What are Movie Posters?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Movie posters are promotional items created by film studios to advertise feature films. The theaters currently screening the movie use oversized posters on outside marquees to attract customers, while smaller posters are placed outside each showing room. After the commercial run of the movie is over, movie posters are often reproduced for consumers and the originals become highly collectible.

The earliest movie posters relied heavily on the same advertising principles as the legitimate stage productions of the time. Because there were few motion picture 'superstars' as such, early promotional posters often featured a still from the film which represented the entire cast or a particularly meaningful scene. Advertising copy tended to be understated by today's standards. The title of the film would appear prominently, followed by a short description of the plot. The name of the studio or the director may appear in smaller letters: "Maxfield Studios presents H.B Dunwoody's CRY OF THE WILDEBEAST, a gripping tale of life and death in the Alaskan Wilderness!"

As more and more actors became household names and studios competed for business, movie posters often featured portraits of the lead performers. Supporting roles and special musical numbers might also be included directly on the promotional posters and lobby cards. Movie studios also understood the power of movie posters, so information about the producers and directors might also appear. Movie posters from the 1930s and 1940s are often filled with exciting advertising copy and multiple scenes from the movie.


By the 1950s, movie posters were recognized as a form of art in themselves. Exploitation and low-budget horror films would often use lurid images and overheated copy to build up anticipation for the product. Even the more artistic cinemas would use abstract or conceptual art to draw more attention to their offerings. Typical movie poster copy from the 1950s would encourage potential moviegoers to "SEE the unbridled passion! FEEL the undeniable attraction! FEAR the power of GORGON, the Monster From BEYOND the EARTH!"

Eventually movie posters, along with the movies they promoted, became less bombastic and more artistic in their approach. Modern posters may contain one iconic image which defines the underlying theme of the film, such as the Death Star from the Star Wars series or the stylized bat symbol from the Batman franchise. Lead actors may appear in studio photographs to emphasize the relationship of the characters, not actual scenes from the film itself. The titles may also be transformed into distinctive fonts which create a specific mood. Instead of exaggerated copy designed to overwhelm the viewer, modern movie posters may only contain one key line from the film: "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream." Modern movie posters often become just as recognized as the films they promote.


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