Presented by Amanda Sheriff
Decorating is an important factor in personalizing the man cave, and this can be achieved in many ways. Movie poster collecting presents the opportunity to express individual preferences with artwork that reflects personality and tastes. Not only do movie posters offer many creative options, they also have the added entertainment of hunting for the perfect showpiece or most desired expression. They are easily accessible in a thriving market and can be found in any price range, from a few dollars up to exceptional rarities valued at six figures.
Before collecting, it’s important to understand and identify the different poster sizes. A one-sheet (27” x 40-41”) is the most popular size in the U.S., then there are smaller ones known as half-sheets (22” x 28”), and larger like three-sheets (41” x 81”) and six-sheets (81” by 81”). Some of the other varieties include inserts (14” x 36”) and lobby cards (11” x 14”), which are made of heavier card stock. These different sizes can be displayed in any man cave from small dens to large basements.
A collection can be as simple as a few favorites or fine-tuned by theme, genre, series, director, and star, among other focuses.
Sports movie posters typically fit into one of two camps – the ones centered on competition and those that instigate laughs. In the boxing ring, the Rocky poster is a consistent hit with a simplistic yet inspiring design, whereas Raging Bull is a bit more macho, emphasizing the lead’s grit by showing his bruised face. Rudy is a great gridiron option with a hopeful quality that shows his determination. The emotional side of baseball can be enjoyed through Field of Dreams, which has a hopeful theme, and The Pride of the Yankees with a simplistic design of Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright. Caddyshack and The Bad News Bears reinforce the comedic tone of their movies, one showing the menacing gopher looming over the cast and the other has artist Jack Davis’ rendering of the raggedy team.
Superheroes have become a near-constant presence in movie theaters, accompanied by variations on the posters with single character portraits and team collages. Long before the current wave of superhero movies, some of the most beloved wearers of the cape starred in movie serials. Those early chapter posters for Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman, Captain America, and Green Hornet have gorgeous painted artwork of the courageous heroes. Superman’s 1978 film has three enticing designs – two silver logo teasers and another that shows him streaking through the sky. Batman’s movies have many interesting poster designs, with the campy 1966 version, the ‘89 Bat symbol, the Batman Returns Catwoman teaser, and The Dark Knight’s “Why So Serious” Joker image.
From Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a few dozen poster designs for superhero fans. But, because these posters are photo-based and attempt to fit as many characters as possible into the space, they are not known for great artwork. Some of the better designs are on Avengers, Doctor Strange teaser, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 teaser, Spider-Man: Homecoming teaser, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel.
Early film was heavily influenced by stage productions, inspired by plays, vaudeville, and other live performance acts that could translate to the screen. Among those dependable hits from the first half of the 20th century were incredibly talented comedy teams. Posters for these acts capitalize on their talents through illustrations of their humorous hijinks.
Laurel and Hardy posters for Another Fine Mess, Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, Babes in Toyland, and Pardon Us, have caricatures, cartoon versions, and realistic renderings that epitomize their chemistry and charisma. The Marx Brothers’ creativity can be seen on posters for classics like Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, Monkey Business, and Horse Feathers, which are similarly designed with caricatures of the boys in their signature looks. Posters for the Three Stooges bring together their knucklehead antics and physical comedy for some of their popular hits like Three Little Beers, Playing the Ponies, Hoi Polloi, and Plane Nuts. Abbott and Costello poster designs are based on the tone of their movies, with the straight-up comedies getting a circus appearance while their horror blends take on a quality of mystery. Some important entries are The Time of Their Lives, The Naughty Nineties, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Who Done It?, and Hold That Ghost.
Science fiction is an appealing option for poster decoration because they have bold artwork meant to elicit a visceral reaction from the viewer, whether it’s from fear, wonder, or both. The 1950s saw a string of sci-fi movies about space exploration, invasion, and mutation that weren’t always good, but were accompanied by some attractive artwork. Posters for movies like Forbidden Planet, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Wasp Woman, and Them grab attention with ostentatious graphics and bold color choices. Some well-known sci-fi options take a more basic, though no less impactful, approach to tease their stories. Planet of the Apes has a stripped-down design with humans in a cage and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing uses shadow and light to invoke foreboding mystery. The Star Trek movies have several attractive posters, featuring the dramatic art of Bob Peak who uses his signature flourishes to produce the look of phosphorescence.
Several movie series provide unified collecting options for a singular motif. Star Wars is a topper on that list with many exceptional examples by talented artists like Tom Jung, Tom Chantrell, Drew Struzan, Roger Kastel, and Kazuhiko Sano, among others. Each movie has multiple versions that include simplistic title teasers, photographic character portraits, and complex painted designs of mesmerizing quality. In addition to regular releases, there are special posters for anniversaries, commemorative screenings, and limited versions that were only available at specific theaters. There are over 200 theatrical release sizes and designs, with a few of the best being A New Hope style C, style D (also called the circus poster), and Happy Birthday/style E, The Empire Strikes Back style A (a.k.a., the “Gone with the Wind” design), the Revenge of the Jedi advance (before it was retitled to Return of the Jedi), and one of the most valuable is the 1985 Triple Bill one-sheet.
Bond. James Bond.
For the man cave that needs a touch of suave class during martini hour, James Bond movie posters are the way to go. Bond has been a steady favorite for movie audiences since his film introduction in 1962. His accompanying movies posters, with superb artwork by the likes of Robert McGinnis and Bob Peak, succinctly replicate the mood of the movies. The posters exude his confidence and skills, are flashy and exciting, often sexy, and sometimes even dramatic. Since Bond is a British agent, collectors often hunt for British quads (30” x 40”), which are the most popular size in England. Some of the sought-after examples include From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, The Man with the Golden Gun U.S. Christmas teaser, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Casino Royale (1967 version). The earlier posters are more collectible than later entries, but there are some newer gems like the Spectre white tuxedo over ghosted skeleton image, that attract collectors.
Godzilla has perfected stomping buildings and combating other kaiju since 1954, so the posters often depict the King of the Monsters using his ferocious abilities in the midst of battle. Like James Bond, collecting Godzilla posters from the country of origin is the way to go. In this case, the best option is the B2 (20” x 29”) which is the most popular size for Japanese posters. The artwork style is quite different than U.S. posters, with busier collage imagery, large text, and lots of contrasting colors. Some noteworthy examples are Godzilla (1954), King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, and Invasion of the Astro-Monster.
A lot of movie buffs will specifically collect posters for their favorite directors, actors, and actresses. If collecting by a director is a goal, Alfred Hitchcock is a good place to start. He has directed some of the most well-crafted suspense films of all time and his movies are accompanied by iconic movie posters of the 1950s and early 1960s. A few of the best creative styles can be found on Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, and Rear Window.
Steven Spielberg, one of the kings of summer blockbusters, has directed many major hits that bring together exciting action of a popcorn movie with compelling stories and innovative filmmaking. His films like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park are crowd pleasers, with posters that invoke the excitement and wonder of seeing a good movie in the summer heat.
On the acting front, Paul Newman and Marilyn Monroe are list toppers both for their filmography and poster quality. Newman, the handsome roguish actor capable of multi-layered performances, is the picture of masculinity on posters for Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Slap Shot. Monroe is one of the most beloved actresses of all time, known for her dramatic performances and comedic chops as well as her pin-up good looks. She is beautifully depicted as fun and flirtatious on posters for her biggest hits like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot.
Once the preferred posters have been chosen, it’s time to learn about their values and where to make the purchases. Do plenty of research to find prices and authentic material by making contacts with reliable sources. Posters mentioned in this article run from $10 to $40,000, which makes having realistic expectations for purchases a necessity. Movie posters are easy to replicate, so it’s important to find reputable sources to ensure that the poster is an official release and not a homemade copy.
Care, Presentation, and Preservation
Considering the level of investment that goes into movie poster collecting, it is crucial that posters are framed properly, using the best possible materials. The most important thing to consider with the frame is what is in front of and what is behind the poster. The first thing to know is that glass is not the best material for framing. Glass can break easily when moved and will likely scratch, gouge, tear, or outright destroy the poster. Glass acts as a heat conductor which can cause the poster to fade and decay. It can trap moisture, creating mildew, and can cause the poster to stick to the glass. Spacers can help to separate the poster from the glass, but because of the size of one-sheets and larger posters, they can buckle in the center and will touch the glass anyways. Some framers use conservation glass because it has archival properties, but it can still break and damage the poster. Another negative aspect is the weight of a frame with glass, which makes the poster more cumbersome and difficult to transport.
Plexiglas is the best material to use for framing, with many benefits over glass and other plastics. It does not stick to the poster like glass, protecting it from damage. High-grade Plexiglas has higher UV protection levels which block the sun’s harsh rays. Note that it should be about 1/8” thick and the most important thing is to always use acid-free Plexiglas. When properly installed, it should be polished with antistatic cream or similar material to repel dirt and dust.
For the backing use artboard or foamcore, but be sure that the material is acid-free. If the poster is just backed with cardboard it will absorb the acid from the cardboard and become yellow and brittle.
Movie poster collecting is a fun hobby with innumerable procurement opportunities. It’s a way to express fandom and extend the enjoyment of the movie experience through artwork. In the man cave, it gives guys the chance to be creative and stylish, making the space homey and manly.
Amanda Sheriff is the Associate Editor of Gemstone Publishing and author of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters, available at gemstonepub.com.