter & Serpentine Serif EF
Back in 2002, the world saw the premiere of the first installment of this franchise about a freelance driver for risky business.
While the saga doesn’t innovate much in storytelling or character development, it does have terrific action sequences. Most importantly, The Transporter 3 has an example of the rare use of serif type in the title of an action movie poster.
It is a very mild example (and that’s exactly why it works) called Serpentine Serif EF in Bold weight and Italic style. It was designed by Dick Jensen so that the serif terminations give a feeling of velocity, which works perfectly for a car-themed movie.
5. The Hunger Games & Bank Gothic
The Hunger Games movies are only one of the many, many cases in which the designers of an action movie poster go for a font that’s basically square.
If you’re new to this genre and want to design a poster that will be safe enough to work, this tendency to use square-like sans serif for action films will be your ally.
Typefaces like Eurostile or Bank Gothic won’t fail you, especially if you add some effects that are related to the plot (like stone, steel, or fire).
The most important thing is for the effect to add some spark to an otherwise kind-of-boring font without compromising its legibility.
4. King Kong & Forza Black
But here we’re gonna talk about Kong: Skull Island (2017) because it offers a nice example of a typeface with a detail that changes everything.
In this case, the designer created a new font that was probably based on Forza Black. Optical corrections were made, some parts of the anatomy of the type were altered and made chunkier, and the spur of the G and the stem of the K received an arrow kind of termination.
The final result works great because the word “KONG’ alters letters with straight lines and letters with round edges, giving rhythm to the reading, and the arrows add dynamism in a very subtle way.
If you feel like doing your own experiments and altering typography designs, you can try similar fonts such as Eurostile Bold or Arkibal.
3. Marvel, DC & Designer Fonts
As previously stated, Marvel movies have taken over the industry of action filmmaking, and they have accomplished that -among other things- by hiring incredibly talented designers.
Most of the fonts used in the titles of highly-grossing films about superheroes (both from Marvel and DC) were custom-made. Avengeance Heroic Avenger and Justice League are the greatest examples of this phenomenon.
These fonts were made considering aspects of the plot, details of the characters, and the lettering of comic books.
Not every film production has the money to hire a designer and create a tailored font for the poster. In many cases, that is not really necessary either.
But in projects as ambitious as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the font is more than a poster title; it also becomes a logo, a recognizable brand, and personalized design is everything for branding.
2. The Fast and the Furious & Antique Olive Nord D
Love them or hate them, the F&F movies have made their tire mark in the world. Movie after movie, the stakes in the plot have gone higher, from having to win regular street races to pretty much having to save the world.
But over twenty years -and in a project that involves about ten movies- the font of the title in the posters has barely changed.
It doesn’t need to change much because from the start; it has served the purpose of suggesting speed and action.
Antique Olive Nord D Italic achieves this by being solid enough to evoke machines and italicized enough to look fast. Fonts in Italic style are also ubiquitous in action films for exactly that reason because they are automatically more dynamic than regular fonts.
Roger Excoffon designed this particular type, but a more affordable option is the tribute font Changa One, created by Eduardo Tunni.
1. John Wick & Variable Fonts
These movies starring Keanu Reeves are basically the archetype of action films. They have everything. Love, guns, revenge, guns, betrayal, cars, guns, kung fu, guns, and puppies. On top of that, they have killer movie posters with original color palettes and compelling compositions.
However, in this case, the font used for the title changes from one installment to the other. In the first film, they used a serif style that probably derivates from Assassin, and in the second one, they went for Avenir Medium Oblique, a sans serif style created by Adrian Frutiger. The third film uses Compacta Italic, which Fred Lambert designed.
It’s hard to imagine why such a beloved franchise would choose to switch styles rather than sticking to one and build a brand out of it.
I guess that Keanu Reeves does too good of a job by establishing the brand himself, and in consequence, the design of the posters can serve the plot and the aesthetics of each installment instead of trying to be recognizable.
The first movie tells a story of bitter vengeance. It presents a world full of specific rules that even the craziest assassins have to follow, and that is why a serif style helps represent a sense of dignity and authority.
The second film is less about a higher purpose and more about the action itself, and so the chosen font is still classy but seems to be transitioning towards a more dynamic style.
The third movie is plane insane action, and the selected font is way more dynamic to match that. There are still some more John Wick movies in the making, so we’ll see what the poster designers throw at us in the future!
The Future of Type in Movie Posters
And speaking of the future, perhaps you are interested in becoming a movie poster designer or working within the world of commercial design.
The cool thing is we are developing online classes that are specific to movie poster design, and typography is one of those classes. People that sign up for our newsletter will be the first to know when classes are available.
In the meantime head over to our YouTube channel for some fun and free tutorials!