Last, but almost greatest

Here’s one for the film crowd.

I have always been very intrigued by the for­mal­i­ties of movie cred­its, but have nev­er found any resource for a com­pre­hen­sive expla­na­tion of these stric­tures or their his­to­ry. I could give a whole short cat­e­chism of var­i­ous points I am curi­ous about, but one thing in par­tic­u­lar has always puz­zled me: how did the last posi­tion in the ini­tial list of named stars become a place of empha­sis?

You know what I mean: the names pop up at the start of the movie (and in the first line or two at the bot­tom of the movie poster), and it is pret­ty much always star A, Star B, Star C, then a half dozen or so char­ac­ter actors, then final­ly anoth­er Big Star with the con­junc­tion and stuck in front of their name. Some­times there might be two big­ger names at the end of the list, the first pre­fixed by with, the sec­ond by and.

I get the visual/rhetorical force of this prac­tice. I just won­der where it start­ed, and how it gained the force of rubric. Please tell me. Please.

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