Credits grew in the following two decades, but not by much. They would all appear at the beginning of films, usually, in three or four title cards acknowledging the cast and principal technical players.
“In the ’60s, the unions get a little more power, and they are able to get more of their names on the screen,” Mr. Kehr said. (Having your name in the credits can help lead to more jobs.) Audiences began to see longer credits covering the full crew. One of the first lengthy sequences of this period was the Saul Bass-designed closing credits to “West Side Story” (1961), in which many names were scrawled in graffiti on walls and street signs.
As productions grew more lavish and more complicated, more and more crew members were needed. But in the age of celluloid, studios had to be mindful of how long their credits would be. Film was more expensive to work with and process, so each added reel had an impact on the budget.
Now that films are primarily projected in digital, this cost is no longer an issue. And credits have ballooned to their greatest lengths in the past decade. At least 50 films in the movie database IMDB.com have cast and crew credits that surpass 2,000 names each. The credits for the 2013 film “Iron Man 3” include more than 3,700 names (along with 24 special-effects companies). You’ll see “uncredited” next to many names on IMDB, meaning they didn’t appear onscreen. But the credit sequence is still seven minutes long.
The visual-effects and computer graphics artist Aaron Estrada has been one of those uncredited names before. He has worked for Sony Pictures Imageworks, DreamWorks and the effects house Rhythm & Hues, and is now overseeing a visual-effects infrastructure start-up called MetaPipe. And regardless of the lengths of these credits, he said too many names are left out.
“I have several films that I’m uncredited on even though I was working for the primary vendor of the visual effects,” he said. “And anytime I subcontracted, we were almost never credited. I had a small studio for a while, and the studio itself was rarely even credited.”
The opening credits and how they appear are dictated by unions and contracts. The actor credits are negotiated in individual contracts. “The key words you use in a contract are usually size, style and duration,” said Ann B. Clark, a lawyer for independent producers and production companies.
But the closing credits are determined by the producers. “All of the credits for a visual-effects company are generally provided by the company, and then there sometimes will be a negotiation,” Ms. Clark said. “For instance, if the production company received 100 names from a visual-effects company, they may say, no you’ll have to whittle that down to 20.”
Mr. Estrada, for example, worked on lighting, rendering and compositing effects for features, and on the animated adventure “Over the Hedge,” he did two distinct jobs. But he was told that he could have only one credit, his choice.
In the case of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Mr. Estrada said he didn’t get credit because he didn’t work on it long enough. “I only did three or four shots and maybe worked on it for a month and a half,” he explained. “And that was not long enough by their internal criteria to give me credit.”
A visual-effects supervisor may negotiate a credit with a studio through an agent, but Mr. Estrada said that in most of his rank-and-file contracts, “the credit is clearly called out as being optional on the studio’s part.”
So if a credit is not contractually obligated, how do you get one? “I think some of it depends on who’s vouching for you,” Ms. Clark said, “and some of it depends on how many degrees of separation you are from the individuals who are actually preparing the credits.”
For now, lengthy credits are here to stay. Superhero movies have sweetened the experience with post-credit scenes that make sitting through the names a little less tedious. (Recently, when typing “Is there something” into a Google search, it autofilled with the question “Is there something at the end of ‘Logan?’” There isn’t.)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has fun with its scroll, occasionally inserting the words “I Am Groot,” then switching to the name of a crew member. There are also five credit scenes (or “buttons,” as the industry calls them), laying the groundwork for other “Guardians” tales. The sequence keeps the upbeat spirit of the movie and gives the audience less of a feeling of being held hostage.
The animation world has a tradition of toying with credits, like the parody blooper reels in “A Bug’s Life,” from John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. Clever hand-drawn sequences appear at the end of “Wall-E” (designed by Jim Capobianco) and “Big Hero 6” (designed by Shiyoon Kim).
These artists are all alumni of the animation program at CalArts, a school that produces a number of animators and designers whose names will ultimately appear in film credits.
Students certainly find meaning in the scroll, said Maija Burnett, the director of the character animation program there: “I’ve witnessed, when we’ve screened films together for our students, the cheers when they see their teachers’ and fellow alumni’s names.”