(Please note - indeed @Dan Bron came up with the word exposition, which is now used to further clarify the question.)

There are many specific terms for different types of corny exposition in films.

For example a "pull-down-the-map" scene has a specific slang term, "the big board".

Sometimes the "corny exposition" is presented in textual form as a crawl...

text "Salzburg, Austria, in the last Golden Days of the Thirties" over photograph of same

...Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase -- a being virtually identical to a human -- known as a Replicant.  The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them...

... Special police squads -- BLADE RUNNER UNITS -- had orders to shoot ot kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant.  This was not called execution.  It was called retirement.

Is there a term for using the crawl for corny exposition?

(Of course, a crawl need not be "corny" - in Star Wars the opening is generally well-loved!)

  • I think preamble, which you used in the question title, works very well. – Andrew Leach Sep 15 '14 at 10:09
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    Hey Andrew, sure, I'm wondering if there's a particular term for a preamble that is a "plot set-up" (not unlike the cliché "pull-down map" scene mentioned). There's usually some specific sarcastic slang for such concepts in movies, such as, oh "title-drop" or "supporting actor", say. – Fattie Sep 15 '14 at 10:13
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    { Just BTW, regarding crawls and cards .. the static ones are usually called "plates" and have been since they started using "plates" (ie, glass with paint on it) instead of "cards". It's a bit like the way tech has changed with "filming" a shot, "taping" a shot, and today "recording" or "saving" a shot. Of course, people sometimes still say "filming!" a shot although it really just goes on one of these .. panavision.za.com/news/solid-state-recorder.asp Similarly, "crawl" is very rarely said, I'd say, for end titles etc - kids just say "scroll" or "text" you know. } – Fattie Sep 16 '14 at 8:07
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    Really, I prefer the short version, ML! :) Editing is good. Actually the short version is much better! I made it EVEN SHORTER. Heh! – Fattie Sep 21 '14 at 12:01
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    @JoeBlow I like this title too, but I also liked the On Poppy Hill example for allowing spoken intros, like the Simpsons' "The Bart Zone" segment of ToHII, which satirizes The Twilight Zone and such openings with: "Presented for your consideration: Springfield. An average little town, with a not-so-average monster.... [This] particular monster can read minds, and if displeased, can turn people into grotesque walking terrors... And did I mention to you that the monster is a ten-year-old boy? Quite a twist, huh? Bet you didn't see that one coming." – user39720 Sep 21 '14 at 19:42

The general term for this is exposition, and TVTropes gives a long list of ways it's been achieved in film and fiction (covering the methods you describe, and many more); the expositions that appear at the beginning of a work are usually qualified with "opening", as in "Opening Narration", "Opening Monologue" (your On Poppy Hill examples), or "Opening Scroll" (as in Star Wars).

That said, not all such introductory exposition is qualified with "opening"; the classic "pull down the map" trope is known as "The Big Board", and letting the scene speak for itself (as with the girl mysteriously doing chores alone) is known as "mise en scene", and the static text overlay you're primarily asking is simply known as a "title card" (or intertitle).

The difference between these latter modes of exposition and the former, which precludes them being qualified with "opening", is they can appear anywhere in the film where exposition is needed, not just at the very start.

  • aside -- GREAT work on "big board" I couldn't get that to my tongue either! – Fattie Sep 15 '14 at 11:03
  • You know, brilliant on exposition, but it's hard to believe there isn't some term for "corny exposition", or "pointlessly explanatory exposition added by the producers" .. you know? Just as you hit the nail on the head with 'big board', the usual slang for just exactly that scenic cliché. {For example: I swear, I was once reading something academic about Shakespeare, and it was referring to his "big board" moments .. even Shakespeare has crap expository passages!} – Fattie Sep 15 '14 at 11:12
  • one of my buddies is a famous japanese director, and when he works in france he's like "What the hell am I, a miseensceneist?" :) – Fattie Sep 15 '14 at 11:14
  • The problem is, for any given work or scene, or instance of a trope, you're likely to find some critics who consider it corny, and others brilliant. For that exact reason, trope names or film terms are meant to be descriptive, rather than editorial. That said, scan through the list of expository tropes I linked to, and see if you can find one that suits. If you do, add it as an answer, then accept it. – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 11:15
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    And now that you've pointed out the word is frickin' EXPOSITION, here's a funny blog note on excess-exposition in Comics: comiccoverage.typepad.com/comic_coverage/2008/01/… – Fattie Sep 15 '14 at 13:41

George Lucas called it a rollup.

Hampton Fancher and David Peoples Blade Runner didn't call it anything.

Peoples (the original screenwriter for Blade Runner, and who wrote the screenplay for Unforgiven) referred to the stills expositions in the script (which is full of technical information) for Unforgiven as crawl

A Glossary Of Screenwriting Terms & Filmmaking Definitions calls both types (still and moving) a crawl.

This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move across/up/down/diagonally on screen. For example, the text at the beginning of Star Wars movies "Crawls" up into infinity. Or, the written words "(crawl)" in Unforgiven.

So, I guess the disappointing answer is: a crawl.

Edited to add: the opening exposition in Blade Runner is, technically, a crawl.

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