The Art of Movie Posters
Throughout the past century, movie posters have been slowly evolving as their own works of art. Starting as promotions for short motion pictures for movie makers such as the Lumière Brothers, this medium has advanced alongside cinema itself, and (for better or for worse) drastically changed in formula. What started as simple advertising eventually grew into the influential medium that does more than just catch our attention; as cinema boomed in the mid 20th century, movie posters became their own pieces of art.
Going from the hand drawn illustrations of the 20s to the emphasis on typography between the 30s and 40s, prints featured the bold colors and impressive artwork that most advertisements of the time had. This simplistic style of poster continued for several decades until color motion pictures surged in the 50s. During World War II, movies were declining in budget while competing with home televisions; to account for this, movies were often smaller-scale dramas focusing on psychological and social troubles. Posters of this genre were very conceptual and abstract, such as the original Dr. Strangelove artwork, which was a hand drawn cartoon over a white background. This style continued for a couple of decades later when science-fiction amazed theater audiences. From Star Wars to Jaws, movie posters of the 70s were still predominantly painted or hand drawn, but it wasn’t until the 80s that posters were commonly photographed. Around the time when the PG-13 rating started being issued, film artwork started being produced and distributed by film studios themselves instead of theaters being issued posters by the National Screen Service, which monitored the distribution of theatrical advertisements. The newly issued rating also helped prevent any explicit cover art from advertising a film’s release. This allowed a drastic change to the artwork’s formula.
Film posters of the 90s feature the familiar “heads fading into plain backgrounds” style where graphic designers would typically use close up portraits of the cast with the title underneath. Whether this change is better or worse than the past methods, posters have ultimately become collages of names, faces, and/or explosions. This, however, doesn’t make them any less collectable to those who loved the movie, but to those who are attracted aesthetically to a prints’ simplicity of design and effectiveness at teasing plot, it doesn’t matter whether a movie was “good” or not. Some modern posters have, in fact, been able to balance all these aspects (in my opinion). Examples like Lady Bird (2017), Black Swan (2010), Moonlight (2016), and Her (2013) all emphasize color in a simplistic, easy-on-the-eyes aesthetic. Nonetheless, all these posters feature closeup portrait shots yet still allow the color to accent the film’s intended mood. This does not mean that collage posters do not depict mood or aren’t pleasing to look at. When you compare collage posters such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Baby Driver and Stranger Things, you may argue that these simpler collages are far more effective than the larger budgeted movies.
Ironically, posters for both Baby Driver and Stranger Things were not photographed, but painted by independent illustrators and graphic designers. Indeed, painted and hand drawn posters have seen a comeback in the last decade in major theatrical releases (Mother! (2017), Birdman (2014), The French Dispatch (2021), and Da 5 Bloods (2020)), but where can you find more of these types of posters? Rory Kurtz, the artist behind the Baby Driver poster, has a major influence on the illustration and poster collecting communities. His work has been published and advertised all throughout the world, but where his work can be hung up on your walls is through Mondo, a company which has been releasing limited edition posters and collectibles since 2004. Kurtz’s bold yet photorealistic style has also advertised the Prime Video series Good Omens, but among the artists that have worked with Mondo, Olly Moss is one of the most iconic. Most Mondo commissioned posters resell for hundreds after limited drops, but Moss’s art often goes for thousands. Because some posters in his portfolio are part of a set, such as his original Star Wars trilogy posters, his prints are some of the hardest to get a hold of. Typically, only a few hundred prints are released by Mondo, but once they normally sell out in minutes they are never printed again. This had made a majority of Mondo’s archive inaccessible, but they are not the only way to get high quality movie prints.
Mondo has heavily contributed to the return of beautiful posters, bringing joy and creativity back to even the smaller aspects of cinema. Not only have they inspired collectors, but they have also inspired artists. There are plenty of websites that will sell artistic posters, such as AllPosters, Mad Duck Posters, and Mondo (which does offer a few more readily available prints). But among the easier places to both sell and search is Etsy, which offers simple communication with the artists themselves, who might be willing to make custom adjustments to your order. There is an enormous number of artists who sell their posters on Etsy; I’ve only bought from a couple, but my personal favorite is Aleksander Walijewski, who is a graphic designer in Poland. His work is as minimalistic and clever as Olly Moss’s, both relying on general shapes to incorporate elements of the depicted film. It is through the contributions of independent artists like these that the art of movie posters will be saved. Ever since the larger studios took over productions, advertising became more frequent and more formulaic. That is until the internet aided in the reach of thousands of artists, who care deeply about this overlooked medium.
“The 90 Year Evolution of Movie Posters.” Creativeoverflow – Design Blog for Anything Creative, 5 May 2011, creativeoverflow.net/the-90-year-evolution-of-movie-posters/.
“History of Film – The Threat of Television.” Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/art/history-of-the-motion-picture/The-threat-of-television.
“History of Movie Posters » The Poster Collector.” The Poster Collector, 3 Aug. 2020, postercollector.co.uk/articles/history-of-movie-posters/.