Movie Posters

I need a straight dope answer to this question. Usually I get a shrug from people I ask or even a"Why in God’s name would you even care?" But here is my question:

On movie posters, there will often be pictures of the actors (in character) across the poster. Above the picture are the actors’ names. But the names do not line up with the actors.

I first noticed this on a poster for Steel Magnolias. Here were several women, all of whom I recognized, lined up side by side. (I don’t have the actual poster so my description may not be exactly accurate but you’ll get the idea) Above Olympia Dukakis were the words Sally Fields; above Shirley McClain, Julia Roberts; above Sally Fields, Darryl Hanna; etc.

Upon my discovery, I paid attention to future movie posters. It is a common, if not universal, practice.

Why? Why aren’t the actors’ names line up above the actors’ picture. Why do I even care? Why would I want to slap someone in the movie studios’ marketing department over this? (Don’t answer the last two. I’ll quietly take my medication.)

I WAG it’s because the “billing” (order of names on the poster) is often a contractual clause, while the photographer (or graphic designer) is working from the visual standpoint (who’s taller, who’s fatter, etc) and couldn’t care less what order the names will appear in the title treatment.

I suspect it’s not always mis-arranged though, just that you tend to notice the ones that are. Here are the postes for Cold Mountain, The Reckoning, Starskey & Hutch, and Along Came Polly. -All new movies where the billing happens to match the layout.

I agree with DakotaDog about the disconnect between contractual billing and the whims of photographers, although it is disconcerting when a group of fairly unknown actors are lined up and you’re trying to figure out who’s who.

The classic example of this isn’t from movies, though.

When Crosby, Stills, and Nash first formed they went out with the photographers and found an abandoned house with a couch in front of it. They milled around while pictures were shot of them sitting in various poses. When they finally decided on the best picture someone realized that they were sitting in reverse order: Nash, Stills, and Crosby.

So they went out to take a new picture only to find that the old house had been torn down the day before.

They took that as a sign and released the album with the reversed seating on the cover. Didn’t seem to do their sales any harm.

The names appear as per the actor/studio contract, the same way that they do in the opening credits.

The pictures appear at the whim of the marketing department, usually with the most important character in the middle with others (smaller) around him (chicks are almost never the most important character). Sometimes there is a line-up left-to-right. Size denotes importance. A bunch of characters of the same size indicates an ensemble cast.

It is definitely all to do with billing. There can be huge arguments about where a particular actor’s name should appear on the advertising. Left, right, up, down, top, bottom, higher, lower… It’s absurd, but that’s Hollywood for ya.

However, I seem to recall the poster for Grease, where the billing was “John Travolta - Olivia Newton John” despite the poster’s images being the reverse. But that reasoning was to avoid the name “John” appearing twice consecutively.

Note that billing clauses in contracts not only specify text order, but many times picture order and size! In text, first is best. (But last isn’t so bad). In pictures, center is best and the larger the better. Rex Harrison got mad when he spotted billboards for “Cleopatra” that showed Burton and Taylor only. The studio had to go around and stick on “same size” pics of his head to appease him, despite how weird it looked.

The art designer and such has no say in the positioning of people in movie ads. It’s usually all required by contract for big stars and by top execs for everyone else.