Do you remember recent great movie posters? The ones that made you look and be like: “wow, I can’t wait for it to come out. I’ll be there on the first day.” I don’t either. In fact, I don’t even recall choosing a movie due to its poster, ever. Other than animation movies (those usually catch my attention), I’ve always based my choice on the official trailer.
Is it because spectators are unaware of the posters, or do they look like the same repetitive copy paste work?
The introduction of movies posters in the industry
Before the 19th century, artists used posters to communicate cultural ideas or to promote places and events.
After the industrial revolution and the invention of new printing techniques, posters were the go-to medium. It was the preferred mechanism to entice, convince, and persuade.
In the film industry, studios would commission talented people to create an illustration based on a still from the movie. At first, they presented small mockups, drawn quickly in pencil, but by the time they were ready to be reproduced, they were full size painted pieces.
They were seen as mere marketing tools, not pieces of art to be admired or attributed to particular artists. As a result, the majority of these pieces were never signed.
The 70s and 80s: the golden age of illustrated movie posters
In the 50s and 60s, movie posters were often times what drove people to the cinema theatre, even surpassing the quality of the movies sometimes.
In the following two decades, big-league studios were commissioning illustrators who worked specifically in the industry.
So around this time, big names appeared and shaped the perception of most of the classics from that period. Some perfect examples are the E.T. and the Beauty and the Beast by John Alvin and Jaws by Roger Kastel.
These were the artists that didn’t paint exclusively based on a still from the movie. They cared about composition, visual interest, harmony, and, of course, storytelling. They talked to the producers, went to museums for research, and presented pieces that are still unforgettable.
But even though they were bringing in the big bucks, they still weren’t allowed to sign their work.
The 90s: the actor close-up photograph trend
By the beginning of the new decade, illustrated posters became a thing of the past. Photography and digital manipulation became the norm, and illustration was now only associated with Animation movies.
Movie posters artists refer to this period onward as the curse of the star poster. In all the big studios, the promotion of a new movie because about selling the main character and the biggest paying actor.
As a result, posters display a prominent actor or multiple actors taking the largest part of the composition. There’s no longer a sense of imagining or seeing some clues of what the story might be. Now, the only indication we get is from the color palette choice.
However, another decade went by, and a sense of new hope for illustrated posters emerged.
Going back to illustration in movie posters
In 2001, a group of friends decided to create a t-shirt shop that turned into a poster shop and created a niche within popular culture.
Fans from the old-style illustrated movie posters, they started obtaining licenses to create movie posters and sell them in their shop. After a couple of years, they quickly became successful, creating a demand in the film industry fandom and opening the door for a new generation of movie poster artists.
However, even though the demand for posters is high among fans and collectors, the same can’t be said for the mainstream industry. The big blockbuster movies still use photography based on focus group results. As it turns out, viewers still think that illustrated posters refer to kids’ movies and that portraying actors gives a better sense of the quality of the film.
Adding to this, the fact that we now use small devices to buy movies makes it even harder to detach from using the main actors as a marketing strategy. Famous faces sell. That’s a fact.
However, I do believe that illustration will be back in the film industry. Due to the creation and high demand for streaming services, I think it’s only a matter of time before they start hiring poster artists. That way, they can create unique pieces and differentiate even further from traditional mediums. Hopefully, we can bring some of the movie posters’ magic back.
Note: The feature image is from 24×36: a movie about movie posters documentary.