If you think typeface isn’t an important element comprising a film’s aesthetic and conveying its story, you’re deeply mistaken. Don’t believe it? Try watching this video of mismatched fonts used in famous movie title sequences and see if there’s a difference. Typeface design has played a crucial role in cinema from the very beginning, when silent films relied on intertitle fonts that were both stylistically memorable and easy to read. Today, there’s an entire industry dedicated to movie title design, and typography plays a crucial role. But rather than tailor their typefaces to explicitly depict a film’s content graphically or pictorially (as many of Hollywood’s big blockbuster producers like Spielberg or Disney are wont to do), some directors prefer to make a more understated use of type design that reflects their artistic vision. Here’s a list of some of the most iconic love affairs between bold directors and the fonts that we can’t imagine seeing their movies without.
The master of heartbreakingly bleak Swedish cinema took the typeface of his titles and credits very seriously. Bergman typically used simple title sequences that, often like the films themselves, drew an intense power from their quiet minimalism and unobtrusive beauty. Perhaps the most notable font favored by Bergman and used with relative frequency in his films is Windsor, which was more famously adopted by Woody Allen. The custom Scandinavian styled typeface featured above, however, is used in several of Bergman’s most personal and devastating works, including Persona and Hour of the Wolf.
Allen’s use of either EF Windsor Elongated or EF Windsor Light Condensed is perhaps the most recognizable association between a director and a typeface. The iconic white-on-black titles were apparently adopted on the advice of Ed Benguiat, but they have also been attributed to Allen’s career-spanning homage to Ingmar Bergman. Allen’s character in Manhattan calls Bergman “the only genius in cinema today.” The filmmaker’s movies are replete with references and allusions to Bergman, most notably Interiors, as well as the pervasive nods to The Seventh Seal in his comedic Love and Death, and the parallels between Allen’s Husbands and Wives and Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.
Few directors have used typeface in a more innovative and iconic capacity than the French New Wave crowd. Godard, Truffaut, and their Left Bank counterparts, such as Agnès Varda, made extensive use of often intentionally jarring intertitles and defiantly artistic typefaces that have come to evoke the youthful auteur aesthetic of ’60s French cinema. Godard’s use of custom vernacular typefaces helped to establish him as a new kind of filmmaker that wasn’t afraid to assert a directorial vision, sometimes bombastically, into the film. You can download a Godard-inspired font from a group of Dutch designers here.
For a director so thoroughly obsessed with aesthetic design details and mis-en-scène, it seems only natural that Fellini should pay particular attention to his use of typeface. Fellini’s title sequences, accompanied by Nino Rota’s brilliant scores, were stylistically memorable thanks to the American designer John Alcorn. Fellini employed Alcorn’s typefaces on a number of his films, including the instantly recognizable lettering of Amarcord.
Films like Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest have become nearly inseparable from the titles and promotional artwork that originally accompanied them. Hitchcock struck up a celebrated relationship with Saul Bass, one of the most prominent film typography and poster designers, to give the titles to these films their unique style. The kinetic typefaces that Bass came up with elegantly reflect the tension and frenetic suspense of Hitchcock’s films. Download Matt Terich’s Hitchock font, inspired by Saul Bass, from Typographica.
Saul Bass was also commissioned to produce the artwork for some of Kubrick’s films, such as The Shining. But Kubrick is perhaps better remembered by typography enthusiasts for his affinity for sans serif type, especially his favorite, Futura, which he used most notably in Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Like Kubrick, Anderson has a bit of a thing for Futura. So much so that it occupies a spot on Wes Anderson Bingo. Using a signature font is part of the excruciatingly detail-obsessed aesthetic that we’ve come to expect from Anderson. This past year’s Moonrise Kingdom scandalized Anderson’s serif-loathing typophile devotees with the cursive, hand-scripted look of its title, which was designed specifically for the film by Jessica Hische.
The young Coppola is as attentive to her typeface as she is to the atmospherically driven existential intensity of her filmmaking. Although the typography varies across her films, the inspiration seems consistent. Her choice of Kabel for Lost in Translation has become the most quintessential to her sleepy aesthetic. The font was borrowed from her soundtrack collaborator, the elusive Kevin Shields, who used the font on two My Bloody Valentine albums. Coppola’s similar choice for Marie Antoinette, reminiscent of the Sex Pistols’ ransom-note font, attests to the importance of coupling music with visual style in her work.
Tarantino, like Godard before him, has become known for imposing a singular artistic vision upon his films and drawing upon a variety of cinematic references. Although he doesn’t use the font very consistently, Tarantino chose the 1970s style of ITC Benguiat for the title sequence to Pulp Fiction to curate a distinctive image. ITC Benguiat has by now become a patently Tarantino font.
There’s perhaps no director more title sequence savvy than David Fincher. In an interview with Art of the Title, Fincher cites Saul Bass, among others, as an influence for his filmmaking. From Fight Club to Se7en, Fincher makes use of titles that are capable of condensing a film’s aesthetic into some of the most succinctly memorable typographical and title designs.