Marketing is a monster. It's the pair of eyes under your bed you see every night, and despite your fears, you still throw down scraps to see if it will venture out of the shadows. It's the late-night lamplight in the woods that you know you shouldn't investigate, but can't resist following. It's a monster we can't live without, and one that we often enjoy. So many things rest on the shoulders of a movie's marketing campaign — just look at how powerful marketing was for The X-Men — that it has become its own art form.
What lies at the artistic core of this new kind of platform? It isn't the sneaky tactics used to get people in the theater, and it isn't the all-encompassing monopoly of movie ads flooding the internet. Marketing has a secret weapon that almost never lies: movie posters. They're the works of art that pop up before any trailers, clips, or sidebar ads. While it's easy to misrepresent a film by remixing video clips and music, movie posters work to combine elements of a film into a single, unmoving force. If you look closely, there are five different types of movie posters commonly used to give a glimpse into the nature of a film, and they are an experience all on their own.
1. The Compilation Poster
Epic. That's the first word that races through your mind when you see a compilation poster. Built out of faces, landscapes, and other interesting movie elements, compilation posters show off as much of the movie they can without using motion or sound. Search one of these for an inch of wasted space, I dare you. You won't find it.
The psychology behind compilation posters is simple. They evoke a sense of impact, grandeur, and most importantly inclusion. It's a not-so-subtle way to put people in the seats, and that's why movies like #StarWars and #TheFellowshipOfTheRing use the compilation format. Looking at them is exciting, and if they're done right, enrapturing. There's nothing quite like a compilation poster to shoot adrenaline through your veins and pull you to the theater. Compilation posters cement themselves in your mind as the identity of a film, and they shape your vision of the coming feature as much as the movie itself.
2. The Concept Poster
Other than excitement, one of the strongest emotions movies create is intrigue. Concept posters are built around an idea: a child holding the hand of a monster, like in #Logan, or a new element in a familiar landscape, like the posters for #Arrival. The idea can be anything. Concept posters exist not to draw you in, but to leave you wondering. They're the medications that release over time.
Even though concept posters never answer the questions they're asking, they clue you in to the tone of a film. Movies sporting concept posters are often darker, quieter stories, and so they draw a specific kind of audience, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of crawling into the minds of every person who glimpses them in the dark halls of a theater.
3. The Mood Poster
#GuardiansOfTheGalaxy has a lot going for it. Sure, the soundtrack is amazing and the action is spectacular, but the humor of the movie is what stole the hearts of the audience. Where did we first get a glimpse of the humor? The poster, not the trailer. Guardians of the Galaxy has a mood poster. It masquerades as a compilation, and it evokes some of the same encompassing feelings, but what sets it apart is the little line at the bottom: "You're welcome." Those two beautifully sarcastic words create an immediate mood and tell us Guardians of the Galaxy is not a typical Marvel movie. It's a movie that has lines like, "You said it yourself, bitch. We're the guardians of the galaxy." Mood posters play off the fact that human beings get hooked on feelings, and we'll chase them until we can experience them again, even if that means circling back and staring at the poster again.
4. The Narcissist Poster
Too harsh? No, I don't think so. There are some movies that know exactly what they are, who they're trying to draw in, and why they exist, and so they advertise themselves in the most wonderfully narcissistic way. Narcissist posters are made up of titles alone. #JurassicWorld doesn't need to excite people with a compilation or set a specific mood, because Jurassic World is a big enough film to use nostalgia and word-of-mouth to sell tickets. Narcissist posters are created to be a reminder, not an announcement. Like concept posters, they stick with you long after you first see them, and the feelings they create build with time.
5. The Solo Poster
An unfortunate fact: We only exist inside our own minds. But if we could, we'd jump into the minds of others and live a thousand different lives. This shared desire is the reason solo posters exist. They feature a single soul — sometimes surrounded by a landscape, or sometimes meeting a specific obstacle. We're drawn to them because they promise a character experience. The Martian allowed us to live on Mars, survive Mars, and escape Mars. All it needed to advertise the journey was Matt Damon's face inside a space suit helmet. Solo posters tease a movie that will let us exist behind the eyes of someone else, and they also create a contagious feeling of strength. What's more powerful than to leave with a feeling of self reliance?
Movie posters are carefully-planned pieces of a marketing campaign, but they're also a form of art that has a surprising amount of influence. Whether they turn the dial on excitement, leave you with a burning question, create a strong mood, remind you of something you love, or give you the chance to be bigger than yourself, they're always waiting to be noticed on the walls of theaters. The next time you don't trust a trailer, dig further into the monster of marketing and take a look at a poster. They hold the biggest clues about films, and they won't let you walk away without something worth feeling.
We hear them every day without ever realizing. Movie posters are their own special stories.
What is your favorite movie poster of all time and what category does it fall under?