It can be tricky to advertise a movie with a still image, yet occasionally this is managed brilliantly through a film poster. There have been many posters throughout film history that are as iconic as the movies themselves, and you will find many of these posters adorning the walls of film buffs around the world. The style, tone and atmosphere can be encapsulated entirely within an effective movie poster. Sometimes these can be busy and colorful designs, but in many cases a simple image has proved to be just as captivating. Here are 10 of the greatest ever designed.
“Epic” is one word which comes to mind when discussing Frank Miller’s 300, so it is fitting that an image depicting such an incredible scene was used for the poster. The majority of the image is taken up by a large cliff, and atop this there is a bloody battle between two groups which sees several people down the left hand side tumbling to their death as they are pushed back by the soldiers. This is almost silhouetted against the sky, which adds to the epic nature. The iconic blood splattered text of the film dominates much of the cliff face, with the tagline in a similar red font above which reads “Prepare For Glory!” Just by seeing this poster, you know exactly what to expect from the film, in that it will involve an immense battle and plenty of bloodshed, all in a visually stunning setting, much like a comic book.
11. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton is known for having visually stunning yet slightly creepy imagery, so it is only fitting that the posters for his films reflect this. The fantastic The Nightmare Before Christmas has a poster which depicts a famous scene from the film where the protagonist, Jack Skellington, sings a song of how he is bored of the same routine. He is atop a hill which has a thin curl (classic Tim Burton), and the hill and ground below it are an electric blue along with a black sky. This contrasts brilliantly with the white full moon behind Jack. The ground is also littered with orange pumpkins and the text of the film is in yellow to the right of these pumpkins, creating further contrast. This makes it a striking and appealing image, and also one that perfectly reflects the tone, style and atmosphere of the film.
Duncan Jones’ 2009 science fiction film Moon is all about isolation, loneliness and madness, and that is perfectly encapsulated in this excellent poster for the film. The black empty space represents the vastness of outer space, whilst the swirling circles represent the moon, but there is also an element of a swirling vertigo. There is then a lone and sad looking Sam Rockwell in the center of all this in a spacesuit. The actor’s name is placed in the top left corner, and this is replicated a few times behind the text which emphasizes the emptiness and loneliness of outer space. The simple design, stark contrast between black and white, plus the imagery which perfectly explores the key themes of the film, make this a brilliant poster which is attractive to look at but also very relevant to the movie.
9. The Silence of the Lambs
A poster which has opted for a simple design, this chilling image perfectly sets the tone for the brilliant and horrifying Jonathan Demme classic, The Silence of the Lambs. The poster shows Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in white with the brown/red of her eyes in color, and then the most notable aspect of the poster is the colorful moth that is covering her mouth. Not only is this a striking and uncomfortable image, but it also alludes to the film with the primary antagonist, Buffalo Bill, collecting moths. Interestingly, the skull pattern on the moth’s back is a reproduction of a photograph by Philippe Halsman—“Salvador Dali in Voluptate Mors” (this is based on Dali’s own “Female Bodies as a Skull”). Starling seems almost paralyzed and vulnerable, and also speechless due to the moth’s placement. This makes the image tense and frightening, which is exactly what the film is.
8. Gone with the Wind
This great poster accompanied the 1966 re-release of Gone with the Wind, and it is certainly an upgrade from the original poster. This is an image that is full of fire, passion and lust, and this is integral to the story and the relationship found between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Here we see them in a passionate embrace and they are engulfed by flames, and these flames come from the scene below the couple which shows chaos. The reds and oranges are contrasted by the white text of the film along with Rhett Butler’s shirt, making it a bold and striking image which immediately captures your attention. This poster also has a certain charm to it through the use of the iconic painted artwork style which was used so brilliantly in many Hollywood film posters from the 1930s, making it fan favorite.
7. A Clockwork Orange
Everything about this poster for Stanley Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange is striking, much like the film itself. Set against a white background, the main character, Alex, looks menacing with an orange tinge inside the black “A,” with a blade in his hand and an eyeball which alludes to a certain notorious scene. There are more eyes in the “C” of “Clockwork” and “O” of “Orange,” which is written in bold white text with a black drop shadow, adding interest to the bottom of the poster. Already a shocking yet intriguing image, this is furthered by the horrifying tagline written in black at the top right of the poster—“Being the adventure of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.” With this, you know that it is going to be a dark, strange and twisted tale (and that eyes have something to do with it).
6. American Beauty
An evocative poster which alludes to a crucial scene in the brilliant American Beauty, this poster shows a woman’s stomach with her hand in shot at the bottom holding a rose. The text is minimal, but most notable is the tagline “…look closer” under the film title. It is a very striking image, particularly with the rose (typically a romantic flower), but of course this is not the case for the film which shines a light on the dark side of suburbia. This image alludes to Lester Burnham’s (Kevin Spacey) fantasy of his teenage daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), where he has sexual fantasies about her with red rose petals as a recurring motif. These fantasies are a key part in Lester liberating himself from the shackles of his middle-class and middle-aged life, which result in some shocking and dramatic consequences.
5. The Evil Dead
We recently took a look at the 12 best horror posters of all time, as this is a genre that is packed with brilliant posters, so to avoid repeating ourselves we are looking outside of horror today. It is impossible not to include this fantastic poster for The Evil Dead, however, which is stylish, bold and intriguing. The film itself is one of the most influential in the genre, and this has now become an iconic horror image. The deep blue sky contrasting against the dark earth, along with the slant, make it a shot which stands out, but what really grabs your attention is the main image. We see a seemingly half buried young woman desperately reaching for the sky, and coming out of the ground is a grotesque arm which has its hand wrapped tightly around her neck. This immediately grabs your attention and sets the tone for the film.
The first thing that stands out about this poster for Terrence Malick’s 1973 classic Badlands is the image, which at first looks like a pleasant scene as a couple watch the sunset next to a tree and their car, with the sun creating a silhouette for an appealing image with blacks, oranges and blues setting the tone. You then notice that the man has a gun slung over his shoulder. Above the image against a white background, the blurb at first reads like some kind of children’s story, but then takes a dark turn before the horrifying final line which is set apart from the rest of the text—“In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people.” Below the image, the title of the film in scripted text balances the image. After analyzing the poster, you know that this is going to be a disturbing watch.
3. Pulp Fiction
Perhaps the most iconic film poster of all time, and one which it is likely a large percentage of our readers own, there is a good reason that this is such a popular poster. Not only is it for one of the great modern films, but it is also an excellent poster which does the film justice. Seductively lying on the bed with her legs crossed behind her, a cigarette in one hand, her other hand on a paperback and a gun on the bed you have the femme fatale dressed in all black, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman). Above this is a creased red magazine masthead with the title of the film, along with a 10-cent price tag. Typically Quentin Tarantino, this poster oozes coolness and you immediately want to know what the story behind the image is even if you know nothing about the film.
One of the most iconic movie posters of all time, this is one that you will find in millions of film fans’ homes around the world (particularly men it seems). Not only is Scarface deemed one of best films ever, but it also has this amazing poster to go along with it. As mentioned before, sometimes simple is best and that is what they have opted for here. One half black and the other white with a menacing Tony Montana in a suit holding a gun, with his right shoulder creeping into the black side but retaining its white color for him to stand out. There is then the blood red text at the top which hints at the bloodshed to come. On the black side, there is white text with an intriguing blurb, which again hints at the danger and bloodshed ahead.
When it comes to movie posters, title sequences and corporate logos, Saul Bass is the master. Perhaps his most famous work is this fantastic poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. This poster turned out to be incredibly influential and is therefore important in terms of graphic design. The white spirals against an orange background and the black silhouette in the middle immediately instill a feeling of vertigo and falling, and the spirals are a key aspect of the film’s iconic title sequence which gives them added relevance. The poster has contrasting black text at the top and bottom, which are written in a handwriting style and add to the overarching feeling of falling and being off balance. It is with this, and his other works, that Saul Bass made movie posters an important art form.