Here on The Nerdd, we publish an article every three months, looking forward to the most exciting upcoming movies (here’s the last one). Part of this of course involves the movie posters. Movie posters are meant to be part of the draw of going to see movies. You’re already at a theater, about to enjoy one story, it’s a great time to get you excited for another one coming soon.
Sometimes, if a movie really impacted you in a deep way, you might want to buy the poster, and bring it home, hang it on your wall like a piece of art. I have a couple in my office, that I can look at as I type these very words. But what, specifically, makes a movie poster cool?
The first job of a movie poster is to grab you attention. This can be difficult because, usually when you see one movie poster, you’re bound to see several more, such as a movie theater. How can a poster grab your attention? First would be specific color combinations that clash together, forcing your eye to look. Red on White, Orange on Blue, Black on Yellow, there are a number of colors that, when put together, fight with each other and make you look. Orange and Blue is probably one of the most popular combinations lately, especially when it comes to action movies.
Part of grabbing your attention, is the action on the poster. Having posters that have clear movement, or are even mid-explosion, make you wonder a) what caused the movement, and b) where the movement will end. A great poster full of action is the Pixar movie Up. The characters are riding a strange bird, running from dogs and planes, and are pulling a floating house behind them. Not only that, but the expressions on the two human characters also show an amount of emotional action. Instead of being a portrait of characters, it’s a snapshot of a single moment.
There are two major kinds of Iconography used in movie posters. The first, with new franchises or unknown actors, are with the aspects of the story. When you have never heard of a movie that might be confusing to audiences, you need to give them a clear expectation about what this movie is focused on. For instance, in the first Star Wars movie, there was so much needed to portray to potential audiences, that there are nine characters, and almost no negative, or empty, space. They filled the page with information, such as a floating space ball, a looming masked figure, and weapons and vehicles that are unrecognizable. A movie like this had never been done before, and the closest relatable film was Flash Gordon, which was much more campy and cartoonish. So there had to be a clear sign that this was a sci-fi, full of action, and imaginative ideas. Star Wars was also one of the first uses of the Orange on Blue color scheme that has become so familiar in Sci-Fi/Superhero movies the past several years.
The other form of Iconography with movie posters, is when you are using a more known actor, or in a more known IP (intellectual property), you can use the actor themselves. In the Maleficent poster, of course Angelina Jolie is in costume of a very known character, the poster still tells very little about the story or the movie itself. It can be assumed that the power of Angelina Jolie is all you need to go see this movie. There are no other signs that this has anything to do with Sleeping Beauty, because their big pull is the actress on the screen.
Blockbusters clearly have a specific style, of main characters, usually some explosions and bright colors to grab your attention. So if a movie isn’t a big action blockbuster, how are they supposed to seem interesting? That all comes down to the style of the poster, which should reflect the style of the film. In the movie Memento, Christopher Nolan had a unique, non-action, story to tell, and used the interlaid Polaroid pictures, which doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, but if you take some time to look at it, should spark your interest in what the movie is about.
My Favorite Posters
I specifically have three posters that I really enjoy. The first two are in my office, and the third one is my favorite poster of the year.
First, what might not be a surprise to anyone who reads this site regularly, is a Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster. This being the third film with the titular character, we are familiar enough to not need to explain the story with several aspects. All that is needed is a battered shield, half-shrouded in darkness, which is enough for you to know that this movie will be very difficult for this colorful and optimistic character. This wasn’t the primary poster used for this movie, but it is the one that I got from the theatre I watched it at.
Another poster on my wall, is for the movie Inception. Normally with films that have big name stars, you don’t need as much in the poster, because a simple idea is enough to get audiences in. In fact, they probably could have done a poster that just has Leonardo DiCaprio’s face, with a spinning top inside his forehead, and that would have successfully portrayed enough of the film. However, because Christopher Nolan doesn’t rest on the starpower of his films, but on the concepts themselves, he includes his great ensemble cast, but they are a fraction of the space taken compared to the gravity-defying landscape that shows more the visual journey he wants to take us on.
My favorite poster of this year is from the movie Us. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, the basic concept is a family is being attacked by doppelgängers. What I love about this poster is in the way Lupita Nyong’o is holding the mask of her own face, her eye makes the mask look like it is looking back on her. Lupita is a bit of a star, probably not one big enough to carry a whole movie however. This simple yet effective design says so much about this movie, and is so striking that it makes you already uneasy from the horror of it.
There is so much to movie posters, more than I can explain, but the video below shows really well a breakdown of every Marvel movie poster in a really interesting way, if you are interested in learning more about movie poster design.