I love movies. From posters to trailers, actually seeing the movie on the big screen to holding the physical copy, I love every second of it. Seeing the progression of film and industry marketing over the years has been fascinating. Trailers have gotten more creative rather than informative, experiential marketing tactics have been introduced (check out how they promoted the reboot of Carrie), social media has changed the way we tease and share the latest releases, and on and on it goes. The one thing that remains constant though is the classic movie poster. At the beginning of cinema, that’s all people had to go off of for any hints as to the plot of a movie. Posters have changed size and printing methods, but the idea has always been the same: make people want to pay to see a film in a single stationary image. No pressure right?
While I’m a movie buff, I am by no means a harsh critic. I’m not the person who only wants to see the Oscar films or the hottest hit out of Sundance. I can get into some Fast and the Furious because I really just want to be entertained, and if a movie can do that, it’s money well spent in my opinion. I am however a designer as well, and when it comes to the posters, that is where I start to become more critical.
You're gonna need a bigger boat.
As a designer, I have so much love for the films my parents shared with me. Older films just look better when it’s time to take it to print. They become collector items, and works of art people cherish with this great harmony between art and content. If you were to ask me what the most iconic movie poster of all time is, the first one that comes to mind is Jaws. It’s such a simple image that strikes both fear and intrigue and is still used within pop culture today. We all immediately put ourselves into the position of the swimmer, fearing the unknown that lurks just below us. It stands the test of time. Even the new shark thriller The Meg borrows the visual of those teeth coming up from the depths.
I guess Matt Damon is in this movie. Cool. What's it about?
Poster design got pretty rough for awhile during the late 90s and early 00s. Heck, they’re still bad for the most part. Movie posters now are, for lack of a better term, “easy” to make. Most are digitally produced, and with image capture, why not use stills of the stars directly from the films? Everybody loves a celebrity, right? Let’s just slap them on the poster and let their faces sell a film. That’s been the mindset for a long time.
Hollywood went through a “floating head” phase that becomes downright hilarious at times. I can’t even believe someone signed off on those X-Men: First Class posters. Along with the floating heads, we have character collages, the classic back-to-back pose, and the use of orange and blue to achieve complimentary colors, simply because color theory says we should. Any of my opinions here are purely subjective, but it’s just so crazy to me that we can go from Don Vito menacingly holding a cat in beautiful sfumato lighting, to floating robot heads and find it acceptable.
Killer anarchist super zombies
I am not the first by any means to notice these trends, and in fact, there are many talented artists and designers who have taken matters into their own hands and given their favorite movies the poster they deserve. I love how many different styles artists take to interpret a film. I think it’s so cool that something like Batman vs Superman can have such an airy, light, and beautiful aesthetic when the film is heavy and dark. Superhero movies are actually some of the worst offenders for just slapping all of the characters in a collage or leaving the hero standing alone on some desolate playing field. The Wonder Woman fan poster plays into how strong and fearless Diana is while paying homage to the Greek mythology rooted in the story. Looking at these fan posters next to the real ones makes it pretty clear how easy it is for studios to fall into the patterns I mentioned above. These fan posters break those patterns, and it’s oh so refreshing.
So are fan posters better than studio versions? Honestly, yeah. At least they have been for a while now. I personally think the insurgence of fan posters have made studios take notice, and they’re starting to do more about it. So maybe the next time you’re at the movies, examine the posters for the upcoming releases and think a little deeper on why you do or do not want to see a movie based on what you see. Look for the ways Hollywood tries to trick your eye, and for the ones who decide to take a risk and sell their movie in a completely different way. The small shift I’m starting to see in film posters gets me excited to see the future of how beautiful films are portrayed in print and become collector items once again.