Why Good Movie Posters Matter: 2013 in Review

When you hear stories from designers about why they chose to get into this business, often they point to their childhood love for film art and design as the culprit. Growing up with a steady stream of images ripped from the walls of theatres or video stores informs everyone’s visual language, but only a few are compelled to continue the tradition of endearing an audience to a film. They want to share that feeling of adolescent excitement through their own work by covering streets and subways with poster art that catches your eye while saying something worth listening to. But for better or worse, those ideals become challenged by the realities embedded within the industry.

We often forget how quickly a film enters into our lives before seemingly vanishing in an instant. Our society moves at such blinding speeds that the lifespan of a one-sheet is equally finite, existing for the amount of time it takes to entice you into a seat before it’s gone. As a result, executives are racing to ensure the financial success of their investments, leaving little room or desire to subvert audience expectations. If an avenue has played well before, precedence has a way of extinguishing the appeal of coloring outside the lines. ‘Commercial’ becomes synonymous with ‘safe’, and few would argue that this is an unreasonable position to take.

So why does it matter when reality begins to stifle those earliest creative impulses felt by designers? Film posters are large sheets of paper destined for the landfill, born chiefly for the purpose of using images of its stars or the accolades it’s received to sell an audience on a story. They have and always will be short-lived instruments that serve to preserve the bottom line, remembered long-after only by fans or collectors of film paraphernalia. But it’s hard to shake the sense that with each passing year we’re being inundated by imagery we’ve seen time and again, with little desire to grab the ankles of anyone passing by. It should be of little surprise that calls for more authenticity or artistry fall on deaf ears when the medium itself is designed to warrant so little.

Photo via Flickr.

Should we even be demanding more from something with such a simple purpose, much less expect greater ambitions from those directly involved in their creation? After all, the largest blockbusters of the last five years have played host to plenty of unspectacular art while their box office numbers don’t necessarily mirror the strength of their posters. Instead, they foster a mindset that embraces dispensability, one that leaves in its wake an ever-growing body of work that’s been bled of any humanity.

Make no mistake: beautiful, smart, stunning posters do creep through. Many of them appear on the edges of cinema, where independent productions lie, or found through the establishments that have risen to offer an alternative to traditional advertising. But their numbers are small, and without striving for more on a grander scale, less accessible quality is being created for future generations to be inspired by. We’re left with an overabundance of retreads for safety’s sake - a collection of ideas more shallow than the last, and a visual world reduced to a collective eyesore as a result. There’s little to be excited about when the future seems rigged to usher in more banality than the one we’re currently in.

I remain hopeful. While the odds may not be in their favor, we may yet see the work that startles and excites breaking free from the fringes and diluting the dull and unimaginative weight we seem to be carrying today. Few dazzlers are found on the side bus stops or hanging at the local AMC, but as the years go by, perhaps there’s a chance that the pendulum could swing the other way. Less would be relegated to the rubbish bin; more would be sought after to hang on walls long after their primary purpose has expired. Audiences would be enraptured, and a new breed of creators are given a wider breadth of inspirations to be affected by.

Maybe it’s not possible, and this amounts to little more than a form of lofty idealism. You’d be hard-pressed to find a utopia anywhere within the struggle between art and commerce. At the very least, there will always be a corner of the industry truly passionate for the type of work that so many entering the field desire to do, even if that space continues to shrink, or is found solely in the farthest of places.


A selection of rather well done official one-sheets from other agencies or designers from the past year. In no particular order...

Zero Charisma (US) - Akiko Stehrenberger / Gravillis Inc.

Tribeca Film

Our Nixon (US) - Sam Smith


Jodorowsky’s Dune (US) - Kilian Eng

High Line Pictures

Nebraska (US) - BLT Communications

Paramount Vantage

Here Comes the Devil (US) - Jay Shaw

Magnet Releasing

Side Effects (US) - Kellerhouse Inc.

Open Road Films

Kings of Summer (US) - Rich Kelly

CBS Films

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (US) - The Boland Design Co.

IFC Films

Wrong (US) - Mr. L’Agent / All City

Drafthouse Films

Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (US) - Erik Buckham

HBO Documentary Films