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Movie Posters through the Ages: 1970s v 2000s (film article)

Posted on May 19, 2006 at 5:55 AM

The late 1970’s movie posters integrate several significant design elements and principles that distinguish them from their mid 2000’s counterpart. While the later posters focus more on cinematic mood and style, these posters are actual screenshots of the film, or photographs [or sketches] of characters. Though elements like point and line are common with both sets of posters, they are used more frequently with this set (e.g. the stars in the background and the receding road in the foreground of Close Encounters of the Third Kind [this is an example of texture, used also in Saturday Night Fever and Apocalypse Now]). Form is used less, and usually only on the faces of characters. Tone is used much less frequently than it is with modern day posters, and is basically non-existent with these sample posters, with the exception of “Deer Hunter”, which makes great use of shadow across the face of the protagonist to illustrate tone. However, colour is used much more frequently. Bright colours are used with Saturday Night Fever and Apocalypse Now, and the other posters use a lot of white. This parallels with the strong use of black and darker color of the mid 2000’s posters. A lot of effort has gone into the letterform of these posters, using colour and form. This also parallels with the simple, colourless letter forming of the latter poster set.

The late 70’s posters also use the design principles to great affect. Principles like figure-ground to help establish important visual information (such as the photo in Kramer vs. Kramer); balance creates a stable and formal compositions (such as the central road in Close Encounters of the Third Kind); and cropping emphasizes significant areas (such as the flight scene in Apocalypse Now). Hierarchy is made important with several of these posters, such as Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Apocalypse Now. The hierarchy tends to be arranged in the importance of picture, title, and then tagline.

Despite advertising for the same medium (films), the 2000’s movie posters have a different design feel to them. Unlike the previous set of posters design elements such as point, line, and texture are infrequent with this set (except perhaps with the blurry lights in the background of Crash). Having said that, tone and form are used much more frequently (the back muscles in Million Dollar Baby and the character's face in The Aviator). This gives these posters a much more organic feel, despite their darker undertones. Tone is also used a lot in these posters, one might say instead of colour. A lot of shadow and darker colors have been laced over the surface of these posters, giving them a dark, moody; isolated feel. The letterform is much more simplistic and dull in this set of posters, and no real form or colour has been employed to emphasis them. The lack of color, extensive use of tone, and simplistic letterform all contrast with the previous set of posters, which yielded the opposite results.


The mid 2000s also use several of the design principles. Figure-ground is not really employed with these posters, as no real information is trying to be given out about the film. With the exception of The Aviator, and maybe The Last Samurai, none of the movie posters really indicate what the film is about. Balance is used as a visual axis to create symmetrical stability in most of the posters (e.g. the three men in Mystic River); and hierarchy is employed to establish important information (with the order still picture, title, and then tagline/actors). Unlike the first set of posters, cropping is not used in this set. This is because, rather than taking an isolated shot of the film, the visual artists have designed the graphics specifically for the poster.


There are many differences and similarities between the posters from each period, and these reflect the cultural and social influences of that time. The posters either feature landscape or character shots; or screenshots from the film itself. The earlier posters are simplistic in design and much more obviously associated with film. They also make use of illustrations and landscape shots, instead of character photography. Compare this to the later posters, which are much more complex and abstract in their intention. They are full of mood and emotion, and use blended photography and letterform rather than actual scene portrayal. The mid-2000 posters use much less colour; mostly black and grey. These design elements indicate the difference of feelings between the two periods. The earlier period (late 1970’s) were much more inexperienced than current visual artists, and therefore their poster designs were much simpler and less artistic. This period was also more naïve and innocent, hence the bright colors. The posters of the later period (mid 2000’s) reflect the dark and isolated mood of current Western society. This is shown through the use dark colours and extensive use of shadow. It also signifies why many of the characters eyes have been covered.

Categories: ARTICLES, Cinema

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