Here we celebrate the most inspiring examples of the cinematic one-sheet, and ask some leading designers for their own take on why they work so well…
01. Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Raiders trilogy harked back to a time when men were real men, women were real women, and swarthy racial stereotypes were real swarthy racial stereotypes. This comic-book style poster design by Richard Amsel is a young boy’s dream – full of swashbuckling adventure, foreign devils and a splash of romance.
Amsel, who died in 1985, also created iconic poster art for 1980s blockbusters Flash Gordon and The Dark Crystal. “If I paint or draw something that takes people into the realm of fantasy, then I feel that I’ve accomplished something,” he once told Star Notes magazine. He certainly did in this case.
While still at college, John Alvin freelanced for Hollywood art director Anthony Goldschmidt. Little did he know that his little sideline would pave the way for a career that spanned 35 years and 135 movies. He was working as an illustrator at an animation studio when Goldschmidt recommended him to paint the poster for Mel Brook’s spoof Western Blazing Saddles. Alvin would go on to create posters for films such as Blade Runner, Beauty and the Beast, Gremlins and this stunning creation for E.T.
Spielberg himself is said to have suggested Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. For Alvin, who died in 2008, the design also had a personal touch: the hand of the child in the poster belongs to his daughter, Farah.
Alex Mallinson, digital artist and animator: “E.T gave us two iconic images: the Elliot-on-flying-BMX symbol that graces later posters (and the Amblin logo) and the image of E.T. and Elliot’s fingers coming together on a starfield backdrop.The former image embodies the Spielbergian modern urban fantasy but the latter is the more interesting. It’s a reference to Michelangelo’s depiction of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, and that simple allusion heaps meaning on the poster.”
“E.T. is cast as Jesus and references to his sojourn on Earth continue through the film. Elliot is the innocent, needing guidance or salvation. Of course all that went over my head as I queued for this film as a child and I took its most apparent meaning, that of wanting a friend from outer space. Frankly, I still do.”
03. Jurassic Park
What rare genius was this? Create a tale about a dinosaur theme park, featuring in-story merchandising for that fictional park, which then doubles up as the real-life branding for the same movie. This iconic poster took the conceit and ran with it, setting youngsters’ hearts a-racing at the prospect of seeing T-Rexes and Pterodactyls brought back to life through the then-groundbreaking medium of CGI.
04. The Thing
It is 1982 and artist Drew Struzan’s phone rings. The caller is from Universal Studios. They are remaking The Thing and need poster art: is he interested? There is one snag. They need it tomorrow morning.
That wasn’t even the only snag. Not only did they require it the following day, the publicity department had no photos to use as reference. They didn’t even have any concept art.
“It was a very odd experience,” Struzan told Movies.com. “I got an immediate concept, which is not unusual for me. I dressed up in a winter snow outfit and my wife took a Polaroid of me.”
Struzan used the snap as the basis of a sketch, which was faxed off to the studio. They approved the idea and after taking some more shots, this time with a 35mm camera, Struzan went to work, painting through the night. “At 9am a guy shows up at my doorstep and says, ‘Is the painting ready?’. I had about an hour to go, so I finished painting it and he took it away.”
Aaron Blecha, artist and animator: “A simple, mysterious, terrifying design. With stripped-down cold colour palette, bold graphic ice forms, and a back lit character in winter gear, the poster only hints at what the movie is about and what The Thing is, does or even looks like. It follows the old rule of not showing the creature and lets your imagination do the work. But once you’ve experienced the film, you realise how perfect the poster design is. An inspiration.”
05. Back to the Future
Back to the Future was, and remains, the people’s sci-fi. Aimed at ordinary folks rather than sci-fi geeks, the suburban time-travel trilogy has maintained its popularity down the generations and still doesn’t look dated (although we may be disappointed by the lack of available hoverboards once 2015 swings around…).
This seminal design for the first film, by the king of iconic movie posters Drew Struzan, was cleverly recycled for the next two, with the Doc standing behind Marty for II, and then joined by his love interest, Clara, for III.
06. American Beauty
It’s easy to obsess about the 1980s being the golden age of mainstream cinema, and forget about all those incredible flicks the ’90s multiplexes had to offer. American Beauty for one, which took the clichés of safe, suburban life and turned them on their head with a biting, yet strangely life-affirming tale of lost souls seeking a way out of misery.
Imagery-wise, the movie revolves around an unforgettable scene of a naked schoolgirl, bathed in roses, playing centre stage in a middle aged man’s fantasy. That scene is slyly hinted at in this evocative poster created by Pulse Advertising. The typography is, quite rightly, pared back, giving space to the image and the seductive tagline ‘Look closer’ – a subtle signifier of the seedy surrealism to come.
One of the most exciting and prolific design studios of recent years, All City Media was responsible for the original poster for Duncan Jones’ atmospheric SF debut Moon.
According to the London agency’s official notes on the poster:
“The main themes from the film are loneliness, isolation, madness and rebirth. We created an image that explored these themes and stylistically took influences from sixties and seventies sci-fi.”
The one-sheet is a poster laced with lunar clues, from the empty black void to the swirling, vertigo-esque circles forming the moon itself, with the diminutive, slightly cowed form of Sam Rockwell at its centre. Then there’s the actor’s name, typed solitary and understated in the top right-hand corner. Look closely and you’ll see it’s replicating, each new copy fading away…
Andy Thomas, creative director at Huge: “A wonderfully minimal and striking movie poster that beautifully captures the isolation and loneliness one would feel 950,000 miles from home: Sam Rockwell looks pretty bloody miserable! It’s lovely, simple and very graphic while avoiding the usual moony clichés.”
When briefed to create the poster campaign for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, designers Mark Blamire and Rob O’Connor were given a still from the Beatles biopic Backbeat to use as inspiration. They hated it almost as much as PolyGram’s idea for the poster – a group shot of the film’s characters huddled together. Try as they might, they couldn’t get it to work.
Luckily, PolyGram had already approved the use of individual character posters, a teaser trick that had been used for Reservoir Dogs four years previously. “Irvine Welsh’s novel was written from the multiple points of views and in the voices of each of the main characters, and we felt it was important to stress the individuality of those personalities,” Rob O’Connor told Creative Review in 2011.
At the time only Robert Carlyle and Ewan MacGregor were well known so it was a risky move, but one that ultimately paid off. “The characters in the story themselves almost seemed more important than the actors playing the roles.”
Armed with a series of strong black and white photographs for the individual posters, the design team was able to persuade PolyGram that combining the shots into a grid was the way to go.
“We introduced the device of a train station departures board,” recalls Mark Blamire, “and added the caption ‘This film is expected to arrive 02:96’ to continue the theme of the departure board.”
Simon Jobling, web designer and developer: “Arguably, this is one of Britain’s most iconic movie posters of all time. The distinctive style set of the white/orange lower-case Helvetica, under grayscale photography of the main cast, captured the tone of the movie perfectly: dark, moody characters encapsulated in the vibrant, young drugs scene of the nineties. Definitely one of my favourites.”
09. Blade Runner
If Star Wars turned every kid into a sci-fi fan, Blade Runner did the same for the thinking man and woman – especially those with a keen eye for design. This epic movie is nowadays mainly memorable for its stunning futuristic cityscapes, and this stunning creation by poster maestro John Alvin certainly reflects the visual feast on offer. The strongly coloured images seem to jump out of the print, and powerfully evoke the film’s themes of danger, darkness and destiny.
10. Attack of the 50-Foot Woman
The 1950s saw Hollywood in a bit of a tizz. Television was conquering America. Cinemagoers were turning their back on the silver screen to stay at home and watch the gogglebox. The studios fought back with sprawling, expensive epics for the picture-houses on one hand and sensational B-movies for drive-ins on the other.
Every B-Movie needed a suitably lurid posters and the go-to man was Reynold Brown. While his career wasn’t just made up of bug-eyed monsters and invading aliens, one piece of art stands head and shoulders over the rest.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman instantly became a cult favourite,parodied time and time again. Unlike most Brown posters, this wasn’t a woman running away from a monster wearing next to nothing. The woman was the monster, albeit one wearing next to nothing.
Anthony Dry, illustrator and designer: “A seemingly lost art form that has been imitated but never bettered, the style of the 1950s sci-fi and horror boom goes unmatched. The 50-foot woman piece, while cheesy by today’s horror standards, is a masterpiece of bold composition.
“It’s strong and defined, using Allison Hayes’ beauty as the spine of the picture. Your eye follows her figure down to the chaos below, while the striking mustard sky concentrates the action.
“It’s a real shame we don’t see similar illustrations these days, with only the paintings of Drew Struzan holding their own against the photographic designs of today. “
Creative agency B.D. Fox Independent had already worked with Tim Burton on the poster for Beetlejuice, a typically gaudy, if surreal, 1980s one-sheet. Their approach to the director’s first Batman film had to be decidedly different.
Ever since Adam West had pulled on the pointy-eared cowl in the 1960s, Batman had been seen by the general public as a bit of a joke. Yes, hardcore comic fans knew the dark side of the Dark Knight, but your average Joe immediately thought of comedy camera angles and slapstick ‘kapows’.
The sight of Michael Keaton in his buffed-up batsuit may have prompted even more Joker-like guffaws, so B.D. Fox set things back to basics. The bat-emblem was unmistakable and yet somehow wasn’t the comfy, fabric patch of the past. It was weightier, hard-edged and confident. Criminals needed to beware.
Rob Redman, freelance 3D artist: “This movie poster harked back to the cheesiest of 60s Batman but added a subtle new twist to the design, with a more aggressive set of curves and a more menacing silhouette. The bat sign has been redesigned many times since and, although more fitting for current trends, even the latest incarnation doesn’t imbue viewers with quite such a feeling as the stark black and yellow. This symbol has more than any other become an icon, instantly recognisable by anybody, anywhere.”
12. The Usual Suspects
There was nothing usual about the poster for the Usual Suspects. Usually the ideas come from the marketing team. Usually it is commissioned while the film is at least still being shot. Usually it isn’t an integral part of the film’s origins. None of that applied in this case.
Following the success of Bryan Singer’s debut film, actor Kevin Spacey approached the director. The Hollywood star loved what he did and would love to work with him. So Singer set about coming up with an appropriate story.
The first idea that popped into his head was the poster. Five men on a police line up. The story flowed from that image. Who were these men? What links them? What happens next? After the film was finally shot, there was no doubt that the poster would follow Singer’s original idea: five criminals, one line-up, no coincidence.
Joe Tuckwell, design director ofMoreSoda: “The line-up image sets the tone for the film perfectly and, unusually, was a visual idea the director had even before they’d begun the movie. Rather than simply highlight the lead roles it kicks off the story and starts you thinking: five guys in a line-up but what’s the connection? The poster is so effective that it has taken an already iconic image of a criminal line-up and made it its own.”
13. Gone with the Wind
As in all things in life, first impressions count, but sometimes you get a second chance to make an impact. While the original poster for Gone with the Wind (a conventional shot of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh enjoying a romantic clinch) was pleasant enough, it was the poster that accompanied the 1966 re-release that went down in cinematic history.
The passionate pose was conceived by freelance art director Tom Jung and realised by painter Howard Terpning, better known for his paintings of Native Americans. Before too long, the design was being aped here, there and everywhere, from The Empire Strikes Back to 1980s parody posters starring Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Shane S. Mielke, designer and creative director: “The Gone with the Wind poster has that iconic old Hollywood painted artwork style from the 30s. It visually focuses on a large-scale Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara engulfed in flames and passionately rising out of miniature scenes of action below. The colors and backdrop of fire are iconic to both the story of the main characters’ relationship and the chaos of the story, making it memorable and immediately recognisable to anyone who has seen the movie.”
14. Forbidden Planet
There was no mistaking the star of Fred M. Wilcox’s sci-fi spectacular. The seven-foot tall form of Robbie the Robot strides across an alien landscape, a prone girl draped across its malevolent arms. The poster, a product of an anonymous MGM artist, was duplicated around the world, complete with the bold, red flash reminding you that all of this is rather amazing. Whatever the language, the enthusiastic exclamation was there: ‘Suprenant!’, ‘Verrassend!’, ‘Asombroso!’.
The poster spawned a thousand B-movie clones, even though it bears very little resemblance to the actual movie’s storyline. Which leads us nicely to our next poster…
Lee Binding, illustrator and photographer: “The poster is beautiful hyperbole, created around the same time when creatures from Black Lagoons were lusting after bikinied babes; the woman in Robbie the Robot’s arms bears no resemblance to star Anne Francis whatsoever, and Robbie himself is one of the most benevolent characters in film history, so the poster doesn’t even slightly sell the film’s plot.
“The film’s real monster, the Id, is suspicious in its absence, but as the robot was one of the most expensive props created for a film, it’s easy to see why it was the film’s sell; to the point where Robbie is treated as a full cast member and gets a credit.
“I love this art because it is simply the best of the innumerable prone woman/monster poster; oversaturated colouring with gorgeous work on the highlights. The smooth curves of the woman – whoever she is – and Robbie become almost geometric. And it instantly tells a story, albeit not the one you’re about to see!”
15. The Exorcist
When it came to designing the poster for The Exorcist, Bill Gold’s brief made one thing very clear. In no way was he to use an image of the possessed girl from the film. In fact, there were to be no religious connotations at all.
At first, Gold’s team shot some original photos. The girl (unpossessed) lying on the bed, the girl smiling, a door opened just a crack to suggest that something nasty is lurking on the other side. However, they were all rejected out of hand, so Gold went to the box of stills provided by the studio.
The first picture he picked out was the image of the priest arriving for the exorcism with his briefcase in hand and knew he’d struck gold. “When you looked at this still,” Gold told sabotagetimes.com in 2011, “you knew somehow that whatever is about to happen inside that house is not going to be good!”
Working with colleague Dick Knipe, Gold adapted the image, taking out detail to highlight the lone figure. “After that no-one wanted to see anything else.”
Mark Plastow, web designer and illustrator: “Through flawless composition, we are given subtle semiotic clues about The Exorcist.
“The evocative use of extreme contrast between light and dark, not only recalls the American noir tradition, but that of film language itself. The mood of pervading dread serves as an indicator to treatment of the film’s themes, the battle between light and dark.
“The suburban street furniture, its mundane nature juxtaposed against this pervading mood, becomes an unsettling gloomy recess, encroaching slowly outwards. Something grotesque occurring in a seemingly normal environment.
“The titular character appears hesitant and trapped in a shaft of light from Regan’s room. His old fashioned, world-weary silhouette clearly belonging to an earlier age – you just know that it’s not going to go well for him.”
16. Anatomy Of a Murder
When it came to poster design, Saul Bass’s philosophy was simple: “symbolize and summarise”. Never is this clearer than in Anatomy of a Murder. The dissected corpse, split into seven pieces, lies stark against an orange background. Simple but stunning, it’s little wonder why his posters have been often imitated, but never bettered.
In fact, when the poster for Spike Lee’s Clockers came out in 1995, those in the know immediately got the reference. But Bass himself wasn’t so impressed. ”It’s flattering that someone would look back and say it’s terrific,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “But I’m also puzzled. Do these people have such paucity of imagination (and the chutzpah) that they would do this and think it would remain undetected?”
The poster’s designer, Art Simms claimed it was homage, but Bass wasn’t convinced, saying: “The convention is when anyone steals something, they call it an homage.”
James Hines, freelance illustrator: “One could simply say that the poster for Anatomy Of a Murder can be regarded as iconic because it is the work of Saul Bass and leave it at that.
“He was a master at creating iconic imagery and any of the posters that Bass created could have been included in this list. His work with filmmaker Otto Preminger remains peerless and the designs for Anatomy Of A Murder are arguably his best.”
“Bass’s talent was his ability to be able to distil the essence of a film down to extremely simple elements, and to be able apply these elements across a whole campaign with subtle variation and a great deal of flair and imagination.
“Saul’s work has not gained iconic status over time: his designs were iconic the day he made them. He helped define the look of the era, his work became synonymous with the jazz sound of the time and further testament to his genius is that his designs for movies are often far more widely known than the films themselves.”
17. Silence of the Lambs
The iconic image of Jodie Foster staring out of the Silence of the Lambs with a moth covering her mouth is a favourite for both critics and fans. The American Film Institute has named it one of their 100 best movie posters and in 2006, the Key Art Awards crowned it the best movie poster of the last 35 years. But have you ever noticed the other work of art hidden in the poster?
The skull on the back of the Death’s Head moth is a reproduction of Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors, a 1951 photograph by Philippe Halsman, itself based on Dali’s own Female Bodies as a Skull. The image, in which seven naked females contort themselves into the shape of the skull, was reportedly given to design agency Dazu by the film’s director Jonathan Demme.
Sam Green, illustrator: “The Silence of the Lambs poster is an instantly recognisable classic that transports you directly to the all-too-familiar iconic scenes that are now embedded within the horror genres hall of fame.
“The ghostly cold appearance of Jodie Foster’s face floods the frame with her blood-red eyes vacantly staring directly at the viewer, there is a strong sense of vulnerability in her presence and a numbed paralysis, almost suggestive of rigor mortis. The tension in the image is created by the enigmatic placement of the moth on her mouth, seemingly rendering her speechless.
“The moth, for me, has strong connotations of masculinity as an oppressive and deviant force and the skull image on the moth’s back is an important symbol that ties it altogether, enhancing the morbid tone. There are nuances of violence and horror wrapped up in gothic beauty resulting in a tastefully executed poster that stimulates our imaginations with chilling effect.”
18. Pulp Fiction
The poster for Quentin Tarantino’s follow up to Reservoir Dogs screams sleaze. The femme fatale fixing you with her cold eyes, the cigarette, the gun. Then there are the trappings of the cheap and nasty paperbacks of the past. The magazine masthead, the 10-cent price tag, the creases. Pulp Fiction is a throw back to the hardboiled noir of the past and yet still feels dangerously contemporary.
The brainchild of James Verdesoto, the then-Creative Director of Miramax’s in-house design team, the poster soon graced millions of students’ walls around the world. “The Pulp Fiction poster has been hailed by many, actually, as one of the best movie posters of past 20 years,” Verdesoto told Fox News last year. “But that’s for others to decide, not for me. I’m certainly appreciative when people appreciate my work.”
Henry Hargreaves, pro photographer: “Pulp Fiction is the definitive movie poster for me. When I was about 13 I brought this poster from my local record store without even knowing a thing about the movie (and it wasn’t cheap!). I grew up in New Zealand and we were about a year behind the US in film releases, so for over a year I had fantasies about what this film was about. I knew it had a hot brunette who sits on her bed reading paperback with a gun, so it had to be cool. But the true test of a great movie poster was how it transcended trends. It stayed up on my wall long after seeing the film, leaving home and was eventually only taken down last year when my parents sold the house.”
Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s striking artwork became a record-breaker when it was purchased by collector Kenneth Schacter for a staggering $696,000 (£443,210) seven years ago. And the world’s most expensive movie poster is soon going back under the hammer as part of the liquidation of the now-bankrupt Schacter’s estate.
Experts suggest that when it goes on sale later this year it could become the first movie poster to sell for more than $1 million on the open market. Little wonder that its been described by collectors as the “crown jewel of the poster world”.
This art deco-inspired movie poster was created by German artist Schulz-Neudamm for the Berlin premiere of Fritz Lang’s seminal science-fiction production. Hundreds of prints of the poster were made, although only four survive to the present day.
Dale Halvorsen, aka Joey Hi-Fi: “I first encountered the iconic Heinz Schulz-Neudamm poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in book of classic movie posters. I was then a wide-eyed first year graphic design student.
“I had at that stage not seen the film, but the poster for Lang’s gothic futurist masterpiece was so compelling I was determined to find a copy of the film to watch! That experience still influences my work today.
“Sleek, powerful and machine-like, the illustration and the distinctive bespoke typography capture the tone of the film perfectly. I admire posters and book covers where the illustration and typography combine to form a striking and cohesive unit. And the Metropolis poster is a prime example. The way the geometric shapes of the city and typography contrast with the flowing lines of the female robot, and the use of a limited colour palette of Sepia tones and black all add to the poster’s unique appeal.”
20. Clockwork Orange
As with Jaws, the image we now associate with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange wasn’t the first past the gate. Poster veteran Bill Gold had been creating winning compositions since 1942’s Casablanca, but after six months of sketching had drawn a blank for Kubrick’s dystopian fantasy.
Eventually he teamed up with Ivan Punchatz to create a stark image of the film’s lead character Alex DeLarge crucified on a computerised cross. Kubrick wasn’t convinced. “We submitted it to Kubrick,” Gold told the New York Times in 2010, “and he didn’t like it. He’s very tough, very exacting. He knows exactly what he wants. I guess it was too scientific looking. He wanted more of a flesh-and-blood violence look.”
Gold’s new design placed Alex at the centre and is dotted with eyes, hinting at the extreme therapy the character will endure in the film.
Jeremy Ville, artist, product designer, author: “I love the way the ‘A’ is incorporated into the design: just simple black, white and orange against a stark white background. This poster made a huge impact on me as a kid. It was the first piece of graphic design that opened my eyes and got me excited about having a career in this field. I still remember that day I first saw it, and the feelings it evoked in me. The bespoke font with drop shadow also makes this poster extremely successful. To me it’s one of the most memorable movie posters of all time.”
Saul Bass didn’t just design the poster to Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, he created the hypnotic and haunting opening sequence as well. A celebrated graphic designer long before he turned to films, Bass’s unique style came to the fore with the poster campaign for Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm.
Vertigo is pure Bass. Stark flat colours, off-kilter and jagged figures, hand-cut typography and of course those hypotrochoid curves familiar to any child who ever played with a spirograph. You can’t help but be pulled in towards the poor figure who is stumbling at the heart of this movie poster.
Over 50 years later, Bass’s design seems as contemporary as ever. Is it any wonder he is still regarded as a giant in graphic design? “Before I ever met him, before we worked together, he was a legend in my eyes,” said Martin Scorsese in 2011. “His designs, for film titles and company logos and record albums and posters, defined an era.”
Jeremy Kool, 3D artist and graphic designer: “I’ve always loved the Vertigo poster. It’s just a classic. The fact that the poster actually gives you the impression of dizziness and falling is a stroke of brilliance. The saturated colour really punches home the alarming tone of the film as well as the roughened, hand made text that helps with the sense of tension.
“Just as it is with any great work of design, there is nothing superfluous about this movie poster. It’s all there to drive home the point and nothing goes to waste.”
22. Star Wars
Tom Jung wasn’t 20th Century Fox’s first choice for Star Wars’ poster art. They wanted Frank Frazetta, the American artist best known for muscle-bound Conan the Barbarian book covers. Frank wasn’t to be, though, so Jung – the man responsible for the posters for Dr. Zhivago, animated Lord of the Rings and Papillon – was drafted in.
His brief was to deliver something suitably Frazetta-esque. Perhaps that’s why Luke Skywalker has abs that would make Arnie jealous or why Princess Leia is showing so much leg.
Sexing up the Princess
“We had a problem with Carrie Fisher,” Jung admitted to Cinefantastique in 1997, “because they wanted to make Princess Leia more glamorous.” Jung persuaded his wife to pose in place of the young actress. The sexed-up space princess was a hit with Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds.
“She called David Weitzner at Fox’s advertising department and asked if she could have the painting, so he asked me to do a duplicate painting, which is now hanging in Carrie Fisher’s house. The original painting is at Skywalker Ranch.”
Mike Lane, web and graphic designer: “On a personal (and geeky) level, this poster was the first glimpse many of us had of this new universe and mythology back in 1977 and it was truly awe-inspiring. The imagery stirred the imagination like nothing I had previously seen. Prior to seeing the revolutionary film, the striking design conjured so many enticing questions in our young creative minds about who these people were and what this story was all about.
“For me, this painting and related art were a huge contributing factor to me becoming a designer in the first place. The influence of the original Star Wars and the visions of the artists realizing the mythology inspired me at just the right place and time to dedicate myself to creative work from that point forward.”
According to Tony Seiniger, the man behind the Jaws poster, there are two rules when it comes to creating an iconic movie poster. First of all, it needs to be different: “something nobody has seen before — that’ll get it attention.” But that’s only the beginning.
The poster has to tell its story in mere seconds. After all, most people will be driving past it at 30 miles per hour. “That’s the challenge, to try get two hours of entertainment down into a simple graphic that you can read in three seconds,” Seiniger explains.
Making it look scary
He certainly rose to the challenge here, with the instantly recognisable image of the great white shark rising from the depths to snack on a bathing beauty. Not that the final image came easily. Seiniger’s agency spent six months perfecting the poster. “No matter what we did, it didn’t look scary enough,” he told USA Today in 2003.
The problem was that no matter how they were drawn, the sharks ended up looking more like friendly dolphins. Then, in a stroke of genius, Seiniger realised where they had been going wrong. “You had to actually go underneath the shark so you could see his teeth.”
Brendan Dawes, MoMA-exhibited artist, designer, author and maker: “I love how the shark is so large compared to the swimmer, almost to a cartoon-like level, but there’s certainly no humour here. This is a terrifying image, with the shark almost looking like the top of a blade or a missile on an unstoppable mission to seek and destroy. The whole thing is beautifully composed including the hand-drawn, now iconic type with the little fish-hook of the ‘J’.”
“In space,” copywriter Barbara Gips wrote, “no one can hear you scream.” Even after all this time, the slightest glance at the Alien poster makes you uneasy. The uncanny yellow light spilling through the crack of the central egg immediately warns you that the contents aren’t going to be cute and cuddly.
Of course, the egg itself bears no resemblance to the face-hugger egg from the film. Early effect tests were made using regular hen eggs, some shots even finding their way into the original teaser trailer. This lead to design agency Bemis Balkind smearing modeling clay onto a hen’s egg to create the poster. A staple of the breakfast table became the stuff of nightmares.
Jamie Gwilliam, 3D designer: “For me the ‘Alien’ poster remains the most iconic poster. The dark and cold simplicity of this poster remains elegantly terrorising. Personally I feel movie plots can often be given away in current poster designs. This clever design, however, only hints at the toxic horror that will unfold.
“This poster stands the test of time, encompasses everything that a movie poster should aim for, of course helped by the strap line, which is iconic in its own right. The iconic egg poster remains recognisable after 30-plus years, and will continue to do so because of the confidence in its minimalistic layout.”
Today it would be known as viral marketing. In 1984 a poster started to appear. It was a cartoon ghost caught in a red ‘restricted’ circle. There was no title, no list of stars, no director’s credit. There wasn’t even a release date. All we were told was that someone was ‘coming to save the world this summer.’
We had no idea who they were, or why the world needed saving in the first place. It was the poster that put the tease into teaser. The title, cast list and credits came later, but by then the poor trapped spook had been burnt into everyone’s consciousness and has remained there ever since.
But who was behind the design of the logo itself? It was a mystery for years until the release of the movie on Blu-ray in 2009 when art director John DeCuir Jr. revealed that it was the brainchild of writer Dan Ackroyd himself.
“The no-Ghost logo was in Danny Ackroyd’s first script,” DeCuir Jr admitted. “I take credit as having art directed and designed the original logo but I did not conceive it.”
James Hilton, chief creative officer, AKQA: “Just to clarify; this is about the most iconic poster, not film. It’s important to stress that point, so that when people are sitting around discussing history’s most iconic films – 2001, Clockwork Orange, Vertigo and so on, they don’t hold me up as the guy who thought the pinnacle of cinema was Ghostbusters. But it is the most iconic movie poster. Show that logo to anyone over the age of say, 25, and they’ll tell you what it is.”
The business of badges
“For me, it holds particular significance: when the film came out, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster. So much so that I started making Ghostbuster badges for myself. Classmates saw them, and asked I could manufacture more.
“Once the unit price of 50p had been agreed upon, I got to work. I could rattle out 10 a night – full colour, laminated, with pin. My business empire came to abrupt halt, though, when a parent contacted the school to enquire where her child’s lunch money was going. ‘Who you gonna call?’ – the deputy head, as it turns out.”