Opinion: The Importance of Movie Posters

By: Andrew Haas

Movie marketing has exploded over the years. In today’s Internet culture, it’s easy for people to get excited over promotional material like trailers, TV spots, and clips. But there’s another important part of marketing that has been there since the beginning that is now being seen as an afterthought: the poster. Many people today view them as little more than a still reminder of what’s coming or playing while the trailer gets the most attention. This came to my attention in October when Star Wars: The Force Awakens released new material. Everybody went nuts over the trailer, while the gorgeous poster was almost glossed over and criticized for having too much imagery in it. I find this disappointing as movie posters are just as, if not more important than trailers.

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Even though trailers have existed in the past, they were only played in theaters since there was no Internet to share them. They mainly served as quick glimpses of what would be playing once the current film has left theaters. Even as television appeared, ads for films only popped up occasionally. The most public way to advertise movies were in print form, with newspaper ads, billboards, and posters. It makes sense seeing how the most common way of advertising for the longest time was through print. But as movies evolved, so did the posters.

Marketers needed these still images to convey a lot to get people’s attention and sell the product. These posters had to be artistically pleasing to make audiences curious about how what’s portrayed plays out in the film. So they would make posters, usually painted by artists like Drew Struzan, that would show many images mixed together to portray a story of grand scale.

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Or they would make posters with a simple image from the movie that is so stunning, the viewer must know what it connects to. For the longest time, posters have succeeded in mixing advertising with artistry.

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But starting around the nineties when computer technology was evolving, companies started looking to using this tech to make movie posters digitally. This allowed for manipulating photos and composing them with names and titles. While this was not a bad way to make posters, as some older posters also used pictures, how it was used became a problem. The posters seemed less enticing and more like ads. Granted, that’s what they’ve always been, but they’re supposed to disguise that factor by conveying a big story. Now they’re just there as a reminder of a film’s existence while taking a back seat to the now more popular and impressive trailers.

In fact, posters today seem to be have their own cliche patterns. Some of these that I’ve noticed include:

Teal and orange – This is one of the most common of the poster cliches. While these contrasting colors are appealing to look at when mixed together, film marketing can’t seem to get enough of it.

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Golden yellow – If it’s a big independent film, the poster is going to have a plain golden yellow background with less than a few images included.

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Back-shot – Want to signify how much of a lone hero the main star is? Simply have his or her back turned with the head facing sideways.

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Big-Name Headshot – Yes, the film stars a famous actor or character. What does his or her face filling up the entire frame with occasional overlapping text tell me about the movie itself?

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Back-To-Back – If it’s a film about a tough-love relationship, the two leads must be standing back to back.

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Ensemble – Okay, you put in more of the characters, but they’re just standing there with a couple poses and little else going on. I’ve seen this a lot with family films.

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Orange and white – Many action films use this. I guess it’s supposed to signify that the films are “edgy”, with the orange representing the explosions they’re going to have.

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Floating Heads Over Scene – This is to show the film is meaningful and touching. The head of the lead(s) hover over a small backdrop with silhouettes, usually a beach. I’ll admit, it does say more about the film than the simple headshot.

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And there are plenty more than the ones I’ve listed. Marketing has become so focused on trailers and commercials that the posters meant to serve as covers are now relying on the same gimmicks. That isn’t to say older posters didn’t have their own gimmicks, but they aren’t quite as noticeable as the ones today. And for those who think the poster is not important for getting people to see the film, answer me this: how will viewers in the future be attracted to these films?

When a film is out on Blu-ray or digital release and new viewers are browsing, they want a visual representation that the film will be worth viewing. The excitement of the trailers are long gone since it left theaters and a quick search for a synopsis isn’t enough. So it’s the cover image or poster that must catch one’s curiosity. But when posters or covers look the same, they might end up leaving a blurring effect on potential viewers. But if a cover has art that stands on its own, whether it be a dynamic collage of characters and scenes or a simple, yet striking image, chances are that’s what’s going to draw the most attention.

At the end of the day, I just wish posters got as much attention and care as trailers do today. They have the ability to draw in viewers and are likely to last longer once the films they advertise are out. So maybe when looking at something like the current Star Wars poster, think not about the amount of things going on, but rather the aspects that first caught your attention.