The Art of the Movies: Classic Movie Posters

What makes a person decide to go see a film? These days, we have hundreds critics, tweets, youtube trailers, as well as dozens of other viral marketing forms that convince us to go see the newest blockbusters. But once upon a time, before the internet, mass marketing relied on a much simpler form to reach potential film goers: the classic movie poster. These posters have stood the test of time, and their influence can still be seen even today.

Here are some that have stood the test of time.

The Jazz Singer is famous as the world’s first “talkie,” the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue. The storyline, about a Russian born Jewish man who tries to build a career with blackface, has been the cause of much intellectual debate. The poster is undeniably striking, relying solely on white and black, the shape of the hands, eyes, shirt and mouth of the man in the images are angular and harsh and they pop out at the viewer. The hands seem to be reaching out, pleading for help. The rest of the figure is completely shrouded, merging perfectly with the background. The poster perfectly captures the conflicts of identity dealt with in the film.

At a time when producers generally only had one image to sell their movie, they would often rely on the image of a beautiful woman to lure in audiences. This poster for The Sin of Nora Moran by Alberto Vargas is not just a picture of a nearly naked Zita Johann: the figure captures both the erotic nature and extreme desperation of the character who curls up in near fetal position, hiding behind her hair. The figure is also isolated against a black background, which conveys her isolation. This is considered one of the best posters of all time for its layers of intricacy.

Karoly  Grosz was one of the most influential illustrators of horror and science fiction films of his time. He was responsible for the simple, yet stark and creepy image of Frankenstein, lit in red from below in order to accent his monstrous features. The purple in the image is both subtle against the black, and such an unconventional color choice, that the entire composition is haunting.

Grosz is also responsible for the poster of The Murders of the Rue Morge, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, and more. His clashing color choices and dramatic lighting became a signature for horror images to this very day, and was often reproduced on pulp covers and comic books.


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