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Friday, January 28, 2022

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The Shortlist: Top 15 Movie Posters

All the posters in this list are clickable to Hi-Res versions.

15. American Beauty
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Perhaps the most predictable choice on this list, the poster for American Beauty is also an instant classic. The shot of a woman’s stomach is an instantly sensual image, but when coupled with the red rose; a symbol of lust, sex and danger, it becomes ever more mysterious. A virginal image which also recalls the story of Adam and Eve, and the dangers of forbidden fruit, the image is loaded with prohibited sexuality that can’t help but draw the attention. The title is in bold black, the tagline asking us to …look closer. Inevitably, 5 Oscars later, we all did.

14. Straw Dogs
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One of my favourite films of all time, Peckinpah’s controversial masterpiece is basically a Western set in Cornwall, but better fits into the sub-genre of ‘man pushed too far fights back’ (yes, it exists). The image is a simple one, the shattered glass representing struggle, threat and violence. But it’s the cold, complacent and calculating stare of Dustin Hoffman that really grabs attention. It’s the look of a man who has been pushed just a step too far, and like the glass, broken. “This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.” This poster says all that and more.

13. Downhill Racer
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The film is somewhat underrated but the poster is a flat-out classic, almost recalling something from the nouvelle vague; like Godard directing a skiing drama. The white and grey are a perfect match and the image is a deeply romantic one; yet also unresolved. The lovers are inches away from a kiss, and the skier at the top of the hill is far away from his goal. It’s a poster of longing; an image of love to be gained and success to be won. It’s a hopeful vision, a striking one, and a work of art in its own right.

12. The Italian Job
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Okay, so it’s not really a fair representation of the tame comedy caper, but this has to some of the coolest poster artwork of all time. Michael Caine looks more like Al Capone, but the cup of tea tops off the image with a quaint sense of Englishness, and the tagline imbues his shadowed steeliness with a sense of mystery. And the getaway map drawn on the back of a topless girl gives the danger an instant sex appeal. I love The Italian Job as it is, but in many ways this film looks even better…

11. Manhattan
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One of the classic images of American cinema was a complete accident, with Allen and his crew uprooting a bench and re-homing it to look over Manhattan Bridge, in order to get a shot for the film. Beautifully shaded, the isolated couple are dwarfed by the almost ghostly image of the bridge; a faded, misty presence over midnight love. It’s as if they’re the only people in a world too beautiful to recognise, despite the famous location. An iconic image, its simplicity is the winning factor and, again, makes it a work of art in its own right.

10. I Shot Andy Warhol
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A fascinating true story, I Shot Andy Warhol still doesn’t have the audience it deserves, but the poster is a bold recreation of the great artists work, framing his would-be-assassin like one of the icons Warhol loved; Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. Lili Taylor is dressed like a classic cowboy, with her revolver drawn from the holster in a dangerously serious pose that’s as uncomfortable as it is cool. A brave poster, it presents a mentally unstable radicalist as a hero, the tagline proclaiming ‘You Only Get One Shot At Fame’. The writer of the SCUM Manifesto unloaded three shots into Warhol. By his own standards, she should be as famous as this loving poster provokingly suggests.

9. A Clockwork Orange
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What’s left to say about this image? Kubrick’s classic tale of dystopian class war, conformity and violence is best summed up by this bright and breezy image, as oddly threatening as it is bold and colourful. Of course, that’s exactly the tone it wants to be hitting. On first glance it’s innocent enough, using striking, eye-catching red and black to lure in an unsuspecting crowd – who are soon hit by the tagline proclaiming it to be the adventure of a young man whose “principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.” Provocative and playful, that eye suddenly becomes scarily focused.

8. La Dolce Vita
La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastroianni is one of the kings of cinema cool, especially in Fellini’s 8½ (1963), but this blue sketch paints him in a light more associated with Bogart – slicked back hair, long overcoat and a cigarette hanging from a steely glare, here he’s more like an American hero. But the blue shading gives off a jazzy, European cool, and the voluptuous, sensuous appearance of Anita Ekberg on the left side of the poster lends the image a romantic weight; he’s staring right at her, as if she’s floating on air. The title (meaning The Sweet Life) is in a vibrant yellow, making this poster pure Italian.

7. Le Mépris
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There are few movie stars as instantly recognizable as Brigitte Bardot, and few directors who cared as little of star power as Jean-Luc Godard. The French intellectual knew exactly how to promote his 1963 masterpiece however, using the overpowering sexuality of his star to sell a movie about the failure of a marriage, and the inside of the film industry. Her name is above the directors, emboldened – his ego taking second place to her luscious lips, flowing blonde hair and visible cleavage. It’s alluring and mysterious, and the best image of the actress ever produced. Classic.

6. Lost In Translation
Lost in Translation Posters lost in translation
By far the best poster on my wall, this beautiful image perfectly sums up the feeling of being alone in a foreign land; the vibrant neon-lit landscape to the left perfectly complemented by the dinosaur overhead – it’s a totally unknown landscape. The film has a dreamy atmosphere, employing cinematography and music to create a feeling of loneliness and isolation. This gorgeous poster does just as good a job, foregrounding the sad, detached face of Scarlett Johansson against a bewildering far-off land. There are very few images that so honestly and emotionally portray culture clash and solitary abandonment.

5. Fitzcarraldo
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Werner Herzog’s films are about vast, metaphysical landscapes, the obscurity of existence, the struggle against death and the surrealism of life; his characters are all on an existential voyage, and the ship of Fitzcarraldo represents his take on the monolith. The exquisite artwork takes the artistry and solemnity of his work and disregards it in favour of his oddness, humour and sense of adventure. The image may emphasize the mad look in Kinski’s eyes, but the ship being hauled through a jungle toward fire is straight out of a 30s adventure serial. In fact, replace Kinski with Harrison Ford and you may have another Indiana Jones adventure. Spirited and captivating.

4. Once Upon A Time In The West
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In a faded, coffee-stained brown reminiscent of classic genre ‘WANTED’ posters, this stunning image is taken from the opening of the film, and cuts right to the heart of the Western. Four gunslingers in long overcoats are about to launch into battle in a showdown – we can’t see any of their faces, but the poses say enough. It’s a vital image, perfectly representative of the iconic gunslinger, portraying the emptiness and violence of the West in a poetic, artful image. The cast list at the bottom of the poster is also capturing; Fonda and Robards have rarely been better.

3. Vertigo
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One of the most iconic posters of all time thanks to the legendary Saul Bass, this image perfectly captures the mystery and excitement of Hitchcock’s most ambitious and feverish film. The bright red conjures lust and danger, the white spirals creating a maze-like effect, eventually drawing attention to the shadowed figure of a man and outline of a falling woman. It’s a disoriented image, a lush and romantic one, but also one of classic genre fiction. Is the image of a detective saving a damsel in distress, or a masked killer taking the life of an innocent victim? A compelling and endlessly captivating work.

2. Metropolis
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Fritz Lang’s ravishing utopian vision is heavy on Art Deco design, but this poster by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm is perhaps its crowning achievement – an iconic image which has endured and gone on to inspire media as recent as 2K’s Bioshock, one of the finest videogames of all time. The city towers above the image of a mechanical woman; the gold colour scheme implying a land of riches and splendour. But the dagger-like design of the titles, shadowy buildings and dead-set gaze of Maria’s eyes also give off a feeling of sinister unease.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
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The adjectives to describe this poster would demand another article, but they greatly resemble the ones used to fruitlessly explain Kubrick’s wonder – existential, ethereal, evocative, thought-provoking; this magical image is hypnotic, as if life is really staring back at you from an undefined place. The image holds even more weight when you’ve seen the film – the starbaby holds universes of meaning and possibility, and is a beautiful image in its own right. Delicate and peaceful, it’s an unforgettable and haunting poster, and one that demands to find a place on the wall of every film fan.

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