Iconic Movie Posters

Why Good Art and Design Leave a Lasting Impression

I often notice that a good movie poster cans be equally as memorable, if not more so than any particular scene in a movie itself. The very first image that pops into mind when thinking of Silence of the Lambs is Jodie Foster’s pale blue face with a moth making up the shape of her mouth. Like all posters that stand out, there are specific reasons why they stay glued in my mind, all related to composition and the principles/elements of design.

For starters, I think the reason the Dawn Baillie’s (of BLT Communication) Silence of the Lambs poster is so impactful has much to do with the chilling and complementary combination of the blues and orange/ambers. The juxtaposition of the orange accents to washy, pale blue filter over Foster’s character’s face creates focal points out of her eyes, and off course the ominous, skull-patterned moth. There is an overall gradient from dark to light across the poster too, creating a eerie tension in the design as it fades to black on the right side.

The 1975 Jaws poster, painted by Roger Kastel (he also did the poster for The Empire Strikes Back), is another example of iconic poster design that has withstood the test of time. This poster uses scale, color and shapes to create it’s intense drama, but lets talk about how all these elements work cohesively to form an image that is as unsettling as this one. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “thalassophobia,” a long look at this poster will be sure to instill a healthy dose of it. As mentioned earlier, the scale is what is immediately so striking about this poster, the shocking size of the shark enormously outranks that of the skinny-dipping human above it. The shark’s head also forms a point that directs the viewer’s eye from the dark menacing nature of the shark to the unknowing woman in the act of swimming. Finally, the color composition of this piece is something I noticed works perfectly to solidify its place in as a lasting memory. Above the woman, the the bolded and capitalized text “JAWS” it’s suspended over an off-white, the exact color combination of flesh and bone. So in effect, through its own unique visual language, this poster is telling the viewer what is to come once the shark reaches this human. These are the intuitive elements that I personally believe are what work to make a design “iconic.”

Finally, I wanted to mention one more movie poster that immediately stands out to me as the front runner of iconic movie art, and that’s would be the poster for John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing. The poster art for They Live also holds a contending place for the strongest poster representing his work, but nothing can beat the creme de la creme that is The Thing’s moody and ominous jacket-cladden humanoid. The poster for The Thing gives the viewer everything the need to know about the monster in the movie… which is very little. Done by Drew Struzan (he has also done Star Wars posters), the poster does an excellent job at portraying the vague nature of the monster as well as its shapeshifting ability. The fractalized light and straight lines create what almost looks like panes of glass or ice that the viewer is looking through. The color pallete is cohesive, the composition of the figure, specifically the position of its hands creates a foreboding sense of dread about what could be happening here.

EDITOR’S NOTE | 10/11/2021: The designer’s name of the Silence of the Lambs poster was incorrectly missattributed at the time of publication. The correct designer’s name is now listed.

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