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Diagonal Billing

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Also known as "staggered" or "staggered but equal" billing. When two stars of equal prominence star in a movie together, in posters and credits billing, the two names may be staggered next to each other on the same title card — with the one on the left being lower, the one on the right being higher. This way, reading left to right gives one actor prominence, and reading top to bottom will give the other prominence. "Staggered but equal billing" serves to avoid causing tension between the two A-list lead actors over who is more important. Often, they will receive the same payment for their roles as well.

In Film Posters, another result of a billing conflict could be a Misplaced-Names Poster. If it happens when their roles aren't equally important, it could be a case of Billing Displacement.

Diagonal billing became popular when it was used in The Towering Inferno, with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. They also received the same salary and the same number of lines (at McQueen's insistence). The idea was originally proposed when it was thought that Newman and McQueen would star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but dropped when Robert Redford was cast instead of McQueen.

A variation of staggered billing can be seen on some TV series. Instead of two leads sharing the same title card, they alternate who is billed first from episode to episode.



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  • As detailed above, The Towering Inferno, starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, is the Trope Maker in film. McQueen's role as the fire chief was expanded from a smaller role at his insistence so as to equal Newman's character.
  • Jaws has a three-man variant of this, with Roy Scheider at lower left, Robert Shaw at center top, and Richard Dreyfuss at lower right.
  • Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Righteous Kill.
  • The poster for Inside Man manages to do something similar with three actors: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. Washington's picture is furthest to the left while Owen's is nearest the top, while their names are angled in such a way that Foster's name is furthest to the left and Washington's is nearest the top.
  • In the 2002 film of Chicago, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
  • In Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow get diagonal billing, while Angelina Jolie gets the honored And Starring position on the same card. See it here at 00:18.
  • Yul Brynner and Richard Benjamin in Westworld.
  • Boeing Boeing had the names of Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis criss-crossed.
  • Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, who combined for 131 years in the movie business when they co-starred together in The Whales of August (1987), get diagonal billing in the opening credits. Davis is billed first in the closing credits.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't feature this on the poster (where Supporting Protagonist Tom Hardy is billed before Charlize Theron), but does in the actual opening credits. Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne are listed this way during the end credits, as are Zoë Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whitely.
  • Hiroshima Mon Amour does this in the opening titles for leads Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada, who together have approximately 99% of the spoken dialogue in the movie. (Posters invariably give Riva either top billing or sole billing.)
  • This trope dates at least as far back as 1941. In Love Crazy, William Powell and Myrna Loy, who were starring in their tenth film together (eventually they made 14), were billed this way. That same year, co-stars Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland were billed this way in Hold Back the Dawn. Also that same year, Hedy Lamarr and James Stewart were billed this way in Come Live with Me.
  • Outrageous Fortune had an unusual variation to ensure equal billing for its stars: Shelley Long got top billing west of the Mississippi, and Bette Midler got it on the east side.
  • Ralph Richardson and John Mills in The Wrong Box
  • While Donald Pleasence was the undisputed biggest name and top billed in Halloween, by the time of Halloween II (1981) three years later, Jamie Lee Curtis had started to make a name for herself in horror movies, and they split the credits this way.

    Live Action TV 

  • Posters for the 1936 Broadway musical Red, Hot and Blue! placed Ethel Merman's and Jimmy Durante's names in crisscrossing bands because of a billing dispute. (When the two starred again in the 1939 flop Stars in Your Eyes, Merman was billed first.)
  • Often times, even when every other principle gets their own bow, a show's co-leads will come out and bow together. Granted, they'll also do singular bows after, which means one of them will technically get the last bow.

    Western Animation 
  • All Grown Up!, one of the rare animated series to feature billing in it's intro, had this for twins Phil and Lil DeVille.
  • Filmation utilized an interesting variant from 1969 to 1982 in the opening and closing sequences of its shows: the word "Produced By" or "Executive Producers" would be shown with the names of two of its three co-founders Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott revolving around it. [1]


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