Analyzing Movie Posters

This week, adHOME explores movie posters, and how this special medium gets us into the theatre (preferably with popcorn!). 

Movie posters are an old medium, so keeping things fresh is a big task. In fact, the first movie posters started popping up in the 1890s. One hundred and twenty (120) years ago. That was before the first modern Olympics Games. These posters included such innovations as people holding posters saying showtimes, or images of people watching the movie.

old movie poster

After these initial posters, studios began to hire famous illustrators for their movie posters in the 1920s. As the decades passed, demand for high-end work and designers increased and posters got more stylized and planned out. Designers like Saul Bass, Reynold Brown, and Bill Gold were asking serious questions and linking the posters together with movie themes to create a piece of compelling art.

The next big trend in movie posters was “star power;” showcasing the biggest celebrity in the movie in order to try to draw in their fans. If you like Tom Cruise, you’ll like this movie. Which isn’t a stretch, because he’s in it.

Another type of poster is the teaser poster. These posters feature a simple symbol that may or may not be all that recognizable, or just shows a small part of what the film will contain. These are the kinds of posters that build excitement and suspense.

hunger games movie poster

Then there are the kinds of posters that go viral like this one for the Hunger Games Mocking Jay Part One. It’s representing a piece of the movie, propaganda from the Capitol (for the uninitiated, that’s the evil, rich totalitarian government). These are the posters that are different and interesting enough for fans to want not only to seek them out but also to share them with their friends.

Lastly, there are the shocking posters, that catch attention by being bold enough to be mildly offensive. Some examples of these would be those for Nymphomaniac, which was in itself a salacious movie, or the poster for The Interview.

Movie posters are a genre so old, you might think they’ve tried everything already, but something new has recently come along. It is the motion poster, apparently also known as a “Moster”. It is that movie poster you see at theatres outside your auditorium. It’s like the gif version of the movie poster.

Movie posters exist to stand out and catch your attention, and although many posters seem to have fallen into the same patterns, the ones that are different, the ones that use art and design to evoke tone and feelings like suspense for a thriller, or curiosity for a kid’s movie are the ones that draw people in. The iconic jaws poster below puts you on the edge of your seat before the movie even starts, creating dramatic irony by letting you in on a secret a movie character doesn’t know (the swimming woman has no idea that there’s a massive beast beneath her, contemplating eating her) and suspense because, although it looks like the shark is probably going to eat her, he hasn’t yet. 

When we look at these posters, we’re looking for art or beauty, but it’s important to remember that the creators of these posters are also trying to sell the film. Although movie posters are stylized for their genre, at adHOME we work on things like posters and visual graphics and the purpose is the same: to sell what is in the poster. And it takes great creative and hard work to do that.jaws movie posters