The Art of Movie Posters: View Online 40,000+ Movie Posters & Learn How They’re Made

If you can’t judge a movie by its poster, it’s not for the poster design­er’s lack of try­ing. Near­ly as ven­er­a­ble as cin­e­ma itself, the art of the movie poster has evolved to attract the atten­tion and inter­est of gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion of film­go­ers — and, safe to say, devel­oped a few best prac­tices along the way. Some exam­ples go beyond effec­tive adver­tise­ment to become icons in and of them­selves: take for exam­ple, the poster for Quentin Taran­ti­no’s Pulp Fic­tion, designed by James Verdes­o­to. In the Van­i­ty Fair video above, Verdes­o­to draws on a vari­ety of “one-sheets” in order to explain a few of the tricks of the trade.

Like any cul­tur­al arti­fact, movie posters are sub­ject to trend and fash­ion. It just hap­pens that trends and fash­ions in movie poster design can last for decades, with each revival bring­ing an under­ly­ing aes­thet­ic con­cept back into the zeit­geist in a new way. Sure­ly you’ll recall a few years, not long ago, when every major com­e­dy seemed to stamp bold red text on a pure white back­ground: Amer­i­can Pie, the remakes of Cheap­er by the Dozen, and The Heart­break Kid, even the likes of Nor­bit.

This has been going on at least since the 1980s, as Verdes­o­to shows by pulling out the poster for John Hugh­es’ beloved Planes, Trains, and Auto­mo­biles, then com­par­ing it to the con­cep­tu­al­ly sim­i­lar one for Meet the Par­ents to note dif­fer­ences in the use of fonts, pho­tographs, and neg­a­tive space.

Since The Firm, thrillers have often been sig­naled with hunt­ed-look­ing men run­ning down blue-toned cor­ri­dors or streets, often in sil­hou­ette; a great many explo­sive action movies since Die Hard have gone in for black-and-white posters that empha­size slash­es of red or orange. Even the non-genre of “inde­pen­dent films,” often mod­est of mar­ket­ing bud­get, have their own col­or: canary yel­low “a cheap way to catch the eye.” Case in point: Vin­cent Gal­lo’s The Brown Bun­ny, a noto­ri­ous film that also hap­pened to come with one of the most mem­o­rable posters of the 2000s, due not just to its yel­low back­ground but because its con­scious ref­er­ence to Euro­pean designs of the 1950s and 60s, such as the one for Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nion­i’s Blow-Up.

You can behold (and in some cas­es even down­load) count­less many works of movie-poster art, from a vari­ety of decades and a vari­ety of nations, at the sites of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas Har­ry Ran­som Cen­ter and the New York movie poster gallery Pos­ter­i­tati. Here on Open Cul­ture we’ve also fea­tured Taschen’s book of dynam­ic movie posters of the Russ­ian avant-garde, online archives of the famous­ly artis­tic movie posters of Poland and Czecho­slo­va­kia, not to men­tion com­pelling­ly odd hand-paint­ed movie posters from Ghana. Spend enough time with all of them, and you may find your­self pos­sessed of enough of an intel­lec­tu­al invest­ment in this thor­ough­ly mod­ern art form to start invest­ing in a gen­uine col­lec­tion of your own. But no mat­ter your enthu­si­asm for movie posters, it’ll be a while before you catch up with Mar­tin Scors­ese.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10,000 Clas­sic Movie Posters Get­ting Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Har­ry Ran­som Cen­ter at UT-Austin: Free to Browse & Down­load

40,000 Film Posters in a Won­der­ful­ly Eclec­tic Archive: Ital­ian Tarkovsky Posters, Japan­ese Orson Welles, Czech Woody Allen & Much More

50 Film Posters From Poland: From The Empire Strikes Back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

An Archive of 20,000 Movie Posters from Czecho­slo­va­kia (1930–1989)

Graph­ic Design­er Redesigns a Movie Poster Every Day, for One Year: Scar­face, Mul­hol­land Dr., The Grad­u­ate, Ver­ti­go, The Life Aquat­ic and 360 More

The First Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed Exclu­sive­ly to Poster Art Opens Its Doors in the U.S.: Enter the Poster House

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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