Checking out the movie posters is part of the experience of going to a movie theater. But are these slick sheets of paper works of art in their own right or disposable marketing tools? Hollywood seems to think they’re important and puts a lot of effort into them to evoke a tone, a mood and most importantly expectations for the movie. Movie posters usually only offer a few strategically placed images at most that are often accompanied by a tag line. Cool movie posters are important because movie goers might catch a glimpse of them even before they see the trailers. Most of them are quickly forgotten, but some have stood out over the years including the cool posters for hit movies like Fantasia and Jaws.
10. Kong Takes Manhattan
This art work for a King Kong remake released in 1976 promised a lot. A ferocious Kong straddles the iconic Twin Towers in lower Manhattan as he holds the damsel in one hand and crushes an aircraft in the other. Gunships and fighters circle him trying to knock the king of his perch. After seeing this image you have a right to expect a lot of explosions, chest thumping and fast paced action sequences. The movie starred a young Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange who are both good in the movie, but it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Unfortunately the movie also starred a man in an obvious gorilla suit. The special effects from the 1930’s original King Kong were better and much more fun to watch. The original had proven that stop-motion puppets could work, but these film makers chose to go a different way with mixed results. The cast, which also includes Charles Grodin, makes the movie watchable, but it is always disappointing when the movie poster turns out to be better than the actual movie.
9. Here’s Looking At You
Casablanca was released in 1942 in the midst of the Second World War, but it only indirectly focuses on the war. The main action takes place between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman who are featured prominently in this poster. The pair are old lovers who are fated to remain apart, but not before getting together to help the war effort against the hated Nazis. Bogart brandishes a pistol that promises at least a touch of violence and the supporting players loom in the background foreshadowing the intrigue and mystery Casablanca was known for during the war. Spies, diplomats, businessmen and adventurers all vied for influence and advantage with the Allies and Axis Powers. This movie showcases Bogart and Bergman at their best, but it also gives memorable supporting roles to Claude Rains, Paul Henried, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. These actors’ performances help to make Casablanca a popular movie more than half a century after its release, but moviegoers got their first taste of it with this cool poster.
8. Terror From Below
When it was released in 1975 Jaws became the first summer blockbuster that all the other movie studios scrambled to emulate. In short order we got Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But before there was Indiana Jones and Darth Vader there was Chief Brody trying to deal with a territorial 25 foot shark menacing the waters off Amity Island. The Jaws posters used various tag lines, but this one references the success of the Peter Benchley novel the movie was adapted from. This poster combines to primal themes: sex in the form of a young woman swimming naked and the force of nature in the form of a giant shark rising from the depths to snatch her. This is a powerful image that was burned into the brains of many young people in the 1970’s. The imagery in this poster was strong enough to affect peoples’ swimming habits as the ocean became a darker, more dangerous place. A number of sequels and rip offs followed, but the original movie with its cool posters will remain an iconic part of movie history.
7. Mickey The Wizard
By the late 1930’s Walt Disney believed he needed to produce something dramatic to boost slipping popularity of of his iconic creation Mickey Mouse. In 1940 Disney released Fantasia, an animated feature film divided into 7 segments each with its own action and the classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Each segment is introduced by the music critic Deems Taylor. Unlike most of his silly incarnations, in Fantasia Mickey Mouse is featured as a sorcerer in a pointy hat who seems to be in over his head. The posters featuring Mickey in this more serious context proved to be a hit with both critics and moviegoers. The cool movie posters with the deep blue background are very effective at evoking a mysterious quality that when used with a robed and earnest looking Mickey creates quite an ominous atmosphere for a children’s animated movie. Some people may object to Fantasia because it does not stick to traditional linear storytelling like most Disney classics, but this movie became a classic just the same.
6. A Bad Day For New York
The 2008 release, Cloverfield, made some of the best use of the shakey camera point of view technique that has since been over used. But before movie fans found out what was tearing up New York City they saw the creepy movie poster featuring a decapitated Statue of Liberty. This movie literally gave us a different perspective on the tried and true “monster wreaks havoc on a city” movie that the Godzilla franchise has made so famous. While the movie gives us a gritty street level view of the chaos and carnage the cool movie poster is in the tradition of the classic disaster movies. The image of a beheaded Statue of Liberty is jarring, but it is clear from the smoke and destruction visible in the distance that the mysterious monster is just getting started. A lot of movie posters are crammed with characters and other spoilers, but this poster takes the opposite approach. Movie fans are shown just enough to spark their interest, but the marketing campaign was built around giving away as little as possible. Even the title Cloverfield is intentionally vague to keep people guessing as they walked into the theater.
5. Childhood Memories
Childhood holds powerful memories for most of us especially where our toys are concerned. What better movie company to take advantage of this than Disney? Disney does nostalgia better than anyone so even though the primary audience for 1995’s Toy Story were children their parents were the emotional targets. For people who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s toys like Mr. Potato Head and Green Army Men were simply a part of childhood. Add in a floppy, mild mannered cowboy and a self-serious spaceman action figure and you have a giant hit on your hands. This cool poster steals a line from Thin Lizzy’ 1976 hit “The Boys Are Back In Town.” The parents of the littles ones will catch the reference, but everyone will be charmed by the assembled toys poised for adventures. Like most cool movie posters this one doesn’t give anything away; it makes promises the viewer hopes the movie will keep. This poster promises fun, adventure and a reminder of how much we loved being kids so we could be left alone to play with our toys. Thankfully Toy Story didn’t ruin anyone’s childhood.
4. The Discipline Of Steel
Although it looks like the Conan the Barbarian movie poster might have been done by the incomparable fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, it was actually done by another fine artist named Renato Casaro. He was a prolific artist who did a lot of work for Hollywood during his long career. His cool Conan poster was commissioned to as part of the marketing campaign for the 1982 sword and sorcery epic. This movie helped make former bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger into the biggest action star in Hollywood for more than a decade. Casaro’s poster brings Robert E. Howard’s literary characters vividly to life the way great art work can. The work very much evokes Conan as he appeared on book covers and in comic books long before the Schwarzenegger movie was made. It is a simple, but dramatic design. The red and black background and the sword wielding barbarians give away nothing. It promises action, adventure and even a bit of romance and the movie lived up to the tease this cool poster provided.
3. The Darker Side
The Empire Strikes Back, act Two of the original Star Wars trilogy was darker than A New Hope. Many critics and fans consider it to be among the best films of the entire saga. Whatever your feelings on where this movie stands in the hierarchy you have to admit this poster is pretty cool. This one is literally darker and more serious than the posters from the first movie which evoked excitement and wonder above all else. This poster evokes a mysterious quality, a bit of romance between Han and Leia and perhaps the promise of secrets yet to be revealed. This poster is in the tradition of many of the great ones and reveals nothing of significance while teasing the viewer with compelling images that make him want to see more. Are Han and Leia in love? What is Luke riding? What does Darth Vader have in store for our heroes? The poster asks these questions and the movie promises to answer them. This piece of art expertly captures the darker, more serious mood of The Empire Strikes Back and makes for a pretty cool poster.
2. Man Of Steel
Before there were endless remakes and reboots of comic book movies there was Superman: The Movie. For a generation of fans Christopher Reeve was Superman. it was no small task to portray the comics’ most iconic hero, but with his physical presence, charm and humor Reeve more than pulled it off on screen. The key was to not take the character too seriously. Even though Superman is the straight man in the movie, he is a wearing boots and a cape after all. This Superman plays beautifully off of a professional and earnest Lois Lane and a charismatic, but quite mad Lex Luther. Some versions of the movie poster only showed the “S” that appears on his chest and this is enough to spike fans’ interests. But for those who want a little more this cool poster shows you the Man of Steel in all his heroic glory. Most versions of the poster included the genius tag line: “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly.” This was a successful attempt to tap into the wonder and fun captured so well by the comics and classic television show. The 1970’s was a fairly cynical decade, but even the most jaded among would have to look up in the sky to see the Superman.
1. A Galaxy Far, Far Away
More than anything this poster promises excitement and adventure. Luke and Leia are armed and ready for action while the trusty droids linger in the background ready to lend a hand. The giant visage of Darth Vader lurks ominously in the background like a malevolent shadow. A fleet of space ships streak overhead ready to do battle. This cool poster shows some cool details, but actually gives away nothing. If you’ve never seen Star Wars you’d have no idea who these characters are or what where the ships are going. These are classic images that take their cues from classic space fantasies like the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. The Empire Strikes Back poster uses similar imagery, but with a dark tinge that foreshadows bad news for the heroes. A New Hope is definitely not the somber science fiction of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that put esoteric ideas and artificial intelligence over colorful characters and rousing adventure. George Lucas and 20th Century Fox were taking a big gamble making 1977, but it turned out to be the right movie at the right time. This was the perfect poster to introduce us to a galaxy far, far away.