On Wednesday we looked at the thirty worst movie posters of the year, but it’s not all quite so grim—there’s a flipside to that devastatingly funny collection of Photoshop disasters, and it’s the best thirty posters that were released this year. While we can objectively judge what makes a poster bad (either it is well composed or it isn’t, and so on) our reasons for calling a poster good tend to be a little more subjective. We can still agree on certain things, like if a poster is well designed, but personal preferences do come into the mix here. I tend to like more abstract and minimalistic posters, and you’ll see that reflected below. As with the thirty worst list, I’ve ranked only my top five at the very bottom. The other twenty-five are presented in alphabetical order. Thank you again to the IMP Awards for doing a stellar job in collecting all of 2012’s posters together.
After reviewing thirty of the most fake and empty posters I’ve ever seen, 4:44’s feels like it’s positively brimming with emotion. Dafoe and Leigh’s embrace encapsulates precisely what I imagine the last day on Earth would feel like. The artist has laid the two characters over the skyline of a city. In science fiction, cities have long been a symbol for isolation and loneliness (Blade Runner would be the classic example), and we get the same sense here, except that these two at least have each other, and I guess that’s what counts when the world is about to end.
The composition of this image is what interests me most, and I could take or leave the fact that is girl is topless. Of course, the poster is intended to be sexually suggestive—even if her back wasn’t bare, the braided hair and the clichéd Catholic schoolgirl plaid skirt clue us in to what’s going on. The crowd of gawking people in the background draw our attention next, and for once in a poster they’re correctly out of focus. (If you look at the worst posters of the year, one of the trends is that everything in the image is in sharp focus, even when there’s a clear foreground and background.) By contrast, the lettering is smart and tasteful, and it’s this that gives us the impression that the film might not just be a dumb teen flick about the craziness of high school senior year. Sadly, Wikipedia tells us that this movie is financed by a porn studio—perhaps I should have known—which probably doesn’t bode well for the film itself. At least they got the poster right.
The fact that Spider-Man isn’t in this poster is what makes it work. The spider symbol is well integrated into the center of the image, and the composition gives us a sense of what it might be like to be Spider-Man when he’s a mile up and web-slinging without a care. Here’s the thing about superhero movies, and particularly superhero sequels (this film isn’t a direct sequel, but for all intents and purposes it’s the fourth Spider-Man film): we know who these superheroes are. We know Batman; we know Superman; we know Spider-Man. We don’t need a series of posters showing us his costume from all kinds of different angles. Here we get something with a little more thought, and it turns out great. (To be sure, Marvel did produce two or three posters that just showed Spider-Man, but at least they also presented us with other posters like this one.)
Many posters try to include every actor that’s in the film, but it rarely works out. This is the exception that proves the rule—a group photo that’s done right. This isn’t an Avengers job, where each actor has been copied from a different promotional image and pasted out-of-context into a weird-looking collage (see that poster here). Here, it actually looks like all these people posed for the poster—more specifically posed for a wedding photo as they would at a wedding. In fact, there’s even a good chance that these are the real actors. (The way it’s usually done is to have look-alike models stand in for the actors, and then Photoshop the actors’ faces over the models’.) They’ve still taken an airbrush to each face, and Diane Keaton’s come out looking a little weird, but that’s about the worst thing you could say about this poster.
It’s difficult to convey the gritty, modernistic vibe of the Bourne movies in poster format. I can’t imagine how you would go about doing that—the posters for the previous three Bourne films haven’t done an especially good job, as most of them just consist of Matt Damon running in a particular direction with some digital artifacting around him. The poster for The Bourne Legacy is better, however; Renner’s grainy, desaturated figure hints at the rough action in the film, and the Venetian blind effect evokes the espionage and cat and mouse game formula the Bourne films are built on.
The important thing here is what the artist composing the poster didn’t do. This is a movie about athletes that burn all their money away and retire with nothing, and an easier way to go about making a poster of this would be to have an athlete on his hands and knees and in tears, or perhaps have piles of money burning away in a trashcan, or something to take effect—in other words, some heavy-handed reference to the loss of cash and capital. This poster is much subtler than that. Ingeniously, we’re presented with a receipt of all the things that athletes spend money on—my favorites are “shady agents” and “alimony.”
I am generally not a fan of horror films, so this poster isn’t quite for me, but I imagine that if you wanted to stir up interest in your disturbed (and disturbing) movie, this is how you’d go about doing that. These two posters are extremely troubling. The one on the left is distressing while the one on the right is eerie in a way that sort of reminds me of the Max Headroom hijack tape. I have absolutely no intention of watching this film—these images will ensure I keep as far away from it as possible—but that’s immaterial, because I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the film even if I hadn’t seen the posters. Despite that, we can appreciate the posters as pieces of horrific and repulsive art, and in that respect they’re well executed.
This is the first pulpy looking poster we’ve included here. You can only really make these kind of posters for comedies (you wouldn’t choose this style of art to promote Schindler’s List). This kind of art rarely goes wrong, and this poster in particular is especially good. The solemnity in Will Ferrell’s face is perfect, but nothing beats the fact that the poster literally announces that the film is in 2D. Also great is the random explosion in the background, and the bombed out car that’s there for no reason other than to fill space. It’s a totally ridiculous poster, and that is what makes it so great.
I like minimalistic posters because they tend to have a certain class about them. This one is excessively simple, but we instantly consider the film in a more serious light as opposed to, say, the previous poster. And this one communicates what the film is about very effectively. I’ve not seen the film, and nor have I read a synopsis, but we know from looking at it that there are tough times ahead for this couple despite how happy they appear to be. The way the title of the film fades out, along with the tagline “A loved story,” suggests that these two will not in fact be together “forever.” It’s standard fare for romantic comedies—to describing the plot as ‘routine’ might be an understatement—but the poster conveys all this quietly without a mess of Photoshoppery. It can be done with one movie still and a handful of words.
Functionally, this poster is probably the weakest here—I’ve got no idea what this movie is about, and the poster makes no attempt to fill me in. I gather it will involve a city and a gun, but that’s about it. I’m also confused by the use of “Malcolm” as a title—from what I can tell, the movie is actually called “Charm,” and if you look at the fine print at the bottom you’ll see that Kirsten Dunst gets first billing, yet her name is nowhere to be found. Despite all that, I like how understated the whole thing is—just a pistol erupting out from a concrete jungle.
Posters that require the star of their film to actually do some acting seem to have more success than posters that just attempt to show something in the abstract. This is the first example we’ve seen so far of this. Here, Robert Pattison is required to look solemn, and he does a good job of it. Hands held tightly and leaning forward, we know that while this man might be in a good station in life (he’s in a suit and in the back of a limousine), all is not well beneath the surface. The warm color scheme adds a sickly twist to the mix, and this might be one of the few cases where a digitally added light bloom/lens flare isn’t obtrusive and doesn’t look too fake.
A number of The Dark Knight Rises’ posters made the cut, though if I had to pick one it would be the first on the left—forming the bat symbol out of the crumbling city is a terrific way to go about teasing your film. I’m also partial to the second one, with the Batman mask shattered and the villain Bain retreating into the darkness. As with the Spider-Man poster, the artist hasn’t deliberately made a point of showing us Bain’s face. In fact, we can’t tell anything aside from the fact that this man is a thug and that he’s done ill to our beloved Batman. Like with Cosmopolis, this is a poster that is itself trying to be cinematic, and the result is superb. The posters also carry a certain mystique about them because of their dark colors. We can barely make out the figures in the ‘Rise’ images, and they exude this sense of unbeatable toughness.
I gather that this movie is crazy, and Eva Green is probably a good choice of person to reflect that. She has an exotic look to begin with—it’s her eyes, which have been further affected here—and now she’s mugging with an irresistible cat-like look. Everything is washed out, including the unnatural colors, and yet this poster does a good job of not looking too fake. Yes, it’s all totally exaggerated and artificial, but the shape of it is still real, and when we look at it we can still make out exactly who it is. It takes a second to realize why it’s so jarring—and color me shocked that the director of this feature is Tim Burton.
Here are two more pulpy posters. The first is especially well done—the dark blood on his face seems to shine at us, and his mouth is slightly ajar in a tiny but devastating gasp. The poster on the right is great because, much like with the Casa De Mi Padre poster, it’s purposefully a mess. We have a whole bunch of characters doing nothing except being crazy, and the inclusion of flames for no apparent reason lends to the absurdity of the thing. I’m also appreciative of the twist on the tagline—“lock up your fathers.”
Looking at it, we know in an instant what this film is about. It’ll probably be a mediocre rom-com, maybe tailored toward teens. But this is another poster that succeeds because of what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t paste its characters over a stock background of New York or Chicago. It doesn’t use models to stage the poster, and then apply the actors’ faces in with Photoshop. This is another poster that is excessively simple, but we don’t need something complex for this film. It’s two girls talking on the phone and having a riot, and that’s more than sufficient.
If we must have a collage/gallery style poster that involves every single person in the film, then this is a way to pull it off painlessly. Here, each person gets their own space, but more crucially, there’s actually some consistency to all of the headshots. In each one the actor has their head titled to one side, and they’re either deadpan-looking or laughing. And, unlike in the poster for Crossroad which made the worst posters list, the faces here are actually people that we recognize, so their inclusion in the image is justified. The only grip I have here is that they’ve done a horrible job with Megan Fox’s picture—it almost looks as if they’ve pulled that still from an entirely different film.
#14: The Good Doctor
We know from one look at this that this is a movie about a doctor that in fact isn’t all that “good”—perhaps he’s a relatively straight-laced guy, but at some point he’ll have to break his moral code and his world will be turned upside down. Bloom looks like the guiltiest man alive, and he’s matched by the poster’s ironic tagline, “Do no harm.” But my favorite part is the way the word ‘good’ is sliced in two, a design choice that evokes a doctor’s scalpel. You might only notice it subconsciously, but it’s a major hint that nothing good will be happening here. If there’s any fault here, it’s that the woman in the back (Riley Keough) is blatantly Photoshopped in, likely from one of the film’s stills. The artist wanted has tried to make it seem like she’s looking over Bloom’s shoulder, but it doesn’t work.
#13: Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
This poster looks like it could be promoting a horror film; in fact, it’s tied to a documentary on the photographer Gregory Crewdson, who is renowned for his staged scenes of households like this one. Often there’s a surrealist twist to his work, and that comes across here. The image of somebody floating like that with such a lost, emotionally detached look on their face is bizarre, but bizarre in a way that strikes a chord with us. What impresses me most about this image is that it appears to be real—and if some digital trickery is involved, which would be a simpler method of getting this scene than filling up a stage with water, they’ve done an amazing job of putting it all together.
Ice Age is among the most recognizable animated features, and that naturally makes an artist’s job much easier. Here, the studio has the luxury of not needing to even name the film or tell us anything about it—we know exactly what’s going on. We see the franchise’s most memorable character at it again, and if you’re a fan of the Ice Age films, that’s about all you need. But even beyond that, it’s just a well composed image. I feel the squirrel’s peril: the ocean is long and ceaseless, the sky is empty and crystalline, and this poor and unlikely animal is stuck in between, coasting along on this small splotch of ice. And how’s he meant to get that acorn? Do squirrels swim?
Of all the posters on this list, this one has the most emotional gravity. It just looks sad. The kid’s troubled glance toward us is tough, as is Common’s thousand-yard stare. The slight yellow color tone adds to the melancholy effect. Behind them, life goes on as usual, but here they are, totally stranded. It’s a well composed piece of art, and I’m more likely to see the film now that I would have otherwise—especially with a title like LUV.
#10: Nature Calls
This is my favorite of the pulp-styled posters on the list. It succeeds simply with its ridiculousness. Who does a better job mugging: Rob Riggle, who looks like he’s seen some absurd FailBlog moment play out before him; Johnny Knoxville, pretending to be an actor that’s pretending to be outraged; or the quietly pruning Patton Oswalt, who looks like he’s just witnessed George Lucas take a lighter to the original print of Star Wars? My pick is Oswalt, who does a good job of looking intimidating—difficult for a man of his stature, I’d assume. Actually, my favorite might be Patrice O’Neal at the back. What’s he smirking at? I don’t know, but whatever it is I bet it’s good!
#9: Nurse 3D
When I first saw this poster I thought it was a man exhaling cigarette smoke. It sort of looks like that—the way the would-be smoke fades away into the dark. But upon closer examination we see that it is an image of a man literally nursing. I suppose I should find this disturbing, but I think the play on the title of the film is great. And looking at it artistically, it’s a well composed photograph. From what I can tell, Nurse 3D is a horror film. Evidently it’s about a nurse that uses her sexuality to lure men to their deaths. Going by the track record of the horror genre in recent years, and by that short description of the film, this poster may be as good as it gets for the Nurse 3D.
#8: The Possession
There’s one thing I learned about horror films from looking at all these posters for these two top thirty lists, and that is this: a horror film’s poster can have some variation on one of the following three themes (see this image for reference). The first involves a body part being pressed against some type of fabric or other impressionable surface (in the reference image, you’ll see this applies to the first, third, and fourth poster). The second involves the distortion of a face (the second poster in the reference image). The third involves some kind of wallpaper, usually of a florid, late nineteenth century design (the third and fifth posters). 99% of horror film posters follow these rules. Both the previous Nurse 3D poster and this poster for The Possession earn points simply because they don’t stick with those templates. And this is a legitimately troubling image—another person’s hand should never be erupting out of one’s mouth like that under any circumstances. If this happens to you, get to an emergency room and quick. What is the likelihood that this film is actually based on a true story, by the way? Zero percent. (And I mean true as in actually true, not as in Amityville horror “true,” where some people decide to make up a story and then sell it to a film studio as real.)
There’s nothing especially complicated about any of these portraits, and yet I find them to be incredibly eerie. Even the ridiculously incredulous taglines don’t spoil it for me. Each actor manages to put on a haunting and totally unnerving look. Sigourney Weaver is the most unsettling, but Elizabeth Olsen’s fatalistic deadpan stare is a close second. Cillian Murphy looks creepy even in the best of circumstances—he was memorable as Scarecrow in Batman Begins, but he was even more sinister in Red Eye, the surprisingly good airplane thriller with Rachel McAdams. Yet the secret winner might be Robert De Niro, who evidently missed the instruction to look straight into the camera. What surprises me most is how a simple red tint gives the posters this weird, unsettling aura. I guess things turn out well when you have actors actually pose for posters instead of just Photoshopping them in. Who would have thought?
#6: The Weather Outside
This poster was designed by the same artist that did the Father’s Day posters. This one apes a 1940s-era aesthetic, and it does so to great effect. Immediately upon seeing it I thought of the novels of Raymond Chandler—perhaps because ‘The Weather Outside’ sounds like the kind of title Chandler would pick for one of his stories. The poster perhaps tries to do a little too much—there’s about two too many images crammed in there—but it’s a great name for a film, it’s a great aesthetic to base a poster on, and it’s a great poster overall; certainly one that I’d pin up on a wall somewhere if I happened upon a copy of it. Now, here’s the top five.
While The Cabin in the Woods managed to carve a special place for itself in the worst posters list, the film redeems itself and then some with this gem. What better way of representing how mysterious a cabin in the woods is by transforming it into an Escher sketch? I love how simple the concept is: “You think you know the story,” goes the tagline, and what follows is an impossible series of rooms and staircases, with four people descending in on each other. It makes me question why more studios don’t commission artists to draw posters like this. We’ve seen a number so far that involved turning movie stills into photorealistic pulpy art, but this is the first one on the list that’s actually done by hand. It takes some thought and some care, but the payoff is great.
I’m still stunned by how much Daniel Day Lewis looks like President Lincoln in this image. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it’s absolutely terrific.
Few of the posters on this list attempt to have a grand scale to them—that seems to be more the domain of superhero movies—but this Prometheus teaser does a great job of it. I’m not quite sure what we’re looking at, but that’s precisely the point; it’s meant to be a ghastly sight, just as the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey is. I like how massive the image is; I also like how we’re presented with this scene, and we’re given room to interpret it without any other kind of interference. The poster’s tagline is tucked away at the top and the release information is kept at the very bottom. A slender white border outlines the panel, and that’s about it. We’re left with this strange piece of art, and we stare.
There are two reasons why I like this poster, the first being that it makes logical sense. The film’s title is ‘Skyfall,’ so it’s smart to push Daniel Craig’s figure all the way down to the bottom quarter of the image. Everything else on the poster—the 007 logo, the credits, and the title of the film—feels like it’s bearing down on him. The second reason why I like this poster is because it’s the only poster I’ve ever seen that manages to successfully simulate the feeling of movement. The dust clouds around Craig’s body actually make it seem like his body is moving, like he’s being propelled laterally (as if he’s fallen out of a car or has just landed on the ground after diving backward in slow motion). I also love the simple pose—it’s essentially a callback to the gun barrel shot included in every Bond film. The white space gives the poster a sense of class that has been missing in Bond posters for some time, and we’re shown what we need to see: James Bond has a gun, and he’s conducting his business in a very James Bond-like manner. It’s about as close to a perfect composition as we’re ever likely to get.
How many films can be said to have nine great posters? Each of the above is absolutely superb. Some of them have the pulp effect we’ve already seen; others are abstract; others include stills of the actors in a more traditional movie poster style. But each of them is near flawless. The one with the solo photo of Brad Pitt is great. The big white lettering pierces the black background, practically screaming the name of the film. In the poster beneath it, the actors’ faces are splattered around the Statue of Liberty. My favorite of them all is the second large one, where the red line cuts right though a man’s head where his eyes would be. I love the two-panel color; I love its abstract quality; and I love the tarnished effect they’ve given the image. These posters do precisely what is required of them: they are so good that they generate interest in and of themselves. I’m sure plenty of tickets to the film were sold on the strength of these images alone. They are unbeatably good.