With a one single image, posters immortalize the feeling and the atmosphere of a motion picture contributing to the cinematic history greatly. Often considered as important as the film they advertise, posters are a work of art that have entered the lexicon of graphic designers and cinematographers. At first including only a sensational description of the film, in the early 1900’ studios started hiring artists to create equally sensational illustrations. These stunning artworks have helped to draw in the crowds of people awaiting to see the fantastic poster imagery come to life on screen. The value of this art form was first fully realized in the 1980s by collectors and film historians. Iconic movie posters have been burned onto the public consciousness and have become so recognizable that they spring to mind whenever the film is mentioned.
Varying in techniques used and style, movie posters are also highly collectible and valuable. There is a great interest for posters for films released before 1940’s, since even major studios rarely saved them making them a rarity now. After the 1940s, an organization was set up to insure the posters would be returned to the studios. Collectors are also very interested in science fiction movie posters, but also horror movies, film noir, independent films and B-movies.
Throughout the history of cinema, various celebrated artists have created some paramount artwork and lettering that’s still recognized today. We went through different decades of movie history to bring you the collection of the most iconic movie posters of all time.
Editors’ Tip: 100 Movie Posters: The Essential Collection
The authority on vintage movie poster, Tony Nourmand has presented his personal selection of the 100 essential movie posters of all time. He has been playing a seminal role in redefining 20th-century movie posters as an art for and a valuable collectible for thirty years. Bringing his vast knowledge and experience, Nourmand defines these posters in terms of their design and impact. Featuring stunning artwork from celebrated designers including Saul Bass, Paul Rand and Bill Gold; renowned photographers like Philippe Halsman, Eddie Adams and George Hurrell and celebrated artists like Al Hirschfeld, Alberto Vargas and Richard Amsel, 100 Movie Posters: The Essential Collection is accompanied by Nourmand’s fascinating commentary. Featuring classic posters from moves such as King Kong, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Metropolis, as well as some rarities Eastern Europe or the silent era, this books is a must for any movie and art lover.
This iconic and highly influential horror movie from 1922 is a unique feature when it comes to imagining a vampire that is corpselike and ghastly. A pioneering film in the silent German expressionist movement, Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The film was even banned in Sweden due to excessive horror, and the ban was finally lifted in 1972. The film was only rediscovered in the 1960s and rightfully recognized as the masterpiece of the silent era. Werner Herzog called it the greatest German film ever made, and in 1979 he created a remake Nosferatu the Vampyre. This stunning artwork is the work of an unknown artist, and it portrays the atmosphere of the film perfectly.
Image via via bmoviebffs.com
This iconic German science-fiction film presents a highly stylized futuristic and utopian city populated by mistreated workers. The poster artwork shows stunning invention and complexity and it is the work by Heniz Schulz Neudamm. Themes of oppression and social hierarchy are dominant on the poster, and the sleek, powerful and machine-like illustration and distinctive typography capture the tone of the film perfectly. The exaggerated aesthetic conveys the emotional experience of a world surging toward industrialism. This stunning artwork broke all records when it was purchased by collector Kenneth Schacter for $696,000 several years ago. This crown jewel of the poster world will soon go on sale again, and the experts suggest it will be the first movie poster to sell for more than $1 million.
Image via scifimoviefilms.com.
Forbidden Planet is arguably one of the best sci-fi movies from the 1950s. The poster featuring oversaturated colouring and beautiful work on the highlights is a work by an anonymous MGM artist, and it was duplicated all around the world spawning a thousand B-movie clones. The poster has little to do with the key plot of the movie, but since the robot was the most expensive prop created for the film he was treated as a full cast member.
Image via cool-download.org.
During the 1950s, every B-Movie needed a stunning poster in order to beat the lures of the television that was conquering America and the rest of the world. This piece of art certainly stands out over the rest. The film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman follows an abused socialite that grows to giant size after an alien encounter, and it was an instant hit and a cult feature. The poster is a work by Reynold Brown, and it is a masterpiece of bold composition.
Image via pinterest.com.
Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo is certainly a masterpiece of the cinema. Saul Bass’s poster artwork is nothing less in the world of design. This is why it is one of the most iconic Hitchcock posters ever. Following the hypnotic and haunting opening sequence of the film, this celebrated graphic designer with a prolific oeuvre has created this piece in stark flat colours with hand-cut typography that just gives you the impression of dizziness. This design is contemporary as ever and it is considered as the quintessential Bass design and the best movie poster of all time.
Images via impawards.com.
A masterpiece of science fiction and one of the most influential movies of all times, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a poetic meditation on the ingenuity of mankind. Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke have commissioned a famed illustrator Robert McCall to create the artwork for this visually stunning film. McCall, who has been working as an illustrator for Life magazine and NASA, has spent three months in England working on the illustrations. His illustrations captured Kubrick’s vision of the future perfectly, making it look like science rather than science fiction. His impressive vision of the wheel-shaped space station and of space-suited astronauts on the Moon lives up to this masterpiece of all times.
Image via mccallstudios.com
Horrifying and dark, Rosemary’s Baby was Polanski's Hollywood debut and his second horror movie. With its satanic plot and sheer psychological terror, Polanski’s masterpiece has never been outdone by any other film from the world of occult cinema. The poster artwork is a work by the designer Stephen Frankfurt. With an evocative image and only four tiny words in white, this poster is a daring bit of promotion. With the silhouette of the pram against the haunting image of Mia Farrow’s face, this poster embodies the sinister atmosphere of the film perfectly.
Images via impawards.com.
The dystopian classic and Kubrick’s masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange is a disturbing and thought-provoking film with a dark sense of humor. The poster created by poster veteran Bill Gold features an amazing illustration framed by sci-fi triangles and some awesome typography. He initially designed the poster with the lead Character Alex DeLarge crucified on a computerized cross, but Kubrick wasn’t satisfied and wanted more flesh-and-blood violence look. This stunning poster also features a writing of the main concepts of the film: rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven. This simple designed in black, white and orange made a huge impact and is one of the most memorable posters of all time.
Image via shopdeca.com
One of the greatest movies of all time, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is an epic and visually beautiful masterpiece showing the confusion, violence, fear, and nightmarish madness of the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now was as chaotic behind the camera as well, as Coppola threatened suicide several times during the shooting. The poster designed by Bob Peak isn’t much about the plot, but it follows a general feeling of the film. Designed as a feverish, sinister enigma, it perfectly embodies the heat and the smell of napalm.
Image via limitedruns.com
The poster for the iconic film The Shining is another collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and the celebrated designer Saul Bass. The making of the poster was intense as the movie itself, as two creative geniuses went back and forth until the design satisfied Kubrick's infamous obsessive perfectionism. After around 300 versions, the poster finally has gotten his approval. Bass has created a pointillist impression of a terrified child’s face inside a T letter and it says almost nothing about the plot. But it is as sinister as the movie itself.
Image via reddit.com. All images used for illustrative purposes only.