Film studios create movie posters as promotional items to promote feature films. To attract customers, the theaters that are currently showing the film use oversized posters on the outside marquees, while smaller posters are placed outside each showing room. Movie posters are frequently reproduced for consumers after the commercial run of the film has ended, and the originals have become highly collectible.
The first movie posters followed the same advertising principles as legitimate stage productions of the day. Early promotional posters frequently featured a still from the film that represented the entire cast or a particularly meaningful scene because there were few motion picture’superstars’ as such. By today’s standards, advertising copy tended to be understated. The film’s title would be prominently displayed, followed a brief plot summary. “Maxfield Studios presents H.B Dunwoody’s CRY OF THE WILDEBEAST, a gripping tale of life and death in the Alaskan Wilderness!” “Maxfield Studios presents H.B Dunwoody’s CRY OF THE WILDEBEAST, a gripping tale of life and death in the Alaskan Wilderness!”
Movie posters often featured portraits of the lead actors as more actors became household names and studios competed for business. Supporting roles and special musical numbers could be listed on the promotional posters and lobcards. Movie studios recognized the power of movie posters, so information about the producers and directors may appear on them as well. Movie posters from the 1930s and 1940s are frequently jam-packed with exciting promotional copy and multiple scenes from the film.
Movie posters were recognized as a form of art in their own right the 1950s. Lurid images and overheated copy were frequently used in exploitation and low-budget horror films to build up anticipation for the product. Even cinemas with a more artistic bent would use abstract or conceptual art to draw attention to their offerings. A typical 1950s movie poster copy would entice potential moviegoers to see the film “LOOK at the unbridled zeal! FEEL the irresistible pull! GORGON, the Monster from BEYOND the EARTH, is a monster to be feared!”
Movie posters, like the films they promoted, evolved over time to become less bombastic and more artistic. The Death Star from the Star Wars series or the stylized bat symbol from the Batman franchise are examples of modern posters that contain one iconic image that defines the underlying theme of the film. Lead actors may appear in studio photographs to emphasize the characters’ relationships rather than scenes from the film. The titles can also be made into unique fonts to create a particular mood. Modern movie posters may only contain one key line from the film: “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.” Instead of exaggerated copy designed to overwhelm the viewer, modern movie posters may only contain one key line from the film: “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.” Modern movie posters are frequently as well-known as the films they advertise.