Throughout the history of cinema, posters have existed to promote movies, supporting material that has evolved into an art in its own right. The best posters reflect the content of the film and the art and design of the times. This post brings together 20 examples of cool cinematic posters, a personal selection set out chronologically to represent the evolution of the form.
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1. Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang’s silent movie of 1927 is a classic science fiction and an exploration of contemporary social themes. The film itself is full of Modernist and Art Deco design, and the accompanying promotional material features beautiful, iconic graphics. Russian-born designer Boris Bilinsky produced a variety of posters for the film, including this design that inventively blends typography and architecture.
2. Doctor X (1932)
Doctor X is a Technicolor production following the story of a New York news reporter’s investigation into a series of cannibalistic murders.
3. King Kong (1933)
The original, and many would say best, appearance of King Kong was the groundbreaking stop-motion monster of 1933. This theatrical poster shows the film’s dramatic final scene, with the giant ape on the Empire State Building, holding the heroine and under attack from military aircraft.
4. The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Orson Welles directed and starred alongside Rita Hayworth in this noir tale involving a complex murder plot.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
In The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien craft lands in America and tells the people of Earth that humanity must live in peace or face destruction. A nervous soldier accidentally shoots the messenger, getting mankind’s extra-terrestrial relations off to a poor start.
6. Pickpocket (1959)
French illustrator Christian Broutin crafted this sublime poster for Robert Bresson’s influential tale of thievery and morality.
7. The Hustler (1961)
This stylish poster is for The Hustler, which follows the story of Paul Newman’s ‘Fast Eddie’ and his attempts to become the best pool player in America. The film is recognized as a modern classic, exploring the fundamental challenges of human fulfilment, played out in the context of pool hall competitions.
8. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Russ Meyer’s film features three strippers who take off in three fast cars to go on a murder rampage. The movie’s scandalous thrill seeking is reflected in the poster’s graphic montage.
9. Le Samourai (1967)
This minimalist poster design is for Le Samourai, an equally minimalist French thriller starring Alan Delon as a perfectionist free-agent hitman. The film’s style, plot and characterisation have been highly influential on subsequent crime cinema.
10. Easy Rider (1969)
Easy Rider is the classic counterculture road movie, following two bikers, played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, as they ride through the American South searching for freedom.
11. Solaris (1972)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a psychological science fiction film based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem. The story follows a scientist who is sent to investigate the fate of the crew of a mission to the Solaris Ocean. Designer Bertrandt Andrzej produced this beautiful poster for the film’s Polish release. In 2002, Steven Soderbergh remade the movie with George Clooney in the lead role.
12. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
This poster is for Werner Herzog’s version of Nosferatu, with Klaus Kinski as Dracula stalking 19th Century Transylvania and Germany, bringing plague and death in his wake.
13. Altered States (1980)
William Hurt stars in Altered States as a psychologist submitting himself to experiments as part of his investigations into human consciousness. Director Ken Russell created a baroque psychedelic vision, often verging on the ridiculous.
14. A View to a Kill (1985)
Roger Moore brought his own touch to his portrayal of Bond; this poster reflects mid-Eighties design and glamour, with Grace Jones’ baddie May Day threatening the British agent.
15. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
‘While the rest of us were just thinking about it…Ferris borrowed a Ferrari and did it…all in a day’. In John Hughes’ film, archetypal Eighties high school wise guy Ferris Bueller is determined to take the day off and have some fun in downtown Chicago.
16. Empire of the Sun (1987)
Empire of the Sun, based on JG Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel, follows a British boy’s coming-of-age in Shanghai and surviving a Japanese World War Two prisoner of war camp.
17. My Left Foot (1989)
This unusual painterly poster is for My Life Foot, in which Daniel Day-Lewis delivers an astonishing performance as a severely disabled man who paints with the only limb he has available: his left foot. The film is based on the autobiography of the same name by Irish author, painter and poet Christy Brown.
18. Fargo (1996)
This is another inventive poster design, created for the Cohen Brother’s thriller Fargo. The artwork has the appearance of a cross-stitched sampler, reflecting the ‘homespun’ feel of the American murder mystery plot.
19. The Cooler (2003)
This striking neon-themed poster is for The Cooler, a film following the life of Bernie Lootz, the unluckiest man in Las Vegas.
20. Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the grindhouse cinema of the 1960s and 70s. In keeping with the theme, the posters publicising the film’s theatrical release reflected the graphic design of the genre.
Self-referential, aware of its past and skilfully created, the Death Proof poster represents best in movie poster design, a constantly evolving and cutting edge art form.