Billing is a film term denoting the amount and order in which film credits information is presented in advertising materials and within the film itself. Information given in billing usually consists of the actors appearing in the movie, the directors, producers, the companies producing and distributing the movie (by name and/or logo), and artistic and technical crew. The title of the movie is also considered to be part of the billing.


From the beginnings of motion pictures in the 1900s to the early 1920s, the moguls that owned or managed big film studios did not want to bill the actors appearing in their films because they did not want to recreate the "star system" that was very prominent on Broadway at that time. They also feared that, once actors were billed on film, they would be more popular and would seek sky-high salaries. Actors themselves did not want to reveal their film careers to their stage counterparts via billing on film, because at that time working in the movies was deplorable and unacceptable to stage actors. Therefore, as late as the 1910s, stars as famous as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin were not known by name to moviegoers. According to Mary Pickford's biography Doug and Mary, she was referred to by the public as "the Biograph girl" in all of her films before 1905.

However, in 1906, Biograph actress Florence Lawrence received billing on the credits of her film, and she became the first movie star with celebrity status. From then on, actors received billing on film. Also originating during that time was the system of billing above and below the title, to delineate the status of the players. Big stars such as Pickford, Fairbanks, and Chaplin were billed above the the title, while lesser movie stars and supporting players were billed below the title.

During the era of the studio system, on-screen billing was presented at the beginning of a film; only a restatement of the cast and possibly additional players appeared at the end, because the studios had actors under contract and could decide billing. The studios still followed the billing system of the silent era.

However, after the studio system's collapse in the 1950s, actors and their agents fought for billing on a film-by-film basis. This, combined with changes in union contracts and copyright laws, led to more actors and crew members being included in the credits sequence, expanding its size significantly. As a result, since the late 1960s, a significant amount of the billing is reserved for the closing credits of the film, which generally includes a recap of the billing shown at the beginning. In addition, more stars began to demand top billing.

Billing demands even extended to publicity materials, down to the height of the letters and the position of names.

By the 1990s, some films had moved all billing to the film's end, with the exception of company logos and the title. Although popularised by the Star Wars series (see below) and used sporadically in films such as The Godfather and Ghostbusters, this "title-only" billing became an established form for summer blockbusters in 1989, with Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, and The Abyss following the practice.[1] Occasionally, even the title is left to the end, such as in The Mummy Returns, The Passion of the Christ, Hot Fuzz, Apocalypto, and The Dark Knight.

Main billingEdit

The order in which credits are billed generally signify their importance to the film. For example, the first is usually the motion picture company, followed by the producer (as in "A Jerry Bruckheimer Production"). Next, depending on his/her standing, the director may be granted an extra, prominent credit (as in "A Ridley Scott Film"); this practice began with directors such as Otto Preminger or William Wyler in the late 1950s.

The major starring actors generally come next, then the title of the movie and the rest of the principal cast. The following production credits also usually form part of the main billing:

If their contribution is deemed significant, other personnel (such as visual effects supervisor) may also be included. These are then followed by the other producers, the screenwriter(s) and again the director (as in "Directed by..."). The order in which the latter are billed is usually directly related to an individual's status in the film industry or role in the film. If the main credits occur at the beginning, then the director's name is last to be shown before the film's narrative starts, as a result of an agreement between the DGA and motion picture producers in 1939. However, if all billing is shown at the end, his/her name will be displayed first, immediately followed by the writing credits.

Some directors are so highly regarded that they receive what seems to be a producer's credit, even if they did not produce the film. Victor Fleming was one such director: his films always featured the credit "A Victor Fleming Production", even when someone else produced the film. James Whale was similarly credited.

The actors whose names appear first are said to have "top billing". They usually play the principal characters in the film and have the most screen time. However, well-known actors may be given top billing for publicity purposes if juvenile, lesser-known, or first-time performers appear in a larger role: e.g., Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were both credited above Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978), despite Reeve playing the main character. Frequently, top-billed actors are also named in advertising material such as trailers, posters, billboards and TV spots. Having a particular star at top billing can often draw audiences to see a movie regardless of any other aspect of it.

An actor may receive "last billing", which usually designates a smaller role played by a famous name. They are usually credited after the rest of the lead cast, prefixed with "and" (or also "with" if there is more than one, as Samuel L. Jackson was in the latter two Star Wars prequels). In some cases, the name is followed by "as" and then the name of the character. This is not the case if that character is unseen for most of the movie (see Ernst Stavro Blofeld).

The two or three top-billed actors in a movie will usually be announced prior to the title of the movie; this is referred to as "above-title billing". For an actor to receive it, he/she will generally have to be well-established, with box-office drawing power. Those introduced afterwards are generally considered to be the supporting cast, not the actual "stars" of the movie.

Actors that have high status in the industry don't always get top billing; if they only play a bit part, then it may go to the person who portrayed the main character. Some major actors may have a cameo, where they are only noted within the other cast during the end credits. Sometimes, top billing will be given based on a person's level of fame. For example, besides his brief appearance in Superman, Marlon Brando received top billing in both The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

If an unfamiliar actor has the lead role, he may be listed last in the list of principal supporting actors, his name prefixed with "and introducing" (as Peter O'Toole was in Lawrence of Arabia). Sometimes, he may not receive special billing even if his role is crucial. For example, the then-unknown William Warfield, who played Joe and sang "Ol' Man River" in the 1951 film version of Show Boat, received tenth billing as if he were merely a bit player, while Paul Robeson, an established star who played the same role in the 1936 film version of the musical, received fourth billing in the 1936 film.

If more than one name appears at the same time or of a similar size, then those actors are said to have "equal billing," with their importance decreasing from left to right. However, an instance of "equal importance" is The Towering Inferno (1974) starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. The two names appear simultaneously with Newman's on the right side of the screen and raised slightly higher than McQueen's, to indicate the comparable status of both actors' characters (this also features on the advertising poster). If a film has an ensemble cast with no clear lead role, it is traditional to bill the participants alphabetically or in the order of their on-screen appearance. An example of the former is A Bridge Too Far (1977), which featured 14 roles played by established stars, any one of whom would have ordinarily received top billing as an individual. The cast of the Pretty Cure films (starting with Max Heart) includes many recognized stars who are billed alphabetically, but after the two or more principals.

In the case of the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet, there were many famous actors playing supporting or bit roles, and these actors were given prominent billing in the posters along with the film's actual stars: Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, and Kate Winslet. However, in the actual film's credits, they, along with everyone else in the film, were not only listed in alphabetical order, but in the same size typeface, so as to avoid wounded egos.

If an actor is not an established star, he or she may not receive above-the-title billing, or even "star" billing; they may just be listed at the head of the cast. This is the way that all of the actors were listed in the opening credits to The Wizard of Oz; Judy Garland, although listed first, was given equal billing to all the others, with the cast list reading "with Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley", etc. (Note that Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man, but at the time was the least well-known of the principals in addition to Garland, received billing after Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, and Bert Lahr, although Morgan, and arguably Lahr, have less screen time than Haley.) F. Murray Abraham, a supporting actor at the time of Amadeus, did not receive special star billing although he played the lead role of Antonio Salieri; his onscreen credit reads "with F. Murray Abraham", although his name does appear first in the cast.

In some cases, the position of a name in the credits roll can become a sticking point for both cast and crew. Such was the case on Gilligan's Island, where two of the stars were only mentioned by name in the closing credits. Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, was so upset with this treatment that he reportedly told the producers that since his contract stipulated that his name could appear anywhere in the credits that he wished, he wanted to be moved to the end credits with his co-stars. The studio capitulated, and moved Denver's co-stars to the opening credits of the show.

Competitive top billingEdit

Sometimes actors can become highly competitive over the order of billing. For example:

  • In the 1978 film Ikaw ay Akin ("You Are Mine"), Philippine film stars Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos demanded top billing on all of their films. Director Ishmael Bernal decided to bill both actresses equally by setting their names on a revolving circle, a ploy that was later copied by others.
  • In Superman (1978), Marlon Brando (who pays Superman's father, Jor-El), receives top billing before Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor). Christopher Reeve, who plays Superman, is given third billing, after the film's title. According to director Richard Donner, this was in order to promote the film because Brando and Hackman were bigger stars at the time. Reeve did not achieve top billing in the series until Superman III (1983).
  • Jack Nicholson received top billing on promotional materials for Batman for his portrayal of the Joker. Michael Keaton, who played Batman, received second billing. However, Keaton was given top billing during the end credits.
  • In The Bonfire of the Vanities, F. Murray Abraham asked for above-title billing. This was rejected as too many other stars were getting it (Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith). Thus, Abraham asked for his name to be completely removed, even from the credits.
  • In the film Miami Vice, Colin Farrell originally received top billing. However, after Jamie Foxx won an Academy Award he requested top billing and received it. Foxx's name appears first in the opening credits, while Farrell still receives top billing in the closing credits.
  • In the opening credits of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Alec Guinness, who is generally regarded as the main character in the film, receives third billing, after William Holden (who demanded top billing) and Jack Hawkins (who does not even appear until halfway through the picture). However, in the closing credits, Guinness is billed second and Hawkins is billed third.
  • In the film The Towering Inferno, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and William Holden all tried to obtain top billing. Holden was refused as his star power was not considered in the league of McQueen and Newman. To provide dual top billing and mollify McQueen, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen at the lower left and Newman at the upper right. Thus, each actor appeared to have top billing depending on whether the poster was read from left to right or top to bottom.
  • Sailor Moon S is the only film in the Sailor Moon franchise where Emma Watson did not receive top billing. Instead, she opted for second billing, and at her request, Rupert Grint got top billing.

Filmmaker billingEdit

  • In 1980, George Lucas resigned from the Directors Guild of America after it insisted, against his wishes, that Irvin Kershner, the director of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, be credited at the beginning of the film; it had previously allowed the original Star Wars (1977), which had a similar opening sequence, to go unchallenged. Because Lucas got his way, he has been generally viewed as being responsible for popularising the "title only" style.
  • Kevin Smith doesn't use the tag "A Kevin Smith Film" in the credits of his movies. His feeling is that a movie is made by everyone involved, and not the product of just the director.[2]

Ben-Hur was one of the few MGM films in which the director received extremely prominent billing in the posters advertising the movie - the posters stated "A William Wyler Film", although the same credit did not appear in the actual onscreen credits. Another director who received extremely prominent billing in an MGM film was David Lean, whose Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter both carried the credit David Lean's Film Of (followed by the title of the film in question).

Unbilled appearancesEdit

  • As Gary Oldman appeared under heavy make-up in Hannibal, he requested that his name be completely removed from the billing and credits in order to "do it anonymously".[3] However, Nathan Murray is still credited as "Mr. Oldman's assistant" and Oldman's name was added to the end credits upon the film's home video release.
  • For suspense purposes, Kevin Spacey, who plays the killer in Se7en, requested not to be credited in either the opening titles or any advertising for the film. His name appears in the closing credits.

See alsoEdit


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