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Movie posters have been around since movies were invented. Posters were used before film to promote everything from bicycles to circus acts. When movies came around, it was natural to want to attract potential viewers to the shows. The technique has stayed with the medium throughout its history. The evolution of the movie poster over the years has kept up with the times as well. Originally, movie posters were hand-drawn. In recent years, some movie posters use digital technology to create images for print.
In this article, we will look at some of the most iconic movie posters in the history of film. We will try to cover as much of the history as possible and will give a brief description of the movie and why its poster is iconic.
Posters: All in a Picture
Jaws tells the story of a local sheriff of a small beach community hunting down a rogue shark that terrorizes the town’s waters. The movie poster captures this premise brilliantly. Steven Spielberg was relatively unknown at the time, and the actors, aside from Robert Shaw, weren’t prolific either. The traditional premise of one of the actors on the poster to attract audiences wasn’t going to work. The film was based on Peter Benchley’s book of the same name. Roger Kastel designed the legendary cover and subsequent movie poster of a great white shark looking up at a naked swimmer.
The Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, portrays the life of a famous R&B singer after she hires a former Secret Service agent to protect her from an unknown stalker. The poster depicts a frightened Rachel Maron (Houston) being carried by Frank Farmer (Costner) and perfectly captures the tone of the movie. In an EW interview, Costner revealed that he sent Warner Brothers the image his friend Ben Glass took from filming that day but got a lot of pushback because you couldn’t see Houston’s face. It eventually was given the go-ahead. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Whitney Houston in the shot; it was her double.
Vertigo’s poster was created by title sequence and poster designer Saul Bass. The poster depicts a white swirl against an orange background that funnels into the center where a figure of a man tries to catch the falling figure of a woman. This poster gives incredible detail and foreshadowing of the events of the movie. This Hitchcock film follows a retired police detective after he is forced into retirement because of an incident that caused him to develop a fear of heights and vertigo. The detective is asked by an acquaintance to follow the man’s wife, with who he begins to fall in love with.
Airplane! tells the story of a flight that encounters trouble when some passengers and crew members become incapacitated. A man who’s afraid to fly must ensure that the plane lands safely. This slapstick comedy classic features excellent performances from Peter Graves, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The movie poster by Robert Grossman sums up this screwball comedy simply but brilliantly with the image of an airplane tied in a knot and the tagline “Thank God it’s only a motion picture!”
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Platoon, directed by Oliver Stone, tells the harrowing tale of a squadron of soldiers in the Vietnam War from the point of view of a young volunteer. The movie poster depicts the famous scene with Willem Dafoe abandoned by his fellow soldiers and cornered by the Viet Cong. With his arms raised to the heavens, it creates a powerful image. The movie title is at the top of the poster with dog-tags replacing the two Os in Platoon.
The classic silent film and one of the pioneers of the Science Fiction movie genre depicts a futuristic city divided between the working class and city planners. The son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a prophet from the working class who predicts a coming savior of the city’s plight. The movie poster is a perfect example of the 1920s movement toward an art form rather than an advertisement. An original copy, depicting a humanoid figure against a rigid, immense architectural background, created by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, is so rare that only four are believed to exist. One was sold at an auction for $1.2 million.
The Thing tells the story of a research team in Antarctica as they are hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims. And while it may not be the most iconic horror movie poster, its backstory of artist Drew Struzan knowing little about the film and designing the poster in less than 24 hours before the release makes it worthy of the list. The poster depicts a man in a snowsuit with a bright light obscuring his face reflecting on the background of facets of ice and snow. “The Ultimate Alien in Horror” is the tagline across the top.
Neil Kellerhouse designed the poster for The Social Network. Kellerhouse’s design for the David Fincher directed Aaron Sorkin penned film started a trend of movie posters that featured a character’s image with imposing text dominating the picture. This style, which could be seen in many films in subsequent years, was used for The Program, The King’s Speech, Thor, Salt, The Imitation Game, and many others.
A Postercollector.co.uk article recounts the history of movie posters and describes the 1950s as a shift toward more conceptual approaches in movie poster design. Saul Bass also is responsible for the poster of Anatomy of a Murder, which perfectly captures this shift. The poster depicts compiled shapes that portray a body. This image conjures a worthy portrayal of the film about a murder trial where the defendant claims insanity and whether or not he is innocent in the case.
Drew Struzan was the artist behind many great movie posters. His name is already linked with one movie on this list, but Struzan’s creation of the poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of his best. It perfectly captures the tale of Indiana Jones in the first installment of the franchise. A young Harrison Ford with a whip in hand sports a winning smile with the movie’s supporting cast depicted around the edges. Set against a temple backdrop with the ark of the covenant behind Ford, the poster shows everything you need to know about this action-adventure classic.
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Honorable Mentions and Conclusion
There have been so many great and iconic movie posters over the years. It is a small but historical aspect of filmmaking that can be one that stays in the memories of audiences. As we move on in the age of technology with online streaming becoming a norm in movie watching, the fate of the movie poster is an exciting topic. Cover art will always be necessary for a film, so there shouldn’t be any worry about this type of art disappearing from movies. How movies are portrayed in movie posters and what trend will be next will be exciting to encounter.
We hope the lists above give a respectable accounting of iconic movie posters. There are undoubtedly some that have fallen through the cracks, but hopefully, this article will provide you with a jumping-off point to the rabbit hole of iconic movie posters.
What is your favorite movie poster?
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Drew Alexander Ross writes for Hollywood Insider with the aim of bringing the reader an uplifting and insightful experience. He combines his degree in film and business to show a unique point of view on cinema and his beliefs coincide with Hollywood Insider‘s values of promoting positive and meaningful content. Drew enjoys reading at the pace of one to two books a week and loves movies of all genres. He has placed in several screenwriting competitions and has short stories featured in several different publications.