So, watching Argo recently I noted that the opening Warner Brothers logo was the 1972 version.
It was a nice retro touch, and was in tune with the central topic of the movie, but it also got me thinking about movie studio logos in general.
I doubt I’m the only one who loves movie studio logos. To me, that’s when the movie really begins. Just like the lights fading down and the curtains opening, these iconic images help to prep our excitement about the coming feature. I don’t care what movie I’m about to see, when the logos come up my heart rate does too and I grip the edge of my seat in anticipation.
We all know the most famous logos; 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM, and Universal. Towering font, a golden shield, epic mountain peaks, a roaring lion, and…well…the earth, they all remind us of the majestic nature of powerful classic funding bodies.
When you see the logo history laid out like that it reveals some interesting marketing decisions. Clearly, as the years went by, every major studio has been trying to “out-gloss” each other. More gold! More sparkles! More colour!
It’s also interesting to see that both Warner Bros. and Paramount experimented with simpler images before regretting it and returning to the original overindulgent ones. What does that tell us about the movies? Evidently the audience has an expectation of “go big or go home”. They need to be wow’d from the very first second, and the logo needs to be the one to do that.
I suppose I should add Columbia Pictures to the list of “majors” but…instead let’s just stop talking about the big boys altogether. Sorry Columbia, you’re out before you even got in.
As always I want to give you the truth, and the truth this time is that the major studio logos aren’t really my favourites. Sure, it’s nice to see the classics fade up and out once in a while. It does make me feel like I’m in good hands, but over the years I’ve come to associate much stronger emotions with other, often less successful, company brands. That’s why I’m going to take you on a tour of…
Actually it’s even more encompassing than that. When I talk about the logos, I’m referring to the introductiory animations as well as the artwork.
Let’s start off with my comfortable little number 10:
Miramax, founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, gets its name from the combination of their parent’s first names; Max and Miriam, hence…Miramax.
Miramax is, in my mind, very much tied to adult drama/thrillers with an entertaining flair. Movies like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Crow, The Piano, City of God, and There Will Be Blood were all either funded or picked up by Miramax. The crime comedy of Quentin Tarantino owes a lot to this little studio, and the creators clearly know that. It was no coincidence when, in 1998, they updated their logo to include a noir-lit city waking up to dark streets. It’s this nod to the urban nightlife of a metropolis that excites me every time I see it. There’s no music, other than the film’s score sometimes overlapping it, and the images therefore say it all.
I can’t be the only one who was tricked time and time again by the opening shot sweeping over a rippling ocean. I often fell for it, thinking “Oh, the movie starts somewhere out to sea!” before realising that it hadn’t started at all. Come on, admit that you did too…right?
In 2008 the Miramax logo was updated into a sparkling shiny new ultra-crisp CGI version of its former self. Yeah it’s better prepared for the High-Def world…but this one still has more edge to it.
Amblin’ was founded by Steven Spielberg and gets its name from his first 30-minute short film about the adventures of two hopeful hitchhikers, which you can watch in two parts here and here. They travel aimlessly across the countryside toward a mysterious destination, ergo…they are “amblin'”.
It’s rare that you see the Amblin’ Entertainment logo these days. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it during the opening of Super 8, which makes sense considering that it’s one giant tribute to the classic movies of Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg obviously used the most memorable image from E. T., of Elliot bicycling in front of the moon, as the central image in the logo. What’s great about that is that it instantly ties us to those special cinema years of wondrous childish optimism. There’s something very hypnotic about a full moon with the details of its asteroid-scarred surface presented to us like a lunar Rorschach test. Like the aftermath of a giant battle, we try to discern its history by deciphering the dark etchings in the pale white dust that-
-oh god, listen to me. When did I become Carl Sagan?
Again, no music. It’s a bummer, I know, but it still works for me. Every time I see it I’m not only reminded of E.T., but also of Back to the Future, Gremlins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Land Before Time, Always, An American Tail, Casper, Men in Black…Ah, stop me before I cry! I hate that this logo has lost its once-abundant nature. Unlike every other logo, it hasn’t changed one bit since its inception and I hope it never does.
Anyone who grew up during the 90’s will have a very specific memory of TriStar Pictures.
See, TriStar began in the 80’s as a subdivision of Columbia Pictures (hence it features the same clouds in the background) and had a very iconic logo at that time. It wasn’t particularly pretty, I think, but it was very graceful. It featured, already then, a pegasus leaping off to the side of the camera. Obviously that was their attempt to create an iconic animal that could compete with MGM‘s Leo the Lion.
Then in 1993, they took their equine friend into a whole other dimension, the digital realm.
Notice something refreshingly different from the first two logos? Music! Glorious music! Just like the THX “Deep Note”, it makes sure to grab everyone’s attention – saying “are you watching and listening?”.
As I said, though, for the 90’s generation TriStar meant something different; this logo was on every fucking home-video I saw as a child. I swear, it was inescapable. Not that I’m complaining, I’m just saying that TriStar hit an unparalleled groove in that decade and exercised a monopoly on home-entertainment releases that I haven’t seen matched before or since. Did they invent the VHS or something? You have to admit, the winged horse was there with you practically every time you used your VCR. Those empty clouds, that sudden burst of heavenly light, the soaring horns of an orchestra fit for kings…aww, now I miss it. Bring back TriStar, bring back the pegasus!
Now we’re getting a little bit underground. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people reading this have never heard of Twisted Pictures, and that’s probably because you don’t watch a lot of horror.
Twisted Pictures exists because of the Saw films, as it was founded after the success of the first one. Naturally it’s a very small studio, but has grown as the franchise continued to be a lucrative one. What’s great about this company is that they take a very clear aim at the horror market. You can tell from the animation and the logo itself that they’re not going for a Disney–Pixar vibe. Good for them! They realised that there is a whole market out there of youth and adults who would love to put a name-brand to the sick, grungy, demented little genre they enjoy – and they tapped into that. Don’t expect these people to put out a cute and cuddly toy line along with their movies, unless they start selling Chucky dolls.
Isn’t that great? I love how little they care about the family-friendly pressures that made all the other studio’s knees buckle. With remakes of I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatchers in the pipeline Twisted Pictures is slowly but steadily expanding, so don’t be surprised if you see these guys going into major business over the next decade and beyond. There’s a lot of money to be made and movies to be shot that fit in perfectly with the ideals of this “little-studio-that-could”.
From one extreme to the other, there’s no way you haven’t heard of this one. Everyone knows the name Jerry Bruckheimer, it usually turns up right before the name Michael Bay.
Jerry Bruckheimer is like totally the most richest producer ever of movies and stuff! Sorry, I tried to articulate that properly, but I was distracted by the evils of pure envy. I imagined him sitting on a diamond-decorated gold throne, being served truffles and caviar by exotic beautiful women from every location on earth…and then I sort of blacked out, I don’t remember much after that. What day is it?
No, this is wrong, I shouldn’t be this materialistic. Movies shouldn’t be about the cash. There are more important things than wealth, right? I can’t seem to think of a single one at the moment but…regardless, money can’t buy everything. Like…um, it can’t buy…more money! Ahah!
The logo is pretty cool, even if I have no idea what it means. Lightning hits a tree near a road…ok then. Just like the Twisted Pictures logo, it reflects the ideals and interests of the company. It’s loud, bright, and exciting. You can’t argue with that.
It would be treasonous for me not to mention this studio logo. One reason is that it’s almost exactly as old as I am. It was founded just two months before I was born, meaning that they’ve never released a movie that I wasn’t around to see. Of course their first release was Arachnophobia, in in 1990 – when I was 1 year old – so it took a while before I was able to appreciate them.
I always loved the animation in this one. The warm glow being born behind the majestic sphinx gets me every time. I don’t know what it is, maybe because it’s so analogous to a sunrise or I’m intrigued by the mysterious identity of the silhouetted shape, but it sparks my imagination for sure.
This is another one of those animations that used to trick me whenever I saw it. I was continuously duped into believing that whatever movie I was watching started somewhere in the Egypt, that is until the name came up and I started mentally face-palming. What can I say, I wasn’t the brightest child.
You see the Touchstone logo from time to time, burned onto the black screen with its spanking new high definition icon. Indeed it’s nice to be reminded that they’re still around, but I don’t much care for the 00’s incarnation. I love the original representative image they provided for us, the one from the 80’s that showed up before films like Splash and Ruthless People. Do you remember it?
I wonder what it’s meant to be. I always thought of it as a burst of sunshine aimed directly at the moon. As the two opposites strike each other it creates a fissure in the fabric of the universe, out of which surges a rich torrent of imagination and inspiration…
…oh wait, touch stone….that makes more sense.
So now we enter back into the realm of no music. This one’s silent, folks, but it has a distinctly memorable presence.
I know it will surprise some of you (…oh who am I kidding? All of you…) that I’m including this one. Hell, I’m not just including it, it’s all the way up at number 3! “But why?” you ask, with teary eyes and shaky voices. I can hear your confusion manifesting, it sounds like the cooling-fan of a laptop spinning out of its frame due to a lack of maintenance and being forced to bear a completely reprehensible information workload. Hmm, maybe I just need to free up some space on my Mac.
I understand that it leaves you perplexed, yet I love the Dimension Films logo. Maybe the image itself doesn’t tickle your tummy, but it does mine. I adore the way it materialises out of the dark like a steely blue apparition, ghostly in nature and menacing in tone. It’s frightening. It’s foreboding. It’s just…great.
Founded by the Weinsteins in 1992, Dimension was pitched as a film company focused on the teenage horror audience. What was their first film? Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth! Nice going, if the 90’s teen crowd don’t appreciate torture-fixated alter-dimensional demons then there’s just no pleasing them.
So the studio staggered on like that for a couple years, putting out tripe like Godzilla vs Biollante and Children of the Corn II, until they suddenly hooked their claws into a gorgeous new franchise; Scream! After the overwhelming success of the Scream films, they kept the ball rolling with Phantoms, The Faculty, Equilibrium, Wolf Creek, and Rogue. Those are only some of the most amazing films ever! I’ve always connected Dimension to that sort of quality, and that is why I love the logo.
We all knew this was coming. I know I said that I didn’t think the most famous logo’s were the best, but this one desperately deserves the credit.
I don’t know which third world country you would have to grow up in to not have a strong childhood memory of the Walt Disney Pictures logo, but if that’s the case then I feel really sorry for you. Walt Disney is, to me, synonymous with magic. He was also synonymous with racism and antisemitism, and famously used racial slurs like pickaninny and nigg-
-is it over, can I take my fingers out of my ears?
Ok fine, so maybe Walt Disney, the man, had issues. Whatever, he was a product of his time. Besides, he never lynched anyone. Leave it alone people, stop bringing it up in blogs and stuff. To me, Walt Disney is a logo. It’s something which transports me back to days of yore, when movies were stored on giants boxy videocassettes. The more you played them the more damaged and flickery the inside tape-spool became, but you never stopped loving your treasured copy of Fox and the Hound, Aladdin, 101 Dalmations, The Lion King, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Pinocchio…well, you can continue the list on your own.
The best part was always at the beginning, when the high pitched tune and glowing electric-blue tower welcomed us and foreshadowed our blissful journey into the realms of love and imagination. You all know what I’m talking about…
The new “digitised” 2006 three dimensional Disney logo is so boring compared to this traditional perfectly crafted 1985 creation. It’s so simple, so elegant, and yet so inspiring that I just couldn’t conceive of having it any lower than at number 2 on this list.
But even the contagious nature of the Disney bug was no match for this one. It’s the number one, the best, the logo of all logos! It’s New Line Cinema!
Ok, so the first plus in New Line‘s favour is that their very first movie ever released was the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. That’s right, at a time when no one would put their money behind Wes Craven’s creative vision of a dream-bound serial killer – New Line Cinema, a fresh virgin studio at the time, took the risky investment and ended up encasing Freddy Krueger in pop culture history forever. Their potentially dodgy bet payed off, which makes the whole thing a successful underdog story we can all appreciate. Without New Line Cinema we most likely wouldn’t have the Elm Street series nor Johnny Depp. That’s right, ladies, Mr. Depp spontaneously auditioned for A Nightmare on Elm Street on a dare with no prior ambitions of being an actor. He was hired, the film was made, and the rest is spectacular history. If you’re a fan of Johnny or anything that Wes Craven or the Nighmare on Elm Street movies have provided for you, then you owe New Line a large debt of gratitude.
That was point number one, point number two is just that it’s such a damn lovely animation! The sleek shiny jet-black panels tumble down in slow motion towards the cool mystical light below, gracefully freezing into position and locking together to form an image that suggests a strong but progressive love for innovative filmmaking. Oh, and the music, the music! Optimistic strings that sway over into warm conforming tones of harmony and coziness, it forms the very soundtrack to happiness and comfort. No one could ever hate this logo, it’s so beautiful!
My first memory of the New Line Cinema logo is when I went to see the film Lost in Space in 1998. Remember that? Everyone hated it, but I loved it. This animation faded up right before the movie started and I instantly fell in love with it. Now, whenever I hear that tune, I think of the Robinson family. If I could make a movie and choose any logo in front of it, i’d immediately go for this one. Sadly, Warner Bros. recently partnered with New Line and they decided to mash their logo’s together. The new animation is boring and ugly, I hate it.
I’m not living in a perpetual fantasy here, I know that these images are all brands, just like Nike and Coca-Cola. Also, almost every company listed here is partly or wholly owned by much larger companies. TriStar is a devision of Columbia, and Walt Disney ultimately owns Touchstone along with half of all the other media you can find in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I know that these logos are the equivalent of corporations staring me right in the face, but it doesn’t matter. For me, seeing them projected at the start of every cinematic embarkment melts my otherwise icy callous heart into a soup of “awwwww”. Do you have your own favourite movie logos, maybe even some from your childhood that have since all but disappeared? By all means share.
– Rant Over!
My favorite is the old Universal Logo from its 75th anniversary.
Warner Bros 1972
United Artists (not the current one)