More than a showbiz marketing tool, Movie Posters are an artform in themselves, showcasing the work of the greatest illustrators and designers with clever concepts, elegant artwork, and boldly original ideas.
Originally, film posters were produced for the exclusive use by the theaters exhibiting the film the poster was for, and they were required to be returned to the distributor after the film left the theater. In the USA, film posters were usually returned to the National Screen Service (NSS) which printed and distributed most of the film posters for the studios between 1940 and 1984. To save money, the NSS regularly recycled posters that were returned, sending them back out to be used again at another theater. During this era, a film might be shown for several years, so many film posters were badly worn before going into storage at an NSS warehouse, but most often, they were thrown away. Those posters which were not returned were often thrown away by the theater owner, which is why they are so collectible today.
A poster for Frankenstein (1931), the classic horror monster movie from Universal Pictures, starring Colon Clive, Mae Clarke and Boris Karloff, and directed by openly gay James Whale went at auction for $198,000 in 1993, at the time, a record.
Flying Down To Rio (1933), the musical was directed by Thornton Freeland sold for $239,000 in 1995.
King Kong (1933) with Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, in 1999, the three-sheet film poster was sold for $244,500.
A rare and coveted poster for Metropolis (1927), one of only four known surviving copies from the silent classic, sold at auction in 2012 for $850,000. German painter Heinz Schulz-Neudamm (1899-1969) created the poster for the famed film directed by Fritz Lang (1890-1976). The film is based on the novel of the same name by Thea Von Harbou (1888-1954) about the dystopian future of the year 2000. Metropolis is a masterpiece of early German filmmaking and the forerunner of modern science fiction films.
This one is the international version of the poster (the German version includes the credits). Distributors in other countries commissioned their own posters to advertise this film, but this is the first use of the robotic woman image that has become the iconic representation of the film.
Some of my favorite film poster artists:
John Henry Alvin (1948 -2008): Blade Runner, The Lion King, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Richard Amsel (1947-1985) Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Sting, Hello, Dolly!
Saul Bass (1920 -1996) Vertigo, The Shining, Love In The Afternoon
Lobby cards are similar to posters but smaller, usually 11 in × 14 or 8 in × 10 in before 1930. Lobby cards are also highly collectible, and values depend on their age, quality, and popularity of the film. Typically issued in sets of eight, each featuring a different scene from the film. The set for The Running Man (1963), has only six cards, but the set for The Italian Job (1969) has twelve. Films released by major production companies experiencing financial difficulties often lacked lobby sets.
A ”teaser poster” or ”advance poster” is an early promotional film poster, containing a basic image or design without revealing too much information such as the plot, theme, and characters. The purpose is to incite awareness and generate hype for the film. A tagline may be included. There are some instances when teaser posters are issued long in advance before the film goes into production. Teasers for cancelled projects very collectible. Teasers sometimes only bearing a symbol associated with the film, or simply just the title.
Today’s posters often feature photographs of the film’s stars. Prior to the 1990s, illustrations were far more common. The text on film posters usually contains the film title in large lettering and often the names of the main actors, a tagline, the name of the director, names of characters, and the release date.
Posters even have the own Academy Awards. The annual Key Art Awards include awards for Best Film Poster in the categories of Comedy, Drama, Action Adventure, Teaser, and Foreign Film.