The Highly Accessible Movie Poster Work of Robert Tanenbaum

The Highly Accessible Movie Poster Work of Robert Tanenbaum

Comic Character Collectibles
by J.C. Vaughn

In last month’s column we took at look at movie posters associated with the Star Wars franchise. Even though there’s a tremendous number of very affordable one-sheets and posters in other formats, of course it’s the high-priced wonders that grab the attention and stick in the mind.

It’s a mistake, though, to let those anomalies mischaracterize what is, at its heart, a highly accessible hobby. Movie poster collecting is just that. With prices ranging from $10 to the low thousands, you can own the majority of movie posters, even ones for the most famous releases.

Of course there are many notable exceptions, but overwhelming numbers of the pop culture treasures fall in the affordable range.

Take for example of works of movie poster artist Robert Tanenbaum, who has created hundreds of designs for films and advertising. A naturally talented artist, Tanenbaum didn’t study art while he was growing up. When he was attending Washington University in St. Louis, he won first place in the school’s portrait contest. That kicked off his career as he perfected portraiture and an ability to work with a variety of materials, including watercolors, oils, and acrylics.

After serving in the army, Tanenbaum worked as an illustrator for four years. He and his family left their hometown in 1964 and headed to Los Angeles to pursue a career of making paintings for movies. To promote his art, Tanenbaum put together a selection of slides of his work to send to movie studio art directors. This led to getting work in the industry from those studios and as word of his talent spread, he received jobs from studios he hadn’t sought yet.

For his work in posters, he learned about the movies, seeking inspiration to create the art for each one. His ability to adapt to any genre kept him from being pigeonholed to a certain type of movie, opening his work up to comedy, horror, and action.

Perhaps Tanenbaum’s most famous poster was for the modern holiday classic, A Christmas Story. Taking cues from the movie’s tone and memorable scenes, he painted important moments and props from the film that symbolized its chaos and absurdity. Of course the fact that the film didn’t do so well at the box office might actually contribute as much as the film’s modern “classic” status to the one-sheet’s scarcity in higher grades.

According to Amanda Sheriff, author of The Overstreet Guide To Collecting Movie Posters, prices for the one-sheet for A Christmas Story range from $40 in poor condition to $215 in near-mint condition.

Another great example of how he used the movie for inspiration was on the poster for Cujo. His art for this Stephen King adaptation teases the prospect of danger in one’s own yard and the isolation that the protagonists will endure while under attack. Prices on this one ranges from $5 in poor condition to $45 in near-mint condition.

For his Battlestar Galactica poster, Tanenbaum brought energy to the art with action scenes of the humans and Cylons trading firepower with ships in battle overhead. The poster was created for the theatrical release version of the three-hour pilot film that launched the TV series. It sells for $15 in poor condition and moves up to $75 in near-mint condition.

Tanenbaum’s talent for portraiture can be seen on the poster for The Color of Money which sees finely detailed portraits of Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The 1986 sequel catches Newman’s character of “Fast Eddie” Felson at the opposite end of his career from when we last saw him 1961’s The Hustler, and the artist seems to capture this in his representation of the screen legend. Prices on this one start very low, $1, and don’t seem to get higher than $35.

His work has also been featured on posters for Inside Out, Slapstick of Another
Kind, Silent Night Evil Night, Greatest, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and High Anxiety, among many others. Outside of posters, Tanenbaum became highly in-demand, commissioned to paint over 200 portraits of actors, sports figures, and heads of corporations, as well as painting collections for the Franklin Mint.

Most recently, Tanenbaum was commissioned to create the movie poster for
the upcoming Christmas movie, Feast of the Seven Fishes, a film we’ve covered extensively in this space. The art for this new poster teases the personalities of the ensemble cast with detailed portraits that promises home for the holidays comedy, and calls back to his imagery on A Christmas Story in terms of style and presentation.

“It might not be the most professional thing I ever said, but I was beyond geeked out when Robert Tanenbaum agreed to do the poster for Feast,” Robert Tinnell, the movie’s writer-director, said. “And if I thought I was happy when he signed on, just think of how I felt when I saw the finished product.”

The Highly Accessible Movie Poster Work of Robert Tanenbaum