If a picture is worth a thousand words, a movie poster is worth a thousand pictures. It’s responsible for encapsulating the tone, story, and visual style of a film in one large image—and in doing so, it can become just as iconic and influential as the movie it’s advertising. The movie poster has come a long way from its humble, hand-drawn beginnings in the days of silent film, evolving into a veritable art form during the golden age of cinema and the early blockbuster era. But you wouldn’t know that from a stroll down the hallways of your local multiplex. While some modern poster companies like Mondo and movie distributors like A24 dedicate the necessary time and imagination to creating a unique poster, the vast majority of movie marketing consultants today just lazily slap together pictures of the stars in Photoshop, color it teal and orange, and call it a day.
So what happened? How did movie posters lose their way? As Michael Barnett, print editor of Marketing Week puts it, “Most of the time, marketers will choose the low-risk option, which is to pick the one that market research tells you will appeal to the people most likely to watch your film.” As anybody who complains about the endless Hollywood onslaught of reboots and sequels or the rise in Chinese product placement will tell you, mainline Hollywood seems to have prioritized the need to make money over creativity and originality, leaving the craft of movie poster creation behind.
While we wait eagerly for the format’s renaissance, we can sustain ourselves with Hollywood’s greatest movie poster achievements of the past, those that have become as ingrained in the zeitgeist as any other work of art. Here are the 10 most iconic movie posters of all time.