Before my time as a graphic designer, I owned and operated a video rental store in my hometown. For nearly a decade throughout the 1990s, I was surrounded by thousands of movie posters and video box covers.
A few weeks ago, my son who spent much of his young life in the store, sent me a text message and attached the poster art for the upcoming movie The Pale Door. We were both mesmerized by the design, and it reminded us of all the amazing artwork we experienced in that ten-year period.
So, in honor of my nostalgic trip back to the 1990s, I’ve chosen just a few of my (many) favorite movie poster designs and discuss why I love their layouts.
There is nothing I don’t like about this poster. The combination of a balanced layout, color choice, photography, and overall plot message are both eerie and visually stunning. The plot revolves around two old-west criminals hiding out in a ghost town occupied by some sinister characters and creatures. The bold center silhouette holds the entire premise of the movie within and the use of white space around the main image enhances the visual impact.
This simple, powerful design is instantly recognizable, and the poster art tells the story immediately. Tony Seiniger, the man behind the iconic poster, attempted to create something no one had seen before. “No matter what we did, it didn’t look scary enough,” he said in 2003. It wasn’t until Seiniger realized that to assure the shark didn’t look like a friendly dolphin, he had to go “underneath” the shark to show the true terror, its razor-sharp teeth.
This vintage style poster designed by Richard Amsel is one of my very favorites. With retro illustrations and sepia tone, it’s a throwback to the cliffhanger serials and movie posters of the 1940s. It screams foreign intrigue and swashbuckling adventure.
The poster art for Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece is another throwback design. Although the designers pay homage to the gritty dime store novels of the 1930s-1950s, the artwork still manages to feel contemporary.
Sometimes less is more. The use of white space (the space on a page not covered by print or graphics) is done well in this design. The simple but provocative cover photo is a nod to one of the movie’s more memorable scenes.
What I love most about the poster design for The Exorcist is that it didn’t take the obvious route, showing the frightening image of the film’s demon-possessed star we’ve all grown to know. Instead, it shows the moment before we meet her. Bill Gold, the design team leader remarked, “You knew somehow that whatever is about to happen inside that house is not going to be good.”
This early poster design (later replaced by Elliot’s flying bike image) is a hat-tip to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. This simple, yet effective design foretells the spiritual connection between the story’s human characters and the beloved outsider they meet. The contrast of the lighted foreground image against the dark outer space background really pops and brings the film’s message to life.
This is the ultimate good vs. evil story and the poster design conveys it. The brightly lit image of the heroes standing in stark contrast against the iconic villain towering in the darkness behind them depicts the immense power of the enemy they’re up against.
This colorful, distorted, and dizzying poster design not only mimics artist Ralph Steadman’s unique style, but visually conveys the protagonist’s wild, drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas in the 1970s.
After seeing this movie as a 10-year-old kid, I was convinced that I would someday marry the movie’s co-star Kim Richards, so I’ll admit this somewhat a nostalgic choice. That being said, after all these years I still love this poster and actually own an original print. I love the overall balance of this design. The color and title font here are great too, and the illustrator’s use of shape and negative space is superbly done. Like many other great movie posters, it tells the movie’s plot in its design; three escaping heroes, eluding the evil clutches of the menacing villain.