Movie Poster Color Design

A few years ago I posted on the color design in Black Hawk Down, using the color charts created by Brendan Dawes. These film mosaics are great way to see the color progression in a single movies at a glance, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see how color design has changed across films from year to year?

Unfortunately, all the films of the last century contain too much data to try to see at one time, but programmer Vijay Pandurangan has come up with the next best thing: a way to chart the dominant colors of movie posters. After downloading 35,000 posters and sorting them by year, he crunched to numbers to produce this image, which shows the color trends over time. The most obvious change we can see is an overall increase in blue over orange during the last 98 years of movie marketing, which vastly accelerates in the early 1980s.

Of course, there are a lot of factors outside of changing color theory that would affect this color shift. Newer printing technology has increased the color gamut over time, older posters are more likely to be faded or yellowed, skin tones tend to be much warmer when painted than when photographed, etc. Nevertheless, it’s pretty neat to see the ways things do change, and interesting outlier years, like 1920, 1977 and the extra-purple 1989.

In addition to how marketers thought about appealing color design, this chart probably also shows changing trends in genre. As we all know, animal-based documentaries and films always have blue covers, and certain other genres have staked out claims to specific palettes, so I’m hoping that Vijay will break his poster database into genre and rating categories as well. I’m sure that would reveal some interesting trends.

His current codebase lets you drill down the data in other ways, though. Each year has a page that shows the films that have been analyzed and a pie chart showing how predominant certain colors are. Here’s the full chart:

  1. Going into the poster business?

    Very cool.
    I like the film fingerprint project as well. It shows color, music, tempo and shooting style in one cool print.

    - John-Mark
    1. Well, I have sold a lot more art prints than I ever thought I would… I assume that the film fingerprints you’re referring to are from the Cinemetrics project. Yes, it is extremely cool. I’ve always wanted to mess with their code and develop my own visualization, but I doubt I could come up with anything more streamlined or appealing.

  2. Yes. That’s the project I was thinking of when I read your post.
    It’s neat to see films compared that way.

    Thanks for posting.

    - John-Mark

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