The THX logo: a (non-exhaustive) history

THX logo in metallic font on black background, surrounded by blue rectangular framing
(Image credit: THX)

The THX logo appearing on screen has become synonymous with the feeling of settling in for a truly cinematic experience. Developed at George Lucas’s Lucasfilm in the early 1980s for the release of Return of the Jedi, the THX brand has grown to become an assurance of audiovisual quality. 

Both films themselves and the auditoria they are shown in are required to meet stringent standards in order to be THX certified – and the logo that indicates this certification has gone through many incarnations over the years.

Now, before anyone comes at us – this is not an exhaustive, comprehensive history of the THX logo, if indeed such a thing is even possible. There have been many, many versions of THX logos, and indeed there have also been many, many variants of each version. Some were featured on limited-run DVDs, some played for a brief period in theatres in certain cities, some were scrawled on a napkin by George Lucas while he was at the food court – you get it. 

So, here we’ve collated an overview of the most famous, iconic and just downright enjoyable THX logos that have appeared over the decades. Okay? Do not email me about missing versions; I have already set up a filter. 

If you can’t get enough logos, check out our rundown of the best logos of all time or more of our logo history posts. And if this gets you in the mood to do some designing of your own, our guide to the best logo designers will help you get started.

The Deep Note

Before we get too deep into the different logos – or 'trailers' as the community refers to them – we can’t start without talking about the Deep Note. As well as its visual mark, THX also has an audio trademark, one so distinctive that it made our list of the best audio logos

Composed by James A. Moorer, the Deep Note is a synthesised glissando – meaning a smooth glide from one pitch to another. It starts in a fairly narrow frequency band of 200–400 Hz, and builds and builds in a thundering crescendo that in any good cinema should be absolutely pounding out of the speakers. The final sound spans three octaves’ worth of pitches, and while we could spend more words explaining it, you’ll almost certainly recognise it if we show you:

As we’ll see, the Deep Note has been remastered, remixed and even outright remade from scratch as the THX logo has undergone its many transformations.

1983: Wings

“For the past 35 years, motion picture loudspeaker systems have not changed…” read the first title card, as the initial strains of the Deep Note began to swell. This was the debut of the THX trailer. It was titled 'Wings', a nod to the film of the same name which won the first ever Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929. 

This version appeared in front of the film Return of the Jedi, but only in a couple of movie theatres in Los Angeles and in Dallas, Texas. The lettering here will likely look familiar, as THX has rarely significantly wavered from this wordmark – with the crossbar of the 'T' extending over the 'H' and the 'X', and a parallel underline running below. There’s a glossy metallic sheen to the letters, and a trademark symbol on the bottom right.

Late 1983: Broadway

Debuting later that same year, the 'Broadway' version of the THX trailer received much more play, and is probably more recognisable to the casual viewer. It begins with an electric blue rectangular frame, in which appears the now-iconic phrase, coined here for the first time: 'The audience is listening'. After that, a version of the THX lettering appears – still metallic, but quite a bit sleeker and cleaner – note also that the trademark symbol has vanished. 

The Broadway version (named for the second-ever Best Picture winner, The Broadway Melody) has appeared in various incarnations since, and is still considered by many to be the most famous version of the THX trailer. It would receive a number of updates in years to come, including Broadway 2000, which debuted a re-recorded version of the Deep Note, and Broadway 3D for 3D releases.

1988: Cimarron

The Cimarron version was named after an award-winning Western from 1932. It broke with tradition by abandoning the Deep Note – a move that would not prove to be popular – and instead begins with the sound of an orchestra tuning up. A conductor’s hand framed in a small rectangle brings the instruments to attention, and then we launch through a Star Wars-esque hyperspace until we reach the classic metallic THX mark, which floats towards and past the viewer. 

1993: Grand

The 1993 'Grand' version of the THX logo debuted in 1993 alongside the film Jurassic Park, which was not only a rollicking good time at the pictures but also represented a landmark leap forward for special effects, and in particular CGI. As such, the new version of the THX logo (named for 1933’s The Grand Hotel) was created using cutting-edge CGI from the visual effects firm Industrial Light and Magic, and just like Jurassic Park, it still looks pretty darn good today. This version also wisely returned to the Deep Note following Cimarron’s unpopular departure.

1994: Simpsons

By 1994, the THX logo and the accompanying Deep Note had become so well-known that they earned the honour of a parody on The Simpsons. A scene in season five episode 'Burns’ Heir' shows a movie audience being blasted with the Deep Note, causing glasses, exit signs and people’s teeth to shatter, and one unlucky patron’s head to explode (in a nod to the famous scene from the 1981 film Scanners).

Far from being offended, the THX executives enjoyed the scene so much that they asked for permission to use it in an official trailer, which appeared in cinemas and on some home releases throughout the 1990s. That makes this unique among THX logos, as it’s the only version not to feature the extended crossbar of the 'T', or the parallel underline.

1996: TEX

In 1996, in trailers that preceded the film Independence Day, THX debuted a new version of its trailer. In this, the iconic logo appears as usual, but something appears to go wrong. The top crossbar of the 'T' collapses and sags. Fortunately, someone rides to the rescue – a little red robot, who proceeds to fly around the logo, fixing and setting it right, whereupon the Deep Note kicks in once again.

This robot, named TEX, was created in collaboration with John Lasseter and the Pixar animation team, who at the time were enjoying the phenomenal success of their hit film Toy Story. TEX would also prove to be popular, spawning a number of sequel trailers, most recently in 2020

Decidedly more famous animated characters would also take centre-stage for limited runs of the THX logo – Shrek and Donkey are probably the most famous, though there was also a version made for the 2008 adaptation of Horton Hears a Who starring Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. In both cases, the cast lent their voices to the trailer.

2001: Cavalcade

Any real heads who owned the sick metal-case DVD version of the certified Best Film of All Time – Terminator 2: Judgement Day – will be very familiar with this THX logo trailer, though it also appeared on many other DVD home releases. 

A transparent orb of sky and clouds appears hanging in mid-air. It is struck by lightning in a manner reminiscent of the time-travel effect from the Terminator movies, and shatters into pieces of metal on the ground.

Then, in case you hadn’t already clocked the reference, these metal pieces melt and reassemble themselves in the way Robert Patrick’s T-1000 did in T2. The unmistakable swell of the Deep Note hits at just the moment they form the letters 'THX', and then the electric-blue border lasers its way around the edge.

2005: Science of Sensation

While it wasn’t the first THX logo to be used on digital projectors, the version that became known as 'Science' was the first one explicitly designed for such systems. It begins with the titular phrase, 'the science of sensation'. A glint of light appears on the left-hand side before the THX logo properly appears, designed to show off the pin-sharp fidelity of the new projectors. 

This version is perhaps most famous for appearing before Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in cinemas. The deep note is also interrupted by a tinkling noise as the glint of light appears – which some people consider sacrilege. Your mileage may vary.

2007: Amazing Life

If you’ve been watching all these before reading about them, this one probably caught you out. The austere black of previous THX trailers is replaced with an explosion of colourful imagery. Passion flowers flare with the sound of an organ and mushrooms pound like bass drums in an animated CGI spectacle. 

Eventually, the strange structure of plants is revealed to form the shape of the THX logo, whereupon the Deep Note recognisably kicks in, and the logo fades to its classic metallic sheen. Fittingly, one of the movies most commonly associated with this strange trip of a trailer is James Cameron’s Avatar.

2012: Musical Wisps

This 2012 version of the THX logo was just a prototype and never accompanied any official releases, though it was available for a short time on the THX website. A shame, as this Fantasia-like abstract trailer features some beautiful animation before fading out to the THX logo (though once again purists will bemoan the tinkly sounds over the top of the Deep Note).

2015: Eclipse and Sphere

The year 2015 was a significant one for THX, as it debuted two new versions of its iconic trailer and logo. The first, titled 'Eclipse' (above), accompanied a new and regenerated version of the Deep Note. A sky full of stars dissolves into the shape of an eclipse, and the viewer is pulled forward through the dark centre, which for a moment resembles the pupil of a human eye before the imagery fades and the metallic 'THX' appears.

Later that year, THX also debuted the 'Sphere' trailer (below). Ribbons of black liquid undulate and coalesce into a floating black orb – it looks both like the eclipse and the lightning ball from the Terminator years. The sphere dissolves into electric blue lines, which scatter, then reform into – you guessed it – the THX logo.

2019: Genesis

Finally, we have Genesis, an audiovisual feast that debuted in 2019, and was clearly designed to show off the fidelity of the 4K era. Taking a journey through space in a nod to Eclipse before transitioning via water droplet to a rich world of plants and insects reminiscent of the Amazing Life Era. 

From there we move to a cityscape, which is revealed to be contained inside a glass dome, one of many being tended to by our old friend TEX, who (we learn) is on a spaceship that makes a jump to hyperspace, on a station that is revealed to be – you guessed it – the THX logo. As a whistlestop tour through the history of THX, you could hardly ask for more than that!

Our thanks to the THX wiki and the Audiovisual Identity Database, both of which were invaluable sources for this article.

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Jon Stapley

Jon is a freelance writer and journalist who covers photography, art, technology, and the intersection of all three. When he's not scouting out news on the latest gadgets, he likes to play around with film cameras that were manufactured before he was born. To that end, he never goes anywhere without his Olympus XA2, loaded with a fresh roll of Kodak (Gold 200 is the best, since you asked). Jon is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq, and has also written for in Digital Camera World, Black + White Photography Magazine, Photomonitor, Outdoor Photography, Shortlist and probably a few others he's forgetting.