May 2, 2009

The List: Top 20 Movie Posters

The Top 5 format is a little restrictive, so I’m going to leave it behind and simply post lists of whatever length I feel like (within reason anyway). I could have gone on and on about this topic, but I’ve restricted myself to 20 movie posters. These aren’t necessarily my favourite films, some aren’t even good films, but all have posters that are striking pieces of art, quite apart from being movie posters. The list is in alphabetical order by film title.
All pictures are clickable to beautiful hi-res versions.

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American Beauty
This poster is quite beautiful to look at, the type is understated, and never detracts from the single, bold, image, but it’s the use of colour that makes it so stunning, that gorgeous midriff, beautiful though it is, would be rather dull to look at if it weren’t offset by the vivid red of the American Beauty rose, and the dark green of its stem. Best of all it’s a striking image that comes from the film, and captures the feel of the film, without actually telling you anything about it.

Black Snake Moan
Craig Brewer’s blues movie has a dirty, seedy feel, which is brilliantly captured by this vintage looking poster. Both film and poster seem like something whose spiritual home is a smelly fleapit cinema or a drive-in cinema well off the beaten path. The comic book styling, too, lends this poster an underground feel, which is surely what Brewer was after.

A perfect poster for a film about an epidemic of white blindness. The main image seems to capture the moment just before the world fades away, which is a brilliant evocation of a nightmarish idea, and the setting of the title as if it were a sight test chart is a brilliant touch.

Forbidden Planet
Is there anything in Sci-Fi as instantly recognisable, as totally iconic, and as unassailably cool as Forbidden Planet poster star Robby the Robot? More than 50 years after that movie he’s still known around the world, and still makes cameo appearances in movies (most recently Joe Dante’s much underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action). There’s not much to this poster, but that classic design alone is enough to make it one of the greatest and most memorable of movie posters.

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Hard Candy
Hard Candy is a film that plays with its audience, and that play begins with this striking poster, which fools you into a certain way of thinking about the dynamic between the film's characters, making you fear that Ellen Page's character is the poster's Red Riding Hood when, in truth, she's the bear trap. An unusual, provocative and memorable poster.

King Kong (1933)
As great as Willis O'Brien's Kong effects are (and they are, I'll take them over the various remakes with their blokes in suits or piles of pixels any day) this is perhaps the image that best captures Kong's unbridled ferocity. It takes an iconic moment from the film, but depicts it in a way that the film never quite manages, because its Kong is a little more cuddly. Here we get Kong at his most monstrous.

Lolita (1962)
The sexuality simply leaps off this poster, it's the perfect evocation of Kubrick's film - troublingly sexual, but teasing, and never purient, and the pose that Sue Lyon is depicted in, sucking that red lollipop, has remained part of popular culture ever since, referenced a hundred times and more.

Lord of War
This is, quite simply, one of the cleverest posters I've ever seen. Small or from a distance it simply looks odd, but in close up you can see that every pore of the face of the arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage is made up of bullet casings. This is a beautifully subtle way to introduce the film's theme without making it obvious what the film will be, and a very different approach to a poster that is really just a picture of the film's big star.

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No Country For Old Men
No Country For Old Men had several awful posters (Javier Bardem's floating head) and a couple of great ones (the Japanese poster is a knockout), but this is my favourite. It positively reeks of menace, by virtue of the fact that you can't see the figure on the poster properly, the incongruity of that tank, which must surely have a nefarious purpose, that shotgun, and its hige silencer, and that astounding tagline. A perfect poster for a thriller.

Planet Terror
It doesn't look terribly special really, but I love this poster for the way it completely captures the tone of Robert Rodriguez' fantastic throwback. Marley Shelton is both gorgeous and slightly menacing in this picture, and the winking tagline is excellent, but it's the attention to detail that I really love - the washed out colours, the folds in the poster - that really make this feel like it belongs to a 70's grindhouse.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
You could accuse it of being overly busy, and of course it's not by Drew Struzan, whose work has graced every Indiana Jones movie, but the reason this poster, of all the great Indy posters, makes it is that when someone says Indiana Jones to me this is the image I think of. It completely captures the allure of the character, and the relentless thrillride of the film in one compelling image.

The Rocketeer
Not a great film by any means, but this deco style design is a largely forgotten masterpiece. It's entirely appropriate to the film, which is set in the world of filmmaking in the 30's, and gives The Rocketeer an immediate iconic look, it's a design so brilliant it makes you wish the film were better.

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Rosemary’s Baby
There's a creepy mismatch here between the serene expression in Mia Farrow's face and that pram, pictured alone and in silhouette on that hill. I love the way the contours of Farrow's face mirror those of the hill, and how, though it generates a creepy atmosphere with the picture and that awesome tagline, there's an ambiguity about exactly why we should be praying for this child.

A striking image and a smart, funny tagline both hint at the content of this movie, without spelling it out for us. But it's the way that this poster manages to be naughty without seeming exploitative that I really like.

The Silence of the Lambs
Over the years I've always decorated my bedroom with movie posters, they used to change all the time, but for the last 10 years there has been one constant, blu-tacked to the wall of every place I've lived, this poster for The Silence of the Lambs, which manages to capture same cobination of sheer creepiness and strange beauty that the film has. I love the detail of the Death's Head moth, and that if you look clsely you can see Clarice in the skull.

The Sin of Nora Moran
I've never seen this film, and I'm not sure I ever want to, because I don't think it could live up to this great poster. This may be the sexiest movie poster I've ever seen, it's a brilliant tease, implying much and actually showing nothing. I wonder if the movie (a pre-code film) can possibly be even half as sexy.

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Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace is a terrible, terrible film, and if I ever see it again it will be too soon, but this is a masterpiece of a teaser poster. It's beautiful, and most importantly subtle, in a way the film never comes close to being. Imagine if it had been the film implied by this poster, how much less disappointing the summer of 1999 would have been then.

The Truman Show
A film poster should reflect the feeling and the subject of the film it is advertising, and this one does that to perfection. It is a simple case of using the main star's image, but by coposing the portrait of Jim Carrey from thousands of stills from the film this poster cleverly and artistically introduces the film's theme of constant surveillance, and the idea of Truman as a huge TV star. An endlessly interesting poster.

28 Weeks Later
This poster is so good, so real, and so scary that it almost makes you wish that the film were coming out now, while the world is paranoid about swine flu, imagine how freaky this would look in the current climate, particularly if you weren't aware of 28 Weeks Later. This film had a lot of great posters (particularly a biohazard symbol rendered in blood) but this is the most memorable and the scariest.


  1. You know what... Yes, yes it is. I've really come round to it after several rewatches.