© Time Warner Studios MCMXCVIII

Something like this is almost always used at the very end of the credits creep in movies (and TV shows). But why the cumbersome use of Roman numerals? Why not just say 1998 and be done with it?


According to David Feldman's book Imponderables: The Solution to the Mysteries of Everyday Life:

Why are copyrighted dates on movies and television shows written in Roman numerals?

  • The general consensus is the "deception theory":

    • to "make it difficult for viewers to determine exactly how old the show is", the reason being the older the date the "staler" the material may seem to the audience.

  • Then there's the "inertia theory":

    • That's just the way it's always been done.

This BBC article says something similar:

Perhaps one of the most notable areas where people are likely to come across Roman numerals is in TV and film credits, where the convention is not to spell out what year something was made.

The practice is believed to have started in an attempt to disguise the age of films or television programmes. In other words, the opposite of claiming an undeserved antiquity.

  • It's been a lot easier since 2000 (MM) but it gets (relatively) more difficult every year thereafter. – Michael Itzoe Mar 24 '15 at 18:16
  • I second the inertia argument. I just watched a football game. At the very end, there was a copyright notice of MMXV. Clearly, this was a live production of today. There is no value in masking the age of a football broadcast. – rosends Dec 13 '15 at 21:05

Readability and Internationalization

Movies are mostly produced on reels of film (few are digital). Physical film can degrade over time making it difficult to read numeric values. Some numbers will look exactly the same, for example the number 6 will become 5 when the film becomes old. Where as, roman numerals are easier to read when the film degrades. A lot of television shows are also shot with film.

The other problem is languages. Arabic numbers are hard to distinguish in fine print. Two and three look very similar. So the film industry started using roman numerals to ensure the copyright date was always readable.

enter image description here

  • 12
    Can you provide any sources for this? – Steve Melnikoff Feb 22 '13 at 10:53
  • 1
    This is hard to reconcile with the rest of the titles and credits being written with Roman letters. Besides, the industry is rapidly shifting to digital capture. In a few years, practically no movie will be shot on film. – wallyk Sep 26 '13 at 5:29
  • 2
    Many modern digital movies are stored for long term on film, (salt mine in Kansas) because video formats keep changing. 50 video formats since the late 80s! Film lasts longer than video isn't that wild? So title degradation is still an issue even for modern films. – user6816 Nov 19 '13 at 18:48
  • 2
    What is the purpose of including the image of Arabic-Indic numerals? In your answer, you state "Arabic numbers are hard to distinguish in fine print. Two and three look very similar." which is very true for Arabic-Indic numerals, but not for "Arabic" (Hindu-Arabic) numerals. I have never seen a movie made in countries that use Roman-style alphabets that used Arabic-Indic numerals. They either used Hindu-Arabic or, perhaps more commonly, Roman numerals. – Dennis Williamson Oct 22 '14 at 20:48
  • I have to second wallyk. In the context of 'everything else' this seems like a fairly implausible reason for just the copyright date to be written out in Roman Numerals. – DA. Sep 21 '15 at 21:39

It's quite often done in order to hide in which year it was created. This way people may think it's older or younger than it actually is.

And as stated above in a previous answer Arabic numbers are hard to distinguish in fine print.

Source: Roman numerals

  • 3
    Both of these reasons are already stated above. – coleopterist Dec 19 '13 at 16:10

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