Do movie posters still matter?
With most of the PR for films being handled online, on TV, or by the studio released movie trailers at the theater, the one-sheet for a movie seems less and less important these days. More often than not, movie posters now tend to fall into the category of ‘teaser’. Months and months before a film will come out, three or four character posters will pop up at your local bus stop or in the hallways at your local Cineplex to stimulate interest. Or the weekend before that film opens, the LA Times or the NY Times will run a full page ad based on the poster announcing said film will be opening that coming Friday. But beyond that, posters, like so much of the traditional print medium in advertising and journalism, seems almost archaic.
Still, when a movie poster is special it can say as much about a film as any press kit or 2-minute movie preview. Distilling a movie into a single graphic expression truly is as much of an art as it ever was, even if it seems to be more and more a lost one. But thankfully, there are a number each year that do the tradition proud, and here are five of the best from 2016 that caught this fan’s eye the most.
This intimate biographical look at Jackie Kennedy during the week after her husband’s assassination in 1963 is to be released by Fox Searchlight in December. For now, we have a clip or two online, a haunting trailer, and this incredible one-sheet showcasing Natalie Portman in the title role. Her resemblance to the title character is remarkable, as is the tentative yet steely pose and facial expression clearly evident by the actress. But it is truly the red on red in the poster that rivets the eye. Red is an especially striking color, one that not only represents beauty, but also rage and death. All present in the experience of the First Lady in those days after her husband was struck down in Dallas. Rarely does a poster say so much, so dramatically, and so succinctly.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Here’s another great poster from the studio that created the one for JACKIE. Fox Searchlight is the distributor of THE BIRTH OF A NATION as well, and from a distance, the poster looks like an editorialized take on the American flag. It’s yellowed, as if to say freedom in this nation is tarnished. Or perhaps the less-than-pure white of its flag speaks to it being “old school”, a period piece if you will, which it is. Also evident from that distance, is the idea that the red strips are dripping blood. All that would be more than enough to be fantastic graphically, but when you get closer to the design, you realize that the stripes are lines of slaves fighting for their freedom. That makes the poster all the more meaningful. And stunning.
One of the quirkiest films of the year received one of the best posters too. And it’s one that perfectly captures the darkly comic feel of the subject matter. THE LOBSTER is about a future society where loneliness becomes an act of unlawfulness. Those who’ve not found a mate are banned from society and punished and turned into animals. The metaphorical nature of the story sounds more on-the-nose than it is. In reality, it's a rather subtle film, droll even, and not overplayed. The loneliness of its subjects attempting one last time to connect with another human is palpable. And the fact that their last hurrah takes place a a hotel symposium that plays like a sales convention makes for rich, dark humor. The poster captures both that wit and pathos as it visuals lead Colin Farrell holding a yet-to-be-realized lover. The use of negative space rarely is exploited so brilliantly. Distributor A24 not only showcases the film superbly, but it illustrates how shrewd their marketing department is as well.
THE BAFTA BEST FILM NOMINEES 2016
Sometimes the best movie posters are those done for awards show. BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) does brilliant work year in and year out as they highlight their Best Picture nominees in their publicity materials. And last year’s slate of graphic depictions of the five films were nothing short of mesmerizing.
How adroitly artist Paul Willoughby creates an image within another image, adding dimension to his illustrations as well as suggesting the layers of intrigue in each film. Each poster stands on its own, yet as a set, make for one of the greatest graphic tributes to the movies in 2016.
The best horror movie of the year also had one of the year’s best teaser posters too. THE WITCH, written and directed by the brilliant Robert Eggers ,is a haunting portrayal of a 1630 New England family struggling with evil. They are pious pilgrims, yet evil finds its way into every family member through all too human flaws – pride, lust and envy. Even the barn yard animals, the surrounding wilderness, and the weather are darkened by the smothering evil. The tagline “Evil takes many forms” and disturbing image of a hare with Satanic eyes perfectly complement the idea of the film. Kudos again to distributor A24 for their superb work here, with extra kudos for using an Old World version of the letter “W” to make THE WITCH all the more disturbing.
Finally, let's look at the small screen for the last highlight of this 2016 season. Here is the sublime logo created for the new HBO television series that has everyone talking this autumn.
The premium cable network's new program is more than just a riff on the 1973 cult classic film about a grown-up theme park where tourists can live out their wildest fantasies (sexual, violent, heck, you name it). Instead, this new take on WESTWORLD goes even deeper in examining humanity than Michael Crichton's original did. The show suggests that in our modern computer age, not only are robots becoming as intuitive as we are, but they're actually becoming more humane as the world of man becomes a colder and meaner place. The logo for the show captures all of that idea and more. It is cold, stark, even brutal. And there is a lot going on in all those points and planes in the design. Note how the double points suggest everything from fangs to devil’s horns to women’s cleavage. And in doubling the W's, as the name does, the design creates bars that hold the other W. Perhaps this was meant to suggest the idea of confinement, the idea of our world being squeezed? Yet that inside W still remains open in its way. Is that for man to escape, or the more likable robots?
You may think that I’m reading an awful lot into a logo, but believe me, designers put such detailed thought into the iconography they create. Clearly, they want the marketing to be as clever as the entertainments. And they want their communications to grab us graphically. They do. And how.