Top 10 Movie Posters of All Time

Inspired by a recent shopping spree and the reveal of one of my favorite posters in recent years (see the Never Let Me Go poster, Lightning Round: 7/29), I’ve decided to look at the absolute best movie posters of all time. These are iconic images, pictures that give the viewer instant insight into the film they advertise. Personal taste has a lot to do with this (as always, I suppose); I generally prefer simplicity and minimalism to cluttered, busy posters, which leads me to worship one graphic designer above all (more on that later on). With luck, there will soon be several of these adorning my dorm room wall…

10. La Dolce Vita

The cool blue background contrasted by the flash of Anita Enberg’s dress tells you all you need to know about the stylish nightlife that dominates Fellini’s art-house classic. Using painted, slightly stylized figures instead of photographs also helps signals Fellini’s transition out of his neo-realist phase.

9. Fargo

The cross-stitch design of the poster perfectly conveys the off-kilter atmosphere of the Coen Bros.’ “homespun” thriller. Like the film itself, the poster disguises a dark interior under a superficial veneer of innocence and tranquility.

8. The Silence of the Lambs

Horror films have given us some of the best posters of all time, often delivering a sense of dread and panic that the film itself can’t even manage. The Silence of the Lambs doesn’t suffer from such an imbalance, however; Jonathan Demme provides just as many disturbing, discomforting moments in his film as promised by this image. In a wonderfully surrealist touch, if you look closely, the skull on the moth is formed by several naked human bodies, a reference to a famous image by Salvador Dali.

7. Rosemary’s Baby

Another discomforting image. The pure dread and fear conveyed by the menacing silhouette of the baby carriage is staggering. The sickly green color  also foreshadows the terrifying images of the rape scene. And for my money, this is one of the best poster/tagline pairings ever. Combine that sense of dread with “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby,” and the effect is maddening: why must we pray for Rosemary’s baby? What the hell is going on in this movie?

6. Barry Lyndon

Kubrick’s picaresque tale gets the minimalist treatment in this wonderful poster clearly inspired by Saul Bass (the full extent of my man-crush on Bass coming up in a minute). The red rose is so playful, so stark.

5. Lawrence of Arabia

This poster perfectly captures the grand scale and wide cast of characters in Lean’s epic, as well as the enigmatic, mysterious nature of Lawrence himself.

4. Straw Dogs

The unsettling violence of Peckinpah’s controversial feature is foreshadowed here by the shattered glass. The world of Dustin Hoffman’s quiet, timid mathematician is about to be smashed to bits as Peckinpah explores the depths of sadism, vigilantism and obsession.

3. Anatomy of a Murder

Someday, I may have to do a “Top 10 Movie Posters by Saul Bass” list; he’s certainly worthy enough, I almost included no less than 4 of his designs on this list before grudgingly whittling it down to 2. If you’re at all familiar with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick or Otto Preminger, you’ll recognize Bass’ art; in addition to numerous movie posters, Bass was also responsible for the distinctive title sequences of North by Northwest, Psycho and Dr. Strangelove. As I said, I love minimalism, so I absolutely adore Bass’ jagged, disjointed lines and simple geometric shapes. Posters today are often overloaded with information, especially since actors’ contracts started demanding that their faces get plastered all over a film’s ads. Bass knew that the most memorable poster images strip the film down to its absolute basics.

2. Chinatown

When did artists’ renditions of actors for movie posters become so unpopular? A painting or drawing adds a sense of style to the image that the basic blown-up image of Jack Nicholson’s face would fail at. Here, Dunaway’s presence is so ethereal; she becomes more of an idea than a person, a spirit floating over the film. She represents everything that Nicholson’s Jake Gittes desires, and everything he can never obtain.

1. Vertigo

Another masterful image from – you guessed it – Saul Bass. I don’t even have the words to describe how well this poster fits the film: I suppose it’s enough to say, what better way to embody the sickening, disorienting feeling of protagonist Scottie Ferguson’s vertigo? That the silhouettes are so reminiscent of chalk outlines is a great warning for the film’s fatally precipitous twists and turns.

5 thoughts on “Top 10 Movie Posters of All Time

  1. Ooooh interesting selection! I definitely agree with Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby (so eerie, so beautiful), Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia, and La Dolce Vita. I also love Chaplin’s Gold Rush poster though–BEAUTIFUL painted image (I miss those…)

  2. This is a very good post. I’ve been meaning to post about great movie posters. I love ‘The Straw Dogs’ and ‘Anatomy of A Murder’ poster

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