Here is one way to stand out in a crowd. Take the imagery right out of the poster and go almost entirely with text. Looking like a paperback novel from the 1960s, the key art for Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird only graphic elements are a small crow on a white cross and a series of warm colour bars along the sides. It’s bold in its own way for avoiding the usual faces of the stars of the film (Saoirse Ronan has a particular striking visage). I doubt you will ever see this as a trend – note the missing credit block, which makes this more of a teaser poster than the ‘real thing.’ Nevertheless, I applaud the restraint and taste here. It works.
I am not meaning to pick on Atomic Blonde, a film I am very much looking forward to for both the amazing Charlize Theron and the impeccable camera work and fight choreography on display in the trailers. But take a moment at this poster as ask yourself does it really need a gun on display in it? Look closer. Now ask if it really needs an obviously photoshopped gun at an awkward angle. Wouldn’t the poster be better to showcase the movie star, the neon, the films title in a more minimalist way? I know marketing works best at a glance, not a deep closer look, but seriously, you almost get the lazy addition at a glance.
Putting guns on movie posters (and DVD/BLU-Ray box art) has been one of those time honoured traditions that is taken for a given that more people will buy or see your movie if violence and action are promised. But is this really the case? I am not aware of any exact research correlating the appearance of a fire-arm on the poster and box-office. I suspect just as many films bomb with the star holding a gun as not, but marketing puts them in the hands of the lead on the poster as a ‘just in case.’ It is often done really carelessly. Business Insider did a piece in 2016 on guns on posters and came to the conclusion in American wide release, 20% of all films have guns on the poster. That is not 20% of action films, or even 20% of ‘genre’ films, but everthing including period pieces, comedies, kids animated films, dramas, et cetera.
1 in 5!
If I may hazard a guess, it is likely that in action blockbusters it is more like 8 (or even 9) in 10. For a film like John Wick or The Expendables it makes sense to have a gun in the poster as the film is about assassins and soldiers on the warpath. It even makes sense in Atomic Blonde, which has been labelled sight-unseen as the ‘female John Wick.’ But does it HAVE to be there? Are there no smarter, better ways to make a movie desirable than without a gun? Particularly when you have to get a designer to retroactively smoosch one into the deign. See also: Robert Rodriguez’s vampire/heist comedy From Dusk Till Dawn. Or Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted which has Angelina Jolie branding a pistol in the most awkward way. Or the poster for Andrew Niccol’s In Time, where Amanda Seyfried looking longingly into Justin Timberlake’s eyes isn’t enough, she must be strangely holding a gun while doing so.
The Thailand poster might have used the original image to make their poster for In Time, although the rest of the photoshop colours are ugly, Seyfried is just lovingly resting her arm on Timberlake’s chest. Or maybe Thailand just don’t like guns. Take the poster for the American remake of Bangkok Dangerous, it looks like it is the exception (that proves the rule?) insofar as Nicolas Cage’s enormous hand is so awkward WITHOUT a gun.
In conclusion, maybe the world needs less lazy-photoshop, but part of good poster design involves demonstrating the idea or feeling of your movie without resorting to cliches (unless you are imploding them.)
Having already displayed the fine posters for Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express above the their trailers earlier this week, I was thinking it might be tricky to find something this week for this column. But then along comes the French poster for Edgar Wrights Baby Driver, which has a nice innovation for solving both the ‘floating heads’ and the ‘all cast members displayed on the poster’ dilemmas of modern poster design. And the solution is delightfully simple. Have the leads, Ansel Elgort and Lily James be in their car while rolling down the window. Reflect the rest of the cast in the glass of the window. I am quite surprised that nobody has done this up to now, or at least I’ve not seen it in another poster. If you know of one, let me know.
The yellow typesetting against the metallic red of the car (as well as the stripe along the top with a pull quote) is all business, but the film’s title itself is really playful, exactly the kind of tone and balance Wright manages to strike with each picture.
Cannes is happening now, and as per every year it looks like the festival has a diverse and wonderful line up. This includes the latest from “New Greek Weird” standard bearer, Yorgos Lanthimos. And the poster designed for its festival debut is easily my favourite one sheet of the year. Look at those glorious vertical lines, that create a medical space that absolutely dwarf Colin Farrell. White matting, and some strange varied typesetting on the mouthful of a title, which of course involves an animal, as per Lanthimos’ previous films, Dogtooth and The Lobster. Speaking of the latter, Farrell was so good in that film as the dumpy protagonist, he is again collaborating with the director. If this poster is any indication of the tone and style, expect great things for The Killing of A Sacred Deer.
A beautifully restrained poster for Olivier Assayas’ latest film, Personal Shopper, still offers the hint of the ‘supernatural’ with the gauzy curtain obscuring half of Kristin Stewart. Perhaps the most subtle allusion seen in key art in some time, but I think that is the core concept of the design. As a bonus, this white element offers a high contrast for the credit block, pull quotes, festival laurels, and other textual elements. And yet the film retains the key marketing element of the film, high end consumer fashion items and actress Kristen Stewart. I also appreciate the quiet/tranquil aspects, a rarity in this sort of marketing.
No promises that the movie will be any good (the trailers that have been running for months have, in fact, been terrible) but we talk about posters in this column, not the films themselves. And on that note, the ‘escape’ theme, combined with the multiple personalities, and the association with the title are all supremely well executed here. If movies were as good as their posters…
One of the iconic moments in Jeff Nichols’ very quiet film on race and the law, Loving, is when the central (and eponymous) married couple are photographed by a Life Magazine photographer. It is a wonderful moment in the film, and somehow it was not used in the original poster for the film. However, this alternate one sheet, from designer Manu, riffs wonderfully on black and white photography (and race for that matter), comfort and intimacy.
Thus far the advertising and trailer for the 20 years later follow-up to Danny Boyle’s classic Trainspotting (adapted wonderfully from Irvine Welsh’s novel) have been copying the look and feel of the original film to the point of almost repetition. I know this is how you get butts in seats, but I hope the film is more than just a ‘reunion tour’ of aging Scottish junkies. I like UK Quad posters, a lot, so I’m showing you these.
For comparison sake, here is the iconic poster from the 1996 original.
Movie stars and guns, for better or worse, I cannot think of a more traditional way to make a poster. The poster for Robert Zemeckis’s forthcoming World War II spy movie Allied has a look that says, Daniel Craig era 007 meets Casablanca*. The overall design is not great, not terrible, and pretty much gets the job done.
*If you are aware of the premise of the film, you might also get a dash of Mr. & Mrs. Smith in there too, mainly due to Brad Pitt’s presence.
Nbodoy puts Naomi in the closet! This French poster is sending out confusing noir-ish signals with its slanted blinds and almost completely unsaturated palette, to go with its ‘trapped’ vibe, and artisanal screen-printed textures. It is a wee bit reminiscent of one of the great all time posters of this century, which also featured Naomi Watts.
Despite its muddled genre cues (Blue Velvet with gender reversal? Halloween On South Street?) and title confusion (it is called Oppression in France, and Shut In in the USA?), I still give the poster a few points for simplicity and minimalism.
So, you have a nice design idea to get across the feel of your film. You choose typeface for the title, the size, shape and location of the credit block. You come up with a central element. This movie is about writing, it is about New York City. You combine these two items in a clever way, using type to draw the iconic skyline in the page, using a classic mechanical typewriter. You even subtly underscore things by adding a red period that matches the decal on the typewriter.
But then foolishly, the marketing company forces you to be generic pictures of all the mid-tier actors in a garish line of boxes at the bottom, destroying the colour symmetry, clean design, and making the whole concept look half-assed. Why? Why? Is seeing a bearded Josh Peck in a tiny box near the bottom of the poster really adding value? Would not his name suffice? Addison Timlin? Chris Noth? I’m not picking on these actors, they are fine. But when you make a poster to entice someone to consider a film, it only looks desperate to put this sort of thing in.