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From Prints to Digital: An Evolution of Movie Posters

Posted by Christos Argiros 23/02/2017 0 Comment(s)

Hop onto Marty Mcfly’s DeLorean time machine as we transverse back 100 years, where printed media was the dominant form of visual media in the film industry.


Designed to serve two primary purposes, the emphasis was placed on film posters to promote and spark interest in the audience, drawing them to the box office. Before the emergence of today’s digital media, every visual element on a film poster, from vibrant colours to bold typography, were deliberately crafted to immortalise the movie’s most distinct scene and cash in on the popularity of the film stars.


Besides being prime examples of how advertising, art and design have merged and evolved in the last century, many vintage film posters give us an insightful glimpse into the past such as the design trends, fashion and political status of its era. While film posters are becoming more obsolete as technology progresses, they have played a significant role in shaping the design of movie posters* today.


*The use of ‘Film Industry’ would have changed the original point we were making.


The Beginnings of a Glorious Era


Before commercial television changed the dynamics of the entertainment industry in the 1950s, film posters were one of the main points of contact between a newly launched movie and the general masses. The earliest movie posters created in the 1910s consist of mostly scene depictions, accompanied by significantly smaller and simple block text, resembling magazine covers. Movie posters created from the 1920s onwards include stronger and bolder exploration in poster design.   



The 1920s – 1930s


Most movie posters created in the 1920s employed relatively traditional illustration style. Typography was typically clear, bold, vibrantly coloured and has its own space from the scene illustrations, as seen in Nosferatu (1922) and King Kong (1933). These hand-rendered prints displayed the first glimmer of the fusion between art and text.




The 1940s – 1950s


By the 1940s, scene depictions began to be replaced with character illustrations as celebrities gain more prominence in the eyes of the audience, as seen in Casablanca (1942). Typography also started receiving more artistic treatment, with more conceptual designs and dropping subtle hints of the movie’s plot, making typography a vital part of the artwork such as Sunset Boulevard (1950).



The 1960s – 1970s


Posters from the 60s take a bigger leap into creative typography, ditching elegance for fun and quirk. From cartoon-like typefaces to rainbow colours to tilted and warped layout, the text had further cemented its position in the overall artwork during this era, and this can be seen in Breathless (1960) and West Side Story (1961).



The 1970s – 1980s


The 1970s witness the rise of photographs playing a significant role in movie posters, such as Terminator (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Typography continued to evolve creatively, but moved into a slightly more peripheral role as the new trend of photographs began to occupy the bulk of canvas space, which is a strong influence on today’s movie posters. The use of both imagery and type are more balanced compared to those produced in the previous decades, where one is often more prominent than the other.



The 1990s – Today


With the advent of digital editing and graphics, creativity knows no boundaries in movie posters created from the 1990s onwards. Designers are bestowed with advanced tools and freedom to create virtually anything they can imagine. Photorealism began draping over both imagery and text, rendering special effects such as smoke, negative space, mist, lighting and various other textures. Examples of such features were particularly prominent in The Dark Knight (2008) and Zombieland (2009).





Understanding how designs of movie posters from the past have influenced today’s designs is both enriching and nostalgic. It is highly anticipating seeing how the designs of movie posters will further evolve in the future, but since much have been tried and tested in the last century, changes may not be as distinctive. Nonetheless, design has never failed to prove the world that phenomenal trends are birthed from perceived creative blockage, so there will always be something to look forward to.


Considering donning your walls with an iconic vintage movie poster? Check out our movie poster section at https://woodenposters.com/posters/vintage-movie-posters