Film poster

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One-sheet film poster for This Gun for Hire (1942) This Gun for Hire (1942) poster.jpg
One-sheet film poster for This Gun for Hire (1942)

A film poster is a poster used to promote and advertise a film primarily to persuade paying customers into a theater to see it. Studios often print several posters that vary in size and content for various domestic and international markets. They normally contain an image with text. Today's posters often feature printed likenesses of the main actors. Prior to the 1980s, illustrations instead of photos were far more common. The text on film posters usually contains the film title in large lettering and often the names of the main actors. It may also include a tagline, the name of the director, names of characters, the release date, and other pertinent details to inform prospective viewers about the film.


Film posters are often displayed inside and on the outside of movie theaters, and elsewhere on the street or in shops. The same images appear in the film exhibitor's pressbook and may also be used on websites, DVD (and historically VHS) packaging, flyers, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and all other press related to the promotion of the film.

Film posters have been used since the earliest public exhibitions of film. They began as outside placards listing the programme of (short) films to be shown inside the hall or movie theater. By the early 1900s, they began to feature illustrations of a film scene or an array of overlaid images from several scenes. Other posters have used artistic interpretations of a scene or even the theme of the film, represented in a wide variety of artistic styles. Film posters have become increasingly coveted by art collectors in recent years due to their known relative rarity, condition, artist, and art historical significance.


The world's first film poster (to date), for 1895's L'Arroseur arrose, by the Lumiere brothers Cinematographe Lumiere.jpg
The world's first film poster (to date), for 1895's L'Arroseur arrosé , by the Lumière brothers
Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand, 1922 Rudolph Valentino movie poster bullfight.jpeg
Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand , 1922

The first poster for a specific film, rather than a "magic lantern show", was based on an illustration by Marcellin Auzolle to promote the showing of the Lumiere Brothers film L'Arroseur arrosé at the Grand Café in Paris on December 26, 1895. [1]

Originally, film posters were produced for the exclusive use by the theaters exhibiting the film the poster was created for, and were required to be returned to the distributor after the film left the theater. In the United States, film posters were usually returned to a nationwide operation called the National Screen Service (NSS) which printed and distributed most of the film posters for the studios between 1940 and 1984. As an economy measure, the NSS regularly recycled posters that were returned, sending them back out to be used again at another theater. During this time, a film could stay in circulation for several years, and so many old film posters were badly worn before being retired into storage at an NSS warehouse (most often, they were thrown away when they were no longer needed or had become too worn to be used again). Those posters which were not returned were often thrown away by the theater owner or damaged by being outside. [2]

Beginning in the 1980s, American film studios began taking over direct production and distribution of their posters from the National Screen Service and the process of making and distributing film posters became decentralized in that country. [3] As Hollywood cinema was disseminated into foreign markets, distinct hand-painted film poster traditions arose in Poland, India, and Ghana, with depictions of posters often varying from their original Hollywood versions based on the artistry of local painters. [4] [5] [6]


Battleship Potemkin, 1925 Vintage Potemkin.jpg
Battleship Potemkin , 1925
Old Bollywood posters, like Hunterwali (1935) featuring Fearless Nadia, are collectors' items. Nadia-hunterwali-1935.jpg
Old Bollywood posters, like Hunterwali (1935) featuring Fearless Nadia, are collectors' items.

After the National Screen Service ceased most of its printing and distribution operations in 1985, some of the posters which they had stored in warehouses around the United States ended up in the hands of private collectors and dealers. Today there is a thriving collectibles market in film posters, and some have become very valuable. The first auction by a major auction house solely of film posters occurred on December 11, 1990, when proceeds of a sale of 271 vintage posters run by Bruce Hershenson at Christie's totaled US$935,000. [7] [8] The record price for a single poster was set on November 15, 2005, when $690,000 was paid for a poster of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis from the Reel Poster Gallery in London. [9] Other early horror and science fiction posters are known to bring extremely high prices as well, with an example from The Mummy realizing $452,000 in a 1997 Sotheby's auction, [9] and posters from both Bride of Frankenstein and The Black Cat selling for $334,600 in Heritage auctions, in 2007 and 2009, respectively. [10]

Dracula Style F one sheet Dracula (1931 film poster - Style F).jpg
Dracula Style F one sheet

Occasionally, rare film posters have been found being used as insulation in attics and walls. In 2011, 33 film posters, including a Dracula Style F one-sheet (shown right), from 1930 to 1931 were discovered in an attic in Berwick, Pennsylvania and auctioned for $502,000 in March 2012 by Heritage Auctions. [11]

Over the years, old Bollywood posters, mostly from Bombay, India, especially with hand-painted art, have become collectors' items. [12] [13] [6] Ghanaian hand-painted movie posters from the tradition's Golden Age in the 1980s and 1990s have sold for tens of thousands of dollars and been exhibited in galleries and museums across the world. [14] [15] [16] [17]

As a result of market demand for paper posters, some of the more popular older film posters have been reproduced either under license or illegally. Although the artwork on paper reproductions is the same as originals, reproductions can often be distinguished by size, printing quality, and paper type. Several websites on the Internet offer "authentication" tests to distinguish originals from reproductions.

Original film posters distributed to theaters and other poster venues (such as bus stops) by the movie studios are never sold directly to the public. However, most modern posters are produced in large quantities and often become available for purchase by collectors indirectly through various secondary markets such as eBay. Accordingly, most modern posters are not as valuable. However, some recent posters, such as the Pulp Fiction "Lucky Strike" U.S. one-sheet poster (recalled due to a dispute with the cigarette company), are quite rare. [18]


Lobby cards

Lobby card featuring Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) MaryPickford4.jpg
Lobby card featuring Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921)

Lobby cards are similar to posters but smaller, usually 11 in × 14 in (28 cm × 36 cm), also 8 in × 10 in (20 cm × 25 cm) before 1930. Lobby cards are collectible and values depend on their age, quality, and popularity. Although typically issued in sets of eight, with each featuring a different scene from the film, some releases were, in unusual circumstances, promoted with larger (12 cards) or smaller sets (6 cards). The set for The Running Man (1963), for example, had only six cards, whereas the set for The Italian Job (1969) had twelve. Films released by major production companies experiencing financial difficulties often lacked lobby sets, such as Manhunter (1986).

A Jumbo Lobby Card is larger, 14 in × 17 in (36 cm × 43 cm) and also issued in sets. Prior to 1940 studios promoted major releases with the larger card sets. In addition to the larger size, the paper quality was better (glossy or linen). The title card displays the movie title and top stars prominently. [19]

In the United Kingdom, sets of lobby cards are known as "Front of House" cards. These, however, also refer to black-and-white press photographs, in addition to the more typical 8-by-10-inch promotional devices resembling lobby cards.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University holds a collection of lobby cards from silent western films that date between 1910 and 1930. [20]

Teaser poster

A teaser poster or advance poster is an early promotional film poster, containing a basic image or design without revealing too much information such as the plot, theme, and characters. The purpose is to incite awareness and generate hype for the film. A tagline may be included. There are some instances when teaser posters are issued long in advance before the film goes into production (teasers for cancelled projects are historically informative), although they are issued during the film development. Notable styles for teaser poster include:

Character posters

For a film with an ensemble cast there may be a set of character posters, each featuring an individual character from the film. Usually it contains the name of the actor or the name of the character played. It may also include a tagline that reflects the quality of the character.


Film posters come in different sizes and styles depending on the country. [21] [22] The most common are listed below. [23]

United States

The following sizes were in common use in the US prior to the mid-1980s, but have since been phased out of production:[ citation needed ]

United Kingdom



Godzilla (1954), one of the most iconic monster movie posters Gojira 1954 Japanese poster.jpg
Godzilla (1954), one of the most iconic monster movie posters



Billing block

The "billing block" is the list of names that adorn the bottom portion of the official poster (or 'one sheet', as it is called in the movie industry) of the movie". [29] A billing block can be seen at the bottom of Reynold Brown's poster from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), which is reproduced below. In the layout of film posters and other film advertising copy, the billing block is usually set in a highly condensed typeface (one in which the height of characters is several times the width). [30] By convention, the point size of the billing block is 25 or 35 percent of the average height of each letter in the title logo. [31] Inclusion in the credits and the billing block is generally a matter of detailed contracts between the artists and the producer. Using a condensed typeface allows the heights of the characters to meet contractual constraints while still allowing enough horizontal space to include all the required text.

Notable artists

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), an iconic poster by Reynold Brown Attackofthe50ftwoman.jpg
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), an iconic poster by Reynold Brown

Normally, the artist is not identified on the film poster and, in many cases, the artist is anonymous. However, several artists have become well known because of their outstanding illustrations on film posters. Some artists, such as Drew Struzan, often sign their poster artwork and the signature is included on distributed posters.

John Alvin
Examples: Blade Runner , The Lion King , E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Richard Amsel
Examples: The Sting , Raiders of the Lost Ark
Saul Bass
Examples: Love in the Afternoon , Vertigo , The Shining
Reynold Brown
Examples: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman , Creature from the Black Lagoon , The Incredible Shrinking Man , The Time Machine
Renato Casaro
Examples: Conan the Barbarian , Never Say Never Again , Opera , Ghost Chase , The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter
Tom Chantrell
Examples: Von Ryan's Express , Zulu Dawn , The Land That Time Forgot
Jack Davis
Examples: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World , Viva Max! , Kelly's Heroes
Vic Fair
Examples: Vampire Circus , Confessions of a Driving Instructor , The Man Who Fell to Earth
Frank Frazetta
Examples: What's New Pussycat?
Bill Gold
Examples: Casablanca , A Clockwork Orange , For Your Eyes Only
Boris Grinsson
Examples: The 400 Blows
Karoly Grosz
Examples: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Al Hirschfeld
Examples: The Wizard of Oz , The Sunshine Boys
Mitchell Hooks
Examples: Dr. No , The Sand Pebbles , El Dorado
The Brothers Hildebrandt
Examples: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ("Style B" re-release), [32] Barbarella (1979 re-release)
Tom Jung
Examples: Star Wars (Style A), The Empire Strikes Back (Style B), Papillon , The Lord of the Rings , Gone with the Wind (re-release)
Mort Künstler
Examples: The Poseidon Adventure , The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), The Hindenburg
Frank McCarthy [33]
Examples: The Ten Commandments , Thunderball , The Dirty Dozen , On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Robert McGinnis [34]
Examples: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Casino Royale (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Noriyoshi Ohrai
Examples: The Empire Strikes Back , Godzilla
Bob Peak
Examples: Our Man Flint , Camelot , Apocalypse Now , The Spy Who Loved Me , Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Sam Peffer
Examples: Flesh Gordon , SS Experiment Camp , Hussy
Norman Rockwell
Examples: The Magnificent Ambersons , The Song of Bernadette
William Rose
Examples: Citizen Kane , The Little Foxes , Cat People (1942)
Enzo Sciotti
Examples: The Beyond , Phenomena , Demons , Girlfriend from Hell , The Blood of Heroes
Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg
Examples: Man with a Movie Camera
Drew Struzan
Examples: Star Wars , E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial , Indiana Jones , Back to the Future , The Thing (1982), Jurassic Park , Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Howard Terpning
Examples: The Guns of Navarone , Cleopatra , The Sound of Music
Boris Vallejo
Examples: National Lampoon's Vacation , Q , Barbarella , Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
Paul Wenzel
Examples: The Parent Trap , Mary Poppins , [35] [36] Pete's Dragon , [37] Dragonslayer , [38] The Fox and the Hound


The annual Key Art Awards, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter , include awards for best film poster in the categories of comedy, drama, action adventure, teaser, and international film. The Hollywood Reporter defines the term "key art" as "the singular, iconographic image that is the foundation upon which a movie's marketing campaign is built." [39] In 2006, the original poster for The Silence of the Lambs was named best film poster "of the past 35 years". [40]

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Punched card</span> Paper-based recording medium

A punched card is a piece of stiff paper that holds digital data represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions. Punched cards were once common in data processing applications or to directly control automated machinery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postcard</span> Type of postal stationery

A postcard or post card is a piece of thick paper or thin cardboard, typically rectangular, intended for writing and mailing without an envelope. Non-rectangular shapes may also be used but are rare. There are novelty exceptions, such as wooden postcards, copper postcards sold in the Copper Country of the U.S. state of Michigan, and coconut "postcards" from tropical islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paper size</span> Standard sizes of paper

Paper size standards govern the size of sheets of paper used as writing paper, stationery, cards, and for some printed documents.

Sheet film is large format and medium format photographic film supplied on individual sheets of acetate or polyester film base rather than rolls. Sheet film was initially supplied as an alternative to glass plates. The most popular size measures 100 mm × 130 mm ; smaller and larger sizes including the gigantic 510 mm × 610 mm have been made and many are still available today.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Large format</span> Imaging format for film camera of 4×5 inches or larger

Large format refers to any imaging format of 9 cm × 12 cm or larger. Large format is larger than "medium format", the 6 cm × 6 cm or 6 cm × 9 cm size of Hasselblad, Mamiya, Rollei, Kowa, and Pentax cameras, and much larger than the 24 mm × 36 mm frame of 35 mm format.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hole punch</span> Office tool for making uniform holes in paper

A hole punch, also known as hole puncher, or paper puncher, is an office tool that is used to create holes in sheets of paper, often for the purpose of collecting the sheets in a binder or folder. A hole punch can also refer to similar tools for other materials, such as leather, cloth, or plastic or metal sheets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slide show</span> Presentation of a series of still images on a projection screen or other display

A slide show (slideshow) is a presentation of a series of still images (slides) on a projection screen or electronic display device, typically in a prearranged sequence. The changes may be automatic and at regular intervals or they may be manually controlled by a presenter or the viewer. Slide shows originally consisted of a series of individual photographic slides projected onto a screen with a slide projector. When referring to the video or computer-based visual equivalent, in which the slides are not individual physical objects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ruled paper</span> Writing paper with lines

Ruled paper is writing paper printed with lines as a guide for handwriting. The lines often are printed with fine width and in light colour and such paper is sometimes called feint-ruled paper. Additional vertical lines may provide margins, act as tab stops or create a grid for plotting data; for example, graph paper is divided into squares by horizontal and vertical lines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Instant film</span> Photographic film which develops in minutes

Instant film is a type of photographic film that was introduced by Polaroid Corporation to produce a visible image within minutes or seconds of the photograph's exposure. The film contains the chemicals needed for developing and fixing the photograph, and the camera exposes and initiates the developing process after a photo has been taken.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maud Lewis</span> Nova Scotian folk artist

Maud Kathleen Lewis was a Canadian folk artist from Nova Scotia. She lived most of her life in poverty in a small house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. She achieved national recognition in 1964 and 1965 for her cheerful paintings of landscapes, animals and flowers, which offer a nostalgic and optimistic vision of her native province. Several books, plays and films have been produced about her. She remains one of Canada's most celebrated folk artists. Her works are displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, as well as her restored house, whose walls she adorned with her art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Microform</span> Forms with microreproductions of documents

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Book size</span> Form a book is produced into

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Film memorabilia</span>

Film memorabilia are objects considered of value because of their connection to the cinema. These include costumes, props, advertising posters, and scripts, among other things. Fans have always coveted memorabilia, but in recent years, what was once a hobby has mushroomed into big business, with millions of dollars changing hands in auctions held by such top firms as Christie's and Sotheby's. In addition, many popular films have their collectible items sold via independent, online movie memorabilia stores, web auctions, and at film studio charity events.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scanography</span>

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Standard photographic print sizes are used in photographic printing. Cut sheets of paper meant for printing photographs are commonly sold in these sizes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poster</span> Type of graphic advertisement

A poster is a large sheet that is placed either on a public space to promote something or on a wall as decoration. Typically, posters include both textual and graphic elements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be used for many purposes. They are a frequent tool of advertisers, propagandists, protestors, and other groups trying to communicate a message. Posters are also used for reproductions of artwork, particularly famous works, and are generally low-cost compared to the original artwork. The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the 1840s and 1850s when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production possible.

The aspect ratio of an image is the ratio of its width to its height, and is expressed with two numbers separated by a colon, such as 16:9, sixteen-to-nine. For the x:y aspect ratio, the image is x units wide and y units high. Common aspect ratios are 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 in cinematography, 4:3 and 16:9 in television photography, and 3:2 in still photography.

Thomas Jung is an American art director, graphic designer, illustrator, and storyboard artist. He is known for his movie poster art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drew Struzan</span> American illustrator

Drew Struzan is an American artist, illustrator and cover designer. He is known for his more than 150 movie posters, which include The Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner, Mallrats, as well as films in the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Star Wars film series. He has also painted album covers, collectibles, and book covers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karoly Grosz (illustrator)</span> Hungarian-American illustrator of film posters

Karoly Grosz was a Hungarian–American illustrator of Classical Hollywood–era film posters. As art director at Universal Pictures for the bulk of the 1930s, Grosz oversaw the company's advertising campaigns and contributed hundreds of his own illustrations. He is especially recognized for his dramatic, colorful posters for classic horror films. Grosz's best-known posters advertised early Universal Classic Monsters films such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Beyond the horror genre, his other notable designs include posters for the epic war film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936).


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