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Emojis make it onto the big screen

Bettina Baumann eg
July 27, 2017

Millions of kissing and laughing smileys are sent out in text messages every day. As they now become superstars in "The Emoji Movie," here's a look back at how the hype surrounding the visual language developed.

Film still from "The Emoji Movie"
Image: Imago/Cinema Publishers Collection

It all started with a colon, a hyphen and a parenthesis: 


The simple combination of characters, proposed publicly for the first time by computer scientist Scott Fahlman in 1982, can be seen as the forerunner of modern emojis.

In 1999, the Japanese software engineer Shigetaka Kurita created the first pixel symbols. When smartphones made it possible to send them in text messages, it was the beginning of a great picture boom that's still expanding to this day.

The emoji designs by Shigetaka Kurita on show at the MoMA
Shigetaka Kurita's emoji designs on show at the Museum of Modern ArtImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. M. Alvarez

Emoji cult

Meanwhile, emojis (Japanese for pictograms) are for many smartphone owners an integrated part of their daily text messages.

World Emoji Day 2017

The icons have also become cult. Over 1,000 pictures have been accepted as emoji standards - and new ones are added each year. The World Emoji Day, on July 17, has been celebrated for three years already.

Trade revenue for emoji-related articles is expected to reach 250 million euros ($292 million) this year, the emoji trademark owner, Marco Hüsges, recently told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel. The entrepreneur is making a lot of money off the yellow expressive faces.

Read: Wanted: Emoji translator

Read: Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year is...not a word

A damaged emoji needs to be saved

Picking up on the trend, Sony Pictures hopes to achieve the same success by releasing the animated motion picture "The Emoji Movie."

The film's director, Tony Leondis, based his plot on the question: What would the space where all emojis are collected in a messaging app look like? His answer: They all live in a city called Textopolis, waiting to be sent off in a message.

Among the city's inhabitants is Gene, an emoji who, unlike all others, is able to show multiple expressions. To get his code repaired, Hi-5, Jailbreak and Gene head off on a quest through the different apps of a smartphone, with each one featuring a different universe. 

"The Emoji Movie" is released in the US on July 28 and hits German theaters on August 3.