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Font Anachronism

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Typefaces, or fonts, are Serious Business. Although they may be taken for granted by most people, typographers and graphic designers treat them with reverence.

Because of this split in sentiment, there are instances where works take place in a different time period, but a font that was not invented is used because, to some, they all look the same anyway.

This leads to designers becoming highly annoyed, although others who aren't attuned to the differences in similar typefaces don't particularly notice. Or care. Even medieval, pre-print manuscripts with modern letters will probably go unnoticed by most, because we are so used to seeing neat, standardized lettering in books. Under the right circumstances, this can count as an Acceptable Break from Reality if text that the audience needs to read is rendered more legible, with the calligraphy "modernized" just as the spelling is.

Keep in mind, however, that some movie-makers purposefully use anachronistic type; a modern incarnation of an old-style typeface can evoke a particular time-period while still engaging the audience. Also, an evocative type treatment can avoid a movie looking dated rather than a tasteful period piece.

For more in-depth insight on this, read the article by Mark Simonson here.

See also Fonts, and for fun, Kinetic Type.


General Misuse

  • Some works feature the usage of lowercase letterforms—or, worse, upper- and lower-case forms used together with their modern meaning—when they did not exist yet. Lowercase letters or more accurately, minuscule scriptsnote  were first developed in late antiquity, with Latin minuscule appearing in the 3rd century AD; mixing upper- and lowercase letters in the same text only dates from the 15th century.
  • The use of any recognizable font for signage that, at the time, would have been hand-painted rather than printed, or cut by hand rather than by a machine. Though there are modern fonts that are modeled after hand-painted signs from various eras, close enough to pass for the real thing as long as the sign doesn't look too perfect. (And if you're making a video game, good luck justifying the time or budget for hand-lettering every sign at a realistic scale.) Commercial vehicles are especially problematic since old-style hand painted signwriting was permanent, most cars used in movies are rented, and vinyl lettering instead is pretty obvious.
  • Comics from The Golden Age of Comic Books that are featured in works may use Comic Sans as text in word balloons although it wasn't invented until 1994. These books typically used hand-lettering.note 
  • A not-uncommon situation in works set in World War II — while the Fraktur font is almost emblematic of Nazi Germany in fiction, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated and actually a fairly contentious matter at the time. Germany at the time was split between two popular fonts — the plain Latin style Antiqua, and the ornate Gothic style Fraktur. Being more "Germanic", Fraktur was in fact preferred by many of Hitler's supporters during their rise to power. However, the man himself had no great love for Fraktur, believing Antiqua better suited to the modern "age of steel and iron, glass and concrete". Ultimately, the use of Fraktur for official purposes was discontinued in the beginning of 1941, not yet a third of the way through the war.

Comic Strips

  • 9 Chickweed Lane shows typewriters during World War II producing text in the typeface American Typewriter, designed in 1974. While the typeface is designed to resemble typewriter letterforms, it only does so aesthetically—it's not a monospaced type. Typewriters need every letter to be the same width ("monospace") for the text to have good-looking kerning.


  • Chocolat, set in the 1950s, features a poster whose words are typed in ITC Benguiat, a typeface invented in 1978 (and best known today as the Stranger Things logo font).
  • The movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is a film-noir throwback taking place in the 1940s. A brochure shown in the film is written in Blippo, invented in 1969.
  • In the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream type is used quite well and true. One hiccup is the Machine and Tool sign, featuring Helvetica, which wouldn't have been used in such a manner in the 1940s. That, and Helvetica itself was created in 1957.
  • In Forrest Gump the letter from Apple Computer is dated 21 September 1975. The font used on the logo, Apple Garamond, wasn't used by Apple until the launch of the Macintosh in 1984. The font was only designed in 1977. For that matter, the rainbow Apple logo was first used in May 1977.
  • The documentary Martin Luther King And The March On Washington features a banner in Arial. Arial, the Helvetica-replica, wasn't invented until the 1980s, though it was meant to be a license-free near approximation to avoid fees for using Helvetica.
  • Titanic (1997) features Helvetica (invented 45 years later) on some of the gauges on the ship. The film, of course, takes place in 1912 aboard the RMS Titanic. The current Helvetica font does resemble some proto-Helvetica fonts in existence in 1912, so it's not too egregious an error.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, the rubber stamp used by the parole hearings people in 1947 prints in the Helvetica font, a decade too soon.
  • In Pearl Harbor, the ticker-tape coded messages Capt. Thurman reads is printed out in Helvetica.
  • In Valkyrie, on the banner with the inscription "Führer befiehl, wir folgen dir", the font used is a Fraktur type. This is extremely improbable, given that Hitler had banned all Fraktur types in 1941 while openly stating that they were of Jewish origin. note 
  • The Good Shepherd has a scene where, when Matt Damon steals a briefcase and reads a memo listing the Nazi party members - the title of the memo is set in Arial, which wasn't available as a font until 1982. Furthermore, the memo looks laser copied rather than typed. The fact that this is a closeup view makes this a rather obvious mistake.
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, we see a ticker tape typing out the message sent to Van Helsing from Dr. Seward. The type appears to be OCR (optical character reader) font, which was not created until 1968.
  • Public Enemies is set in 1933, but as John Dillinger and his associates leave the red train car, the car number seen on the outside of the car is in the Helvetica font, which was not created until 1957.
  • The Queen shows the numberplate on the Range Rover as having the new style 'Charles Wright' font, which was introduced in September 2001 (the film took place in 1997).
  • A League of Their Own is set in 1943. The "Catch a Foul—Get a Kiss" banner is printed in the font "Banco", which was created in 1951.
  • Critically-aclaimed film The Artist features an array of anachronistic and stylistically questionable type treatments. Some of these are deliberate to evoke the silent-film era rather than copy it.
  • The Israeli film I Once Was, set in Israel in The '60s, features a scene taking place in a film theatre with modern subtitles.
  • In The Barber of Siberia, Douglas McCracken's sign is in the Times font. The film is set in 1885, almost 50 years before that font was created.
  • According to the title song, Thoroughly Modern Millie takes place in 1922. But at least one of the posters for it is set in Broadway... which wasn't designed until 1929.
  • The Princess and the Frog: A newspaper dated 1926 is printed in Times New Roman, which would not be designed until six years later.
  • Hidden Figures is set in 1961 - 1962. In the climactic scene where Katherine Johnson double-checks the figures calculated by the IBM 7090 ahead of John Glenn's launch, she consults a reference book typeset in Computer Modern with TeX mathematical notation, which weren't available until 1978.
  • In Matinee, which takes place in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, there's a scene in the local junior high school where the camera zooms into the school office. On the glass walls of the office are flyers that are printed in a dot-matrix font commonly used on 1980s desktop computers.
  • Fear Street Part One: 1994 is set in...well, 1994, but has a host of anachronisms. In one of the earliest scenes, we see a boy typing in an online chat room using the Calibri Regular font, which is even clearly labeled as such. That font was not released until 2007.

Live-Action TV

  • In Mad Men, the sign on the original Sterling Cooper building is Gill Sans, which was not in popular use in the United States until the 1970s (of course, it's not impossible, since Gill Sans was released in 1928 and was popular in its native Britain from the 1930s onward—and Bert Cooper is enough of an eccentric to use an unusual font on his building). There are other future fonts, mainly in shots of print ads: Fenice (1980), Balmoral (1978), ITC Kabel (1975), Bookman Old Style (1989), Zapfino (1998), and Gotham (2002) (although this one is tricky, since Gotham intentionally mimics older the styles of public-building lettering in New York from the 1930s to the 1960s). Of course, there were similar fonts—sometimes quite similar—to all of these in existence in the 1960s; presumably, this was a measure to save time and money. Notably, the first episode of the show features an advertisement in the aforementioned Zapfino.
  • In the series Da Vinci's Demons, the typeface Gotham (2002) is seen on a Renaissance building. If the font mimicked historical styles, we could maybe give it a pass, but sans-serif styles didn't exist until the late 18th century. Gotham was based on popular types of the 1930s.
  • The Crown (2016): An unusual one relating to Arabic script. Arabic-language signage in the Egypt scenes in Seasons 1 and 2 (centering on the Suez Crisis of 1956) is invariably Naskh—and in a particularly straight-lined variant that, while it existed in the 1950s, was really only used in newspapers until the 1970s, and even today really isn't all that common as a display typeface except in its bold form (which the signage often isn't). Arabic signage at the time would have generally used curvier Naskh if they used it at all; more typically, Ruq`ah,note  Diwani,note  Thuluthnote  or Kuficnote  would be used as display scripts in Arabic in the 1950s (and we say "scripts" because in the 50s these signs would almost invariably be hand-lettered—indeed, typesetting for display wouldn't be common in the Arab World until the advent of computer publishing).

Video Games

  • In Call of Duty: Black Ops, the typeface on the intel collectible does not appear to be written on a typewriter or a basic word processor; the font is much more advanced than its time. This is but one tick mark in a long, long list of glaring anachronisms in the game.
  • The BioShock games set in Rapture use Century Gothic (1991) extensively, including in the logos. Not too much of an issue, as it was based on the typeface Twentieth Century, which was around by the 1940s.
  • The Grand Theft Auto: Vice City version of the Mr. Whoopee truck has a Mr. Whoopee logo written in Comic Sans. The game is set in 1986 while the font was released in 1994.

Real Life

  • Some of the first cracks in the Bush Air National Guard documents story came from font enthusiasts who noticed that the supposedly typewritten documents used a proportionally spaced font and superscripting, things that weren't possible on a typewriter.note 
  • During a political scandal in Pakistan, a selection of documents revolving around Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif purported to have been written in February 2006 were suspected as being forgeries because the font they were written in, Calibri, wasn't released publicly until May of that same year. Pakistan soon found itself sans Sharif.