The promotion of a movie is almost as important as the actual film itself. The dream of all production companies is to have blockbuster hit after blockbuster hit, but to do this they firstly need to have a good product that audiences are going to want to see. Sure, you can be attracted to a film by the premise or the stars appearing in the flick, but traditionally the key to getting the masses to see your film is to be drawn in by the other key element, the magical movie poster. These days the bulk of movie posters are photo shopped, air brushed pictures of the glamorous stars of the film looking moody in staged poses. Prior to around the mid 90’s however, movie posters were illustrated works of genius, depicting the main characters of the movie in perilous situations or showcasing vital scenes from the movie in question.
Drew Struzan, John Alvin and Roger Kastel might not be household names that you’ll immediately be able to picture or recognise, but I’ll guarantee you’ll know their work. As an impressionable child, the work of these guys is ingrained in my memory. Every time I visited the cinema, part of the enjoyment for me was looking at the posters dotted around the old ABC cinema in Kirkcaldy, advertising what I would be going to see there next. Azad video rental shop just along the road from the cinema was my other haven. The place was wall to wall with empty VHS boxes all covered in smaller versions of these magnificent posters which I can still vividly remember now. These brilliant artists were doing a stellar job for the filmmakers as often I would rent an absolute turkey of a film purely because the artwork made it so appealing. It could easily be said that I for one, remember the movie poster as much or more than I remember the actual film.
Of course, these were pre-internet days where you could only see trailers for forthcoming presentations in the cinema or at the start of a rented VHS, so these posters were a valuable addition to the aforementioned to get you really excited about upcoming releases. Posters these days are more of an afterthought as people can just go on YouTube and watch usually 2 or 3 different trailers for the one film, which is enough to get them amped up for Fast and Furious 12 or whatever. Back in the day though, the posters helped spark your imagination about what might happen in the film or the perils their hero could face, without watching a trailer giving away every dramatic scene in a film and that shows all the genuinely funny bits in one 2 minute bundle.
Here’s 10 of my favourite illustrated film posters from my childhood. Have a look at these and tell me they don’t make you want to go find some of these films and watch them again!
10. Fright Night – A film I’ve never actually seen, but the poster lives long in the memory. The ghoulish face and demons surrounding it lit by moonlight, towering over a suburban American house was enough to give me the creeps as a nipper. As it was an 18 I was never allowed to go see it or rent it, but I’m old enough now so I might just look it out!
9. Back To The Future – My favourite film of all time, the poster draws you to the classic fire tracks from when the DeLorean finally hits 88mph and goes Back To The Future! Marty’s rocking the red bodywarmer and the awesome DeLorean open upwards doors are there, backlit for dramatic effect.
8. Jaws – Hot woman swimming happily in the sea, minding her own business. Little does she know that there is a humongous, ugly, nasty toothed Great White Shark lurking beneath her ready to munch. Classic image, classic film, classic artwork.
7. Beetlejuice – Beautifully drawn, iconic poster which includes all major characters from the film. Even going so far as showing Alec Baldwin’s face when he turns it inside out and the American Footballers from purgatory. Surely Michael Keaton’s finest moment?
6. Raiders Of The Lost Ark – Movie posters were made for films like the Indiana Jones franchise. This poster just screams out ‘I need to see this film’. The adventure, intrigue and laughs from the film are all front and centre on this image with our swashbuckling hero the main focus.
5. Adventures In Babysitting – Another film I’ve never actually seen, but I love the artwork from. I mean, the films about babysitting so it was instantly a chicks film and I was never going to be into that. It did look quite good fun scaling a building on a rope hanging onto Elisabeth Shue though right?
4. The Goonies – The classic 80’s kids film had an awesome cinema movie poster with all the Goonies (even Chunk) hanging off of each other as Josh Brolin’s character hangs on to a stalactite. The poster evokes a sense of adventure which the film more than lives up to.
3. Masters Of The Universe – Now if ever a movie poster promised an awesome film, this was it. Unfortunately the amazing artwork couldn’t save the movie from being absolute horse shit. I loved He-Man as a kid and I was so excited about the prospect of a live action version, but Dolph Lundgren failed me! Looking at the poster again though, I might have to revisit it.
2. Big Trouble In Little China – Love, love, love this film and the artwork is just incredible. Kurt Russell aka Jack Burton is the primary focus, but you’ve also got the bad guys after him, the Mortal Kombat (before there was Mortal Kombat) style bad guys and even a scene from the film in it. He’s even holding a machine gun. Awesome.
1. Cobra – This is the poster that always stood out for me. It was an 18 so I was never getting a sniff of it as a kid, but every time I entered the video shop I picked it up and studied it. Sly looking like a total badass on the front with his aviators and holding a gun with a freaking laser coming out it. Does it get any cooler?
So there you have it, 10 of the most amazing illustrated movie posters of all time. The 80’s was definitely the golden age for this artwork and I for one wish to see a return to this type of promotion for films. They fire the imagination and make you buy into the film. Far more entertaining than looking at Matt Damon’s ugly mug any day! Obviously, this top ten is my opinion. Hit up the comments with some of your favourite movie artwork.