The Art House: Book Covers vs. Movie Posters

We’re surrounded by stories. Be it the narratives we weave for ourselves, or the tales we fall into when we sit down in a theater or crack open a novel, it’s difficult to imagine a world without them. In regards to the literature, we often fail to acknowledge how our relationship to a story changes because of our involvement in its creation. In the case of film, entire production teams bear the responsibility of bringing a movie to life, but when sitting down with a good book, the solitary reader assumes many of those roles. It’s an intimacy that film cannot replicate because the medium itself plays to its own set of strengths in enveloping us in other worlds. Each medium is capable of telling a story, but their nature alters both the way in which they can and the experience we take from them.

The gulf between a film poster and a book cover isn’t as great, but much like the mediums they represent, the tools at their disposal can be somewhat separate. Both are trying to sell an audience on a story which they (assumedly) know little about through an engaging combination of text and imagery. But while one-sheets often use imagery straight from the film to sell itself and its actors, books rely on techniques that are more representative of the text and its ideas rather than as literal as a floating head. The best book covers involve us as an active participant in understanding the tone or an idea contained within the pages behind it. And it’s that type of ingenuity that’s celebrated in the design community, leaving film posters to often be overlooked or decried as “typically mediocre and mired in cliched imagery that unimaginative marketers think will pique an audience's interest.”

But as far as criticisms go, that might be unfair. FIlm posters in America, by and large, face plenty of the same highs and lows as book jackets do; they’re just of a different sort. Walk in to any bookstore and you’ll see shelves cluttered with work that would just as soon put you to sleep as it would eviscerate your eyeballs. We may be spared an onslaught of floating heads, but ghastly large text and unengaging stock photography aren’t in short supply. There are plenty of unfortunate jackets, and just as many unfortunate posters. Cliche and committees don’t favor one medium over the other.

You can look no further than film adaptations of popular fiction. The movie is often said to be worse than the book on which it was based on, but rarely do we step back to consider if the same holds true for the images that announce their presence to the world. Obviously neither is representative of their respected industries as a whole, but they offer a visual glimpse into the way in which their stories are sold.