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How one typeface took over movie posters

Why Hollywood keeps using Trajan.

Christophe Haubursin is a senior producer for the Vox video team. Since joining the team in 2016, he has produced for Vox’s YouTube channel and Emmy-nominated shows Glad You Asked and Explained.

Take a look at movie posters over the past 25 years, and there’s one design element that appears more often than any other: Trajan. It’s a serif typeface that’s appeared on everything from Shakespearean epics like Titus to gory flicks like The Human Centipede. So why did that happen?

Graphic designer Yves Peters set out to answer that question by looking at thousands of movie posters over a 20-year span. As for deciding what counted as a Trajan poster, Peters followed a few guidelines: Trajan had to have been used for the original poster and had to be the main typeface. In other words, secondary posters and subheading fonts didn’t count.

Peters found that more than 400 movie posters had used Trajan. That kind of easily-reproducible graphic design was a big shift from the hand-painted method that poster designers used to rely on — and that has had mixed results for what posters look like today.

Watch the video above to see how this one typeface took over Hollywood — and why it was such a huge departure from the way movie posters used to be made. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. Subscribe for the latest.

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