The Warner Bros. logo has always had the same basic premise: It’s a shield floating in the clouds stamped with the initials W.B. Everyone knows it, and looking back at old Warner Bros. movies, it’s tempting to say that it basically hasn’t changed over the years: The emblem you see at the beginning of a movie today seems virtually identical to the one you would have seen 60 years ago.
Or does it? In actuality, over the last century, the Warner Bros. logo has seen a surprising number of design iterations that has resulted in literally hundreds of different logos, and a fantastically comprehensive gallery shows what has changed over the years, and what has not.
The first Warner Bros. logo hails all the way back to the 1920s. As seen in films such as 1927’s The Jazz Singer, it establishes the basic motif of the Warner Bros. logo for the next 90 years: a shield with the initials “W.B.” stamped on it. Yet unlike future iterations, the original logo crushed the studio’s initials into the lower third of the shield, so as to reveal the company’s Burbank film studios.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, the W.B. initials eventually grew to take over the rest of the shield, and by 1935’s Captain Blood, the Warner Bros. logo had settled into a more elongated but otherwise similar version of the design it has used, with small iterations, for the past 80 years. But there are exceptions. In November, 1966, Jack Warner sold control of Warner Bros. to Seven Arts, Inc. The studio was then renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. As seen in films like 1968’s Bullitt, this logo–coincidentally, the studio’s seventh major logo variation–kept the shield and Warner’s initials but dropped the B, opting instead to have the W‘s ascender bend into a 7.
This design lasted only four years. In 1970, Kinney Services bought Warner Bros. and changed the logo to resemble almost a gas station’s version of the historic mark: a beveled W and B over a crimson shield with gold outlines. Time Warner seems to want to expunge this logo from the historical record. Although it was originally seen at the beginning of 1971’s Dirty Harry and A Clockwork Orange, in recent DVD and Blu-ray releases, the company either replaces it with its current logo or edits it out of the film entirely.
After an eight-month return to the classic Warner Bros. logo, Saul Bass was hired in 1972 to rebrand the famous film studio. It’s easy to see why Bass’s design–very much of its time and slightly, well, Nazi-like–was quickly phased out by the mid-1980s in favor of the classic Warner Bros. logo. Even so, it has always been my personal favorite. I’m not alone: Ben Affleck and Steven Soderbergh opted to use this Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of their respective films, Argo and Magic Mike.
Which brings us perhaps to the most noteworthy thing about the Warner Bros. logo: Filmmakers have always been encouraged to tailor it to suit the individual tone of their films. The first stylized Warner Bros. logo appears as early as 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, in which the shield is rendered as if it were a royal crest. In the late 1990s, with the rise of CGI, stylized use of the Warner Bros. logo exploded: There have been more than 200 variants in the last 15 years alone. Great design is timeless, but it’s also adaptable.
Check out pretty much every Warner Bros. logo for yourself here.