Movie posters are having a moment. Vintage ones sell online for as high as a thousand pounds, depending on their condition and rarity. Facebook users are chain-tagging their friends to list their favorite movies daily by posting the poster of those movies, exposing us to some great daily eye candy. At the UP Vargas Museum, ongoing until June is a special exhibition of movie posters done by Vic Delotavo, the most prolific movie poster designer in the country who did most of his creations in the 80s and 90s, back when Philippine cinema was producing more than a hundred films a year.
This new appreciation for film posters may have been brought about by our unprecedented access to them. Thanks to the Internet, we are exposed to some of the oldest and most iconic examples of this pop culture memento. We realize they are not merely selling tools of movies we love, but are in themselves art works that speak as much of the films they lure us to watch but also the time they represent.
But what makes a good movie poster? “Generally, I believe a good movie poster is able to generate interest without giving away too much,” says Karl Castro who has been designing movie posters since the late 2000s. “This usually involves creating a graphic icon or approach that, if done well, eventually becomes emblematic of the film.”
We asked Karl, and three others like him, who belong to a new breed of movie poster artists—the new Delotavos if we may—what to them are the best movie posters of all time. It’s never the easiest list to make for these men who are obsessed with the medium. But their answers reveal that the great ones are either exemplars of a kind of genius coming together of image and typography, or possessed with that hard-to-pin quality that sparks a flurry of emotions.
Designed posters for:“On The Job,” “Sid & Aya,” and “Baka Bukas” (festival poster)
1 Funny Games, 2008
Always the first poster that comes to mind when I get asked this question. Created for the 2008 movie remake, it blew me away the first time I saw it. Naomi Watts’ face contrasted with the title “Funny Games,” the clean block of text was placed in the right spot, and that tagline is just perfect. Super simple but completely captures the darkness and tension of the film. I still get uneasy when I look at it.
2 The Captain, 2013
This is a poster for an Australian short film released in 2013. I’ve never seen it, I have no idea what it’s about, and I don’t remember how I found it. This is such a well art-directed image. The sky, the fire, the pose. You already have this great picture then you flip it sideways and it makes all the difference. Matched with a super quiet typeface, this poster is easily an all-time favorite. It was designed by Jeremy Saunders, one of my favorite movie poster designers.
3 Anatomy of a Murder, 1959
I had to have something Saul Bass in here. Always my first thought of a Saul Bass poster is the one for “Vertigo” or “The Shining” but I actually like this one the best. Love how Bass’s work always looks deliberately unpolished and wrong. I’m really into the two-toned boxes, the title treatment, and the outlined text for this.
4 Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
Iconic. My favorite thing about this poster is the type treament. How the words in the “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” layout fits so perfectly is everything.
5 The Social Network, 2010
I love the poster style of large text over a portrait and I don’t know if this was the first to do it, but it probably is the best one to do it. The perfect expression from Jesse Eisenberg and the killer tagline work so well together. Plus that little browser title on the side. And I literally just now noticed the scroll bar on the bottom of this. Damn. Trust in Futura.
Designed posters for:“Never Not Love You,” “That Thing Called Tadhana,” “Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay,” “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan”
1 Vertigo, 1958
This classic poster comes in the heels of Saul Bass's more famous poster for Otto Preminger's “The Man with the Golden Arm.” I love the sophisticated yet handmade charm. The bold approach to text shows great sensitivity. The visual is literally a downward spiral/vortex which sucks the characters (and the poster's viewers) in. It communicates equal parts of lethal and beautiful, which can be said of the film itself.
2 Rosemary's Baby, 1968
The poster for another classic shows a masterful use of white space and scale. The text is tiny, almost whispering, especially as part of the play of proportion between face (and iconic haircut!), bassinet, and peak. One type size is used for tagline, title, and Mia Farrow's credit, clearly aware of what to highlight and how to do it subtly. Eerie, atmospheric, and elegant.
3 Tropical Malady, 2004
Looking at this poster is like looking at a piece of art; again, arguably like the film itself. The credits block is made small and discreet, drawing our emphasis to the mysterious interaction of photograph, type, and organic forms. The poster appears to be divided in two (like the film's structure); the title type treatment bridges the world of the photographic/day and the abstract/night. As much as it appears beautiful and whimsical, the truth cannot be any further: the poster is an accurate visual representation of the film's structure and feel.
4 Funny Games, 2008
The discreet type draws our focus to Naomi Watts' expressive visage: is she teary or terrified? Or both? The treatment is somewhere between painterly and photographic, the strong highlights emphasizing the single eye and the moisture of tears. The tension between the title ("funny") and the emotive image makes the poster incredibly compelling.
5 House, 2010
The DVD cover of the restored version brings new life to a 1977 cult classic. The iconic and haunting cat face is lifted directly from a graphic in the film itself. The wavy hand-lettering is integrated with the image in a concise gesture without losing any of the charming, even campy character. The cat's mouth says it all: scary and happy.
Tom Estrera III
Designed posters for: “Citizen Jake,” “Two Funerals,” “Signos,” “The Guerilla is a Poet,” “Bayang Magiliw,” “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle,” “Woman of the Ruins”
1 Kisapmata, 1981
This poster already showed the fate of the film’s characters. You don’t usually reveal the ending of the film on your posters. For me, the news headline concept is brilliant, which makes viewers focus on the story’s development before the tragedy. This poster is also, bravely, in black and white.
2 Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
The vast green background and contrast of Farrow’s head to the baby pram is intriguing. You can tell something is wrong without even reading the tagline.
3 I Am Love, 2009
The marriage of typography with imagery is a perfect balance. Even though we see a group shot of the characters, we know the film focuses on the wife (Swinton) because her face is the only one that isn’t partly hidden.
4 Blow Up, 1966
This poster is a great example of good and effective design by just using two inks. The figures against the bright red background is visually scandalous from afar.
5 Jurassic Park, 1993
This beautifully designed poster is also an example of an effective logo design. I think this pushed me to one day be a designer myself. I even used this as a subject for my metal embossing class. Got a perfect score.
Designed posters for: “Honor Thy Father,” “Seklusyon,” “Die Beautiful,” “Mercury Is Mine,” “Barber’s Tales,” “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” (restored version)
1 127 Hours, 2010
One of my biggest influences and for me one of the most brilliantly executed posters in recent years. The color, hourglass form and silhouette of the struggling James Franco were cleverly composed to visually narrate the story. It’s so effective that it doesn’t need an actor’s face to market the film. I’ve been a big fan of negative space since I saw this.
2 Thor: Ragnarok, 2017
Colorgasmic and hypnotizing. I was really in awe when I first saw the “Thor: Ragnarok” poster. The well-balanced and refreshing treatment made it not your usual Marvel movie poster.
3 Little Miss Sunshine, 2006
The striking yellow palette pretty much communicates the title. More than that, I love how the scene and its simplicity made it more eye-catching. It succeeded in conveying the story and genre. Iconic.
4 Ratatouille, 2007
I am a huge Pixar fan and I consider this as one of their best posters. If you notice, I use perspective in my posters most of the time and this actually played a big part. Perspective helped me a lot in my compositions as it became my go-to solution to create focus, direction, and visual weight.
5 The Conjuring, 2013
To end my list, I want to include a poster from my favorite genre: horror. I think this poster somehow learned a lot from “The Exorcist.” You just need a good setting to perfectly create a fright-inducing atmosphere. It’s noteworthy that it uses a daylight instead of a night setting. Being in an industry where blood and creepy images are essential to market a horror movie this is actually inspiring.