The Problem With Modern Studio Film Posters; Or 5 Classic Posters Every Film Fan Should Consider

Merch Hunter - Large

In a variation on the usual format, this week the Merch Hunter will be getting on his soap-box, because there is something fundamentally broken with the way that studios and marketeers produce and release film posters these days, which has criminally devalued them as a really viable collectible compared to the Golden Age posters of yesteryear.

The problem is, posters are now seen as little more than a disposable marketing tool, rather than a celebration of the subject film: they are deemed an obligatory step in the pre-release campaign and in 90% of cases are given less consideration or dutiful care than the ridiculous promotional material that is sent out in bulk to bloggers (like Drive tooth-picks and Horrible Bosses beach-balls).

Film posters are supposed to be works of art: they should not be limited to cheap thrill character reveals or plot hints, because the trailer already exists for those reasons. Yet time and time again, modern studios feel the need to advance this risible idea of the poster as a “teaser”, which not only makes it completely disposable after the event in most cases, but also fundamentally redefines what a poster is. Instead of something to be held in esteem, and given pride of place on cherished wall-space, what is left is a glorified jpeg, expressly aimed at the blogosphere and its hunger for new material no matter what the cost.

And thanks to this flagrant devaluation of the medium, the majority of todays films outlive the shelf life of their own posters. Rather than being timeless trophies, indicating a collector’s allegiance to the film, or even better to the artwork and execution of the poster itself, the poster is now largely redundant as soon as the elements it teases or unveils are released in concrete when the film comes out.

Consider the raft of posters released in the run up to X-Men: First Class‘ official release, and in particular the God-awful silhouette series, and then imagine any of them on your own walls…. It’s just distastefully wrong. They defy the completist objective that the poster should have, capturing the essence of the film in one snapshot that doesn’t need to be anywhere near as vulgar or explicit as those two.

I had a conversation recently with a fellow film writer about which poster he should pick for his office, and it was no surprise that after a healthy and lengthy back and forth. None of the final suggested short-list that either of us drew up included a film from the last 20 years. Or at least not an official poster from that film. Below are my five picks, all of which are just as valuable to poster lovers in reproduced print form as in original…

1. Vertigo

2. Mean Streets

3. Manhattan

4. Anatomy of a Murder

5. Sunset Boulevard

All iconic images, and not a hint of over-zealous photo-shopping or alien-head-pasting about them. The only recent films close to making the short-list were The Dark Knight and The Iron Giant, but the former ultimately had to be discounted for the way Nolan’s marketing team use posters to tease, and not just to celebrate, and The Iron Giant was pushed out because of the bottom third of the image which somewhat spoils the overall nostalgic feel.

The flip-side of course is that the fan-made and alternative film poster “industry” is now stronger than it ever has been before, and there are sites dedicated solely to these unofficial artists. In not too long a time at all, I will be bringing my favourite alternative movie posters in under the Merch Hunter banner, so please do look out for them.

So, what do you think? Which classic film posters would you have on your walls?

Born to the mean streets of Newcastle, England the same year that BMX Bandits was cruelly over-looked for the Best Film Oscar, Simon Gallagher's obsessive love of all things cinema blossomed during that one summer in which he watched Clueless every day for six weeks. This is not a joke. Eventually able to wean himself off that particular dirty habit, and encouraged by the revelation that was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he then spent many years reviewing films on the underground scene, throwing away thousands of pounds on a Masters Degree in English in the process, before landing feet-first at the doors of British movie site ObsessedWithFilm.com, where you can catch his blend of rapier wit and morbid sardony on a daily basis. Simon is also a hopeless collector of film paraphenalia, and counts his complete Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads collection among his friends.

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