Everyone recognizes the logos of the major Hollywood studios. It’s the first thing that you see whenever you go down to your local multiplex and catch the latest blockbuster. But not everybody knows where those logos came from. They didn’t just appear in somebody’s head one day at the turn of the 20th century as the film industry was emerging. The images in those logos have some actual meaning behind them that has developed over the past century. There are some interesting stories behind those logos. Here are the fascinating true stories behind 10 of the most iconic Hollywood movie studio logos.
10. Amblin Entertainment
Steven Spielberg named his own production company, which has been used to produce films by everyone from Robert Zemeckis to his own protégé J.J. Abrams (and, of course, his own movies) for almost forty years now, after his first ever theatrically released movie, Amblin’. The film was an indie short about a man and a woman who meet in the desert, start hitchhiking, fall in love, and later part ways. Spielberg wrote, directed, and edited the film back in 1968 for a production budget of $15,000. Jerry Lewis was among the film’s fans. He taught a class on directing film and one of his students was Steven Spielberg. Lewis showed the film to his class after Spielberg had completed it and said, “That’s what film making is all about.” Isn’t it awesome when one legend praises another legend? Anyway, obviously, the Amblin Entertainment logo has nothing to do with the movie Amblin’. The image in it was actually taken from the most iconic shot in Spielberg’s science fiction drama movie E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, in which Elliott’s bike flies across the Moon with the titular alien in his basket. That was the second movie produced by the company and it went on to be the highest grossing movie ever made (at the time).
The old Lionsgate logo featured an actual gate opening up with animated gears cranking around. In 2013, Lionsgate unveiled their new, updated CGI logo at a CinemaCon presentation. Why the change? Well, they wanted to reflect their ambition and growth following an incredible year in which they acquired Summit Entertainment, launched a TV division, and started their own blockbuster franchise with YA novel adaptation The Hunger Games. Jon Feltheimer, the CEO of Lionsgate, said about the new logo, “2012 was a transformative year that reflected thirteen years of patient and disciplined growth, and our new logo reflects the limitless opportunities we see in our future. The breadth and excitement of the film slate that we previewed today reflects our continued momentum and is just one example of our emergence as a global content leader.” The company’s executive Tim Palen also released a statement about the logo: “Lionsgate has always distinguished itself in the marketplace with bold, original, and provocative films and TV shows, and our company’s character is defined by our innovation, ingenuity, and willingness to think outside the box. We wanted a logo that captured all those traits while still paying tribute to our entrepreneurial and independent roots.” It’s all about those business-y buzzwords.
Pixar is an animation studio with a near perfect track record. Pretty much every single one of their movies wins the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature or it is at least nominated and most of their productions have been scored over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. They’re responsible for some of the most beloved characters in animated movies – Buzz Lightyear, Edna Mode, Mike Wazowski, Dory, and WALL-E, to name just a few – and they are also the team that actually created computer animation in the first place, with the help of Steve Jobs. So, it’s a pretty darn important company. But why is there a desk lamp and an inflatable ball bouncing around in their logo? Well, it goes back to their initial roots. There’s a short animated film called Luxo, Jr. which was the directorial debut of John Lasseter and one of the first computer animations created by the Pixar team. In this movie, a desk lamp bounces around with its dad and plays with a ball with a star on it that has become a recurring motif in Pixar movies. The Pixar team themselves explain it very simply: “In 1986, Pixar produced its first film. This is why we have a hopping lamp in our logo.”
When Steven Spielberg teamed up with his buddies Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to create a movie studio that would change the movie studio game, they needed to come up with the perfect logo. Spielberg had become obsessed with the image of a man sitting on the edge of a crescent moon, fishing into the skies. At first, he wanted to create it using CGI effects and he got his friend and visual effects wiz Dennis Muren on the job. But then Muren suggested using a painting instead of CGI, so Spielberg hired Robert Hunt to develop the idea further. It was Hunt’s idea to use, not a grown man fishing on the logo, but a young boy. All of a sudden, the idea was filled with nostalgia and sweetness and childhood innocence and all of the other themes that permeate throughout Spielberg’s work. The imagery in the logo now conjures up images of characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Hunt modelled the kid in the logo after his own son, so there is another adorable element of this logo. For the music that accompanies the logo, Spielberg got his long time work colleague John Williams to create a score.
6. Warner Bros.
You may have noticed that the Warner Bros. logo will often change, depending on the film. The studio has been known for encouraging filmmakers to tailor the logo that they use to suit their movie. So, when Ben Affleck made his movie Argo about the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, he used the ‘70s version of the Warner Bros. logo that was designed by title design master Saul Bass, who is best known for his design work with Alfred Hitchcock. In The Matrix trilogy of movies, the Warner Bros. logo has been graded to the color green to match the tint of the code in the titular computer program. In all the Harry Potter movies, the Warner Bros. logo is made darker and bleaker to match the color palette of the movies themselves. The first stylized version of the Warner Bros. logo appeared at the beginning of an old Robin Hood movie in the 1930s. Since then, especially with the rise of CGI effects making the logo easier to tweak, it has become sort of a hallmark of the studio’s movies. There have been more than two hundred versions of the Warner Bros. logo appearing in movies in the past two decades alone.
5. Columbia Pictures
In the 1990s, the studio wanted to create a new version of the logo that retained the “classic” look of the original logo, but that would look more modern and cool and would also be able to be converted into 3D for the studio’s 3D releases as that technology was being pioneered. While the logo has a very glitzy and glamorous and ‘Hollywood’ look, the reality behind the actual creation of the beloved image is far less glitzy and glamorous, according to a 2012 interview with the “Torch Lady” herself, Jenny Joseph. She explains that the studio asked for a new logo and she was the model that they were going to use to shape the woman after. “So, we just scooted over there come lunchtime and they wrapped a sheet around me and I held a regular little desk lamp – a side lamp – and I just held that up and we did that with a light bulb. I never thought it would make it to the silver screen and I never thought it would still be up twenty years later, and I certainly never thought it would be in a museum, so it’s kind of gratifying.” And that’s how an icon was born.
4. 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox is a very important studio, because it gave us the two highest grossing movies of all time (both written and directed by James Cameron) and it gave a young George Lucas a chance on his weird little space movie when no one else would. 20th Century Fox’s original matte painting logo – which was painted by the same guy who painted the Statue of Liberty that Charlton Heston freaks out about at the end of Planet of the Apes – reflected the art deco movement of the 1950s in which it was created. The most memorable part of the 20th Century Fox studio logo is easily its musical fanfare. The music was originally composed by Alfred Newman in 1933, and later rerecorded in 1935 when the studio was officially established as a film making tour de force. Newman would later be hired as the head of 20th Century Fox’s music department in the 1940s, a title that he would keep until the ‘60s. The fanfare was out of use by the 1970s, but George Lucas was such a big fan that he brought it back for Star Wars and that’s why it still exists in the CGI version that we see today. There have been some very fun variations on this logo, like the one that appears at the end of every episode Futurama, Matt Groening’s futuristic animated comedy series. That show takes place in the 30th century, and so, naturally, the 20th Century Fox Television logo has been changed to say “30th Century Fox.” Only the eagle eyed viewers pick up on it, but it is a fun gag.
3. Paramount Pictures
The logo for Paramount Pictures, one of the first movie studios in Hollywood history, has become iconic over the years. Whenever Indiana Jones has a new adventure, the mountain that appears in the Paramount Pictures at the beginning of the movie fades into the opening shot – most recently, it turned into a molehill. Steven Spielberg is incredibly inventive like that, and he’s just one of the many legendary filmmakers to have done a lot of work with Paramount Pictures. The Paramount Pictures logo has always had a bunch of stars dotted around a mountain. Before computer animation existed, it was a still image. The studio has since updated its logo to contain more modern animation – now, the stars dance across a lake as the camera swoops up towards the iconic mountain before they take their place around the mountain in the skyline. But where did those stars come from? Way back in 1916, movie producer Adolph Zukor was setting up the studio and he gave contracts to 22 actors and actresses. He decided to honor these 22 performers with a star on the logo each. These 22 actors and actresses would effectively become the first “movie stars” in the world. It is often thought that the Paramount Pictures logo is all about that mountain, since that’s the motif that is used in all the corporate branding, but as it turns out, it’s all about the stars that surround the mountain.
2. Walt Disney Pictures
Disney has one of the most instantly recognizable logos of any company in the whole world – not just movie studios. The Disney logo and brand are just as recognizable as those of Nike and McDonald’s and Apple. The studio’s logo used to feature a simple silhouette of Cinderella’s castle. Its color scheme was merely dark blue against light blue. It was a very simple logo that had been around for decades. But then when cutting edge digital technologies were allowing for more detailed computer animation, they were looking to rebrand with something better. Disney has always been the innovators of the newest animation technologies, so they couldn’t have a logo that didn’t have the crispest, most beautiful animation around. So, the castle in the Walt Disney Pictures logo now has the most incredible detail – there are trains chugging far off in the background and rivers rippling in the breeze and balconies and lights and waving flags on the castle. It’s gorgeous. The typeface used in the logo (and all of the Disney corporation’s branding, for that matter) is known as Waltograph, named and designed after the signature of one Walt Disney, the company’s founder and creator of Mickey Mouse and his friends. As anyone who has been to Disneyland knows, you can actually visit a real version of the castle that is featured in the logo. In the Magic Kingdom theme park, you can go to this castle and walk around. It’s not as huge or as spectacular as the immensely detailed CGI version in the studio’s animated logo, but it is pretty fascinating. Obviously, it is inspired by the castle of Cinderella, one of the most beloved and instantly recognizable characters in the Disney canon.
The MGM logo is one of the most iconic in Hollywood history, with its roaring lion and golden text. The studio was formed when Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures combined to make Metro Goldwyn Mayer, one big super studio. The lion in the MGM studio logo has become known as “Leo the Lion,” but out of the seven lions that have been used for the various versions of the logo over the years, only one of them has actually been named Leo. There’s a slick new HD version featuring a remastered version of the shot of Leo the Lion that came about after the company escaped from bankruptcy by monopolizing on its ownership of the James Bond property. The original lion’s name from the first edition of the logo was actually Jackie, and what with the crude film making technology of the early 20th century, getting the shot of the lion roaring that they needed to build the logo around was a giant pain in the ass. A whole sound stage had to be built around the lion’s cage in order to get the camera close enough to its face in order to capture a closeup angle of the roar. Of course, the danger and risk of that shoot has paid off massively, since the roaring lion at the center of the MGM logo has become one of the most recognizable and iconic images in the history of movies, and it’s not even from an actual movie, it’s just from the logo of a company that makes movies!