For every summer blockbuster or art house release, there will be posters and other forms of advertisements to accompany them. As a rule of thumb, if it’s a terrible film then the poster will unlikely be a work of art.
Following that logic, the more expensive and “Hollywood” the film is, the less likely its poster will be a renaissance masterpiece. Anyway, this is what Marxist cinephiles with bad facial hair tend to think as they walk past the “Transformers” movie poster. It’s not always the case. For example, check out the stylish artwork of Christopher Nolan’s billion dollar selling picture, “The Dark Knight” (2008). Film posters can be art in their own right, even though they are rarely given such an honour. Here is a small selection of what I feel to be the coolest one sheets ever produced.
“Funny Games” (1997).
Austrian director and recent Oscar winner Michael Haneke is reputable for his austere European films that depict misery in all possible human forms. For his shot-by-shot US remake of one of his many controversial flicks, “Funny Games,” Haneke enlisted the help of A-list stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, alongside Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as a couple of sadistic fops terrorizing a yuppie family on vacation. The one sheet for this film is a minimalist masterpiece. By zooming in on a close-up of Watt’s traumatized face in crisp detail with a matt finish, complete with tears like frozen rivers and morning after hair, the poster is transformed into a powerful depiction of fear and pain. It somehow conveys everything you need to know about the film without showing anything at all, which is always a strong indication of a true work of art.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001).
Poster boy for American indie cool, Wes Anderson is famed, loved and even criticized for his obsessive attention to detail in his films. From matching costumes to monographed suitcases, the man has serious design taste and explores this through the visual themes of his movies. One needs to only look at the criterion DVD releases of his back catalogue in all their whimsical, illustrative distinction to appreciate this. The poster accompanying the release of his magnum opus, “The Royal Tenenbaum,” is the best of the bunch. The vintage Polaroid featuring the dysfunctional Tenenbaum family in all their neurotic glory, against the pale pink backdrop is beautiful to behold. Throw in Anderson’s absolute favourite typeface, Futura, and you have poster design perfection.
“Blow Up” (1966).
Iconic Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni made a number of ventures into English language filmmaking, and none were more successful than his 60s masterpiece, “Blow Up,” which is set in a swinging London at the height of Mary Quant and Twiggy. The gorgeous movie poster is done very much in the style of the period it is exploring: block primary colours and strong geometric typefaces. The black and white still of actor David Hemming (a fashion photographer shooting a model), dominates and pops wonderfully against the fire engine red of the backdrop. What could have been a cheesy pastiche of the 60s, has instead stood the test of time and has become a stylish emblem of the period.
Duncan Jones (a.k.a. Zowie Bowie, and a.k.a. David Bowie’s son) burst onto the independent film scene back in 2009 with his feature debut, “Moon.” Acclaimed for installing some low-budget, art house cool into the sci-fi game, a genre that has always been dominated by billion dollar Star Wars-style films. Designed by Cardinal Communications USA, the “Moon” poster is a classic piece of minimalism as Sam Rockwell’s lonely astronaut is dwarfed by sound waves, shaped like a vintage vinyl, coming out the black abyss. It’s a perfect evocation of the isolation of space which the film explores so skilfully. This is poster design at its finest! Look up to the stars and enjoy the view.
“Tony Takitani” (2004).
Though they are much rarer for mainstream releases, posters featuring illustrations and drawings instead of giant actor heads are often the coolest to be found. So in the end there had to be at least one illustrative poster in the final selection. And it is most fitting because the subject of this Japanese film is an illustrator named Tony. This little-seen film was adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story of the same name about the loneliness consistently felt by people is huge metropolises. The choice of colours for the poster: magenta against seashell grey and white becomes the perfect visual representation for the blooming of Tony’s creative mind in a drab tide of a grey city (Tokyo).
See also: "Movies Inspired by Art" "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012). Credit: All images © respective film studios.