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The signage outside cinemas has come a long way since the early days of film. From simple printed signs to bright art deco-esque neon lights and now sleek digital displays, old cinema signage has evolved dramatically alongside the medium of film itself. Understanding this history provides insight into how cinema signs have played a pivotal role in attracting customer attention and reflecting the nature of cinema through the decades.Speak to the team

Early Silent Era (Late 19th century - 1920s)

In the pioneering days of cinema, signage was fairly simple and minimalistic, due to technological constraints as much as style preferences. Early silent films were themselves relatively basic, with minimal sets and effects. Cinema signs at this time would have commonly consisted of ‘marquee boards’ with the names of films and show times printed or physically painted on them. Nothing too flashy or attention-grabbing, the signs reflected the modest nature of early film production and took their cue from the advertising style used by contemporary theatres.

Golden Age of Hollywood (1930s - 1950s)

As film production became more advanced and ambitious in the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, so too did the signage outside cinemas. The rise of cheap and reliable neon lighting in the 1930s paved the way for far more elaborate and decorative cinema signs. Large vertical "blade signs" mounted on the sides of theatres became an iconic feature that persisted into the 1980s and 90s in British cinemas. This reflects how the grand, flashy nature of big-budget Hollywood films had an influence on custom cinema sign designs across the world.

Drive-In Theatres (1930s - 1960s)

Drive-in movie theatres never really took off here in the UK but were a huge cultural feature of the American landscape in the mid-20th century and brought their own unique signage requirements for attracting motorists. Signs made use of fluorescent or neon tube lighting to ensure visibility at night for passing traffic. As well as displaying the theatre name and showtimes, drive-in signs would sometimes feature catchy slogans or images related to the films being screened. This signage was designed specifically to catch the eye of drivers and proved influential in the way that cinemas worldwide promoted their films and services to customers.

Modern Era and Multiplexes (1960s - Present)

From the 1960s onwards, digital displays and LED screens started to replace traditional signage methods. This switch to electronic signage reflected the rise of the multiplex model and more modern cinemas. LED and cinema digital signage allowed for more dynamic and rapidly changing displays. A far cry from the fixed lettering of the old blade signs. This flexible digital signage suits the multiplex business model of showing a variety of different films at once.

The Future Of Cinema Signage

As cinemas continue evolving to offer more immersive experiences, including live streams of opera, ballet, and theatrical productions, signage will likely follow suit to reflect the tastes and preferences of a new generation of film viewers. Custom cinema sign possibilities like interactive displays or even holographic projections could become a reality, drawing inspiration from classic and modern cinematic advertising styles, and even forging new styles of their own. The days of printed film titles on marquee boards are long gone, although this can easily be replicated in digital signage if it fits with your brand. Cinema signs act as a window into each era of film history - and their ongoing changes will continue to reflect innovations in the world of cinema.

Want To Take Your Old Cinema Signage To The Next Level? 

Working with a professional signage company like Image Technique is key to creating innovative, eye-catching displays that leverage the latest technology and styles to increase footfall to your cinema. Our expertise can help evolve your signage to better attract customer attention in the modern era.

Download our free Benefits Of Using An End-To-End Signage Company guide to discover more about how partnering with the right signage provider can help bring your cinema signage into the future, or get in touch with our team to learn more about our signage solutions for cinema.