The Movie Poster: The Most Iconic Promotional Tool-Part 2

24 Sep

The movie poster is a unique seduction tool that is designed to relieve audiences of any ability to resist seeing a given film.  An essential product of feature film promotion, unlike the movie marquee its sphere of influence extends beyond specifying what screen based dramatic performance will occur within the movie house, who are the main stars, and when it is playing. The movie poster is responsible for activating the viewer’s since of curiosity, remind them of potential wonder, and demand that they place the coming event on their and within the theater’s schedules.  How does the poster do all these things, it uses a hundred plus years of visual gimmicks, provocative scenarios, narrative suggestions, visual effects and stimulating language to relieve the theater fan of their capacity choose another past time.

 Defining a Discipline: 

After a crude initial range of advertising methods (including the use of the sandwich board) some pioneers of the field started to become recognizable. “Jules Cheret, considered in the advertising world as the father of the modern poster, is also credited with bringing the movie poster into existence. [1]”  Jules Cheret “Pantomimes Lumineuses” poster can be found here.

Fine art Impressionist fans might recognize a resemblance to the painting of seminal modernist artist Toulouse Lautrec.  This semblance purely helps us understand how ideas used by other forms of entertainment initially helped sell the still new invention of feature film then frequently referred to as the “pantomimes lumineuses” as it was in France.  Yet notice like Lautrec’s advertising of the Follies Bergere Revue, Cheret tended to advertise film exhibition events and showcased institutions not actual films [2].

In 1896, Marcellin Auzolle designed the first actual poster for a specific film, actually containing scenes from the program, for Lumiere’s film entitled “L’Arroseu Arrose” [3].

 The Marcellin Auzolle “L’Arroseu Arrose” poster can be found here

Refinements in thematic representation would naturally eventually follow over many years.

Some years later, if one looks at the conservative layout of an early poster like 1911’s “Snare of Society” you can see how graphically juvenile the genre was at that time.  All you see is a simple title that stands out from the background image that you might see in any theater stage play.  Other than what looks like a small trademark in the lower right hand corner, no attempt was made to be any more dynamic with other forms of discrete information.  Posters still do not signal that they are a unique form of dramatic entertainment different from traditional theater [4]. 1911’s “The Snare of Society” can be found here.

 “The early movie posters rarely, if at all, provided any information about the actors on the posters. This was due to the fact that the film producers were concerned that such publicity would contribute to the propagation of the stars fame, and would encourage them to demand higher wages. However, when Carl Laemmle, poached Florence Lawrence from Biograph studio, things began to change. Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures, was reputedly the most good-natured and least neurotic of the studio bosses.” [5]

Thanks to Laemmle, Actors and directors would eventually become on posters what they already were on movie marquees.

 …In return the stars agents demanded clauses in their contracts that would specify the size and placement of their client names on the movie posters”. [6]  1915 “The CHAMPION” can be found here

The Main Movie Title might even be smaller than the Principle Actor and Director credits as in “The Champion.

1916’s “The Dawn Maker” can be found here.

We see the new use of Taglines like “He Faced Starvation like a Man!” in the poster for “The Dawn Maker.”

The Marcellin Auzolle “L’Arroseu Arrose” poster can be found here.

Representation styles of illustration in the Dominant Image clearly vary greatly as in the poster for “Hotel Imperial.”

 Over the Top, 1918, Wilfrid North can be found here.

And the volume of Contributor Information becomes so large in the poster for Over the Top” that we can almost predict a full credits section in the near future. By the 1930’s accidents caused during one of the most prolific film production periods in Hollywood history caused an unusual number of representation and scheduling problems.  Described by…

Recognizing the inefficiencies associated with this process, in 1939 the studios struck a relationship with a company called the National Screen Service (NSS). The NSS had been producing and distributing movie trailers to exhibitors for twenty years and had an established distribution infrastructure. Under contract to almost all the studios, the company became the defacto printer and distributor of all movie poster advertising and related products [3].”

The Beginning and End of Financial Heyday for Illustrators

Bill Gold’s 1941 poster for “Casablanca,” utilized a narrative strategy lecturer Victor Moreno calls “Single Image Narration.” Though many would complain in later eras about this strategy (today when occurring on a black background some call it “floating head syndrome”).  Yet at the time it was an excellent way to fore tale a narrative using background image portraits [4]. The Bill Gold ‘Casablanca” poster can be found here.

Some consider Bob Peak the father of modern poster illustration because of his distinctive and highly realistic painting style [5].

The Bob Peaks ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark” poster can be found here

A favorite of Steven Spielberg, The Richard Amsel’s work was produced in colored pencil [6].

The Richard Amsel’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” poster can be found here.

As poster design art matured more posters would rely more heavily on photography rather than painted or drawing media.  In the last few decades computer graphics technology in image development and layout also would become far more popular.  Yet this form of advertising has rarely failed to provoke the interest of film fans and other hungry consumers [7].

The Era of Photographers and Digital Design Wizards begins: 

In terms of really contemporary trends, writer Julians Katkovskis does an excellent job of naming the types of photographic compositions that we frequently see in current posters.  The types are articulated so well I can barely keep from reproducing the full article [8].  Yet here’s only a few…

Two person close-up: different genres

Posters forThe Recruit, The Interpreter and  Bad Company” can be found here.

One person: long shot

Posters for “Hitch,” “Sweet home Alabama” and “Bad Company” can be found here.

One person with describing background

Posters for “Alexander,” “Collateral Damage” and “Hart’s War” can be found here.

The Scatter Shot Ad Strategy: 

Because millions of dollars can be lost on poor ad campaigns many advertising agencies are choosing to execute what would all “scatter shot campaigns”.  Meaning instead of choosing one definitive way to sell a film many posters will be created waiting for a later time to make a distinctive selection [9] [10] [11].

Posters for “Bugsy” can be found here.

Posters for ““For Colored  Girls” can be found  here.

Posters for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” can be found here.

Also See: The Movie Poster: The Most Iconic Promotional Tool-Part 1

Please join us for a discussion Tuesday 9/25/2012@7pmE/12UTC















84 Responses to “The Movie Poster: The Most Iconic Promotional Tool-Part 2”

  1. littlebells September 24, 2012 at 10:44 PM #

    I am blown away! Absolutely fantastic and incredibly interesting!

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 6:44 AM #


      Well I think I was a little too ambitious, yet your compliments are always appreciated. Shockingly for me, the more I learn, the more this topic keeps on giving.

  2. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 10:22 AM #

    CR- Really excellent research and conclusion to this film poster series you’ve done. I do have a few questions. One I will give now and the others I will wait until the discussion tonight.

    U mentioned studios did not want to put actors names on posters initially. I can see why. I mean the poster is the first interaction an audience had with the production. The name on the poster and trailer dictates who’s carrying the weight of the film. Whoever appears on the poster first gets the most blame or applauds would u say?

  3. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 11:17 AM #


    You are so right.

    I don’t want to keep hammering on studio bean counters (better known as business men) that they frequently are so hungry for the attention that they inadvertently try to undermine actors and directors. And let’s be honest whose work are we really looking at?
    I don’t have anything against businessmen doing things most would consider mundane should be executed by these professionals. I don’t doubt that some creative’s have tried, but activities like working out product placement deals and visibility plans with product manufacturers,specifying payment programs for actors, specifying development budgeting for design developers etc. are extremely important necessities for film projects.

    But initially what were they worried about: giving actors and directors a better slice of the gross. I think it’s amazing that they could even articulate that position back then. Today it’s common to be attracted to movies by hearing:




  4. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 11:17 AM #

    Furthermore, it was poster politics that brought all of these things to our consciousness.

  5. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 6:51 PM #

    CR-In your article u discuss different ad strategies. Do u think certain ad campaigns like the floating heads and close-ups are aimed at young adults? Where as the complex background that cater to a characters situation within the story are geared toward an adult demographic?

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:00 PM #

      Unfortunately, I could not show every poster that used this strategy. “Casablanca”, and I doubt “Enter the dragon”, and many others probably were not marketted to children.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:24 PM #

        Yeah, I know. IMO film audiences have become more sophisticated and expect to take in a lot of information at one time. It seems the head shot or close up of an actor against a flat background is somewhat juvenile. For example adults today will recognize if a poster has a 60’s, 70’s or 80’s style to it and can read multiple genres and styles within a poster etc… Does that make sense?

        • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:38 PM #

          It makes a lot of sense. TV agrees with you explicitly. This is what they said……..

          “Floating Head Syndrome

          A derogatory term referring to the tendency in modern Film Posters and DVD cover art to have a black background with the faces of the lead actors above the name of the movie. Ubiquitous once the age of photo editing software came about, since it meant studios no longer had to commission an artist tens of thousands of dollars to paint a poster for them, when they could just take stock photos of the lead actor and have interns run it through Photoshop.

          Generally felt to be a lazy approach, as it requires little in the way of creativity and imagination, and leads to many DVD releases looking all but indistinguishable on the shelf.

          It is particularly bad when other publicity materials such as teaser posters have looked different and distinctive, but the final poster is floating heads. Or even the theatrical posters have been distinctive, but the DVD art has the syndrome.”

          • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:39 PM #


            Would you like to make a proposal in regard to conquering these aesthetic conventions?

            • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 9:05 PM #

              I really like highly conceptualized designs they are my all time favorites. For example the Blood Diamond poster featuring just a diamond dipped in blood against a black background. No scenic background or actors featured requiring audiences to ask questions and ponder etc… Excellent. Now not all actors names are well known enough to get away with this conceptualized design campaign but it is very interactive and effective.

              If u are going to do floating heads. I think doing something like “The Departed” is very interesting. I must say. I really loved the ad campaign for Cosmopolis from the trailer to the P&A were all very sophisticated. It had multiple genres within the poster for example that pink typography was very 90’s.

          • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 9:00 PM #

            Ooow, thank you for that snippit! I always thought of it as boring myself but I was wondering why professionals thought the same or worse.

  6. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 6:52 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    Welcome new and returning visitors to our discussion tonight. Feel free to lurk or join in on the discussion.

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:05 PM #

      ALOHA, OB.

    • littlebells September 25, 2012 at 7:07 PM #

      Hi CR and OB and everyone!

      You’ve asked some great questions OB. I’m going to have to figure some out myself.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:08 PM #

        Hi LB!

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:12 PM #

        No problem take your time LB!

  7. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:07 PM #


    Do u see film posters today as potential collectors items?

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

      I don’t know what was wrong it would not let me sign in!!!!!!!!!

      Hi OB and LB.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:40 PM #

        U should be fine now CR!

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

      Most of these won’t be valuable. IMHO the public probably only associates the franchise with the three main characters played by the three main actors.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:02 PM #

        The film posters I think will be of value are Lord of the Rings, Twilight and Harry Potter film posters. Simply due to their pop cultural significance.

        • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:07 PM #

          Though you maybe correct; I think rarer independents are likely to have greatest demand. For instance historical movies and political discussions specific to our time.

          • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:10 PM #

            That is so true! Do u think the Obama film poster is an example of what your talking about?

            • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:25 PM #

              Possibly, especially if he loses.

        • littlebells September 25, 2012 at 8:24 PM #

          Twilight??? Ewwww…none, I mean NONE of them were good. They looked like they advertised for constipation.

          • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:29 PM #

            I guess there is a nauseating quality about them, but (as a compliment) the cast holds up pretty well anyway. Strong genes seem to go a long way when your assaulted by photographers and makeup people.

          • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:31 PM #

            Hahahahaha! Hmm! I tend to agree with u LB. Not very sophisticated at all.

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:03 PM #

      The collectibles and memorabila market is huge. I’m sure many contemporary posters are just as sought after.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:06 PM #

        True! I think any print media posters especially produced in the last decade will be a huge collectors item. I don’t even want to discuss Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Come on!!!!!

        • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:53 PM #

          For “the Dark Knight”, Heath Ledger was one of the few actors who won an Oscar post humonously. “The Avengers” I think is one of the third highest grossing films ever. These credits might increase the value of their posters.

          • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 9:12 PM #

            “humonously” = Sorry meaning he was deceased when he won.

  8. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

    What film posters (produced this year) do u think will be valuable in 10 years?

    • littlebells September 25, 2012 at 7:15 PM #

      and to piggy back and on that question, what do you think the future of posters will look like? I know internet is taking over, but even the internet needs movie ads.

      • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:23 PM #

        I think film posters will eventually become digital even at movie theaters. I really think any film poster produced today should be collected due to advertising on the Internet.

        • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

          This has already happened. During SWATH’s run any attempt to pull up an article on a Twilight cast member (at a major commercial site) would bring up a Swath digital poster.

          • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 8:44 PM #

            Urgh, that annoyed me so much! I was looking up info for where Cosmopolis was playing and it had in the box “Things like this” SWATH! Apart from the two stars being in Twilight, they have nothing in common. At the moment I’m hating amazon’s “people who bought ths, also bought..” box! I wish there was a way to turn it off or at least custom it.

            • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

              Ozzie we’re eating the same Captain Crunch and barfing up the same prize….

              • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 9:01 PM #

                Bwahahahahaha! I love that expression! And I got another laugh, thank you!

  9. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:15 PM #


    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:39 PM #

      Hi CR!

  10. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

    With the end of the iconic film poster. One of the major problems I see for actors and directors is the ability to claim top billing. Also, so many fans are making there own advertising for films it’s hard to distinguish what’s what? I mean it’s nice to see a cohesive and sophisticated ad campaign. After all it can be the first impression u have with an audience.

  11. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:44 PM #

    Had massive technical problem, getting caught up…..

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 7:45 PM #

      sort of…

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 7:52 PM #

      No problem. I’m here!

      • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:12 PM #

        Oddly, many posts that I attempted to register an hour ago are now present.

        • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:16 PM #

          Yeah! Sorry about that.

          • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:23 PM #

            It’s O.K. and probably nothing you could have helped.

  12. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:20 PM #


    Why do you believe Poster designers are never embraced by the adminstrators, cast, and crew of a specific production?

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:34 PM #

      I would not go as far as to say NEVER. I do think P&A is something most studios like trailers are outsourced to various marketing firms. Whoever comes up with the best campaign wins the account. However, studios will and do work with multiple marketing firms for one film. Especially, if it’s a blockbuster film.

      • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 9:18 PM #

        I think I meant NEVER presented together as being part of the same team.

  13. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:21 PM #


    There are many movies that are largely made by the costume designer’s work and choices. Why do you believe these participants don’t get poster taglines or top billing?

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:38 PM #

      Costume Designers have shown up on film posters if the film is a big period costume film. Also, academy award winning costume designer show up on posters.

      • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:42 PM #

        Thank you. I believe they are always in the poster credits. But I will look harder for their poster props elsewhere.

        • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 9:03 PM #

          I did not know that so I’ll look out for it next time!

  14. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:21 PM #


    What is your favorite poster ever and why?

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:47 PM #

      Hmm! This is a good question. I will have to come back to it later. I’m very partial to characters in action or in a situation in the story. I like ads that sells the story not the actor alone. Does that make sense?

  15. ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 8:22 PM #

    Hi all! Sorry I’m late. Multiple tv signal malfunctions! Still not mangaed to fix it fully but I’m giving up for now!

    Loved this article, CR! It was really interesting to see the evolution! 🙂

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:27 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!

      Bad TV malfunction. I’m sending u a cyber toaster oven.

      • littlebells September 25, 2012 at 8:36 PM #

        Hahaha!!!! There is still some cyber crochet oven mitts for u OB!

        • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:39 PM #

          Oh! Wonderful…… just in time for winter. Love it!!

        • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:41 PM #

          Hey! My cyber oven mitts. They aren’t BD2 special editions are they?

          • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 8:48 PM #

            Bwahahahah! Thanks for the laughs, I really needed it! I think I nearly had cartoon steam coming from my ears lol!

            • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 8:50 PM #

              Ah! I’m glad we lifted your spirits.

    • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:31 PM #

      Thanks Ozzie. I had similar technical problems. Glad you made it.

      • ozzie20 September 25, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

        Damn technology! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, lol! I would of ignored the whole lack of signal till I finished here but all I could hear from the other room with this

        over and over!

        Why do these things always happen when you’re busy?! It’s Sod’s law!

        • Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 8:57 PM #


  16. Comic Relief September 25, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    Thanks for coming everyone. I appreciated all the great questions.

    • Open Book September 25, 2012 at 9:10 PM #

      Goodnight CR!

      I’m going to head out as well. This was an interesting discussion I learned a great deal. TC!

  17. Open Book September 25, 2012 at 9:40 PM #

    My favorite contemporary P&A campaign & Trailer will have to be “Inception.”

    • Comic Relief September 27, 2012 at 9:49 AM #

      Because I may not be the only person who is having problems with your link, I am posting another. And I can never disagree with Nolan either myself. The available alternatives to the most well-known poster are just as amazing.

  18. Open Book September 26, 2012 at 12:13 PM #

    Hi CR-

    O.k. here are my list of favorite P&A campaigns. U may see a pattern but many of them selected are from Leo Dicaprio’s films. I don’t know but the guy seems to have an eye for P&A for his films. However, I will start by listing my non Leo films.

    Non-Leo Fav. P&A
    The Godfather
    Shindler’s List
    Black Swan
    Sherlock Holmes(Guy Ritchie)

    Leo Films:
    The Aviator
    The Departed
    Shutter Island

    • Comic Relief September 27, 2012 at 9:41 AM #


      Mrs. Book let me remind you higher on the page, you said:
      “It seems the head shot or close up of an actor against a flat background is somewhat juvenile.”

      Yet at least two of your preferences (“The Aviator”, and “Black Swan”) are presented in the same format. I may not have made this clear in the article but celebrity actor appearances really do sell films more than metaphors.

      You are entirely entitled to your opinion but don’t you think these artists hands are tied regarding this marketing challenge and convention?

      • Open Book September 29, 2012 at 11:07 AM #

        Hmm! What a pickle I’ve gotten myself in. LOL!!

        Well I do have a good explanation for this CR. The main quality that’s appealing in both these close up head shots of Black Swan and The Aviator. Is the contrasting narrative within the visual display and title. For example, for Black Swan we have the focus on the actors eyes suggesting something dark and mysterious. Plus u have her dressed as a Ballerina yet she looks pretty scary. So there are so many contradictions that draws an audience to the story and film just in that close-up alone that makes for a very sophisticated poster.

        • Comic Relief September 29, 2012 at 1:32 PM #

          I like your evaluation.

  19. Open Book September 26, 2012 at 12:16 PM #

    Lol now looking at the Leo films they are also Martin Scorsese films. The only one that is not is Inception.

    • Comic Relief September 27, 2012 at 9:42 AM #


      I can’t disagree with you regarding Leo; he’s a monster in most categories. For an actor he really doesn’t leave much to chance. But I agree we have to tip our hats to Scorsese also.

      As your list demonstrates the better directors cross their “T”s and dot their “I”s. And it’s remarkable to see how culturally well-rounded, astute, and well versed all of these film professionals are in other creative endeavors.

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