Hate the “Avatar” Font? It Could Be Worse.

He could have used Comic Sans.

[Yes, we are technically on hiatus. But here was a breaking story that couldn’t wait to be overthought. —Ed.]

Font snobs around the world recoiled in horror upon seeing the font “Papyrus” used in the movie posters for James Cameron’s Avatar.

But that wasn’t the end of the horror for the Font Snobs: James Cameron wasn’t content with using Papyrus in the movie poster; he went as far as to use it as the font for all of the subtitles in the movie!

Now, I sympathize with these Font Snobs. It’s a hokey font. But all I have to say is, James Cameron’s taste in fonts could be worse. Imagine if this were the poster…

And imagine if this is how the subtitles looked:

So stop complaining about the font. Papyrus is bad, but it ain’t no Comic Sans.

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24 Comments on “Hate the “Avatar” Font? It Could Be Worse.”

  1. Wordsworth #

    I cringed.

    Papyrus is nothing beautiful, but I shuddered at the sight of Comic Sans. Thank you, Overthinking It, for sending a shiver down my spine.

    But I must say, the Papyrus subtitles were extraordinarily frustrating within the film. What’s wrong with the more frequently used Arial-esque fonts? Too corporate for an indigenous tribe?


  2. Jon Eric #

    Too corporate. Heh. The subtitles should be in wingdings!


  3. Caleb #

    I never understood people’s hatred of Papyrus or Comic Sans.


  4. Ace #

    Wow, Comic Sans would have been much more hideous than Papyrus, and I can usually stand Comic Sans. Ugh. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t look a little further to find a fitting font. Bleh!


  5. Gab #

    On the subject of text on the screen of _Avatar_, I realized when I saw it Sunday that the first time the actual title of the movie is displayed comes two hours and forty minutes in.

    Avatar= Longest trailer I ever sat through in a movie theater

    If the TRAILER was that long, I wonder how many more false endings than _The Return of the King_ the full thing will have. And I’m not going to touch a director’s cut or extended version…

    ::twirls imaginary beard::



  6. John Perich #

    @Caleb: the hatred for Comic Sans comes from (1) its artificial folksiness (“I’m just writing you a note in magic marker, la la la”) and (2) its overuse on Geocities between 1994 and 2001.


  7. lee OTI Staff #

    @Caleb, @Perich: And the hatred for Papyrus comes from its artificial exoticness (“I’m trying to show my third-world-ness and non-Anglo-ness with this typeface, kumbaya”). On a more personal note, I’ve always had a problem with this font ever since my college friend used it for his student film project about adopting a kid from Africa. To me it felt like a cheesy aesthetic shortcut and a blatant attempt at “other-ification.”

    So I guess in that sense Papyrus is actually the perfect font for “Avatar.”


  8. Mark #

    If only the font of choice were Impact…


  9. Gab #

    Maybe it’s Orientalist of me, but I always associated Papyrus with pseudo-Egyptian-ness (I was thinking scrolls and the library at Alexandria and the like…), so I felt it was rather out-of-place in the movie. Anybody know what Papyrus is actually *supposed* to look like/resemble, as according to, say, the group that developed it, or a spokesperson or someone?

    Curlz MT, there’s the winner.


  10. Gab #

    *…thinking it attempted to allude to scrolls…



  11. Wordsmith #

    I’m with Gab – Papyrus has always had an association with the ancient Egyptian. But I’m betting that’s simply because of it’s name.

    I wasn’t a fan of it, but I don’t think it felt wholly out of place in the film. It has a coarseness to it (with the chipped edges and all) but is still readable. I’m guessing it was chosen for this reason: it is decidedly UN-sophisticated and UN-modern, but is legible. Which, I suppose, is kind’ve handy if you’re translating a fictional language.

    I also wonder, was it the combination of the strong yellow and the font that made the subtitles look truly unpleasant? Would it have been any more tolerable had the subtitles been white? I, for one, cannot recall any film that has used yellow subtitles for only parts of a movie. I’ve only seen it applied to fully-foreign-language films. I sense a pretension in applying the yellow subtitle to selected scenes in an action flick…


  12. Ressa #

    But if you spend millions of dollars on a movie even inventing a new people and a new language, couldn’t you have spent a little more for a custom made font?


  13. Hemlok #

    People are really discussing a font? I guess the point of ‘overthinking it’ may be missed by some? ; )


  14. donn #

    “Papyrus is a typeface designed by Chris Costello, a prolific graphic designer, illustrator, and web designer … Costello described his goal as a font that would represent what English vernacular would have looked like if written on papyrus 2000 years ago.” -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_(typeface)


  15. Caleb #

    I don’t see how calling Papyrus artificial explains people’s distaste for it. All fonts are artificial. In fact, given the attempt of the Papyrus font to appear natural, it ends up looking much less artificial against the background of Pandora than something like Arial or Helvetica would.


  16. Heavens.Feel #

    The poster says “from the director of Titanic” like it’s
    something to be proud of.


  17. stokes OTI Staff #

    It occurs to me… judging from the movie, we have no reason to believe that the Navi have a written language, right? Makes the dippy font all the more rediculous.


  18. Marmaduke #

    The font technically isn’t papyrus but they used it as a template for a new, innovative, million dollar creation (ok it probably cost them like fifteen minutes of tweaking time) as was the film’s on going theme.



  19. Genevieve #

    I take comfort in the image of some snotty designers saying to themselves, “James Cameron won’t know the difference – let’s take that fool’s money and just tweak that lame “papyrus” font a bit, hehehehehehe!”


  20. donn #

    If high fructose corn syrup were rare we’d revere it like shark fin soup, instead of which it’s everywhere and we despise it like shark fin soup. There’s nothing inherently bad about the font, it’s just used far too broadly as shorthand for organic/upscale and consequently denotes exactly the opposite.


  21. erik_satie_rollerblading #

    OMG! I can’t believe Overthinking It has a post on the best posts of 2009! One would think, with all the time spent on designing a website, that they would avoid such a hack, overused topic. Aren’t you sick of all the 2009 lists? And this title font they use. Whats that supposed to be,a poor man’s Courier? I mean,really, typewriters are beyond obsolete! They might as well use Comic Sans!! Or Avatar, excuse me, Papyrus!


  22. C. Massey #

    Caleb, the answer to that is that some people have so little going on upstairs that complaining vehemently about absolutely nothing is the only thing their puerile minds can come up with to waste time they could spend doing, well, anything else useful or even remotely productive. Or sleeping, which would at least keep them off the internet for a few hours.
    When I saw the font I thought, “Wow. That’s kind of a weird choice,” and then promptly forgot it forever; the way a normally functioning human would, instead of deciding to waste days writhing in agony over it and actually posting things getting horribly upset over a font.
    I mean, for god’s sake people. Seriously?


  23. Tstewlor #

    Randomly used Papyrus for a school project. Looked a whole lot like the avatar font. Looked it up. I died.


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