No matter what the movie — comedy, drama, harrowing action film, indie darling — you can bet some studio exec desperately wants the movie poster to be nothing but the two stars’ smiling faces. As a moviegoer, I find this lazy and uninspiring, and as an artist I find it infuriating, but as somebody living in LA, at least I get to see it hundreds of times a day. The bus bench with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy’s faces on a kinda puke-yellow background doesn’t make me want to exactly run out and see TOWER HEIST, is all I’m saying.
There are actually two kinds of movie posters now: the stars-faces-on-nothing kind, and the random-still-from-the-movie kind. DRIVE recently had lots of random stills from the movie on billboards all over town. I mind those much less than the other kind. For instance:
Notice how in YEAR ONE, because you can’t see their caveman costumes Jack Black and Michael Cera both just sorta look dirty. Yawn.
Because movie posters have gotten a lot of press and attention recently, though, some movies will actually have really cool posters that employ symbolism and nice design, and actually tell you something about the movie. For instance:
If you’ve seen THE SAVAGES, hopefully you are impressed by the way the poster actually tells the whole story of the film. Of course, not that many people saw THE SAVAGES, and really none of these movies did any business, which doesn’t exactly make the case for artistic movie posters. But then, the movies from the first group weren’t exactly JAWS, either, so maybe that just underscores the point that marketing movies is pretty hard, unless it has “Harry Potter” in the title.
For a lot of people, Richard Amsel’s re-release poster for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the standard-bearer and high-water mark for movie poster artistry, and Drew Struzan (BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, STAR WARS) carried that mantel forward (here’s a Time Magazine piece on him), but these days a lot of designers are having fun with reimagining classic movies with new posters, some of the best of which are being done by Mondo out of Austin (where I used to live, so, full disclosure). They have done many, many posters and they are stunning, but perhaps my favorite is their minimalist HUD poster, which, if you’ve seen the movie, manages to be clever, poignant, and a little heartbreaking.
And because I have to, here is Amsel’s RAIDERS poster.