Movie posters are incredibly diverse and fascinating to look at. They are the cover of the movie that one has yet to see and can be incredibly effective in creating interest in an onlooker. There’s so much information that can be gleaned from a movie poster, from cast and characters to release dates and studios. I love all the different styles for different markets as well as the fan made versions. Often times my phone or iPad wallpapers are some combination of my favorite movie posters. As a kid, I always wanted to take posters home from the theater and hang them all over my parents basement. As a kid pretending to be an adult, I have movie posters in the little office space in my basement and want to expand the collection when I eventually get a bigger house. I don’t think I could ever have enough space to hang all my favorites, so if I only have space to hang 10, these are the ones I would choose. To keep things simple, I decided to use theatrical release posters, with one or two exceptions. I sourced all the images below from here.
10. Back to the Future
Back to the Future is an all time classic 80s movie. I love how simple the logo is with the angel wing door of the DeLorean fixed above it. Nothing in this poster spoils the content of the movie. All you see is a young man looking at his watch about to get into an expensive car. It’s so simple that it leaves person looking at it wanting to figure out what’s going on.
Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis dressed like janitors with vacuums strapped to their backs is an awful concept on paper. But when it’s those three looking up and behind the viewer with a giant ominous portal in the sky in the background, I feel like something is going on that I need to watch. The catchy title and exterminator-esque logo certainly gives you an idea as to what you might see. However, nothing in this poster gives way the fact that it’s a comedy movie, especially if you somehow don’t know anything about Bill Murray. I think that’s the best part about it.
8. The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight was the first Batman movie to feature the Joker since Jack Nicholson played the pivotal role in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Nicholson’s portrayal was campy and humorous, with touches of darkness. After the success of Batman Begins’ more reality based approach to Batman, audiences were expecting a more mature villain. This poster was the first look we had at the masterpiece that is Heath Ledger’s Joker. It left me with a sense of excitement and curiosity to see what the Clown Prince of Crime was going to do in this latest iteration.
7. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones, and especially Raiders of the Lost Ark, occupies such a pivotal place in my childhood. It was the cool and suave Harrison Ford tackling problems left and right with nothing but his wits and a few good punches that made me enjoy the adventure genre so much. The font and color scheme is so unique and interesting to look at. The art style mimics a painting, instead of just using a set photo. This is the perfect storm of good choices to create a timeless poster.
There are complicated posters and there are simple posters. This Vertigo poster is simple to look at, with two obvious people entwined in some sort of fall. The spirograph art layered over the top is old school cool and represents the complexity and interwoven story line of the movie. The font choice is different, but not bad in any sense. The colors are simple and pop off each other nicely.
5. Seven Samurai
So I said that I was going to use only theatrical posters. When I was sourcing images to use, I couldn’t find a high quality theatrical release poster in the resolution I needed. That being said, if this image is good enough for Criterion to use, it’s good enough for me. This Seven Samurai poster is straight up cool. Toshirô Mifune stands at the center of frame, geared up with a massive sword with three of his fellow samurai in the background. I mentioned old school cool above, but Seven Samurai is the king of old school cool.
4. Spider-Man (2002)
When I was in grade school, Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man was the only super hero around worth watching. To my generation, this is THE Spider-Man. And this is the poster that really made me interested in the character to begin with. It’s a simple action shot with a cool looking font and an awesome suit. Comic book movies live and die by their suits and this is a classic.
3. 2001 : A Space Odyssey
Posters that replicate a painting with classical sci fi elements are some of my absolute favorites and none of them are better than this poster for 2001 : A Space Odyssey. The ship is sleek and stealthy looking. The design feels alive and detail oriented with plenty of thought and care put into each stroke. It has an almost hopeful feeling to it, like the artist who drew it was hoping that this would be the future state of space travel. I look at this poster in 2021 and I feel the same type of hope that we’ll get to that point one day.
2. Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is the movie equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle. The Return of the King was the emotional and pivotal climax to the entire journey that had started so many years earlier. The intensity and attention to detail that is present in every single scene makes the third installment of the Lord of the Rings my personal favorite. This poster represents everything that is amazing about the movie. There are so many things to look at here : The defiance in Aragorn’s face as his army prepares to take on Sauron, Gandalf wielding his staff as the reborn White Wizard, Frodo and Sam shining a light through the darkness to complete their journey. Every important character is represented on this poster with grim determination to see their quest completed.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
The number one poster on my list is The Empire Strikes Back. It takes everything that was great about A New Hope and adds that next layer of complexity to make this not only the best sequel ever made, but the best poster ever made. Han and Leia are obviously romantically involved and this poster tells the audience that there will be romance, but doesn’t ruin the fun of their courtship. Luke is riding a tauntaun, dressed in cold weather gear., flipping the switch from the hot desert sands of Tatooine. Ever present is Darth Vader, looming over the characters like an unstoppable force of nature. Lots of posters accomplish layering characters over one another, but this one feels like the inspiration for them all.