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Monday Mood: The Lost Art of Classic Movie Posters

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

This Mummy poster is beautifully illustrated, gives context and has a scare factor before the viewer even steps in the theater.

A few weeks ago, I bought a book on horror movies through the ages and I was struck by the collection of early movie posters that were in it. It really dawned on me that the art of movie posters that existed in early film has been lost almost entirely. Classic movie posters used to be so illustrative, beautiful, and enticing. They had qualities that today’s movie posters just don’t.

This statement can be made across almost all genres of film, but since we’re still hanging on to spooky season and horror is my favorite genre, this is the example I’ll be using. I think the downfall of the movie poster really came with the invention of the trailer. Movie posters used to serve as not only the cover image for the movie but the main source of advertising. Especially in an era where color and effects were super limited, the poster had to strike in almost as much fear as the movie itself. Companies had to start scaring their viewers outside of the theater, giving them an image that made them want to see more. This is why they used artists who could create larger than life illustrations, giving presence and power to the antagonist of the film before a viewer even saw one second of film. It’s also why they used ominous text that was decoratively placed in and around the image. Short and haunting taglines that would strike fear into the viewer and would leave them wanting more.

While I appreciate the attempt to design here... This doesn't tell me anything about the film and frankly looks dumb. It's just a skull made of people and it looks kinda stupid. This isn't a bad movie either, it just had a shit poster.

The trailer in modern films has eliminated a lot of the need for these features. Rather than create a single image that’s a collection of all that the viewer had in store for them, film makers could create a collection of clips that can do this and then some. This allows the modern movie poster to be more simple, ominous, often just a single image that is meant to give hints at the film and be paired with the trailer as a means of advertising. But the problem is that these images can’t stand alone, these posters are boring. I’m not saying that we need to return to the highly illustrative styles of the past but with how art has developed shouldn’t we be able to put out a more enticing poster? I get that the trailer gives a lot of power to advertising but it can stand alone, why can’t the image?

Filmmakers are relying too much on what is already there, especially in an era where they’re constantly beating the dead horse that is reboots. Posters often just feature the main antagonist in an “ominous” pose with dim lighting but what does this really do? Nothing, if anything it just shows viewers that they should already know what to expect with another movie featuring the same god damn characters.

I think it’s safe to say that film is largely in an area of laziness and regression. Not to say all film, because there are certainly some amazing films being but, but especially in horror there’s just an ongoing collection of junk and it starts at the most basic levels of ad. These movies can’t even create quality advertising that can stand alone anymore, let alone make good films. Film, and especially horror, needs a Renaissance. Some sort of revival that gives new life to the media, but pays homage to where it comes from.

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