Movie Posters, Graphic Design, and the Art of the ‘Z’

One of the first things that I learned about graphic design is the power of the “Z”. Allow me to explain. Typically, readers’ eyes will gravitate to the top left of something that they’re reading. The natural flow for them is to go from left to right. Then their eyes typically go diagonally through the center, down to the bottom left of the piece, and then left to right again. And graphic designers will exploit these natural reading habits by placing calls to action or strong visual elements in the path of these steps. Here’s an illustration of how this works, using an advertisement I found at I’ve placed a bright red path to show the ‘Z’:

Once you see the ‘Z’, you’ll never miss it. Designers don’t always use it (there are tons of ways to build effective graphic design), and sometimes the ‘Z’ goes backwards. But make no mistake- there are Z’s all over the place in a lot of graphic design. Except for web, which is an ‘F’… but let’s not get sidetracked here. Why do I bring all of this up, you ask? Movie posters. You can’t miss the Z’s in movie posters. And thanks to Ruth at Flix Chatter, who recently wrote about movie posters and design, I’ve been inspired to show you a bunch of movie poster Z’s. Some examples (and I’ve placed the bright red ‘Z’ on top of these):

Here’s a nice reverse Z:


Filed under Movies

10 responses to “Movie Posters, Graphic Design, and the Art of the ‘Z’

  1. Kelly

    Very cool. I think it’s hilarious that Carrie-Anne Moss wasn’t included as a visual point on The Matrix poster. She’s such a horrible actress!

    Hard Rock Zombies? I had to IMDb that one. Hicks, rubes, werewolves, muderous dwarves, and Nazi sex perverts… I know what I’m going to (try to) watch this weekend.

  2. Don

    This is interesting. I think that Cuckoo’s Nest should be a revers Z as well. Would follow Nicholson’s body line better.

  3. rtm

    Awesome John, thanks for the shout-out, too. Nice list here, boy lots of them I didn’t realize the Z pattern. I’m surprised the Zorro poster didn’t make the list 😀

  4. @da_Rhettster

    I have to say the Z pattern failed you once. The Z never intersects with the latex-clad Carrie Moss on the Matrix poster? Hell, in nerd circles, it would be more of a loop that began on her, circled to the title, and then back on Carrie Moss.

  5. Here’s one you missed;

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