Typeset in the Future reveals how classic sci-fi cinema conveyed the future via stylized fonts

Review by C.J. Bunce

In art director and designer Roger Christian’s book Cinema Alchemist (reviewed here at borg) readers learn how the Oscar-winning set designer changed the way audiences see the future through intentionally distressed sets and props and the clever incorporation of real-world components.  In books like Dressing a Galaxy, Star Wars Costumes, and Star Trek Costumes, readers can see how costume designers create what we think of as the future.  Now writer Dave Addey takes science fiction fans back to visit how visionary filmmakers of classic science fiction used futuristic and sometimes even classic fonts and type styles to convey what lies ahead and in his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies, available now from Abrams Books.

At first focusing on what he believes to be the most pervasive font of the future, Eurostile Bold Extended–used in Back to the Future, Apollo 13, Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, and hundreds of other films–Dave Addey highlights seven key science fiction films and how they used a wide variety of typeface designs to make us see the future.  2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Wall·E, and Moon (alas, no Star Wars, possibly because it is not technically science fiction per se) each get taken apart and dissected.  With numerous screencaps, and identification of several dozen font designs inside the films and used in marketing via posters and other advertisements, readers will be surprised what set designers came up with over the past 50 years.

Addey finds some of the fonts made famous in film have filtered into our daily lives as real-world corporate logos–Gill Sans Light, City Bold, Univers 59 Ultra Bold Condensed, Manifold, Futura Bold, Kabel Book, Computer, Micr, Data 70, Stop, Handel Gothic, Pump Demi, Swiss 911 Ultra Compressed, Gunship–these will all be familiar to you even if you don’t know them by name.  With his own pop culture knowledge and sense of humor, he has also built his own framework to analyze the success of these fonts, using manipulation via italic slant, curved lettering, straightening others, adding sharp points, adjusting kern or spacing, creating slices through letters, adding texture, adding a bevel or extrusion, and/or a star field background, although he says no title font has yet used them all to become the most futuristic of all.

Here is a look inside the book:

Typeset in the Future includes interviews with notable names in the business, including visionaries like Italian type designer Antonio Cavedoni, Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers director and auteur Paul Verhoeven, Mike Okuda of Star Trek fame, and Pixar’s Ralph Eggleston and Craig Foster.

Typographer Stephen Coles explains how fonts come to be experienced as futuristic, some because they are attached to an obvious science fiction property and the audience buys into it, others because they are used in specific, standout ways that become synonymous with sci-fi, and yet others use the artistry of the typeface itself to show forward thinking and modern elements.

Art designers, commercial design students, graphic designers, advertising professionals, and other creators will appreciate Addey’s suggestions for making fonts in project signage give the feeling of futurism, including several pages of examples from across the history of cinema.

It’s been said that science fiction and design go hand in hand, and fans of both subjects will find something of interest in Dave Addey’s Typeset in the Future It’s available now in an attractive full-color hardcover edition loaded with photographs.  Get it at your local bookstore or order it now at a discount off the cover price (as of the date of publication) here at Amazon.


  1. Considering the sheer volume of film, television and print that bubbles to the surface these days, Chris you have a real knack for uncovering gems that might otherwise go unnoticed. Being both a fan of fonts and sci-fi, it looks like this book will definitely end up a must-have.

    I won’t contest the fact that Eurostile Bold (and its variants) have left their mark on the genre, but simply by virtue of its ample cinematic appearances combined with its uniquely mechanized origins, old-school Westminster must surely be up there with the most iconic of them.

    While fonts have always played prominent role in cinema (perhaps to a greater degree in its promotional materials), the arcane, often hand-scribed title cards of the silent era, especially those of Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene, were so interwoven into their respective films that they literally become a character unto themselves. Oftentimes functioning more so in the manner of a special effect than merely conveying the spoken word. Lang’s remarkable “Girl in the Moon” is an excellent example of this.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Mr. Addey addresses a few of these old-timers, If not, German Expressionism-era fonts and typography might well make a fascinating subject for a quirky follow-up book!

    • Thanks, Michael! To respond to your comments about earlier fonts… No, Addey did not address these in his book. His overview is limited to the movies I mention in the review, so really he has only scratched the surface. Hey–maybe you should write THAT book, eh? My own mental wanderings took me back to the 1950s era, like the title fonts in Forbidden Planet, The Blob, etc., all these images that grabbed people on the street and pulled them in. Not to mention the flip side, like Saul Bass’s work that said more of “come on in… if you dare!” I could see a more analytical approach in a different book, viewing how each decade’s audiences changed in their perceptions, who made it happen and why it did or didn’t work, instead of a deep dive into only a few specific movies as Addey did.

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