by Amanda Sheriff
What makes a movie poster attractive? In The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters, we attempt to answer that question. We explore the factors that appeal to collectors while also delving deeper into the hobby by showcasing franchises, film subgenres, artists, directors, and stars. In the newest addition to Gemstone Publishing’s Overstreet “How to” line of books, we consider market trends, film popularity and impact, and plenty more. It’s easy to determine the collectability of an artistically clever poster, of course, but what pulls collectors deeper into the hobby?
By nature, movie posters are advertising material, designed to make consumers want that product. To entice audiences, they should be engaging and unique, while representing the storyline and the tone of the movie. Many factors go into making a good movie poster that are aesthetic, intrinsic, and sometimes incidental.
Posters with beautiful artwork are always favored among collectors. Utilizing clever illusions to express the subject matter makes posters stand out. Vibrant colors, particularly those that aren’t standard fare draw attention, as does unique fonts for the text of the title and the credits. The mood of the film can be set through how much activity is represented on the poster, be it simplistic figures or packed with film details.
Artistry is always a factor when it comes to movie posters. Some collectors will procure pieces based exclusively on who painted them. Popular artists establish fan followings for their brand of style. In a career that spanned 40 years, Saul Bass, for example, created memorable, beloved movie posters. He was a pioneer of the motion picture title sequences using revolutionizing animated film graphics and movie posters that utilize a minimalistic style. In an industry where bigger is virtually always better, Bass managed to entice and amaze through the depth of symbolism.
His, of course, was not the only successful approach.
Throughout his extensive career, Drew Struzan has illustrated more than 150 movie posters, and is known as a favored artist of icons George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. His detailed process started with sketching out drawings on illustration board, tinting with airbrushed acrylic paint, finishing with highlights and details with colored pencils, and finally more airbrushing. His work honors the film rather than just trying to promote it by simultaneously presenting an imaginative look at the movie while realistically connecting fans to the characters.
When it comes to collecting by director, no collection is complete without the work of Alfred Hitchcock. With a terrific eye for filmmaking, Hitchcock was undoubtedly the master of suspense. He had a reputation for deconstructing relationships, frightening violence, and complex psychological storylines. The posters for his films followed suit highlighting intense imagery, be it an attacking bird, a couple desperately fighting for the phone, or a woman sequestered in a motel, ignorant to the danger she is in.
Collectors also favor posters bearing the images of favored actors and actresses. Many names fit this criteria, but few with the sexy, mysterious style of Marilyn Monroe. Her career may have been short lived, but she had an indelible impact on film and her posters prove it. She can be seen flirtatious and dreamy, energetic and feisty, or confidently in control. No matter the poster, Monroe always dominated.
It doesn’t matter what type of collectible it is, if it’s rare, it’s favored. With movie posters, that predominately means vintage posters. Because movie posters were originally conceived singularly for advertising, they were often thrown in the trash after being displayed. During World War II many posters were recycled in paper drives to aid the war effort. Now, vintage posters that were initially collected by savvy pioneers of the hobby, or are being found in attics, old movie theater projection rooms, even stuffed in walls, are extremely valuable.
There are posters that are collectible for their controversial points. In some cases, posters are recalled or withdrawn. The Pulp Fiction Lucky Strike poster is a prime example. In the original one-sheet, a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes is on the bed next to Mia. But because Miramax had not received permission to use the Lucky Strike logo, the cigarettes’ producer, R.J. Reynolds, threatened to sue. The posters were ordered withdrawn, but several remain intact and have become favored among collectors.
Film franchises achieve impressive levels of popularity across the board. The Star Wars and James Bond films have legions of fans searching for the multitude of poster styles. They feature work by some of the most popular poster artists, in many cases forming lasting relationships with art that transcends one movie to encapsulate the weight of an entire series. Collectors are pulled in by the sexy James Bond swagger whether the art is by Robert McGinnis or Bob Peak, and it’s hard not to be enchanted by the optimistically imaginative work of Tom Jung, Roger Kastel, and many others in the space opera that is Star Wars.
Collectors also flock to a wide range of genre and subgenre collecting. Musicals and superhero movies cover a vast expanse of film history from serials and early talkies to big budget spectacles filled with intricate dance numbers or fight sequences, dazzling costumes, and A-list stars. From the majestically colorful artwork of the 1920s and ’30s to the thematically inspired pieces of the ’60s and ’70s to the photo-based posters of today, both subgenres sustain popular collectability.
Then there’s the six-figure sellers, the most coveted posters in the hobby: Universal monsters and Disney. At opposite ends of the categorical spectrum, posters for these horror and family movies draw the most fervent collectors with the deepest pockets. Displaying incredible artwork in lush colors, Universal Monster posters show the kings and queens of golden age horror to terrifying delight. Disney’s earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons and the beginning of their venture into feature films has collectors animatedly vying for the enchanting pieces.
Many factors determine what makes a movie poster attractive. In many cases those factors appeal to a wide swath of collectors because they find the art appealing or for the opportunity to own a rare piece. But sometimes they appeal to a small group of people who connect to the poster based on their personalities. Regardless of the reason, collectors can always find posters that will give them a happy ending.
Amanda Sheriff is the Associate Editor of Gemstone Publishing and lead author of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters.
Inside The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters