Colours in movie posters since 1914

Posted by on Jun 11, 2012 in code, python, software | 86 Comments

Edit: Buy the movie poster hues (1914-2012) poster

A couple of weeks ago, I was having brunch with Kim-Mai Cutler — we were discussing the new startup I’m building in the enterprise space (if you’re a ui/ux person or awesome engineer looking for something fun to do, drop me a line!) — and I mentioned how I felt that most movie posters these days were very blue and dark. She didn’t fully believe me and challenged me to prove it. I looked around, and found some people had done this with a few posters over the last few years, but I became curious about the longer-term trends and what they would show. So, as any engineer would do, I wrote some code! (The code is open source and lives on github: image analysis.)

Edit: this post is up on Flowing Data, an awesome data visualization blog, YC Hacker news!, and Gizmodo. I will be doing a follow-on post with much better analysis and much more data. Follow @vijayp on twitter and stay tuned!

Visualizations:

The number of posters I was able to get varied based on the year:

I first made a unified view of colour trends in movie posters since 1914. Ignoring black and white colours, I generated a horizontal strip of hues in HSL. The width of each hue represents the amount of that hue across all images for that year, and the saturation and lighting were the weighted average for all matching pixels. Since HSL has a fixed order, comparisons can be made between years visually. (You can buy the movie poster hues poster here.) Click on the image below for a more detailed view:
 

Next, I made a similar unified view of  generic colour trends in movie posters since 1914, but here lightness and saturation are both ignored. This makes the distribution of hues much more clear, but hides the average “darkness” of the photos.
 

Finally, I have created a pie chart representing the colour distribution of a specific year’s movie posters. (This should probably be animated and a line graph, more on that in the future work section)

Rationale:

First off, it is true that movie posters are much more blue, and much less orange than they used to be. QED :) This page also talks about the blue/orange colours in movies.

This does appears to be a steady trend since 1915. Could this be related to evolution in the physical process of poster printing; what’s the effect of the economics and difficulty of producing posters over time? I also wonder whether moviemakers have become better at figuring out the “optimal” colour distribution of posters over time, and whether we’re asymptotically approaching some quiescent distribution.

I was a bit concerned that some of this might be due to bias in the data: some movies would be over-represented in the intra-year average (remember that some movies have multiple posters and I normalize over posters, not movies). I think this is not actually a huge issue because it’s reasonable to assume that a movie’s marketing budget is roughly proportional to the number of posters that it has produced for itself. This means that the skew, if any, would be similar to the perceived average.

I presented these preliminary data to some friends of mine who are more steeped in the world of graphics and arts. Cheryle Cranbourne, (she used to be a graphics designer and has just finished a Masters in interior architecture at RISD) had a number of good thoughts:

[Edit: I had misquoted this earlier] The movies whose posters I analysed “cover a good range of genres. Perhaps the colors say less about how movie posters’ colors as a whole and color trends, than they do about how genres of movies have evolved. For example, there are more action/thriller/sci-fi [films] than there were 50-70 years ago, which might have something to do with the increase in darker, more ‘masculine’ shades.”

This is backed up a bit by data from under consideration’s look at movie posters. They didn’t go back very far, but there did seem to be a reasonable correlation between movie age rating and palette.

She also pointed out that earlier posters were all illustrated/ hand painted, with fewer colors and less variation in tone. Perhaps the fact that white and black have become more prevalent is due to the change from illustration to photography. Painted skin might also over-represent orange and under-represent other hues that happen in real life.

Methodology:

I downloaded ~ 35k thumbnailed-size images (yay wget — “The Social Network” inspired me to not use curl) from a site that has a lot of movie posters online. I then grouped the movie posters by the year in which the movie they promoted was released. For each year, I counted the total number of pixels for each colour in the year. After normalizing and converting to HSL coordinates, I generated the above visualizations.

Inspirations:

I was inspired by Tyler Neylon’s great work on colour visualizations. I ended up writing my own code to do these image analysis visualizations, but I will try to integrate it with his work.

Future work:

There’s a bunch of stuff I still have to / want to do, but since I’m working on my startup, I don’t really have much time to focus on it right now. Here’s a long list of stuff:

  1. Follow up on all the open questions about the reasons for this change.
  2. Use other metadata (not just year) for movies to search for patterns. A simple machine learning algorithm should suffice if I throw all the attributes in at once. This should be able to highlight whether genre is important, and what other factors are crucial
  3. “main colour” analysis. I should run some kind of clustering (as Tyler does in his code). His code uses a handwritten (?) k-means clustering algorithm, which is a bit slow when faced with thousands of pictures worth of data. There are some faster albeit slightly less accurate versions that I could use.
  4. I need to move the pie charts to use gcharts js api, so they’re interactive
  5. I should probably make nicer/fancier js onhover stuff
  6. I should look at Bollywood and other sources to see whether this holds across countries.
  7. My visualizations and javascript aren’t so good. I have to learn how to do this stuff better!

86 Comments

  1. T Choudry
    Monday, 11 June 2012

    Interesting article.. I don’t mind a UX and info architecture challenge. Feel free to drop me a line. :)

  2. Evolution of movie poster colors | vis a vis | visual mind
    Wednesday, 13 June 2012

    […] seen a number of looks at movie poster cliches, but this is the first time I’ve seen how the color of movie posters have changed over time. Vijay Pandurangan downloaded 35,000 poster thumbnails from a movie site, counted the color pixels […]

  3. Tim Q
    Wednesday, 13 June 2012

    Beautiful visualizations. Any seasonal changes?

  4. Danny Garcia
    Wednesday, 13 June 2012

    I’m interested in finding out more about that gap in 1924. What is this a result of?

  5. Ronald Spencer
    Thursday, 14 June 2012

    Movie posters from where and when and how many of the same film? I’ve collected many different posters for the same film, some films have hundreds, most at least 3 (an A, B, and other model). Could you research and expand the sized of the collection of your sources? Polish movie posters in particular are reknowned and treasured for their artistry, often designed by hand.

    Ron

  6. Brad Gjersvig
    Thursday, 14 June 2012

    I thought it was interesting you suggested moviemakers are finding an “optimal” color distribution. I work for a DVD distributor and our data has suggested that generally DVDs with blue cover art tend to sell better than identical product with red-orange cover art. It could be the same for movie posters.

  7. Ross
    Friday, 15 June 2012

    Where did the posters come from? The visualization is very pretty, but it’s not not particularly interesting unless we know what the data source was.

  8. The Evolution of Movie Poster Colors, Visualized [Movies] | IOS 6 Release Date
    Friday, 15 June 2012

    […] together by Vijay Pandurangan, the visualisation uses data from 35,000 posters stretching back to 1914, all the way up to the […]

  9. vijayp
    Friday, 15 June 2012

    I got them from movieposterdb. It’s pretty comprehensive, but I didn’t crawl the site completely. Since this post garnered a lot of attention, I am doing it again in a more thorough way and will do a better analysis, hopefully this weekend. Stay tuned!

  10. Evolution Of Movie Poster Colours, Visualised | Gizmodo Australia
    Friday, 15 June 2012

    […] on a more basic level, the colours used in Hollywood ads have changed over time.Put together by Vijay Pandurangan, the visualisation uses data from 35,000 posters stretching back to 1914, all the way up to the […]

  11. Ramani
    Sunday, 17 June 2012

    Great blog; extremely interesting analysis.

  12. Jameson
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Haven’t seen “The Social Network” – what did it have to say about curl?

  13. Paletleme Amirliği, 18 Haziran 2012 « Emrah Göker'in İstifhanesi
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] 1914-2012 arasındaki film posterlerinde kullanılan renk piksellerinin evrimini çalışmış bir eleman. […]

  14. Dev
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Interesting analysis .. are we moving towards shiny, sleek, metallic tones and darker moods that we see around that somehow inspire those colors we appreciate in those posters..just a thought..waiting up for your detailed analysis…

  15. grellanl
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    I would think analysis of the percentage of whitespace on posters would be interesting, too – my perception is that classic movie posters used to be much whiter, with modern posters tending to use full-colour print across the entire surface.

  16. Incubate Blog » Blog Archive » Movie poster colors through history
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] poster colors through historyJune 18, 2012Vijay Pandurangan visualized the colors found in movie posters since 1914.Via Filed under Other Tags: Movie poster color, Movie poster colors through history, Vijay […]

  17. Wanted: graphic designers, data visualization specialists, professional screenplay readers. | The Black List | Blog
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] visualization specialists – If you’re fascinated by visualizations of movie poster colors over the last century or follow the genius work of Nathan Yau at Flowing Data or David McCandless at Information is […]

  18. Stefan
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Great Work man!
    But its kinda strange how dominate red is.

  19. A Bold Visualization Depicting the Evolution of Movie Poster Colors Free movie - HaLa MovieHaLa Movie
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Let us know what we consider about a striking above. Pandurangan additionally combined an interactive version as well as betrothed to repair a emanate with year 1924 someday subsequent week. Stay tuned for an updated striking on his blog. […]

  20. A Bold Visualization Depicting the Evolution of Movie Poster Colors | | HaLaPicHaLaPic
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Let us know what we consider about a striking above. Pandurangan additionally combined an interactive version as well as betrothed to repair a emanate with year 1924 someday subsequent week. Stay tuned for an updated striking on his blog. […]

  21. Movie Posters Show Our Changing Color Bias Over the Years
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Pandurangan had a theory, that turned into an experiment, that ultimately turned into some pretty interesting results. His theory was that over the years our color bias, specifically where movie posters are concerned, […]

  22. The Evolution of Movie Poster Colors [PIC]
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] and were then organized by hue and year.View his process and a larger version of the chart on his blog.[Source: Vijay Pandurangan / Via Gizmodo] Tweet (function(){var […]

  23. Mike
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    I love how the chart looks.
    I wonder if there is any preference trend in album covers?

  24. Matt Payne
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    This is so cool. Awesome work. Neat project.

  25. James
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Any statistical analyses done on the data? Were there significant results?

  26. Pivot
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Large obvious spike of blue in 1977 adds to the factor of Star Wars’ popularity.
    And what’s with the big black line in 1924?

  27. The Evolution of Movie Poster Colors Throughout Film History | Rudeni Movies
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Vijay Pandurangan wondered how color choices in film advertising had changed over the years. He decided to create a chart that shows the evolution of colors in movie posters over the history of film (or since 1914). The data was compiled using 35,000 posters spanning a wide array of genres, and black and white colors were ignored. Here is his conclusion: First off, it is true that movie posters are much more blue, and much less orange than they used to be. This page also talks about the blue/orange colours in movies. This does appears to be a steady trend since 1915. … earlier posters were all illustrated/ hand painted, with fewer colors and less variation in tone. Perhaps the fact that white and black have become more prevalent is due to the change from illustration to photography. Painted skin might also over-represent orange and under-represent other hues that happen in real life. […]

  28. Mel
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    You can check IMPAWARDS.com to get many more posters for each year. For example, here you have of 1924
    http://www.impawards.com/1924/alpha1.html

  29. The Evolution of Movie Poster Colors Throughout Film History | Music Movie Magic
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Latest Movie News, Watch Free Movies Online, Watch Movies Online for free | June 18th, 2012 Vijay Pandurangan wondered how color choices in film advertising had changed over the years. He decided to create a […]

  30. Geek Media Round-Up: June 18, 2012 – Grasping for the Wind
    Monday, 18 June 2012

    […] Infographic: Colours in movie posters since 1914. […]

  31. 海报的海报 « VAG
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    […] 海报的海报 作者:Summer  日期:2012 年 6 月 19 日 发表评论 (0) 查看评论 Vijay Pandurangan童鞋对1914年以来电影海报的颜色做了可视化海报,纵向按年份排列,横向是每幅海报颜色的像素图组成的颜色条,像素的宽度是该种颜色在所有海报中所占的比例,像素的饱和度和亮度表达了一个加权的结果(可能是该种颜色在海报总像素中的比例,或者票房,或者综合加权……)。点击原博客中的图片跳到一个海报的简单互动可视化界面,拉动滑动条显示对应年份海报颜色的分布饼图。 […]

  32. Jim Davenport
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    Came here from r/dataisbeautiful. Excellent idea, and a lovely implementation. It might be cool to see the histogram along the vertical axis of the number of movies considered within each year. I think movies are such an awesome source of “Everyday Data” to play with…

  33. colors + books + more | yasmina jraissati’s spot
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    […] Vijay Pandurangan’s blog for a very interesting analysis of the distribution of colors in movie posters […]

  34. 组织电影海报看色彩演变 | 摄影札记
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    […] Colours in movie posters since 1914 (via PetaPixel)   If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! […]

  35. Kurt
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    This doesn’t take into account color fading.

    While I would suspect that the reds might fade faster than the blues in print, and blues faster in negative images, I don’t see anything in your process to account for the fading of the posters over time. I think when you take into account fading, well this project gets overly complex and finding real results requires a deeper analysis of each poster, how it was produced and how it was persevered.

    For accurate information, you might be better off just going to the printing companies and figuring out how much of each color paint they bought and when.

    That being said you have done a fantastic job of presentation here, Nice work, and this is a very thought provoking idea.

  36. Filmplakaters fargepaletter gjennom 99 år
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    […] er prosjektet Colours in movie posters since 1914, og ja, det er verdt å ta en titt på – både for filminteresserte, visualiserings-buffs og […]

  37. Movie Posters Show Our Changing Color Bias Over the Years | fozbaca’s WordPress
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    […] Pandurangan had a theory, that turned into an experiment, that ultimately turned into some pretty interesting results. His theory was that over the years our color bias, specifically where movie posters are concerned, […]

  38. James Duval
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    It looks to me as though it’s greens yellows and pinks that are getting squeezed. I would suggest that red and blue colours are increasingly being played off against each other for sharp contrast in a red oni/blue oni style.

  39. Duarte
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the techniques of color reproduction on the machines that print the posters. The capabilites of rendering and color accuracy/price evolved and changed over time. For what i know greens/blues are more difficult to reproduce and don’t age so well as red’s/yellows. Maybe that whas a reason why movie posters were made with more warmer colors too. Or maybe not :)

  40. Duarte
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    I just noticed now that you mentioned this as an hypoteses on your analysis. Somehow i didn’t noticed that paragraph. Interesting study.

  41. Tarwin Stroh-Spijer
    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    How do you take into account these factors:

    1. Aging of movie posters. You would not be able to get imagery of older posters “as they were” when printed / created.

    2. Printing techniques, as well as production, has changed over time.

    3. Presentation on different media. Movie posters are not just created for “posters” these days. They are used in advertising on TV, the Internet and such as well.

    I actually find the the increase, and then falloff, of magenta a lot more interesting. Also, the lack of screen throughout, especially as it is the color that we see best.

    It is also interesting that 77, 80, 86 and 95 also have the smoothest gradients.

    A correlation between the ‘types’ of films would also be interesting. Action vs drama etc. Could this explain things?

  42. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors
    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’s […]

  43. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors « iphone
    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’… Continue […]

  44. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors :: iShoutLoud
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    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’… Continue […]

  45. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors :: Newspri
    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’… Continue […]

  46. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors | Stu Haugen
    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’… Continue […]

  47. Vijay Pandurangan’s 100 years of Indian movies poster colors | WiredCPU.com
    Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    […] each individual year. Notice in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’s […]

  48. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors Down With A.P.P.
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    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’s […]

  49. iPhoneNation.com: Apple News and Technology Insiders – Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors
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  50. Visualized: 100 Years of Movie Poster Colors |
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    […] you can see in the image below, 1924 is missing, which Pandurangan says on his blog was an error in the visualization’s […]

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