The rise and fall of movie posters
The movie poster is a 27-inch by 41-inch canvas used to sell a potential viewer stunning visuals, big names, and catchy slogans.
Not surprisingly, however, movie poster styles and practices have changed significantly over the years. They’re not all created equal, but the best have stood the test of time to become legendary images ripe for t-shirts and dorm walls.
Cinematograph Light from 1886 is believed to be the original film poster announcing the world’s first public showing of film. Thirty people reportedly attended the 20-minute event at a random Parisian cafe – not exactly a red carpet premiere.
The rise of movie posters, as we know them, coincided with the boom in the motion picture industry from the mid-1920s. Films became a business at this time, with silent films increasingly ambitious giving rise to Hollywood and the first so-called “movie stars”.
Posters from this era are what you might expect: bright colors, atlas font, men in suits and romanticized women. Classic, but outdated.
Things picked up somewhat in the 1930s with the release of seminal films such as Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, and the original King Kong. Although not quite on the same level as what came later, these posters are more detailed and professional.
In the 1940s and 1950s, it became quite common for movie posters to feature the cliché “man and woman kissing”. However, in the 1960s, Hollywood produced legendary films with iconic posters like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Sound of Music, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to name a few.
Then in 1975 we had Jaws.
This iconic image from Steven Spielberg’s horror masterpiece – which depicts a giant great white shark lurking in the water beneath an unassuming swimmer – remains instantly recognizable nearly fifty years after the film’s theatrical release.
Jaws set the benchmark for all that followed. It was the deadly bite for tame, antiquated posters already leaving Hollywood behind.
Just two years later, star wars arrived in all its glory.
The film needs no introduction. You know the story of Luke Skywalker and his friends, brilliantly illustrated on the film’s promotional poster. The art is flashy, exciting, and the format has remained relatively unchanged for its countless sequels and spinoffs.
From scarface at ghost hunters, movie posters had reached another level by the 1980s. Their images became staples of pop culture, and this trend continued into the 1990s with the likes of Uma Thurman posing for pulp Fiction and jurassic parkis a dinosaur.
Unfortunately, many of these world-famous posters set the bar so high that Hollywood performers have struggled to achieve similar heights over the past two decades.
The 2000s spawned classics that have graced fans’ walls ever since they were released.Kill Bill, the 40-year-old virginand The black Knight– but, overall, the industry has seen a noticeable decline in truly memorable movie posters since the start of the new millennium.
Maybe it’s because the advertising has changed.
In 2022, studios can advertise their films on social media, often posting trailers and clips of their films online for internet users. The digitization of media has brought significant changes to the way promotional material is delivered.
Movie posters might also be on the decline because no one is going to “see” movies anymore. Most people watch them on streaming services, favoring convenience, cost and safety during the pandemic, watching movies using trailers rather than posters.
That said, while memorable promo art is a thing of the past, the great ones will live on forever in our memories — and at poster sales, of course.