History of Movie Posters | Base Memorabilia

History of Movie Posters

The movie poster is thought to have originated in the 1870s when Paris artist and lithographer, Jules Cheret, introduced a printing technique that produced images with intense colour and rich texture. By the early 1890s, Paris streets were plastered with lithographic images hawking everything from bicycles to cognac to circus performances. These artful graphics became instant collectables, spawning exhibitions, journals and dealers.


What was the first movie poster ever produced?

The poster for L’Arroseur Arrosé (also known as The Waterer Watered and The Sprinkler Sprinkled) is a 1895 short black and white silent film has the distinction of being the first poster ever designed to promote an individual film. Although posters had been used to advertise cinematic shows since 1890, early posters were typically devoted to describing the quality of the recordings and touting the technological novelty of these shows. This poster for L’Arroseur was different, illustrated by Marcellin Auzolle, and shows an audience laughing in the foreground as the film and is projected in the background onto the cinema screen. It shows the moment the gardener is splashed in the face and is also the first movie poster to depict an actual scene from a film.


How Have movie posters changed through the years?

Since the dawn of the Hollywood age over 100 years ago, movie posters have been used as a medium to promote films with a commercial intent of getting people to buy tickets. Over the years the style of movies has evolved and with it, the design of movie posters has also changed. This article will guide you through movie posters and there designs from the 1920s to the modern day. You will see how the process has changed from originally being hand-drawn by artists and illustrators to using modern computing software producing photographic illustrations.

The 1920s – This decade was known for movie posters that stuck to a fairly traditional type for the time period. Most movie posters were hand-drawn illustrations over stills that depicted scenes from the movie.

The 1930s – In this decade, we see a shift towards bolder typographic designs with a growing tendency towards illustrations focusing on main characters of the film, particularly faces, over depictions of scenes.

The 1940s – By the 1940s, we rarely see scene depictions anymore. Character illustrations are the most prominent feature, and typographic treatments are a little more subdued after the experimentation of the 40s.

The 1950s – We start to see poster designers trying conceptual approaches, such as the Love in the Afternoon poster which is free of characters, emphasising typography and subtle clues as to the movie content forming the type’s background.

The 1960s – The posters from this decade don’t go as far as getting rid of illustrations altogether, but type plays a more important role in the layouts. The illustrations move to a more peripheral role, adorning the type.

The 1970s – An example of the fast movement of trends in the design industry, the 70s sees photographs play a big role in posters for the first time, often taking up the bulk of the canvas with type thrown in below, seemingly as an afterthought.

The 1980s – This is the decade where we start to see the movie poster in a form similar to what we’re used to seeing today. Large photographic backgrounds are more common than ever, but type and imagery are more balanced than we’ve seen in previous decades which favoured one over the other.

The 1990s – Posters of this decade are reasonably formulaic: we’ve got the photographic backgrounds, pithy slogans at the top, and the names of headline actors sitting quietly above the name of the film, usually near the bottom of the poster.

The 2000s – Through the 1980s and 1990s we see the evolution of movie posters slow down as designers hit on a series of winning layouts. In the 2000s we see incremental improvements to keep up with trends in typography and photography, but the layout often remains the same. Towards the end of the decade, as minimalism comes into vogue, that influence can be seen in the posters of movies such as Up, The Dark Knight and Buried. It’s a move away from a more balanced layout that probably won’t prove to be particularly timeless — but it does cater to the trends of the day.


Will the movie poster survive in the digital age?

As modern printing and distribution costs continue to rise for movie posters, many movie studios are choosing to promote their films through television and the internet. We have seen digital media start to overtake printed media. Although both share similarities in their fundamental aims, digital media has the capability to reach and attract a far bigger audience.

Digital media can be presented in a variety of formats such as social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, through the movie studios own websites, through film-oriented websites like IMDb, various fan or review blogs and emails which can reach a global mass market. With internet usage globally surpassing over three billion users – around 40% of the world’s population – and with 50% of internet usage based on searching, it makes a clear statement as to why movie studios have chosen to focus on digital markets.

Through the use of film-oriented websites like IMDb trailers and other promotional material can be placed readily and easily accessible to the masses. It offers the movie studios an opportunity to place a wealth of information that just cannot be placed on a movie poster. These are the advantages which have consolidated digital marketing above printed media.

As well as utilising digital media on the internet, many cinemas are now going ‘digital’ by replacing traditional movie poster frames with digital video screens. Digital movie posters offer the ability to show movie trailers, animated stills or simple animations to tease the moviegoers and generate excitement. The panels can be rotated to show multiple movies in one frame thus eliminating the need for a single framed movie poster. I would expect autostereoscopic displays to be used in the future, depending upon how quickly the technology can be developed, which will provide 3D images without the need for any special headgear or glasses.

Movie posters have been powerful visual aids used in the promotion of the film’s using themes and narratives. Analysing movie posters in relation to major film stars and cult films, they had the ability to express the movies characteristics, for example, movie posters containing Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe reflected their iconic statuses that was instantly recognisable with audiences. This also applies to movie posters for cult films, which contain familiar attributes which devotees of the titles. Despite this, the movie poster as an industry is becoming increasingly dominated by digital marketing rendering paper formats obsolete. Digital marketing has the ability to contain far more information, in various different formats and can be instantly updated; this is unmatched by a printed movie poster.

Will this mean the demise and eventually end of the paper movie poster? Will this mean that those uniquely designed iconic masterpieces will no longer be available in a paper format? Ultimately, who knows but with a world more focused on technology and rumours that some studios are already limiting the print runs of movie posters, it could. However, the artistic creativity used to develop these posters will continue whatever the medium used to deliver the material, as it remains an important aspect for movies that strive for originality and artistic quality.


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