In the pre-Internet era, movie posters served a much more important purpose: For an unplugged audience that wasn’t following each movie from its inception to final picture lock, those posters were essentially the sole announcement of the films that were on the way. Now, online hype and pervasive TV advertising can make modern-day movie posters feel like an afterthought, but that doesn’t mean studios can go slacking — after all, a college kid still needs something to paper his dorm walls with. With that in mind, and with 2010 drawing to a close, Vulture has picked out five of the most clever and beautiful one-sheets released this year, and five that surely should have gone back to the drawing board.
A Tyler Perry movie always gets a beautiful, impressionistic teaser poster designed by Lionsgate marketing head Tim Palen, but it tends to look like it’s advertising a highbrow foreign film rather than a Madea comedy; in fact, once Palen gets that out of the way, he’ll typically follow it up with a final poster that looks like it ought to be hanging on the wall in Tracy Jordan’s dressing room. It’s fitting, then, that Perry’s first bid at awards credibility spurred Palen to produce his most gorgeous teaser poster yet, and one that finally feels like it’s selling the right movie. (Fortunately, the eventual series of follow-up character posters was just as impressive.)
The awards prospects of For Colored Girls
may have peaked with its poster, whereas The King’s Speech
is widely expected to be an Oscar front-runner yet debuted a one-sheet so hideous that it looks like it was ripped from a hastily put-together DVD cover for a 1982 BBC TV-movie. “I hate it,” admitted
director Tom Hooper. “I hate it. And it is not going to ever be on any cinema walls. It will be replaced. It’s a train smash.”
Simply put, this poster just works. It’s confident enough in the depth of its lineup that Sylvester Stallone’s credit doesn’t even come first (thank God for small miracles: First billing is so often at odds with the movie-poster tendency to place the most important star in the middle that all too often the credit doesn’t match the actor it’s underneath). In fact, the Expendables poster is so confident in what it’s got that it doesn’t even need to have its action heroes doing anything. Hell, they practically drew Mickey Rourke in after the fact using a No. 2 pencil, and you still wanted to see the movie.
Compare that to the “hide the stars” game employed by Fox when selling Knight and Day. Sure, both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz had their names prominently displayed on the one-sheet, but leaving Cruise’s face off the poster — a move that’s practically unprecedented over his 30-year career — is like an admission that the studio has no confidence in its star’s drawing power anymore. (And when a studio doesn’t believe in a movie, trust us, the audience can feel it.)
Elegant and enticing, the prerelease campaign for The Social Network (which included those marvelously ominous trailers) didn’t miss a single step. The movie’s posters sold the idea and barely even teased the title; as if presaging the word of mouth eventually responsible for the movie’s impressive box-office hold, it was all about starting a conversation, and it worked. This one-sheet had a terrific tagline, but the “Punk. Genius. Billionare.” ads were just as provocative. If they were websites, you would have wanted to click through.
Actors often get photo approval for movie stills and posters, so how Brendan Fraser signed off on this look — where he appears to be employing Joey Tribbiani’s trick of “smell the fart” acting — is a total mystery.
Casey Affleck’s documentary was as much of a mess as the put-on version of Joaquin Phoenix he was chronicling, but for a brief shining moment, this poster seemed to promise everything the movie was unable to deliver: wit, art, and a point.
The Switch was always going to be hamstrung by its off-putting, slightly rapey concept — Jason Bateman secretly impregnates Jennifer Aniston with his own sperm, really? — but the movie’s poster didn’t do a single thing to help its cause. You guys, this is a one-sheet where a dude is sniffing a cup full of cum. (He doesn’t seem to mind, but we’re guessing audiences did.)
Was it a good idea to lean so heavily on M. Night Shyamalan’s name when selling Devil, a nifty little thriller he produced? Based on the hooting laughter that tended to greet his title card when the trailer played in theaters, probably not (though until that flashed onscreen, it was a pretty crackerjack clip). Shyamalan’s ego surely precluded the idea of a poster that wouldn’t feature his name, but this one-sheet is so clever and simple that it only got in the way.
Good things may “come in bears,” but the way these two are positioned with that double entendre of a tagline, one almost expects a sniffing Jason Bateman to come between them.