If you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly judge a movie by its spine.

Long, long ago, back in the late twentieth century, this library hired me to be a humble audiovisual clerk – but now it’s over a decade later, and I’m a much less humble film librarian. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about movies and even more about our collection. So if you come in and ask me for a recommendation, don’t be surprised if I start pulling things off the shelves left and right.

How can I choose so accurately? Where do I get my amazing speed?  Do I really have such vast and encyclopedic knowledge of innocuous romantic comedies? (Hell, no.)

Here’s the secret: I don’t even bother to read the titles; I just look at the fonts. You can learn to do it, too!


Let’s start with an easy one. This is obviously a selection of horror films. What do they all have in common? Well, there’s an awful lot of red and black. And dripping blood. And BIG SHAKY SCARED CAPITAL LETTERS. One look at these and you know what you’re gonna get. In the case of Night of the Lepus, it’s killer rabbits and Dr. McCoy. No, really.


Another easy one, to make sure you’re getting the hang of this. Below is a collection of fine westerns. I think you’ll agree that none of these fonts would look out of place on a saloon sign. They’re big, they’re bold, they’re confident, and they’ll take no prisoners – but they’re also quite upright, so you can be sure they’ll have your daughter back before curfew.

Well, maybe not that scoundrel Take a Hard Ride. That title? Combined with the motion in the letters? There’s a suspicious character for you. (Note: further research indicates that it’s about doing right by your employer. Huh.)


This next grouping requires a little more thought. What do these action films have in common? It’s fairly simple once you know what to look for – the action fonts all have action in them. Usually it’s just an application of italics, but sometimes they get clever, like that shattered Shattered font. That’s nice work.

And The Transporter? It’s a bit less action-oriented, but it’s also a very business-like font. Just like Jason Statham is a very business-like fellow. He’s an independent contractor, you know.


Over here we have science fiction films of a certain character (and for the most part, that character would be bad). These are clearly Fonts of the Future – look at the odd angles and shifting colors. When you see these spines, you know that things are gonna blow up.

Though there is one oddball in this group – that would be Pandorum. It’s a nice blend of Font of the Future and horror-film-red, which makes perfect sense, as it’s a horror film set IN SPACE.


Now let’s examine a few of those innocuous romantic comedies that I mentioned earlier. Look at those big, round, open, welcoming letters. They just want to give you a nice warm hug (and then marry you – not like that scoundrel Take a Hard Ride). No jarring angles, psychedelic colors, or dripping blood here. None of these movies would offend your mother. She’d probably ask them when they’re going to start giving her sequels.


To keep things on a lighthearted note (Ha!) we’ll turn our attention to a collection of musicals. These musicals are very…exuberant. Zesty, energetic, full of life and action. The titles bound across the spines like the musical numbers barely contained within. You’re bound to get an annoying upbeat tune stuck in your head for weeks after watching one of these gems.


Let’s bring your hopes crashing down to earth with this next set of DVDs – they’re all Serious Business. The letters are very bold, and there’s not a lot of space between them. The colors are clear and distinct.

Heck, three of these movies are so serious that they don’t even bother to center their titles. They’ve got way more important things on their minds. Just look at Good Night, and Good Luck. The spine’s mostly black! You can’t get much more serious than that.


But since I don’t want to bring you down too much, we’ll end with a collection of comedies. Colors, fonts, spacing, they’re all over the place! You may not think these movies are fun, but they sure think they are.

If these movies were your friends, your parents would let them sleep over but they would refuse to let them come on your family vacation. They’re just exhausting. (And Weird Science would totally trash that beachfront rental home.)


Now that you know what to look for, you too can choose movies like a pro. Have at it!

- Amy

3 Comments

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3 responses to “If you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly judge a movie by its spine.

  1. Good post! The title itself is often a dead giveaway, like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” (which might probably be remade today about a wild group of female zombie bikers).

    On the other hand, “Dr Zhivago” is not about a Boston General Hospital.

    Here’s a thought: use the index letters (at the bottom of the spine) to make a word applicable (or utterly opposite) to some of the titles.

    • I shudder to think of a remake of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” with or without zombie biker babes. What song would they use to replace “Puberty Love?”

      As for the call letters – I did once use them to spell out a farewell message for a former director, and every now and then a truck full of DVDs bearing a cryptic message will come up to us from our sorting and shelving staff. But for this post, alphabetical seemed like the safest route.

      – Amy

  2. I’ve never really thought about it, but that’s all so true. I sometimes do the same with books, since I only see the spine at bookstores and libraries. If the title and font doesn’t hook me I may not pick it up

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