The thriller movie genre is defined by the feelings it generates in the audience: feelings of anticipation and anxiety, suspense and surprise.
A thriller can be very similar to a horror film, as both of them can create strange atmospheres with a sense of imminent danger, though the main ingredient of a thriller is not jump scares, but plot twists and mysteries instead.
Often when you watch a thriller, you get the feeling that you haven’t been given all the needed information to understand the story entirely, or you are not confident that you can trust the narrator.
These movies are designed to have you biting your nails at the edge of your seat, desperately trying to outsmart the writers and figure out the ending.
Now, the movie posters of this genre need to be just as intriguing and captivating. So what kind of typography are these posters using? Let’s find out!
1) Pulp Fiction & Aachen
From the more abstract categorization of Tarantino himself, who calls it a “modern western,” to the oddly specific article from Wikipedia that says it is a “neo-noir black comedy crime film,” Pulp Fiction has been pushed around for decades from one movie genre to another because it doesn’t seem to belong to any of them entirely.
Nonetheless, most critics and fans agree to call it a thriller. And I mean, the movie is indeed full of cliffhangers that leave you guessing, characters with a hidden agenda, and A LOT of crime and danger.
So I’ll jump into the “Sure, Pulp Fiction is a thriller” wagon, and not only because the poster is one of the most iconic movie posters of all time and has fantastic typography, and I really want to be a nerd about it… okay, sue me.
I should note that Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movie posters but if you are curious about some of the worst movie posters of the 80s, then check out this link.
If we talk about the font selected for the title, we first need to know what the title means. “Pulp Fiction” used to be a genre on its own, a kind of cheap magazine that was accessible to many people but didn’t have great content.
Most of the women portrayed in these stories were Femme Fatales or sex slaves, either cunning or weak. They were stereotyped female characters whose sole existence revolved around men.
The movie poster for the movie called after those magazines subverts that trope completely: Uma Thurman appears there as Mia Wallace, and she’s clearly too strong to be anyone’s slave and too authentic to care about being desirable.
She’s something different, even if she lays down in a typical pose from the cover of a pulp novel. The font that was chosen for the movie title that hangs on top of her on the poster represents precisely that same concept: it is retro enough to refer to the original genre of Pulp Fiction, but it’s also kitsch enough to show the audience that there’s something new to see.
This font seems to be a variation of the commercial typeface Aachen, a slab serif designed by Colin Brignall and Alan Meeks in 1969.
It is clear enough for typography lovers that the makers of Pulp Fiction knew what they were designing: the movie opens with a text, using Times New Roman to evoke the kind of authority that a definition from a dictionary needs.
After one scene, the film shows a slow title sequence, with titles set in ITC Busorama and names set in ITC Benguiat. Then all through the film, you get intertitles set in ITC Bookman because the International Typeface Corporation rarely fails you, and that same typeface is used at the end credits.
All the typography in the film is both slightly nostalgic and quirky, always in the middle of the line that separates the vintage from the modern.
I should also mention that alternative movie posters have amazing examples of typography, so if you get a chance, check out that genre as well!
2) The Silence of the Lambs & Bindlestiff NF
Are we talking about iconic films? The Silence of the Lambs is a thriller, no doubt, and one of the defining movies of the genre too.
Based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, the film shows the beginning of the problematic relationship between FBI trainee Clarice Starling, and the cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter, while they work together to catch another serial killer, known as Buffalo Bill.
The movie poster is pretty famous too, portraying the white-as-death face of Jodie Foster with a death’s-head hawkmoth covering her mouth.
In this case, the film’s title is set in a font that looks very close to Bindlestiff NF, a commercial display typeface designed by Nick Curtis.
This is one of the weird examples in which the title of a film appears in the movie poster in lower case letters, probably because the designers trusted that the face was intriguing enough to push the public to search for the title instead of having it served them.
That is a clever way of putting the viewer’s mind to work even before entering the theater to watch the movie. Still, it also means that maybe some people won’t bother checking the title (therefore they won’t remember to go to the cinema to see the movie).
The risky strategy clearly worked because the film was a genuine blockbuster in its time.
3) Rattlesnake & Cyrulik
Not the most incredible horror-thriller ever made, but Netflix’s Rattlesnake has a pretty solid movie poster. The film tells the story of a single mother that has to repay a debt in a limited amount of time once her daughter is saved by a mysterious stranger that seems to be operating under supernatural forces.
The snake appears in this movie as a symbol concerning this specific story. Still, the makers also know that this symbol has been represented in all times and cultures, often concerning what’s cyclical.
In the movie poster, the snake works as the sand of an hourglass, and the designer wanted to tie this animal to its timeless backstory through typography: the use of Warsaw Types’ font Cyrulik is perfect for the poster because it combines the strong form of stencil-inspired lettering with the delicate details of a modern typeface.
It reminds us of western films and heat and the desert but looks contemporary enough not to confuse when the story is set. The subtle modification in the arm of the E that mimics a forked tongue is a really nice touch for the title “Rattlesnake,” too.
4) Call Girl & Avant Garde
So there was a big political scandal in the ‘70s in Sweden, in which many renowned politicians were linked to a prostitution ring that recruited minors.
Flash forward four decades, and Mikael Marcimain decided to make a political thriller based on that story. Again, the film wasn’t exactly a big hit among the critics, but the typography design in the movie poster is worthy of mention.
Daniel Carlsten and his creative team designed the logotype used for the film title in the poster. They decided to edit the ITC Avant Garde Gothic typeface to mimick the neon signs long associated with the red-light districts.
The idea was to fuse an elegant font with a decadent concept, and they accomplished that pretty well but also went further. The spacing between the letters was also altered to the point where the C and the A in the word “call” are intertwined in a way that looks slightly dirty.
It subconsciously reminds us of either how old phones curved around the human face or of a sexual act. Both references apply to the movie’s plot and therefore show how mastering typography can mean a stroke of genius design in promotional posters.
5) Greta & Alexon RR
This psychological thriller from 2018 tells the story of a girl that becomes friends with a lonely widow called Greta after giving her back a handbag that she found in the subway.
The friendship seems harmless enough at first, but soon sufficient, Greta starts showing signs of being obsessed with her younger friend, trying to control her life.
The girl discovers that this may not be the first time Greta has done this, and the movie poster design plays with that idea: a fishhook with a handbag is used in the teaser poster to imply that someone may be unsuspectingly lured in through this item.
The font used for the film title in the poster is Alexon RR, a commercial serif type designed by Les Usherwood and later modified by Steve Jackaman. The typeface was probably chosen because the G in the word ‘Greta’ echoes the shape of that fishhook.
These five examples help to show just how challenging the typography design can be when it comes to movie posters of the thriller genre.
This genre is all about suspense, so designers need to leave clues in the poster that are subtle enough not to give everything away but also noticeable sufficient to stimulate the mind of the potential viewer.
Choosing a font is no task for a newbie but a complicated accomplishment that requires both the hardcore study of type and a lot of designing experience.
But hey, the sooner you start trying your own experiments in alternative thriller posters, the faster you’ll be ready to face a professional project!
Fonts in Other Movie Genres
If you have made it this far, then chances are you may be curious to learn about other fonts in all the other genres. Check out these published articles:
- Top 7 Fonts Used in Drama Movie Posters
- Top 5 Fonts Used in Science Fiction Movie Posters
- Top 7 Fonts Used in Romance Movie Posters
- Top 5 Fonts Used in Horror Movie Posters
- Top 5 Fonts Used in Comedy Movie Posters
- Top 10 Fonts Used in Action Movie Posters
Become a Professional Poster Designer
If you enjoyed this article, then chances are you may be interested in becoming a professional movie poster artist. If that’s you, you will want to sign up for our newsletter, as subscribers will be the first notified of our online poster design class when it drops!
If you can’t wait that long, then check out our YouTube channel, which has plenty of free tutorials and poster-related content.