The marriage of the worlds of still photography and motion video can be an interesting thing to see. So similar, yet the differences are what you notice. No better case for this can be seen than in trying to make a creative photographic movie poster. Something that must boil down the movie into it’s core elements and grab and hold attention, while also conveying some of the greater nuances of the plot.
Like we talked about the distinct advantages of still photography in The (super)Powers of Still Photography, there are also distinct barriers and limitations in the medium, especially in trying to express long or complex narratives with a single image. In this post we’re going to run down a few of my favourite photographic-centric movie posters from history. Hopefully this exercise in observation will help in understanding why to choose certain imagery, and why/how these things became iconic. I find this kind of study provides insight into your own photography. Also, who doesn’t love a good movie?
note: The movie poster industry is riddled with CGI and and other excessive editing to make things more graphic than photographic. With that in mind, I tried to focus on posters that at least had a strong base in genuine photography, though there might be some exceptions. I’m also sure I missed out on featuring some great movie posters, so be sure to share in the comments below what posters you love and think should be on this list!
Coolest Photographic Movie Posters
The pick of this photographic movie poster is definitely influenced by my own personal experience. When I was younger seeing this image freaked me right out. The kid’s look is so haunting, and the black and white makes it all that more intense. Of course, it still works great for Depression-Era Ireland personified if you know the context… but I thought it was some kind of horror movie when I first saw this gritty image.
A lot of movie posters feature the lead actor(s) in front of a crazy CGI background. Action movies are particularly guilty of this. Ferris Bueller is about Ferris Bueller, and his laid-back confidence that makes us love him. In the same way the movie breaks the fourth wall several times, so does this portrait-focused movie poster.
I’ve seen lots of fan-created graphic design movie posters made for “Her”. Most of them try to be clever and represent the technology artificial intelligence romancy futureness with different visual elements. I think this pared down version which focuses on the emotion of love (complemented by the powerful colour pallet) adds some sense of mystery. We want to sympathize but don’t know what the exact emotion is and what’s caused it. Is this before ‘her’ or after ‘her’?
This poster is an excellent example of a clever way to feature the star power of the lead actors, without being over the top, and also include some element of plot and mood. The look he can’t see says it all.
This photographic movie poster also includes the graphic element that is most iconic to this cult classic. The silhouettes are the cool icon that represent the movie as a whole, but the photographic image drops you right into the climactic tension. The tableau is perfect for that moment because it’s as if time has slowed to a stop like it would in the actual experience.
This poster is one of my absolute favourites. The negative space adds emphasis on the inciting action, and also reflects the vast snowpocalypse that is Minnesota.
With this photographic movie poster, as well as others in this post, it can be hard to separate knowledge of these movies which you’ve likely seen, and what you would interpret seeing this back in 1994 when the movie just came out in theatres. Something draws me in. Expression, design, and setting all play a role. It’s a minimalist image, but it’s hardly simple.
The seductive imagery of Mrs. Robinson’s leg has become synonymous with “The Graduate” and this image has been used, reformatted, and repurposed in a huge variety of posters and dvd covers over the years.
Another Tarrantino film on the list. This unique style of poster, emulated after old “Pulp Fiction” magazine mystery format that the title alludes to is unique just by departing from the usual movie poster template. The image of Uma Thurman oozes cool, and is also full of symbols.
I ask you – who’s belly button is that perfectly shaped?? Not mine… The rose symbol is there, as well as the foreshadowing of the lusting after nubiles, but the unique full-bleed image/background of this poster make it stand out from the other drama movie posters.
Horror movie posters are usually gory, disturbing, and creepy… but this tree with the noose and the house in the background do a perfect job of creating the ominous and eerie mood present in the movie. The unnerving shadow on the ground takes it over the edge. Kudos for this image looking like it could be done totally in camera. It’s either good photoshop, compositing these elements, or it was done that way.
Another horror movie for the list. Making a baby stroller as creepy as possible, and preluding to the brilliant performance of Mia Farrow. The green colour pallet is also eye catching. It’s interesting that other horror movie posters in this gallery reflect the similar colour and tones.
It’s a somewhat “look I’m being clever” play on the title. A way to show off the stars while also trying to give away some of the plot. It may be trying to be clever, but it’s simple and effective and lots of photographers have emulated the lighting technique used here over the years.
With the huge cult and also mainstream popularity of Fight Club, this minimalist image works great, calling back to an interesting motif/moment in the film. The tagline is also great. I have to wonder if it would really help market the film well. It definitely is intriguing as far as soap goes.
I thought it would be interesting to include this re-do of the poster for dvd sales. People realized how important for marketing it would be to show Brad Pitt especially. They wanted to include the soap as a clever way to show the title. So just slap it together in photoshop and you’ve got a poster. Who needs to spend money on a photshoot when you can just grab a photo of Joe Regular’s hand and make it awkwardly look like it’s supposed to be coming from Brad Pitt. Bad, Photoshop! Bad!
You may remember the face of Linda Blair all crazy-eyed and pea soup throwing up. But this image is way more powerful, given a little context knowledge of the movie. It is called The Exorcist, and not The Exorcism, or The Possession after all. We get a tableau of the moment of fear and anxiety before starting that hellish night.
I wanted to include an homage poster that I thought did a good job, and shows how iconic images from the past can cause us to create similar images. I wonder if the creators reflected on The Exorcist poster, or if the homage was just an example of when the brain unintentionally rehashes ideas because it’s connecting to our lexicon of visual language.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to come back Thursday when Thomas continues his adventures in Africa and Iceland by talking about Kenya. See part one of that series here: Africa and Iceland Adventure Part One
Comments and questions below, as always. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on movie posters and photography!