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History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts
History of Movie T-Shirts

It's fascinating to sit here today and basically have any type of t-shirt or promotional entertainment article available to us at the click of a mouse. Not just for movies, but for any pop culture symbol. Who would have thought we'd be one day seeing Royal wedding t-shirts?

As far as the entertainment industry goes, Hollywood and movies are still the driving force in shaping what we eventually adopt as culture.

Every studio wants to promote their films through a wide array of promotional items, which also includes t-shirts. Over the past decade a multitude of movie t-shirts have been worn by a wide range of different age groups. The kids always have their quintessential Lion King or Toy Story tees, as well as Marvel and DC superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man. The pre-teens and teens can rely on Harry Potter or the Twilight sagas, while late-teens and early 20 somethings may go slightly darker with Iron Man, Hellboy and the Joker from the latest Batman movie.

History of Movie T-Shirts
History of Movie T-Shirts

There are also crossover tees of popular characters such as Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, etc…) which people from age 6 to 60 can still be seen wearing.

A funny thing happened on the way to the movie theatres. A new generation of maverick filmmakers decided to challenge the old Hollywood studio system and became the 'auteurs' of their own films. They broke down the age-old stigma of Hollywood films by making a movie their own, without the use on any traditional high-priced starts. They were the new breed of storytellers and their films are now considered to be not only classics, but a part of our cultural fabric.

The films they made were all underfunded and had massive production problems, while no one from the old Hollywood studio system could understand what they were trying to do. Nevertheless, these films became wildly popular and made a tremendous amount of money for both the filmmakers and the distributors.

What we, in 2011, need to keep in mind is that these directors were not the 'mainstream', but were the rebels of their industry, and that none of their films were slated for success on a short term basis, let alone be considered classics 30 years-or-so down the line.


When Francis Ford Coppola produced The Godfather, most of the budget was spent on getting Marlon Brando to participate in the film. Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and James Caan were considered to be unknowns that weren't 'bankable' by the big studios. Coppola started a new revolution in the movies. For the first time ever, directors were coming out of film schools and were not part of the working-chain within a large studio system. Steven Spielberg's Jaws, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and even George Lucas' Star Wars were initially frowned upon by the major studios.

But a new generation of theatre goers realized that the game had now changed drastically. Not only did they go out in the millions to watch these movies, but they also wanted items which would remind them of their favorite new films. Movie t-shirts were now being sold alongside rock t-shirts. This new generation was now displaying not only their favorite bands, but movies as well.


Movie t-shirts, posters, caps, toys and various other merchandising were now becoming a part of the collective cultural psyche.

The Godfather, Jaws and especially Star Wars opened the doors for movie t-shirts and merchandise to be as 'in' as those of the latest rock bands. Although the major studios were not quick to catch on to this new demand by audiences, emerging cutting-edge directors had begun to spread the word (pre-Facebook, Twitter and the Internet) by printing t-shirts displaying their low-budget, art-house movies.

By the early 1980s, movie t-shirts and caps were becoming a part of the mainstream. The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET were not only selling out movie theatres, but merchandising as well.

Unlike the wide-release blockbusters,the movie that changed the playing field and brought things back to the days of the maverick director was 1983's Scarface. Upon the release and success of the movie, thousands of Scarface t-shirts could be seen on the streets, worn mostly by young males. Some t-shirts displayed the movie poster with Al Pacino, while others simply had the tag line, "Say hello to my little friend!", referring to his machine gun in the film.

A new form of t-shirt expression was born. You no longer needed simply an image on the t-shirt, you could now have a slogan which represented your favorite film. That same year, Clint Eastwood uttered the line "Go ahead, make my day!" in Sudden Impact. The two most violent pictures of the year provided moviegoers with the two best lines of the year.


The industry shifted gears and was now 'in tune' with its audience. Almost every film being released was designed around an iconic look or tag-line in order to maximize sales outside of the movie theatres. Throughout the next few decades movies like Ghostbusters, Terminator, Aliens, Back To the Future, Batman, Top Gun, Pulp Fiction and the entire Marvel & DC Comics franchises all realized that there was a much broader consumer base than the people who were paying for a movie ticket.

Today, we can go into the back catalogue of movie t-shirts and are able to find practically any title, even though it had never existed at the time of a movie's initial viewing. Older classics such as Casablanca, Psycho and Citizen Kane can now be worn as a t-shirt, whereas it would have been impossible to find any such article of clothing at the time of their release.

History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts History of Movie T-Shirts

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