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Lining Up Credit

The Matrix movie poster

The Matrix movie poster

Order of actor of names on movie posters

We sometimes get email with questions about one-sheets. We’re happy to answer any movie poster related questions that we’re fortunate enough to actually know the answer to. (Or at least think we know the answer to.)

Marvin J. writes:

Why, in an ensemble shot, are the actors’ names not under their proper photos? Is this some Hollywood superstition? Or is it because it’s too much like a news caption and therefore too “linear”?

The Matrix movie poster credits

Actor names order on movie posters

As with most things involving actors/talent in motion pictures, the names and likeness of actors are controlled by their almighty contract. The actor’s contract includes what can and can’t be done with their name/likeness on a movie poster one-sheet (and all other film advertising). These advertising provisions in contracts (sometimes called “contractual” or “contractuals”) that relate to one-sheets dictate things such as whether an actor’s name must appear above the film’s title (“above title credit”), the location and order of their credit (such as “first billing” or “top billing”), and even the size of their own likeness on the poster in relation to their co-stars image (“equal likeness“).

The order of actors names may be set in stone via contractuals, but the design/layout (at least in some regard) of the movie poster is not. This is the recipe for the not-so-uncommon phenomenon of actor credits not lining up with their image on a one-sheet.

The Matrix movie poster

The Matrix

For example, Keanu Reeves may be getting top billing over his costars in The Matrix — his name appears first on the left side of the poster for the above title credits — but that doesn’t mean his face/image will be first on the left side of the layout. This disparity between names and faces often appears in the ever-popular “Flying V” movie poster layout (also known as the “Scream Layout” or the “Miramax Layout”). This group line-up would put the top billed star front and center on the poster, flanked by their costars, but the actor credits (from left to right) wouldn’t necessarily fall in that same order. You’ll also see the credit order versus actor groupings battle in movie posters for ensemble dramas. There are many other variations and solutions to this type of credit billing problem — for example, a star’s name could appear in the middle and above the costar’s credits and be considered top billing. (Although it doesn’t always solve the problem).

Since film advertising art directors are already limited in what they can do with regards to actor placements (both in name and likeness) in one-sheet layouts, it’s understandable that most film account executives overlook this minor credit lineup “glitch”. This is just one of the many hoops that film key art has to jump through (like the film’s themselves) before it reaches your local theater lobby.

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10 Comments

  1. deafscribblerOctober 10, 2005 at 11:29 AMReply

    This was actually covered on a page in the Drew Struzan poster gallery here at http://home.scarlet.be/~bliek/index40.htm

  2. JgOctober 10, 2005 at 5:46 PMReply

    I love this web site. I only wish you guys updated more frequently.

  3. adminOctober 10, 2005 at 6:30 PMReply

    Appreciate the kind words. Updates are slow now because we’re in sort of an off-season for movies (at least I haven’t seen many new interesting posters lately) and we’re in the middle of a housing/office relocation.

  4. deafscribblerOctober 11, 2005 at 10:02 AMReply

    ADMIN- Ooh, I forgot- ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY did a little blurb covering the poster design for A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE a few issues ago, if you haven’t been notified already.

  5. steveoOctober 19, 2005 at 9:00 AMReply

    Thanks for the info on star names. ;)

  6. michelleOctober 19, 2005 at 12:52 PMReply

    This is one of the things that annoys me about movie poster design… Thanks for the explanation.

  7. karl sinfieldJuly 10, 2006 at 11:34 AMReply

    People ask me this all the time – thanks for giving me a link to send them!

  8. CiaranJanuary 12, 2007 at 11:14 AMReply

    Interesting stuff. I was looking through the archives on thisisbroken.com and came across this post: http://www.thisisbroken.com/b/2006/11/akeelah_and_the.html . You’ve got to admit, though, even with the contractual things that need to take place, for that particular cover it does seem quite a big mistake.

    Thanks for the info. :)

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