Please dont start thinking my weekly rant is just case of talking about the “good old days” and “when I was a lad…” as this is not about that. I am trying mainly to identify key points in the movie industry that I think need to be addressed for all our benefits. Now I don’t for one second think that it will change anything, but at the very least I hope to give people something to think about and for them to reflect upon. It just so happens that comparisons help to make my point in a lot of cases, which brings me on to this week’s subject: Movie Posters.
Now can someone please tell me at what point did they turn into the laziest form of marketing for a movie?! If you google “bad movie posters” you will be taken to some pretty funny and shocking articles to demonstrate how bad movie posters can get. Failing that, just google “Steven Seagal movie posters” or “Nicolas Cage Movie Posters” and my point will be made. Some recent ones have to be seen to be believed!
Bad airbrushing and terrible artwork for direct to DVD movies are one thing, but I want to illustrate how lazy posters are as a marketing tool for the major studios. Over the past decade or so, studios seem to be falling back on very tired movie poster cliches:
The rom-com, back-to-back lean: Pretty Woman, No Reservations, Two Weeks Notice, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Four Christmases, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Killers
The back of the main character shot: The Dark Knight (above), Noah, Star Trek Into Darkness, 2012, Captain America the Winter Soldier, The Dark Knight Rises, Watchmen, Kick-Ass, G.I. Joe, Walk the Line, Blade, Cowboys and Aliens, Inception, The Raid. Need I say more?
The black and white with fire-effect colours: The Expendables, Transporter (1-3), Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, Ghost Rider, Die Hard, Fast & the Furious
The character face poster: Usually for an ensemble piece such as X-men. Just posters of a character’s face. And that’s it.
The horizontal rows of multiple characters: Savages, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A Perfect Getaway, The Seige, Love Actually, Hope Springs, The Fifth Estate, Take This Waltz
So, in order to prove my point, think of a list of five iconic movie posters from movies of the last 20 years, and then think of a list of five posters from the 20 years before that. Firstly, how much easier was it to do the earlier time period and secondly, which batch of posters would you rather put up on a wall? I am hoping, for the vast majority of you, that you can see my point. Snazzy photoshop effects and copying trends does not an effective poster make. I will wager in another 20 years from now, people will forget what the posters for Avatar, Twilight and Anchorman looked like, but the iconic images for Jaws, Alien, Star Wars, The Graduate will remain fresh in people’s memories.
So why do these classics remain so popular and iconic? I honestly think the simple reason is this: the purpose of posters has changed. Nowadays, with the advent of online and social media marketing, movie posters need to be adaptable to fit in various formats and proportions, so it’s a case of one solution fits all, with simple, easy to manipulate imagery to fit every space possible. These images are simply meant to have a short shelf life to get bums on seats in cinemas and that’s it. Once the DVDs hit the shelves, the imagery has done its job.
Now look at more classic posters, where real-life artists who didn’t have the benefits of Photoshop were tasked with creating posters that immediately conveyed the theme and content of the movie, whether it was to convey a sense of foreboding dread with an otherworldly egg cracking open with a green glow, or a sense of adventure and excitement with a montage of colourful characters, scene teasers, fedora hats and bullwhips, the posters had to do the majority of the selling to an audience without the benefits of a world wide web. These posters are truly special in conveying that sense of the awe and magic of movies.
It would be really nice to see a return to this lost art, but seeing as that is unlikely to happen when dollar signs mean more than producing a quality job to stand the test of time, I urge you in the meantime to head on over to Mondo Tees to see superb independent artists, create and sell their own posters for movie classics, both new and old.