The film poster is in many ways a quite young and transient art form compared to others. This is mainly due to the dilemma of what exactly the poster is: marketing or art?
These days it seems that the film poster has lost a lot of the more creative and artistic part of its existence. Partly because most of the posters seem to follow the same template including a blown up picture of the face(s) of the actor(s) and simple but strong colours in the background.
But it’s probably also because the film poster is a difficult medium, often being valued as a marketing strategy for the film over the idea of the film poster as an artwork. Even back when Saul Bass made stunning posters for Vertigo and The Shining, it was still a rare thing, compared to all the posters that were made.
However, once in a while, even today, the people behind a film take a creative chance and choose to go in a less ’obvious’ direction with their poster (or at least with one of their posters). Whether it is because of the typography, colours, general style or the references they make, those kinds of posters are worth noticing.
But of course, a film poster is a tool to sell a product, and therefore the poster has to somehow ignite some kind of interest in a larger audience, it has to sell tickets, it should be well-arranged, easy to understand, stand out from other posters, and maybe most important of all, a film poster should represent its film accurately.
Therefore a film poster cannot be as subjective and personal as an artwork may be. However, once in a while a film poster combines the best of two worlds, for example by citing other artists’ works. And this list has been created to point out some of those film posters that made special use of classic art works, each in their own astounding way.
These posters work extremely well in their own right by paying homage to the classic artworks, but they also showcase how a combination of the commercial and the artistic can work out quite well.
13. For Colored Girls (Tyler Perry, 2010) – Composition With Red Blue and Yellow (Piet Mondrian, 1935 – 1942)
The poster to start off the list may not refer to the most critically acclaimed film, but the poster is certainly interesting. Along with another, and also beautiful poster, for the film, this particular one made sure to capture the attention of possible audiences with its colourful take on a reference to the famous painting Composition with Red Blue and Yellow by Piet Mondrian.
The inspiration is quite visible with the poster’s linear lines, use of strong complementary colours, and generally strict composition. It’s graphic to look at, and like in the painting, the linear lines and the squares that they create, end up creating a very well functioning cohesiveness. It shows how the use of the black line makes an otherwise loud and distracting colour scheme quite pleasing to the eye.
The poster is a great example of the combination of the more artistic values of a poster (with the reference to Mondrian), and the more commercial methods (the faces of the actresses). The commercial part has been used to its fullest, while still making use of Mondrian, with the positioning of Whoopi Goldberg in the golden section, hereby focusing on her star power, without letting it be the only focus.
One of the reasons why Composition with Red Blue and Yellow might have been chosen as a reference for the poster, is exactly what is also highlighted in the title of the painting, as well as in the title of the film: the colours.
The film is a dedication to women of colour, and therefore it only seems fit to reference a painting that celebrates colours, and all in all the poster does great in marketing itself while still maintaining an artistic and creative vibe.
12. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) – House by The Railroad (Edward Hopper, 1925)
The comparison of these two works is rather obvious with the use of warm, calm and broken colors and the motif of a Victorian farmhouse. Edward Hopper’s The House by the Railroad has been a confirmed as an inspiration for the poster, just as it has also inspired general visuals in the film itself.
Terrence Malick, who is known for his appreciation of great cinematography, went directly to Nestor Almendros, when he decided to make Days of Heaven. They both show great love for and knowledge about photography, appreciation of silent film, adoration of natural lighting, and inspiration from paintings; particularly with this film, House by the Railroad.
Comparing the two to each other, aside from the architecture and placement of the house as an eye-catching device it’s especially the use of sunlight that is noticeable. The poster is hereby successful in its attempt at trying to portray the same kind of eerie solitude that the painting, as well as the film in itself, carries.
The biggest difference between the two works is the figure of a man who has been placed in the foreground of the poster. He’s clearly a worker at the farm with his sunhat, which plays into the plot of the film, showing how the poster goes from being a replica of the painting to being an artwork in its own right. The man is quite isolated which ties into the melancholy one finds in Hopper’s painting, as well as in the film.
Reportedly Hopper’s painting is also supposed to have been the inspiration for other films, one of them being Alfred Hitchcock’s classic: Psycho. The House by the Railroad indeed resembles Norman Bates’ house, just as it resembles the house on the poster of Days of Heaven.
11. Madea’s Family Reunion (Tyler Perry, 2006) – Marilyn Prints (Andy Warhol, 1960’s)
Another entry from Tyler Perry and another colourful and graphic one at that. Once again Tyler Perry and his team show that they clearly understand the importance of an eye-catching film poster, this time taking obvious inspiration from Andy Warhol’s famous Marilyn Prints.
Although Madea’s Family Reunion is not a very acknowledged or classic film, the poster does an impressive job at creating interest through reference to the Warhol prints.
It also creates attention by using strong primary colours arranged visually well with the symmetry of the squares, repetition, and maybe even a laugh, with the ironic comparison between Marilyn Monroe and the character of Madea (played by Perry himself).
Andy Warhol often made use of mass culture’s symbols in his art to create pop culture. A culture which focused on mass production, plastic, inviting consumers to join the throw-away society etc.
The means of communication were preferably bright colours, appealing shapes, and recognizable symbols/icons. Therefore it seems extremely smart to not only make a film poster look like a work of art which almost everyone knows, but also a work of art that builds upon what a poster is supposed to do: create interest and sales.
In terms of impressions the Marilyn Prints also fit quite well with a colourful comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so even though there were probably subtle thoughts behind Warhol’s works, it doesn’t take anything away from the visually successful poster for Madea’s Family Reunion.
10. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) – Wanderer above the Sea Fog (Caspar David Friedrich, 1818)
Generally the classic Wanderer above the Sea Fog has been replicated thousands of times: also, and maybe especially, when it comes to film posters of the past couple of decades.
We see it in posters for films such as After Earth, The Raid Redemption, Oblivion etc., some better than others. Inception is one of the better examples of Friedrich’s influence, and of how a poster that works commercially, isn’t necessarily excluded from more artistic details and references.
The reason why the use of the painting has become so popular, is probably a combination of the cool and ‘dangerous’ tones in colours, the well-balanced triangle symmetry in its composition, as well as the man standing alone, contemplating the world before him. And it is especially the last mentioned which the painting is known for.
Because by placing his back to the viewer, it enables us to see the world through his eyes, and we get a sudden personal attachment to him. Which is always a good thing, when presenting a protagonist, whether it be a wanderer, or Leonardo DiCaprio.
Romanticism is characterized by its landscape paintings, which show the grandiose nature around us. Man is small compared to the infinite nature, which is a concept we not only see in Friedrich’s painting, but also in the film poster. Instead of mountains and fog, it’s architecture that is in the horizon.
Nonetheless, it shows the task and big stakes the man in question must overcome, whether it be nature or the complex issues of reality and dream. The lone figure is overwhelmed by what he sees, which is a key issue in this film.
It would have been quite a risk not to present the star-packed cast that is a part of Inception on the poster and that is probably the reason why several different posters were released. Nevertheless this particular Inception poster is without a doubt the best one because of its artistic references.
9. Scream (Wes Craven, 1996) – The Scream (Edvard Munch, 1893)
One of the less direct influences, as far as the poster goes, seeing as what The Scream actually inspired the most, was the mask (designed by Brigitte Sleiertin) used in the Scream Franchise. Nonetheless, this mask does play an extremely central part in the poster chosen for this list.
It’s easy to see why a expressionistic masterpiece such as The Scream would influence a horror film with its dark and scary feel to it, from the bright orange/red (also used for the title on the poster), and the horror detected in the face of the screaming man.
Other than that the poster makes clever use of a completely black background, putting all focus on the mask, creating an even darker atmosphere, as well as making the poster seem well arranged and more commercially approachable as a whole.
The Scream is one of the most iconic paintings in art history and one of only a handful of paintings to be recognized by large parts of the world, whether consciously or subconsciously, when it is reproduced in a strongly simplified version on a poster.
The painting is an icon and so it’s no wonder that the people behind Scream used this particular mask for the film and even made it the focal point of the poster. It’s clear-cut, it works, and nowadays the mask has gathered its own significance as an easily recognizable icon.
8. The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006) – Face of Mae West (Which May be Used as an Apartment) (Salvador Dalí, 1934 – 1935)
This surrealistic work of art was not only made as a collage, but also an installation. It’s surral, it’s detailed, and it’s not difficult to see why The Fall was made with lots of inspiration from Dalí, as well as this particular work of art. Instantly one sees the composition of the two works being very alike, as well as the iconic red mask and lips (which is also a very renowned sofa) standing out.
Dalí created this as a celebration of the stunning Mae West, just as it seems that the crew behind the film made their poster as a celebration of Dalí and everything surreal. Just like Dalí was truly original, so is this film and the poster. Because although it borrows from the collage/installation, this poster still finds a way of combining it all with all the relevant themes, characters, genre, and general feel of the film and its story.
The use of a beautiful women’s face is the main focus of the two works, so even though all kinds of small details, people and symbols are all around her, she’s the one to pull in the viewer and get his or her initial attention.
Then, when looking closer, you discover all the other aspects. For example on the poster, the protagonist of the film standing on the left. The poster hereby not only references the surrealism of Dalí giving the audience an idea of the feel of the film, but it also makes sure to sell itself showing two beautiful and well-known Hollywood faces.
The surreal dream-universe you find yourself in when watching The Fall gives many associations to what Salvador Dalí was known for as an artist and the poster is in no way an exception.