The “Napoleon Dynamite” Effect


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Movie site Mubi makes the argument that there is a surprising uniformity to the poster designs for many recent high school comedies and quirky indie films, one that might be traced back to the 2004 quirky indie high school comedy “Napoleon Dynamite”:

“[A] cut-and-paste combination of photographs of actors surrounded by absent-minded doodles (and preferably on a backing of lined or graph paper) has become de rigeur for advertising high school comedies. It’s also become a staple of the quirky urban indie (and occasional doc) where the protagonists are set against whimsically sketched city skylines. And of course hand lettered title treatments are also mandatory…”

I think I was somewhat aware this was the case but seeing all of these collected together brings the trend into sharp relief.

Of course, that’s not to say that this trend is bad. This hand-drawn quality is certainly a step up in imagination from the otherwise dominant trend of floating heads in movie posters.

See more examples and read Mubi’s full write-up at their blog.

  1. I always thought it was related to the indie craft movement from around the time Napoleon Dynamite came out. The Renegade Craft Fair was founded a year before then. Stores like Urban Outfitters were decorated with hand-drawn doodles and cut-outs. The Science of Sleep came out of that too.

  2. I remember noticing this trend quite a few years back and the ubiquity of the trend almost definitely stemmed from Napoleon Dynamite and spread not only to movie posters but to all forms of design, most obvious in web design. However this trend has recently run its course and has largely subsided.

  3. Uniformity in movie poster design? You’re kidding, right?

    One story here is that “quirky indie film” is now a genre unto itself, complete with its own formula for promo poster design.

    This co-option of creativity by market forces is not exactly a new phenomena though the ND examples really highlight this cookie cutter effect.

    It’s not a trend that will run its course but a basic function of the capitalist market’s need to appropriate a language of cultural signs that can be readily disseminated and “understood.”

    “Hey Napolean Dynamite, what do the posters for that new quirky independent film look like?”

    Napolean: (exasperated) “What do you freakin think they look like, jeeeez.”

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