What Makes a Great Film Poster?
As a collector of movie posters, I often marvel at the wide variety of movie posters that studios release. Some marketing departments just go the direct route - they throw the star's face on the poster, include the title at the top, and they're done. There's not much art in the whole thing. Other studios release film posters where you'd be hard-pressed to figure out what movie they're even promoting.
The great movie poster lies somewhere between a great piece of marketing and a great piece of art. I particularly like movie posters that try to tell a story through images - where upon a single glance, you get a whole array of ideas about the movie. Some posters are just great because they convey their primary message directly, with style.
Below are 10 film posters that I find particularly compelling. They are not in any specific order.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - 1992
This poster points out one of the interesting things about movie posters in general: the preview poster is often better than the release poster.
Preview posters, such as this one, take more chances. I really like this poster because of the contrasting images: the cheerleader and the stake. I also like the humor in the catch phrase: "she knows a sucker when she sees one".
Although it might not have seemed alluring way back when, it really does seem like a great poster now given the success of the tv show. Too bad the movie wasn't better.
Lone Star - 1996
This is a fantastic movie with a fantastic poster.
What one should be able to infer from the poster is that the film takes place in Rio County and that it concerns a murder.
However, what is also present in the poster is that the murder is hidden by the law and/or covered up by the badge. The poster also implies layers, which is very much how the film works.
"Lone Star" details one sheriff finding the bones of another sheriff and then unearthing all kinds of secrets from it.
Now look at the poster again. It really sums up the movie beautifully.
Jaws - 1975
It's kind of hard to imagine now that "Jaws" was rated PG back in 1975. The poster is frightening enough to be rated "R".
What's fascinating about this poster is that it really only shows the very first scene in the movie, but it's that scene that sets up everything about the movie. It creates the atmosphere and the anticipation for all that follows.
The way the borders create this fish tank impression emphasizes the concept of confined space. The shark is an arrow headed straight for the woman who has no chance of escape.
And have I even mentioned the size of that shark. Really, a perfect poster for the movie.
Torso - 1973
This is one of my favorite Italian horror films.
Since the film is called "I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale" in Italian, I'm assuming this poster is the American release poster.
Some posters try to do too much, but not this one. I'm particularly compelled by the yellow space and how much of it there is, which focuses the eyes on the central image of the hand holding the saw and the picture of the woman framed by the saw. Also, yellow is the color of cowardice or fear.
The text in the bottom right reads "to preserve the surprise ending, no one admitted during the last 10 minutes."
Vertigo - 1958
There are many good posters for Alfred Hitchock's films and it's hard just to focus on one. The poster for "The Birds" is particularly good also.
The literal image of the poster basically suggests what the film is about. Without interpreting, there's a man and a woman together in a kind of spinning design. The movie, about a detective with acrophobia who becomes obsessed with an old friend's wife, mirrors the poster's design.
Like the poster before it, the use of white space (or in this case, orange) drives the eye into the middle of the poster and around, mirroring one of the central images/feelings of the film.
Pulp Fiction - 1994
There's an awful lot going on in this poster, which is not unlike the movie, which has numerous intertwining storylines.
However, I think one of the things that make this poster great is the retro feel of it, which was in stark contrast to most of the posters of its day.
I don't think the poster tells much of a story, but it is curious that Uma Thurman's character is featured on the poster as opposed to John Travolta or Samuel L. Jackson. Given that she does not appear until well into the movie, it does create some amount of curiosity on the part of the viewer.
She is, in a way, the center of the movie, both literally and figuratively.
Taxi Driver - 1976
This poster says everything about the movie.
First of all, the black and white coloring creates a very stark mood. When something lacks color, it lacks hope.
Travis Bickle (De Niro) is walking alone. Everything about him says he's lonely - he's slightly hunched and his hands are in his pockets. He's in a seedy section of town, which suggests both lonliness and hopelessness.
What I love about this poster is our perspective. Remember, this picture could be shot in any way, but here, Bickle is as close to us as he can be. He's also at the end of his walk as far as we can tell. He's going nowhere.
The Shawshank Redemption - 1994
This poster seems to have nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the movie.
However, since this was the advance poster, it's merely suggesting something about the movie and that suggestion is freedom. This is a picture of a man celebrating his freedom.
Standing out in the rain is something most of us take for granted, but not this man. This man is somebody who looks like he hasn't felt a rainfall in forever. He's using his body to soak up every inch of the rain that hits him.
And that, effectively, is what the movie is about - a man who never gives up hope that he will one day be free.
The Truman Show - 1998
From afar, this is a simple poster featuring Jim Carrey's smiling face as the unassuming, happy title character.
But as the viewer draws closer to the poster, the face becomes increasingly unrecognizable and what's revealed is that the poster is actually made up of individual images of the character - each a snapshot of his life.
Since the film is, in fact, about a man who grows up entirely on television, the whole concept of the poster perfectly encompasses what the movie is about. Is Truman just made up of these individual, staged moments, or is he more than the sum of all the parts? The poster perfectly conveys the film's existential issues.
Office Space - 1999
Well, if you weren't compelled by the words at the top of the poster, "work sucks", the image of a man made entirely out of (or covered in them?) Post-It notes should do it.
Obviously, it doesn't take a genius to get this one, but it concisely conveys the central character's mood.
He feels overwhelmed by the mundane, the little things, the things about office life that seem pointless, ridiculous, overwhelming. The notes are important to the people who wrote them, but to you, they're a burden.
And if you're constantly answering all those notes, how do you get any work done?
All of these questions come about as a result of this poster.
- The 100 Best Movie Posters of the Past 100 Years :: Movies :: Lists :: Paste
Movie posters help sell tickets, but more importantly they can be considered art. Some posters reveal the exact plot of the movie while others highlight the stars of the movie. Some are even an abstract representation of a key moment in the film. We
- How to Become a Movie Critic
An article on how to become a film critic from the creator of Mr. Cranky.
- Forum Discussion of Great Posters
What do regular people think? Check out this board for some idea.
© 2011 Allen Donald
websincoste on May 29, 2018:
There are excellents poster. The Thruman Show is my favorite but Buffy is an idol!! https://bit.ly/2IRrMOx
SilverSeo on March 16, 2018:
very nice article and covered many angles
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on August 27, 2017:
Be my guest.
Thiago Santos on August 27, 2017:
hey, man! loved your post. Wondering if i can translate to Portuguese and post it on mt blogger... I'll give you the credits.
Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on November 15, 2013:
Interesting hub! At least I didn't see a poster here with floating heads XD
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on November 13, 2013:
Thanks for the comments. I think Taxi Driver's poster delivers more the longer you look at it.
jmartin1344 from Royal Oak, Michigan on November 13, 2013:
Great hub crankalicious! I haven't given this as much thought as I could have in the past but it's cool to hear some thoughts about these, especially as someone who is in Marketing like myself. I personally really like the Pulp Fiction one (I have it) - then it's probably between Jaws and Taxi Driver for me. Taxi Driver's is just so telling in a simple way.
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on June 08, 2013:
I appreciate the comments!
Mitch Turnure from South Jersey on June 08, 2013:
A very fun and creative hub...The posters for sheer creativity (from your list) would be Pulp Fiction for taking the classic pulp magazine design including the "aged" look and the one for the Truman show, with it's peering into "your life" feel with the composite photo. Jaws, of course, is always on most lists of movie "best ofs"...
Nykki from Germantown, WI on March 08, 2013:
Great well thought out hub! You looked at aspects of movie posters that I had never even paid attention to!
Alem Belton from New York on July 31, 2012:
I use to be in love with the woman who played Buffy in that movie. I used to think she was so pretty.
fotoviva from Swansea on July 20, 2012:
That Jaws image has always haunted me! Another good one is the poster for Gladiator.
Jordanwalker39 from NC on April 19, 2012:
I thought this was a great hub! I have that shawshank poster in my living room and have been trying to explain what it has to do with the movie to friends for a long time. Thanks for helping me out.
GwenNovember on January 26, 2012:
Thanks so much that was a nice way to spend a few minutes, and not too long. I liked seeing the Taxi Driver poster, Pulp Fiction and I liked what you wrote on Shawshank Redemption. I feel like I just watched these movies again. Nice for memory
Lisacheung on September 19, 2011:
I have watched The Shawshank Redemption for at least three times. I backed up DVD of this movie on my computer because everything of it worth tasting including this poster of hope and power.
Erin Bower from Georgia on June 24, 2011:
I think my favorite poster is the one for Vertigo; so classic. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet, but I love most of Alfred Hitchcock films. My favorite is 'North by Northwest' with Carey Grant.
myi4u from United Kingdom on May 12, 2011:
When I was small, I thought Jaws mean Sharks. Imagine the influence of that movie and I wasn't even born that year.
Ancillotti from Brasil, Vitoria - ES on May 12, 2011:
It is impossible to see the poster of the movie "Jaws" and not feel a terrible feeling claustrophobic. Great Hub, nice explanations, congratulations! Useful and beautiful!