Whether it’s located on a billboard, in a movie theater hallway, a dorm room, or a basement—a spectacular film poster has the ability to grab any movie fan’s attention. I have always believed that film posters are much more than just marketing material, they are an art form in their own right. In fact, some posters have even become as, or in some cases more, iconic than the movie itself. 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a great example of a poster that went on to transcend the movie it was advertising.
Part of the reason posters for films like the aforementioned Attack of the 50 Foot Woman have become so popular and iconic today is because they remind film fans of a bygone era. Back in the “Golden Era” of Hollywood, film posters were a far bigger deal than they are today. Nowadays, film posters feel like a lost art. This is mainly due to the fact that modern day society’s preference for digital media over physical media has lessened the importance of effective and creative packaging. Therefore, less time is spent on creating memorable film posters. There has been a similar trend in music as well, with album covers.
In my opinion, there is a complete and utter lack of creativity problem when it comes to film posters today. Because of this issue, it is very rare for a new film poster to stand out. To be honest, most of them end up looking the exact same. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
And the “back to the camera” pose isn’t the only example of a modern day poster cliché. If one were to take a look at the romantic-comedy category on Netflix, they would see a never-ending scroll of posters featuring the two leads leaning back to back with some sort of smirk or smile on their faces. Clearly, Hollywood has lost its inventiveness when it comes to creating film posters.
Despite the recent underwhelming trends in the film poster art form, there are still a large amount of inventive and iconic posters worth celebrating. And that is why I have decided to compile a list of what I consider to be the 15 greatest film posters of all time.
15. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
In order to be inclusive, I felt it necessary to include at least one comedy film on this list. The 40-Year-Old Virgin‘s poster may not be the most revolutionary of all time, but I find it to be one of the best in the “close-up of main character” genre of posters. This is one of the few comedy posters that could actually evoke a laugh on its own. Not only does that single shot of Steve Carell perfectly capture the tone of the film, it makes the audience want to know the story behind this clearly bizarre character.
14. Fargo (1996)
Fargo‘s poster is one of the interesting selections on this list, because it doesn’t necessarily give away the tone and feel of its film like many others do. Despite that, it is still a perfect fit for the movie it represents. The needlework pattern design feels like an excellent accompaniment for the Coen brothers’ offbeat and unique style. And the subversive nature of this poster is a great match for the film itself. There is a reason this design has become so iconic.
13. The Graduate (1967)
There is just so much to love about the poster for The Graduate. The tagline on the side is obviously an incredible addition, but the main image itself is what really makes this poster iconic. The entire essence of the film is able to be summed up in one, seemingly simple, shot. Also, this poster deserves credit for immortalizing one of the most iconic lines in film history, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” There was definitely some shock value to this poster back in 1967, which I’m sure only helped it become as iconic as it is today.
12. Goodfellas (1990)
The poster for Goodfellas is a great example of the fact that you can still be creative, even when just trying to create a poster centered on your famous lead actors. This poster could have easily just contained the names and faces of De Niro, Pesci, and Liotta in order to get audiences into the theater—but it does so much more than that. The deep black background makes this poster pop, and the lower half hints at some of the darker elements that exist in Goodfellas‘ plot. For as simple as this poster is, there is still a lot going on and a great amount of attention to detail, which has to be admired.
11. The Last Picture Show (1971)
No entry on my list embodies the idea of “less is more” as much as this one. The poster for The Last Picture Show may seem like an odd addition to this list, but admittedly, I absolutely love this design. To be completely transparent, there is a chance I am biased here because this is one of my favorite films of all time. However, I still think this poster is one of the best on this list when it comes to encapsulating the feel of the film it represents. The white space on this poster matches how life feels in the desolate, lonely town of Anarene, Texas. This may not be a poster that is going to pop on its own, but I think its true genius becomes evident when matched with the film it was created for.
10. Vertigo (1958)
In my opinion, the poster for Vertigo is a necessary entry for any “Greatest Posters of All Time” list. This is one of those posters that could work simply as a piece of art. The bright colors and the spiral design come together to create one of the most memorable images you’ll ever associate with the world of film. Also, the font used on this poster is as important as anything else. This is the kind of poster they just don’t make anymore.
9. Star Wars (1977)
While we’re on the topic of posters they just don’t make anymore, the number nine entry on my list is Star Wars. Nowadays, this would technically be considered the poster for Star Wars: A New Hope, but back in 1977, this poster was simply the companion piece for a little film entitled Star Wars. Now, it’s important to note that cluttered posters like this do not always work, but when they do, they can be absolutely beautiful. Star Wars is a franchise based on things like fun, adventure, and fantasy—and this is a poster that absolutely captures all of those things. I’d argue that just looking at this poster can give fans some the same feelings they get while actually viewing the film, and that is an impressive accomplishment.
8. Ghostbusters (1984)
Sometimes all it takes is an iconic logo and a perfect tagline. And that is exactly what the poster for Ghostbusters gives us. There is honestly not much else to be said here. Simply stated, it just works. However, there is one other poster comprised mostly of a simple logo and tagline that I think works a little better..
7. Jurassic Park (1993)
Attempting to compare and rank the posters for Jurassic Park and Ghostbusters is not an easy task. Obviously, they are both iconic for very similar reasons, which is why I knew they were going to have to be next to each other on this list. For me, the logo and the font used on Jurassic Park‘s poster will always be just slightly more iconic than Ghostbusters. But to be fair, perhaps I only feel that way because Jurassic Park is the superior film.
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
The poster for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas does everything that a poster should do. It catches the eye, gives away the tone of the film, intrigues the audience, and just simply looks good. This is the kind of creativity we are missing nowadays in poster designs. You can tell there was real care and attention to detail when creating this design. It is another poster that could legitimately stand on its own as an interesting piece of art.
5. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
I love absolutely everything about Anatomy of a Murder‘s poster. The colors, the font, and the main image come together to create one of the most genius, yet simple, posters ever created. I also love how the splitting of the poster gives the audience a somewhat uneasy sensation without seeing even a single frame of the actual film. There is a reason this is widely considered one of the best film posters of all time.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Another great example of posters that we just don’t see nowadays, Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s poster comes in at the number four spot on my list. In many ways, the Indiana Jones posters are very similar to the posters for the original Star Wars trilogy. The Raiders poster specifically almost feels like a relic from a bygone era. This is clearly not just a poster designed to market a film, it is an artistic achievement.
3. The Social Network (2010)
Some may argue that I’m far too high on the poster for 2010’s The Social Network, but I absolutely feel that it deserves a top three spot on this list. Not only did this poster inspire several copycat designs throughout the course of this past decade, but it is an undeniably fitting companion piece for its film. This poster looks, feels, and somehow even sounds like David Fincher’s masterpiece film. Furthermore, when it comes to marketing tasks, the challenge of making “the facebook movie” cool and intriguing is not an easy task. But that is exactly what this poster did back in 2010.
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
There is no way Pulp Fiction‘s poster wasn’t going to land in the top two on this list. It’s a unique and vibrant design that plays on the title of its film and immediately implants itself into the mind and memory of audiences. The colors are perfect, the book cover layout is unique, and the picture of Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace is iconic. The only poster that could beat this is the one that contains quite possibly the most iconic image in cinema history.
1. Jaws (1975)
First of all, Steven Spielberg has really lucked out with some iconic poster designs over the years. Second of all, there was absolutely no other number one choice for this list. The Jaws poster stands on its own as the greatest film poster of all time. It is both fascinating and admirable to see how a seemingly simple image can become one of the most memorable pieces of art of all time. There may never be another poster as widely-known and as instantly recognizable as Jaws is.