The Death of the Movie Poster as Art

The art form that is the theatrical movie poster is dying.
This isn’t one of those “when I was a kid” stories, it’s a legitimate claim.
Now, yes, it’s true I’m going to be talking about movies from my youth and even before my birth, but they’re being used to illustrate the point, not indicate how much better things were when I was young.
In the past 20ish years, we’ve seen the deline of the movie poster as art, and become, simply, a series of photoshopped images to promote stars in their latest vehicles.
Gone are the days when a movie poster was created to advertise the wonder and excitment of the movies, now it’s just a series of cropped and pasted heads onto backgrounds.
The only films of recent time that actually had art for posters were the Star Wars prequels… now say want you want about the films, Drew Struzan is a master of the movie poster. In fact I could list dozens of film for which he did the poster art, iconic posters that are simply gorgeous (whether the films were or not). Here are some examples Back To The Future, E.T., An American Tail, Firsty Blood, Big Trouble In Little China, The Shawshank Redemption, The Goonies, and Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
But there are many artisits who’ve done amazing movie posters that are still incredibly iconic to this day, North By Northwest, Psycho, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind (which The Empire Strikes Back theatrical poster liberally steals from, as did one of the one sheets for the original Muppet Movie), the Bond films up to The Living Daylights. All of which were sdesigned to convey the experience of the film, the drama, the action, the suspence, the romance, what have you.
I could go on and on, but I couldn’t tell you what the poster for Thor, Sherlock Holmes, Monster, Fight Club, Limitless, Drive, Hanna or J.Edgar Hoover look like.
I mean don’t misunderstand me, I know that first and foremost movie posters are advertisments for the movie, but it seems that, especially now, when there are so many movies being released that instead of just images of Robert Downey Jr., Charlize Theron, Russell Crowe, you could focus on the movie to differentiate your product.
I also understand that big names catch the eye, some people will go see the new Spielberg movie, just cause it’s a Spielberg movie (like me) or Ridley Scott, or Tom Hanks.
But I really really miss the beauty of an well-crafted movie poster.
You could make the arguement that not all titles deserve classy hang on your wall quality posters, but back in the day, even B-movies had some wicked looking posters, look at any of the films in the Roger Corman ouevre, some of those posters (most of them) were better than the actual movie.
Family films could STILL have awesome posters but even they have kind of settled for their own version of photoshopping, look at Despicable Me, Megamind, even How To Train Your Dragon, and then go back and look at something like Secret of NIMH, E.T., The Dark Crystal. There’s more wonder and magic in the latters than the formers.
Let’s take a look at one of my faves that is on my wall right now…
Back To The Future.


And now…let’s look at another time travel sci-fi comedy movie, nowhere near as good (still enjoyable though)…
Hot Tub Time Machine.


It’s a simple copy and paste photoshop job.
Ok, now let’s switch genres to action movies…
Here’s Die Hard.


and here is Live Free or Die Hard, same franchise, but just looking at the poster which one looks better?


But of course, nowadays, they aren’t happy with the one theatrical poster of photoshopped folks, now, they have to have what are called character posters for each major character in the movie… This would be awesome if each character had their own Drew Struzan-esque poster, but more often than not, it’s just a shot of the actor.

The recent push on the new Sherlock Holmes is a prime example of this, and though I hate to say it, so is The Hunger Games (though I do like the Mockingjay poster). I will admit to owning one character poster though, I have the David Tennant character poster from Fright Night, that’s just cause he’s so cool!
Mainstream movie art poster is dying.
Drew Struzan, sadly, has mostly retired.
But there are still artists out there who love movies, and are happy to share their work online, and of course sell it as well.
There’s Mondo (http://www.mondotees.com/) and there’s some great work over at Geek Tyrant (http://geektyrant.com/news/2011/8/5/redesigned-posters-for-classic-movies.html).


I just wish that the days of memorable movie posters weren’t behind us.
It’s an art form that doesn’t deserve to be cast aside the way it has been.
But those folks in Hollywood seem to know what we want better than we do, and I guess we don’t want cool posters anymore, or plots, or character development, or…
Sigh.
I’ll be just be here leafing through my Drew Struzan poster book and remembering the days of AWESOME posters.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Awesome post! I will keep an on eye on your blog.

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