Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why Don't Movie Poster Names EVER Line Up?!

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Hey, quick question:

Does this ever bother you? Because it bothers me.

I'm talking about the fact that no actor or actresses' name ever seems to line up correctly on a movie poster.


Why do they do that?

Would it really have been too out of the question to just flip these two names and have them match up correctly?

Or swap the actors around,

or never shoot this thing to begin with?

I mean, look at this!

Look at this!

I could go on for days- watch!

Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!

"Doesn't anyone notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

Why is this happening and why isn't anyone doing something about it?

Is there just one deranged poster artist out there that keeps getting hired by all these major studios?

Is it an inside joke?

Nope. Turns out it has to do with the one thing it always has to do with:

"Cash. Money"

It's called Billing and I'm about to break it down for you lickety-split.


Now to be fair, it didn't always used to be this way.

In the earliest motion pictures of the 1900's, back when movies used to be, like, five minutes long and look like this:

Movie studio moguls refused to bill the actors appearing in their films because they wanted to avoid

recreating the star system that was prevalent on Broadway at the time.

But pretty soon Charlie Chaplin happened, and the situation took a 180.

So here's the skinny:

The actors whose names appear first on a movie poster are said to have 'Top Billing'.

In other words, they're usually paid the most, or are the most recognizable name to use in advertising material.

Top billed names are either placed at the very top or the furthest left so they're

hypothetically the first name that you read when you look at a movie poster.

For an Actor to get Top Billing they've got to be well established and have a certain amount of Box Office drawing power.

The lower you are in that respect, the lower or further right your name will likely appear on the poster.

Lots of big-name talent will have it specifically written into their contract

that they get Top Billing, no matter what.

You want a good example?

Check out 1978's 'Superman'. Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman both got Top Billing above Christopher Reeve,

despite the fact that, y'know, Reeve was Superman.

That didn't matter. At the time, he was an unknown,

and Brando and Hackman were living Hollywood legends.

Oh yeah, side note: Give it up for Marlon Brando's agent.

Dude's only in 'Apocalypse Now' for 15 minutes, but he gets billed in front of Robert Duvall, who got an Oscar,

not for 'Best Supporting Actor', and Martin Sheen who was the main character of the entire flick.

Same Thing with the Godfather.

Essentially, the more important you are on the Hollywood ladder, the higher your name will be on the advertising material.

By the time the studio system collapsed in the 1950's, actors and agents were fighting for Top Billing

on a film by film basis, and it still goes on today.

When you see a poster like this, you need to understand that there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes that make it look like that.

On one end you've got a marketing department choosing a poster design that best represents the film for the general public,

and on the other end you've got contractual obligations that require certain actor's names to be placed in a certain order.

Often that order doesn't match up with what the best poster design calls for.

This usually becomes a problem in ensemble films.

In Wild Hogs, Tim Allen gets Top Billing, so his name needs to be here,

but since he is also playing a prominent role in the movie, he needs to be closer to the front of the group, so they put him here.

You're probably thinking: 'Why not just do this?'

But to Hollywood executives, that's a big no-no. Why?

Simple. Market testing Shows Tim Allen in that front spot gets way more people into theater seats than if it was Martin Lawrence.

Not saying I agree, I'm just telling you the name of the game.

If it was your cash on the line, you'd probably go with the market experts too.

And while, yes, it would be nice if they would just flip the design and have the names all match up,

most marketing departments are going to stick with what's shown to work, even if what's shown to work doesn't make any lick of sense.

The problem you've got is Old-School billing rules clashing with New-School aesthetic.

See, unlike the artistically driven timeless poster designs of Old, nowadays, there's a set formula.

Main characters usually in the center, shifted right, positioned in the foreground.

Sidekick next to him, Damsel in Distress behind him, and the villain flanks the main character's right.

There are very few exceptions to this.

Problem is, slap the traditional billing system on top of that and the whole thing looks like a mess.

So, let's just come up with a new system right?

Oh, no, no, no, no, no sir.

Hollywood superstar agents want it just the way it is, because if your agent can get you star billing, you're going to pay him more,

because every actor wants to have their name at the top of the sheet.

Those who've climbed all the way to the top aren't about to give up that spot for something silly like common sense poster design.

Don't believe me?

In 1974 'The Towering Inferno' starring Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and William Holden hit a production snag when

all three leading fellas started gunning for the top spot.

At that point in his career, Holden was old news with audiences, so producers quickly shot him down,

but McQueen and Newman were both fighting intensely to earn the top bill.

Both were huge stars of pretty much equal popularity, and the Studio had to figure out some way to appease both parties.

Their solution? Stagger the names so that McQueen is furthest left, but Newman is furthest up.

This way, technically speaking, they both got top billing.

"Hey man, whatever works!"

2008's 'Righteous Kill' did the same thing with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

Ocean's Eleven is a great example of the problems with the billing system.

It's an ensemble film that starred some of the biggest names in Hollywood,

and to avoid a bunch of annoying contract negotiations, the Studio made the decision that

star billing would be listed alphabetically.

But, that would have meant that Don Cheadle's name would have come before George Clooney's, and the Producers were keen on keeping

Clooney's name as the first that a casual viewer of the advertising would see.

So, after a bitter fight he probably knew was a losing battle, Don Cheadle eventually just told the producers

to remove his name from the movie's credits completely, despite the fact that he plays a major part in the film.

Which just goes to show that in Hollywood, the rules apply to everybody whose name isn't George Clooney.

Now, there are other unique billings that you see occasionally.

A first-time actor in a leading role often gets an 'Introducing' tag with their name,

and an actor may receive what's called 'Last Billing' which usually designates a smaller role played by a famous name,

usually credited after the rest of the lead cast.

I like to call it 'The Samuel L. Jackson' slot.

This is the way it's been and this is the way it'll always be.

You don't like it? Eh, can't help you.

As much as I'd like to. If you're like me and you want movie posters to align properly, either the billing system needs to be changed,

or the Poster Designer needs to figure out a unique layout that lines up actors appropriately,

whilst still letting the advertisement to convey the content of the actual film accurately.

But, then again, at the same time, you'd risk every film poster looking like a prison lineup sheet where

each character is isolated and sized according to paycheck.

Which, I mean, would have made 'The Force Awakens'' poster look something like this.

But, then again, I'm sure some people would have called that an improvement.

So, what's the solution?

I dunno.

What do you think? Does the billing system in the motion picture industry need to be fixed?

If so, how so? What would a better system look like?

Let me know your ideas in the comments.

See ya.


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