ByJon Miller, writer at
A caffeinated commentator obsessed with political pop culture and then writing about it. "Don't talk unless you can improve the silence."
Jon Miller

(WARNING: tons of spoilers below, read on with caution)

Movie posters are not just to promote a film for advertisement purposes to audiences. Movie posters have a long history of distinct artfulness and nuances. The iconic posters of movies like Pulp Fiction and Stars Wars that plastered our childhood bedroom walls with colorful images, influence, and visual reveries.

The inventive designs that go into marketing a movie poster start in a room full of executives and filmmakers and stretch out to a broadened sea of artists who work on it. It is a decision that incites a certain reaction from the onlookers. These 27’’ by 40’’ masterpieces have a way of creating an atmosphere of fear, love, or excitement.

Of course, this doesn’t always make the poster any good. How many "horror" movie posters have been released where you were misled until it turned out to be a romantic comedy in the end?

A movie poster should be vague while also giving minor hints as to the storyline and what is expected. The main problem is that movie posters either are way too vague or far too overt. So here are the top 10 of the worst and best movie posters as well as what they did wrong or what they did right.

The Bad And The Pure Ugly

10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I think I know this movie. Is this the one that takes place in the impoverish slums of India? Where children’s parents are killed by rioters? Where said children are then taken in by a creepy businessman and permanently blinded in order to gain sympathy money from tourists? The one where gangsters run rampant and people are tortured for winning too much money on a game show? Slumdog Millionaire may have won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Picture, but it certainly was not “the feel-good movie of the decade” that some critics may have suggested.

Sure, Jamal winning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would have been a good guess, but this poster comes right out and tells you that he does before you even have the chance to see it. It also suggests that Jamal and Latika get to celebrate his victory when in actuality the movie ends with them finally embracing their affection for one another after years of separation.

9. Grudge Match (2013)

The idea of Jake LaMotta and Rocky Balboa finally getting the chance to fight one another in the ring was something all too alluring to pass up. So the studios really played up that aspect, especially when Raging Bull and Rocky are considered two of the greatest boxing movies of all time. The problem with this poster is more of a technical one. While the movie is by no means any better then the poster may suggest— it looks like both actors are distractingly airbrushed onto younger bodies in order to express the feeling of a “good fight” on the horizon. The main problem with that is it contradicts what the film is truly about: aging. Both characters were once boxers, but, like so many, they got older. Now, they are trying to get back to their former selves for one more match.

8. Fantastic Four (2015)

We had high hopes for this one. I mean, it could not have been any worse then the Fantastic Four released 10 years prior (or so we thought). A lot of things on this poster do not make sense after you have seen the movie. First, the movie either takes place at the government control center or on Planet Zero. Neither one of those is in the city as the poster may suggest. There are no meteors or even clouds for that matter.

However, the biggest fault that this poster contains is the suggestion that all four work together as a team when in actuality this only occurs in the last 15 minutes of the movie. A lot has been said and documented about the movie’s troubled production, but we could have at least got an amazing movie poster with some sense to it. Until then, we will call this a disappointment through and through.

7. One Missed Call (2008)

Don’t really know what’s going on here with this poster. Most movies have more then just one designed poster, but this is one of the few movies where there is just only one poster. Unfortunately, this one does not make the least bit of sense. Why does the caller have mouths for eyes? I guess it is to hit home the fact that this whole movie will revolve around phone calls, but that still doesn’t explain why they chose the eyes. We use phones with our mouths and ears, not our eyes. Maybe there is some philosophical meaning behind it, but for now it just looks overly creepy. Sort of like a painting that Salvador Dali would produce while on ecstasy.

6. The Day Of The Dolphin (1973)

You wanna know what this movie starring Academy Award-winner George C. Scott, directed by Academy Award-winner Mike Nichols, and written by his The Graduate screenwriter Buck Henry is about? Well it’s all in the tagline which pulls double duty by being the film’s slogan and synopsis. “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States.” Undoubtedly, this was meant to be a mainstream movie attempt by Nichols, but ended up being something bizarre. Arguably though, this has more to do with the movie’s plot then it does about the movie’s poster. I mean, how do you sell a movie about a killer dolphin to audiences? Well apparently you put George C. Scott at the front of the poster, then you put the synopsis in the top right corner, and then you just hope for the best.

5. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Quick, can you tell me just by looking at this poster what Vanilla Sky is about? You know what it’s called and you know Tom Cruise is the lead — beyond that it's whatever you want it to be until you see the movie. The film definitely gets no points for making even the slightest attempt at a plot hint, but instead just capitalizing on Tom Cruise’s fame. You would have no idea that the movie follows a disfigured Tom Cruise after Cameron Diaz drives them off a bridge, or that it is all just a dream, or it is just an elaborate plan for Cruise to do some soul-searching. Actually, even after watching the movie you don’t really have a full grasp of what it’s about. So, maybe you cannot entirely fault the studio for not really knowing how to market the film, but at least give fair warning to the audience that what they are about to see is a prolonged head-scratching, mind-bending, emotional, vertigo-inducing movie. The way you could do that is to create a visually obscure movie poster out of images and silhouettes instead of just a nice medium shot of Tom Cruise.

4. Up The Sandbox (1972)

What does Barbara Streisand strapped to a baby bottle have anything to do with the plot of the movie is beyond us. Up the Sandbox follows Streisand, a depressed and pregnant (I guess there’s a connection there) woman who fantasizes stuff. Her fantasies take her to the tribes of Africa, dancing with Fidel Castro, working with a terrorist organization. Of course, you could get absolutely none of that by just looking at the movie’s poster.

3. Thelma & Louise (1991)

Thelma & Louise is a fun movie. It is a fun movie about two fun friends who take fun polaroids while having fun driving through the desert. Of course, that’s the vibe you get from the movie’s poster and, boy, are you in for a surprise if you go into that movie expecting a fun ride. After killing a sexual assaulter, the two women begin robbing, eventually taking the police on a wild goose chase. It’s a shame that this was the primary poster used upon release since other posters for the movie seem to be more accurate in depicting the film’s themes of violence and friendship. Thelma & Louise is mostly known for the incredibly grueling performances of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, but they appear more as two zany people to hang out with in the film’s initial poster.

2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

This is what I meant when I said that sometimes movie posters just hammer in the movie’s plot to anyone who gives it the slightest attention. Sometimes less is more, but no one in the studios had that in mind when this was designed. If subtly was key, then they all failed. The Star Trek series was desperate in gaining new audience groups, especially the LBGT community as their voices in film began to be heard. The movie makes sure that we know it takes place in San Francisco, however, if you just so happened to be living under a rock, rest assure the studio has also kept that mind too. Much of the LBGT rights movement commenced in San Francisco and in the attempt to attract the community, they put the LBGT rainbow colors right behind the movie’s titles.

1. Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973)

An iconic Japanese monster of giant proportions versus a flying monster equal in size. This was a duel that movies were made to depict. Of course, it wouldn’t be mass destruction unless a national monument were to fall victim during their plight. For the poster of Godzilla vs. Megalon it was New York’s very own World Trade Center. Two towers with two monsters on top of them battling it out must have seemed exciting to see at the time. However, you should be forewarned that the movie actually takes place in Japan and not New York.

Scientific accuracies aside (since both creatures weigh tens of thousands of tons and wouldn't be able to stand on the towers), we wonder who decided to use this as the film’s poster in America or why even create such a misleading poster in the first place? These are just some of the many questions that have yet to be answered. The old Godzilla series is well known for its “so bad it’s good” practical effects that one has to be grateful that they didn’t even make the attempt to recreate a miniature World Trade Center.

The Great And The Wildly Compelling

10. American Beauty (1999)

This is an iconic one right here. The red rose is a recurring image that flourishes in the film, so it makes perfect sense that it would make an appearance on the film’s poster. Also, we don’t really know whose abdomen that is — implying that it is Mena Suvari’s — but does it really matter? The film’s poster gives just enough vague details that it enlists viewer’s interest while also remaining true to the film’s themes of lust and desire.

9. Blow-Up (1966)

Most studios choose to recreate a particular scene from the movie as the film’s poster, however it’s a bit of a tightrope walk. While we do want to reveal what the audience is in for, we also don’t want to reveal too much. This poster does just the right balance of the two. The film follows a fashion photographer who may have taken photos of a murder. Controversial and banned in many countries upon its release, Blow-Up has since become a cultural critique regarding the world of fashion, photography, sexuality, conspiracies, 1960’s youth, and the music of Swinging-London. The poster chooses to saturate itself with red colors while providing a grainy image from a scene, which is more than enough to tell you about the film’s sexual content and artfulness.

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What else do you need to know about the movie? You know you are going to be taken into a brand new bizarre world where horror and eloquence run rampant. Jack Skellington’s outfit alone should provide a sense of an otherworld personality. If that’s not enough, the scenery of oddly shaped hills and terrains underneath a plethora of pumpkins let’s us know that we are in for a creepy, but surreal children’s movie. Oh, and that full moon too!

7. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of those movies where you hate to love it. It is a hypnosis French film of immaculate visuals and story, but not many people have seen it so you don’t really have many people with whom to talk about its flawlessness. The poster sets you right in the mood of the film. It is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from a stroke while his mind is fully intact, but his body is completely paralyzed except for his left eye. The movie was brilliantly executed by director Julian Schnabel, who opts to direct the real-time scenes through Bauby’s left eye, while showing his imagination with visual flair. The poster does an excellent job illustrating those flairs.

6. Brazil (1985)

Brazil has many strange posters that promote the inventive talents of its artists, but none really convey the plot’s outlandishness as this one does. The drawers are reminiscent of the film’s theme that all of the characters are living in the same consumer-minded world. They all go to their corporate jobs, then to their small apartments, and back again; however, the angel — like in Sam’s dream — refuses to go in that same route. In a sense, she breaks out from those drawers and dares to be different — something that Sam is all too attracted to, so he spends the whole movie searching for her. The film knows it is absurd and chooses to play up its absurdities in order to detail a future of government and commercial totalitarianism. All you need to know from looking at the poster is that you are in for a buzzed-out mind-boggler.

5. The 11th Hour (2007)

Movie’s aren’t the only ones with some awesome posters. Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, The 11th Hour is a documentary that portrays our global footprint (literally and figuratively, according to the poster). It is a powerful piece of environmental warning and the documentary’s poster is both a haunting and captivating image that should be the sigil for every global warming group.

4. The Exorcist (1973)

It’s only fair that the most iconic horror movie of all time would have one of the most iconic movie posters of all time. That spotlight in the poster has been branded in the membranes of every horror movie fanatic with no intention of being replaced. Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin conveys a sense of awe and gloomy despair all while facing away from us. What is he walking into? What is focusing in on him? What is he there to do? So many questions rise just from looking at the poster, but one thing is sure: We will not like the answers.

3. Shame (2011)

It’s no secret that European advertisements are liberal (to say the least). When this controversial Hungarian poster was banned for being too explicit you know it had to be for good reason. Shame is not only one of the most underrated movies of the last few years, but it is also easily one of the best movies of the last decade. The film follows Michael Fassbender’s character Brandon as he explores Manhattan’s limits while keeping his sexual addiction under wraps. It is a powerfully wrenching movie that deserves more credit than it has been getting. While most of Shame’s posters opted for a close-up of Fassbender or his disheveled bed — the banned Hungarian poster had it right. Nothing about the movie is erotic, despite receiving an NC-17 rating. It’s disturbing and unapologetic and it should be discussed more if you have the backbone for it (sorry, that pun was all too perfect).

2. Metropolis (1927)

The gold layer is merely a decent touch. It is the details within the poster that truly injects you with a science fiction overdose. This pioneering movie has paved the way for all future filmmakers and science fiction aficionados. The city is a utopian one and the robot is put in the center of the poster and in front of the city because she will be responsible for its eventual downfall.

1. Jaws (1975)

This is the movie that changed everything we now know about summer blockbusters and audience reactions. While the beaches certainly didn’t appreciate the reaction that Jaws had on audiences, one cannot deny that the film and its poster are iconic in film history. While the shark is never seen until the second half of the movie, the poster plays up its vast size in comparison to a human. The shark’s total appearance remains obscure, instead focusing just on the top half. The poster also plays up the film’s biggest horror draw, which is that you will not see it until it attacks you. The poster is likely to be found in any movie-themed place and its influence is more then evident even today — just look at the Piranha 3D poster.

To go along with this theme, here are the greatest horror movies of the last century:

What movie posters do you have hanging up in your room?


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