Friday, January 20, 2017

Your movie poster sucks

I've been wanting to do this for awhile because someone should. I've talked before about how living in New York means being constantly surrounded by movie (and TV) posters. I get to look at them a lot, on a daily basis. As someone trained in the visual arts, I can't help sizing them up as works of art, as well as how effective they are in selling movies. I think you can guess what I think of most of them.

Yes, I understand many other factors go into making a movie poster, not the least of which includes what the studios think is most marketable. I'm sure it's a long, careful process that isn't approached lightly and I believe those who make them are professionals. That said, some of them could be better designed. So let's look at some recent ones.

- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So... where are they? You can't give a movie a title like that and not show me any fantastic beasts. Not if you want me to see it, anyway. Marketing probably didn't have to work too hard on this poster because they knew Rowling fans would come out in droves for this on opening weekend. The Rowling name is money in the bank. Still, as someone who doesn't give a fiddler's fart about Rowling and the Potterverse, you can't possibly expect me to get excited over this image.

- Fences. Big Head Syndrome is quite common in movie posters, but this has some differences. It's in black and white, which could indicate a period piece, though not always. Denzel & Viola (and what a treat it is to be on a first-name basis with them!) aren't facing us; one wonders at what they're looking. And the background provides a hint of a specific place. This doesn't give us anything in terms of story, which sucks, but at least it subverts the Big Head trend somewhat, unlike...

- Passengers. When I first saw this Big Head poster, I thought, well, I guess Bradley Cooper was unavailable so Jenny had to settle - but after that, I figured this was some manner of romantic thriller set on an airplane. Don't ask me where I got the idea this was a romance. The absolute last thing I would've guessed was outer space sci-fi adventure. I mean, they couldn't even have bothered to throw in an outer space background! It's just two HUGE close-ups of Jenny and not-Bradley Cooper with the blandest expressions and some Morse code bullshit which, by itself, would not make me think sci-fi. This is an epic fail.

- Jackie. Now here's a poster that tries to tell a story. Yes, it relies on you knowing who Jackie Kennedy was, to a degree, but it doesn't stop there. The fancy period clothes and hairdo offer clues to time and place, but look at the way Natalie is posed: stiff, awkward, not looking directly at us. I love that way she's holding her hands. This is a woman who would rather be someplace else. Indeed, the matching background makes me think this is a woman who's not supposed to stand out, to be in the spotlight, yet this is her story anyway. Using Jackie Kennedy's signature as the logo is an inspired touch. It's a lovely bit of handwriting, for one, but it's also a reminder that this is a distinct individual, with a certain flair indicative in that signature. This is someone you want to know, but she won't come to you easily. She might not even be knowable. This is how you make a movie poster.

- Sleepless. I see Jamie Foxx as a cop and that's about all I see. Here's one that relies too much on the tag line: "One night to save his son." Okay, now I know what this movie is about. Great. But if I'm looking at this poster while driving on the BQE, or on an express train zipping past a local station, the tag line is the last thing I'm gonna see. I may not see it at all. In which case, all I've got to go on is the image, and that ain't nearly enough.

- A Dog's Purpose. Not even animals are immune to Big Head Syndrome! I have a number of friends who don't need any more than this to be sold on this movie. I do find the title intriguing: I doubt anyone thinks of dogs, or animals in general, as having a reason for being. In that sense, the dog on the poster probably represents all dogs. But I've seen the trailer for this, and I'm not entirely sure I get it: a reincarnating dog? I dunno. Maybe a Big Dog Head is enough?

- Split. This summer will mark 18 years since The Sixth Sense. Is the name M. Night Shyamalan still a selling point after what he's made since? Doubtful, but they keep trying to push it on us. Honestly, I hope he does recover his lost mojo eventually. This poster might be a positive omen. It communicates its premise - dude with multiple personality disorder - well, and the sinister tone lets you know he's dangerous. The image is easy to comprehend from a distance. It's simple but not simplistic.

Agree? Disagree?


  1. I hate to say it, but from a marketing standpoint, the Passenger poster's probably a big success specifically because it doesn't reveal it's a sci-fi movie. The female audience they were shooting for is more likely to go see it if they think it's a dramedy that takes place on a plane. It's misleading marketing with a purpose. The tactic failed for John Carter - if you didn't know the character, you'd have no way of knowing it took place in Mars by looking at the poster.

  2. Maybe, but MAD MAX FURY ROAD didn't need to hide its SF status on its poster and that was a huge hit. If they wanted to sell another aspect of the movie besides the SF, they could've done something else. They could've had the two of them in the same photo, at least. I can't say what for sure because I didn't see the movie, but I don't believe a couple of big heads with no context was the best they could have done.


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