Warner Bros. trailer typography

25 years worth of trailer typography: 1930-1955

The public enemy (1931) typography

An early Warner Bros. trailer with ‘typographic narration’ (video).

Warner Bros. trailer typography

When I started the Movie title stills collection I decided to focus on main titles, simply because it was easier to obtain high quality images. Trailers from old movies are often added to dvd’s, but their quality is nothing to write home about. Trailers from Warner Bros. are exceptions; they’re often restored and sometimes even look better than the movie itself.

The designs are often more extravagant and larger than main titles. Look at the image below and try to imagine how gigantic the type of ‘Gold diggers of 1933’ must have been on a cinema screen. It’s as big and bold as possible and almost fills the screen to attract attention. Now visit the following page containing trailer titles from 2005-2009 and you’ll see how small the titles have become, compared to the screen they appear on.

Which doesn’t make sense. Titles from the ’30s are perfectly readable on an iPhone today, the minuscule type of recent titles is not.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933) vs. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Gradually the size of on-screen typography has changed: 80 years ago titles were much larger than they are today.

Trailers were much more typographic compared to what we’re used to today. The Public enemy (1931) trailer doesn’t even feature voice-over narration; the entire story is told with typography. The one from Dial M for murder (1954), which was made 23 years later contains a mix of ‘typographic narration,’ voice-over narration and live action sound. As you can see on the image below they still relied on typography to sell the movie. This would change later.

When? I’ll tell you as soon as I’ve added more pages containing Warner Bros. trailer typography. (To receive updates, follow the collection on Twitter or Facebook)

Dial M for murder (1954) typography

The story is told using ‘typographic narration,’ voice-over narration and live action sound (video).

Hollywood studios used to have their own in-house designers, which explains why some title designs have the same style. Until the late 1950s they were mostly created by National Screen Service, the company which controlled the distribution of theatrical advertising materials in the United States from approximately 1940 through the 1980s. This explains why main title sequences and trailer title designs looked so different.

Today, they still hardly ever have the same look or feel. Various design firms are hired to design trailers, posters, packaging, which is the reason why contemporary movies never have a consistent identity.

Comparison: main titles (left) vs. trailer titles (right).

25 years worth of
Warner Bros. trailer typography

My goal is to create a collection of all titles from all commercially available Warner Bros. movies. I started with five pages, covering 25 years worth of trailer typography: from 1930 to 1955, simply because it’s the Golden Age of Trailer Title design. Which doesn’t mean you should visit these five pages and never come back… This is just the beginning. I’ll be adding more pages, with hopefully equally interesting typography or lettering.

Warner Bros. trailer typography

Warner Bros. trailer typography (1930-1954)

  1. A noble obsession and wonderful to see. You might enjoy my more random collecition of presentation cards and logos from film studios and distributors: