The fonts of Denis Villeneuve

The fonts of Denis Villeneuve

Giovanni Blandino Published on 6/12/2024

Denis Villeneuve knows how to do things right. The Quebec-born director has just cemented his position as an A-list auteur with his acclaimed remake of eighties space opera Dune. But he got where he is today by experimenting with different genres and approaches to filmmaking.

One of the hallmarks of Villeneuve’s work is without doubt perfectionism. His films are meticulously crafted. Like a painter, Villeneuve carefully balances the colours of each scene to create worlds that can be at turns claustrophobic, poetic or hallucinatory. He pays attention to the smallest details – including in his use of typography.

For Arrival, his first science-fiction film, Villeneuve even created a font from scratch, or more accurately, a whole alien visual language. Legend has it that he was inspired by the Elvish runes in The Lord of the Rings. But in his other films, the fonts used for opening and closing credits have always been minimalist, with bolder lettering reserved for official posters and logos.

Time for a deep dive into the fonts used in Denis Villeneuve’s films.


Image from the opening credits of the film ‘Prisoners’. All rights reserved.

Prisoners (2013) is a labyrinthine thriller that earned both box office success and critical acclaim. It’s about the disappearance of two children who vanish leaving behind just a single clue: an abandoned camper van.

Villeneuve creates a dark, unsettling atmosphere. His claustrophobic camerawork follows characters closely, twist by twist, as they try to discover the truth, making questionable moral choices along the way.

The film’s title appears immediately as it opens, before quickly dissolving to a static shot of Pennsylvania woodland. The font used is probably Palatino, an elegant serifed typeface designed by German typographer and calligrapher Hermann Zapf in 1948. In creating this, his most famous font, Zapf was inspired by the classical forms of the Italian Renaissance: it was named after Giambattista Palatino, a master Italian calligrapher from the 16th century.

As we’ll see, in many Denis Villeneuve films, typographical choices are carefully calibrated and never overshadow the cinematography. Credits are always understated, and often only appear at the end of the film. But when it comes to posters and official logos for promoting films, it’s quite the opposite: lettering is bolder and more distinctive.

For example, the Prisoners logo that appears on the film’s official poster uses a Bauer Bodoni font that has been altered to include an image of a labyrinth – a recurrent symbol in the picture – inside the letter O.

Image of the poster for the film ‘Prisoners’. All rights reserved.


Image from the opening credits of the film ‘Enemy’. All rights reserved.

Enemy is Villeneuve’s 2013 adaptation of The Double, a novel by Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago. It tells the disconcerting story a of a teacher grappling with the discovery of his doppelgänger, the breakdown of his relationship and… a giant tarantula!

The movie is oddly disquieting from the very start. The opening credits – which are allowed lots of real estate – are silhouetted against yellowy, close-up static shots of anonymous skyscrapers in downtown Toronto. The colour used for the lettering is an ochre yellow. This is no accident: yellow is a colour known to elicit stress and anxiety. And the same almost nauseating tone of yellow is used for the cinematography throughout most of the film.

The font used for the title sequence seems to be a modified version of Gloucester Pro Bold, a serifed typeface with a slightly outdated feel that brings to mind British literature and history books. It’s a nod to the main character’s job: he’s a history professor who specialises in the dynamics of dictatorships.

That’s how, subtly yet skilfully, the opening credits take us inside the mind of the main character in this surreal thriller.


Image from the opening credits of the film ‘Sicario’. All rights reserved.

Sicario is Villeneuve’s 2015 thriller set on the US-Mexico border. There is fear, tension and violence from the outset, all of which is underscored by an unnerving soundtrack. But typography is conspicuous by its absence: it only appears at the end of the film, in the closing credits, when the tension has gone. And we only see the title of the film in the very last frame.

The font is Futura, one of the best-loved and most-used in the world, not least in cinema: it’s a favourite of Wes Anderson and has also been used by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Pedro Almodovar.

Futura is a well-balanced font created in 1927 by Paul Renner following the rational and functional design principles of the Bauhaus school. This means that Futura is strictly geometric and sans serif: the letters are based on simple shapes like the circle, square and triangle. Fun fact: Futura was the first font to go to… the Moon. It was chosen for the engraved aluminium plaque left behind by the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

The US poster for Sicario. Image:

However, the original poster for the film, which was probably the work of the marketing department rather than the director, opts for a different typographical choice that is very much in keeping with the long line of action films about Mexican cartels: it uses a squared typeface, similar to Básica.


Image from the opening credits of the film ‘Arrival’. All rights reserved.

No discussion of typography in Denis Villeneuve’s work would be complete without Arrival, the director’s 2016 science-fiction film. What immediately stand out about this movie is not so much the font, which we’ll come on to, but a key part of the plot: aliens trying to communicate with humans through a fluid and vaporous visual language.

The alien “typography” was specially created for the film by a team of experts led by Canadian production designer Patrice Vermette. Vermette has successfully collaborated with Denis Villeneuve on other projects, including the aforementioned Sicario and Dune, for which he won an Oscar for Best Production Design.

Curiously, the initial inspiration for this circular language seems to have been the Elvish runes invented by J.R.R. Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings. For Arrival, Vermette’s team developed 100 or so alien “words”, many of which can be seen in the film.

It’s time to turn our attention to the fonts used for the film’s title. Once again, in Arrival the title only appears at the end. It uses a modern and muted font, almost as if not to detract from the film’s power. For the title on the poster – which often serves as a logo for the film itself –  a light, modified version of a Gotham typeface was probably used.

The logo for Arrival. Image:

Gotham is a family of geometric sans-serif fonts created by American type designer Tobias Frere-Jones in the early 2000s. It was originally commissioned by GQ magazine, which was after a fresh geometric sans-serif font. With this in mind, Frere-Jones picked up his camera and roamed the streets of his native New York photographing signs. Thus it was New York signs, particularly those from the 1940s and 50s, that inspired this modern font.

Blade Runner 2049

Image from the opening credits of the film ‘Blade Runner 2049’. Image: All rights reserved.

In 2017, Denis Villeneuve was picked to direct an ambitious project: the sequel to cult sci-fi film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott in 1982 and inspired by the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The result was the stunning Blade Runner 2049.

It was by no means an easy undertaking, but many fans loved Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, especially aesthetically, with its liberal use of neon colours and masterfully crafted neo-noir ambiance. But what about the typography?

For this film, Denis Villeneuve turned to master title designer Danny Yount. Best known for creating the titles for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man, Tron: Legacy and Sherlock Holmes, he was one of the leading lights in the renaissance of title design in the 2000s (fans can watch this long interview with him about his career and how he works].

While Ridley Scott’s 1982 original began with a definition of the term “replicant”, the opening seconds of Villeneuve’s sequel give us an update on the story – again using a Gotham typeface – which then makes way for a dark and dystopian panoramic shot of California, unrecognisable from the place we know today.

The logo for Blade Runner 2049 uses an updated version of the lettering from the original film but in a neon turquoise rather than red. [1] 


Image of the font used in the poster for the film ‘Dune’. Image: . All rights reserved.

Following the success of Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve turned his attention to remaking another eighties film: Dune. Based on Frank Herbert’s eponymous novel, the original film adaptation was directed was David Lynch and is a not always successful mix of auteur cinema and genre film.

While for the original film David Lynch chose an austere serifed font similar to Albertus (we covered this in detail in our article on David Lynch’s fonts), for his remake Denis Villeneuve took a completely different direction: his stripped-down logo uses four identical U-shapes oriented in different directions to spell out the film’s title. Initial doubts (and jokes) about the title’s legibility proved unfounded: the logo turned out to be immediately recognisable – and a instant classic.

As is often the case in Villeneuve’s films, we have to wait until the end to see this impactful typography. In fact, it’s only after the closing credits  – presented in a modern and well-proportioned Futura – that the title finally appears, set against the epic backdrop of the planet Dune.

That’s a wrap for our exploration of the fonts and lettering in the films of Denis Villeneuve. Just as his filmmaking blurs the boundaries between auteur cinema and mainstream movies, so his typographic choices seem to reflect these twin tendencies: minimalist fonts used within the films themselves, but bold lettering chosen to promote the pictures to the public. And all in the name of great cinema!