Intertitles and Typography: How Typography Dictates a Film’s Mood

by . April 11th, 2012

I’ve seen over a hundred films in the last two years, and most of them are some of the best I’ve watched in my life. Well, some of them were shown in cinemas while I was a toddler. After playing catch-up with films from the late 1960s onwards, I’ve seen a lot of decent, well-thought, and well-designed movie titles from these films in terms of both word choice and typeface style, and so decided to feature some of these films that glued me to my couch and featured or used noteworthy typography in their movie titles or intertitles.

One of the few things I’ve learned from watching films (and taking note of the typography used in them) is the use of Period Typography. This type of typography is more of a continuity and props issue within the film. But for graphic designers who studied, appreciated, and used vintage typefaces in their works, you’d be happy to see where, how, and who used what type during the film’s supposed era. Here are four films where some interesting typefaces are used:

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

breakfast at tiffany's intertitles typography
The font used in the film accommodates the film’s theme – a young country girl-turned-socialite trying to figure her way through the bustling life in the metro – because of the sense of class it exudes. Breakfast At Tiffany’s typeface is an interesting variation of the Bodoni typeface. This typeface has been around since the 18th century and was made by Giambattista Bodoni. It’s also interesting that Tiffany & Co. also uses a modified version of the Bodoni type, and must be the inspiration for the movie’s typeface; the only difference is that the company uses a combination of uppercase and small capitalization in their branding.


Submarine (2010)

submarine film intertitles typography
I’ve had my fair share of coming-of-age films in recent years, one of them being Submarine. It’s a feel-good film that follows a 15-year-old boy as he struggles to make choices for his love and family. Going into Submarine’s opening and title sequence, the typeface used is possibly a modified version the ever-famous Helvetica family of fonts. The font used is slick and functional, and modernist design-wise. It closely resembles Helvetica Inserat, a font made in 1957 that was primarily for use in the advertising industry. (I’ve also talked about Helvetica in some more depth in a previous post.)

The Helvetica-inspired font was made by British visual effects company, Framestore. The font mirrors other directors’ knack of using modern design elements into their films – Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick’s Futura, and Woody Allen’s Windsor. The font used may also refer to the director’s European roots and design influence.


Across The Universe (2007)

across the universe movie intertitles typography
Across The Universe is my favorite musical, ever. It’s the only musical that has almost all of my favorite Beatles songs, plus the 70s setting makes me all giggly. More importantly, the film’s title features a typeface that looks like a cross between Courier and Constructa. The title sequence features a slab serif typeface that’s reminiscent of Courier but doesn’t look so mechanical, nor is it monospaced. Although the font lacks some of the attributes of the Courier, the typeface used on the film has the same smooth curve on the letters S and C which is not present in Constructa. Though slab serif fonts were widely used in typewriters, it was Courier that became the standard for fonts because of its monospaced design.

The typewriter-reminiscent font used on the film is a possible reference to the film’s 1969 setting, a transitional time in word processing – from manual to digital processing. It can also be considered a proper period typography due to the film’s setting and cultural references. (See more about the use – and misuse – of period typography in movies here.)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums is a quirky film that I’ve watched a couple of times. It’s full of eccentric and funny characters, plus they’re all in one awesome yet dysfunctional family. On the typographic side of the film, the font used on the title sequence is most likely Futura Bold, based on the fact that Wes Anderson, the film’s director, uses it on all his title cards, though usually in yellow (Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick are also very partial to the font family, and who could blame them? Futura is beautiful). Though there’s a difference between the Os, the overall feel of Futura can be seen in the film’s title sequence. The Futura font was designed by Paul Renner in 1927. It has been used extensively by different companies and by the government, notably by IKEA in their advertisements and logos until 2010, and by NASA on the Apollo 11 plaque that was left on the moon.

Today’s movies are very different from the black and white, silent films of yesteryears. Now we have explosive special effects, crazy animation, and almost seizure-causing colors. But with all these present and the addition of sound-on-film tech, typography in film has truly fallen down the drain… NOT! There’s a lot of activity going on within films these days that involve typography – from badass films like Inglourious Basterds (2009) to rom-coms like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and in TV series like Mad Men.

inglourious basterds intertitles typography
(More delicious typographic examples from this movie here)

nick and norah's infinite playlist typography
(Feel free to recommend an in-depth post about this one that we can link here!)

mad men typography
(Image credit and related in-depth post)

If you’re looking for more typography in film or television you can check these type and title sequence related websites:


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