Plenty gets written about movie posters. They are the snapshot an audience uses to make a quick, few second impression of a film and to add it to there 'must get round to watching' list or there 'maybe I'll see it when it's on TV' list. You just can't underestimate there importance, teams agonise over placements of cast, taglines and tone as they often are the flag bearers of a movie's publicity, becoming before the trailer. Because of this, you'll see lists of plenty of lists on the best movie posters. From the sublime Vertigo poster by Saul Bass to Roger Kastel's painting of that girl swimming over that shark, to the painstaking compositions of Drew Struzan that defined a decade. They all get plenty of well deserved praise and live long on our walls. However every now and again a poster that's design is so sublime and wonderful, falls by the wayside. It can happen for many reasons, they were only released to limited markets, the film underperformed, the marketing budget was not enough or simply it was overshadowed by the film itself. I'll be looking at this as I review some of the underrated gems that I feel deserve a bit more time in the spotlight. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten underrated film posters.
1.) The Dark Knight 'Why so serious?' Teaser poster by BLT Communications 2008
The Dark Knight had a massive campaign that used traditional as well as the relatively new at the time 'viral' technique in its publicity (you could ring up a contact only to have Commissioner Gordon leave you an angry voicemail, trust me I did it!) It was a behemoth operation that had to carry the weight of one of 2008's most anticipated films. They officially released 24 posters (yes 24!) that are all thoughtfully and masterfully put together. However cast your mind back to the hype of Heath Ledger's Joker. In a social media light world, it was still huge news and people cried out for a first glimpse of the clown prince of crime. And then we got this. It's a beautiful composition, the angled body, the way the text falls. It also introduces to that tagline that we would forever remember being a new call to villainy. It teased us, and it kept us waiting and ultimately this is probably why the poster isn't well remembered as it gave way to the less subtle images that are more associated with the film. But what an image, what an idea and what a smile!
2. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus by Empire Designs 2009
This to me this is the poster of all posters. It is potentially my favourite poster ever and barely anyone I know has seen it. Not only does it give us a picture of the films tone and plot in a snapshot but it demands repeat viewing to fully appreciate all the details and work. It's Alice in Wonderland meets Vogue! Ultimately, the poster was replaced by a much more generic photo composition of the lead actors (Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law) for the wider marketing campaign and DVD box art. My only guess is that either they felt they needed the bigger names at the forefront to sell more tickets or perhaps considered Lily Cole was seen as too risque for a wider audience. Either way, this poster had been a huge influence on me and I'm sure many other people's own design work, it shows us how it should be done.
3. Scott Pilgrim Vs the World by Ignition
Scott Pilgrim the film is underrated full stop. It was perhaps a classic example of how a films cult audience can't be found in the mainstream multiplexes. It lost Edgar Wright his chance to direct Antman (we'll see more of that later) and was a full on box office flop. But this poster is a full on thing of beauty. The text looks hand drawn and positively shredding off the guitar. The gradient background perfectly gives a pop to the figure before us. And what a great tagline. Whatever you felt about Scott Pilgrim Vs the World there's no doubt this poster stands on its own, with a guitar, playing some kick-ass tunes.
4. Paris Je T'aime by The Refinery
Ahh Paris, the literal city of love in the poster. This film arrived to little fanfare in 2007. Despite being critically acclaimed and with a superb cast and team of creatives the film was not widely shouted about due to the sporadic worldwide opening dates and limited releases. However, it is well worth your time, a series of shorts set in different regions in the French capital, celebrating the city and providing both funny and poignant stories. It follows the well-worn rules with anthology based projects, that if a story is not connecting with you, you need only wait a few minutes for the next to begin. But I digress, the poster is bold and original. It does a super job of making the many required names a design feature, using them as a border with directors in large font and actors on the outer edge slightly smaller. Posters with one large central element usually fall flat, but the gutsy typeface of the title evens it out. C'est fantastique!
5.The Love Witch by Fred Davis and Michael Koelsch
Very few films now days only get one image to base all publicity of the movie on. This is one but you can see why. It's vintage without being gaudy, sexy without being trashy and lets the audience know exactly what they're going to get with the film. The lighting on this poster is enviable. Look at the way it focuses your eye on the face and radiates out through her glossy locks. The colour scheme is perfect, using that 70's style sunset on the pillow but giving it balance with that shocking blue eyeshadow and the green silk sheet. The typeface of the title also deserves a lot of props here as it perfectly fits both into the composition and mood of the picture. Who doesn't want to be The Love Witch!?
6. Lord of War by Art Machine
Lord of war was released in 2006. It was originally perceived to be a bit of an awards contender what with its heavy themes, dynamic performances and even an Amnesty International endorsement. It sadly didn't make the splash it wanted to as critics felt the plot was too sporadic and didn't connect to the movie, and so it was consigned as with so many films to be an Oscar near miss. However, the poster is a masterclass of a portrait. Made entirely of shells, bullets and warheads the poster shows us a statesmen like figure. Sure, a lot of photo manipulation has been used here to get the right colours and sheen on the weaponry, but theirs no doubt that must have been a special type of agony to create. Details in the collar and hair are particularly spectacular and the poster is a lesson on using a simple idea to achieve a complex and dynamic result.
7. The Lobster by Vasilis Marmatakis
From the complex to something a lot more simple but equally perfect. The Lobster posters minimal use of colour and content doesn't stop it from creating a lasting impression. Though the film was definitely an indie darling, a well-known cast and award nominations were thought it could see the film move into the more popular culture. It's strange and high concept plot, however, inhibited it from wider appeal and the film remains only a cult classic. This poster is design perfection, actually one of a pair (google the other one) we see a man in an empty embrace with only a void like form embracing him back. It insinuates massive thematic implications that you could fill many a book with referencing this painful absence. I actually remember seeing this poster for the first time ever on a rainy day in October in Paris. If a poster can take you back to when you remember first laying eye's on it, it's done a good job.
8. Ant-Man by BLT Communications
Ant-Man ran a pretty good marketing campaign. Especially if you consider the strangeness of the idea (a man can become the size of an ant but also talk to ants?) This was part of the marvel cannon and nothing was going to stop it becoming a big seller. I feel this particular poster though doesn't get the praise it deserves. It's a superb composition that tells us exactly about Ant-Mans powers without any text-based help. It also gives us an introduction to the rest of the cast without the poster feeling too cluttered or overwrought. The poster was only used in Russia so unfortunately doesn't get talked about when speaking about great superhero posters, but for condensing such a complex idea so stylishly, this poster is well worth a look.
9. The Lure by Sam Spratt
So many films are made now that we are bound to be unable to keep up with all of them. This is most certainly the case when it comes to the 2015 polish film, The Lure. A bananas tale of two mermaids who become strippers and singers in a heavy metal bar. Yep, this ain't your Disney's Little Mermaid. The film is the kind of thing you love or hate but this illustrated poster deserves to be applauded for breaking the often boring mould of photo-based images and instead going for this painted stunning piece of work. I love the contrast on the yellow text against the blue hues of the central image and the crazy cat record to the side. Want to know how good this painting is? Look at the water and think about the level of skill needed to capture that effect.
10. Iris by Gravillis Inc
How to celebrate the release of a documentary about the life and time of Iris Apfel in its poster? Make one she would be proud of! This poster is a downright work of art that could be hung in a portrait gallery. The way the posters bold background subtly carry's on to her iconic glasses, the black and white layered on the explosion of colour and that fantastically brazen title mean this poster stands out from the crowd. Documentaries, unless touched by an element of hype, always remain relatively unnoticed so it's understandable why this poster didn't get its time in the spotlight. It deserves, however, the highest recognition as a fully realised marvel of move movie marketing.
So there you have. A little sample of why you should be on the hunt for more obscure film poster as they can be just as impressive of the ones that are so familiar. I hope I've given you something to think about when choosing the next thing you're going to frame on your wall. Let me know if you think I missed any ones out. I have a whole folder full of these on my computer and would love to share some more. Bye for now!