Just think about how many movies hit theaters this year, and remember that every single one of those films has a poster. Actually, maybe we should multiply that number by five because it’s not uncommon for a wide release to amass an entire set of promotional designs before hitting theaters. The character poster, the minimalist look, the hand-drawn rendering, the epic banners – yes, there are many different routes to go when trying to make a poster pop, but with the onslaught of new designs each week, it’s getting tougher and tougher to stand out. Funny thing is, while the competition is getting complicated, it’s the images that keep it simple and put their film’s story first that are the most successful.
As the author of our Best -- and Worst -- Movie Promos of the Week column, I've seen my fair share of posters over the past 12 months. Here are what I feel are the 10 best of 2012.
10. The Dark Knight Rises: This honor came quite close to going to the Dark Knight Rises Bane alternate designs, but as striking and wall-worthy as those images are, it’s one of the film’s very first posters that won out for saying so much with so little. Even though Christopher Nolan had always said The Dark Knight Rises is the final film of his Batman series, this is Hollywood we’re talking about here, and there’s always that tiny glimmer of hope that a big enough box office haul will warrant another go-around. So when this poster dropped with the text “The Legend Ends” and that shattered Batman mask, it was like a punch to the gut. Not only does the imagery convey a strong message, but the texture and colors set the tone, further enhancing that foreboding sense of doom.
9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Say what you want about the full feature, but Peter Jackson has a knack for creating some of the most stimulating Middle-earth-set scenes -- and that certainly comes across in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s poster campaign. From that first shot of Bilbo stepping out of his hobbit hole to the scenic banners, we’ve gotten gorgeously detailed and cohesive designs. Then, toward the end of the marketing campaign, in came this unique set of renderings of Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and Gollum in honor of the film’s midnight IMAX debut. The set is stunning on its own, but the fact that they’re designed for the ultimate Hobbit fans, the folks heading out for the first IMAX screenings makes them that much more desirable and truly special.
8. ParaNorman: How is ParaNorman not up for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes? The story is a blast, the characters are incredibly charming and the stop-motion is on point from the vibrancy of the world as a whole down to the tiniest detail, all of which makes for excellent material for poster designs. Again, this is a poster campaign packed with brilliant imagery, but it comes down to the set of Mondo alternate renderings and, ultimately, to this one by Little Friends of Printmaking.
By going with the letter-by-letter approach, we end up with 10 (or nine if you combine the front and back of Neil’s dog) mini-scenes that spark great memories from the film. Bright, bold colors are always fun, especially when used in an advertisement for such a colorful film, but the filmmakers behind ParaNorman used that vast color pallet in a very controlled manner, narrowing the range as Norman and his friends get closer and closer to the darkness of the witch’s wrath, making this choice to stick with greens and blues reminiscent of just that.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild: Unlike many of the other films on this list, Beasts of the Southern Wild got one poster and one poster only, but that’s all it needed. While the film does consist of some rather dark and heart-wrenching material, what makes it such a special and particularly enjoyable experience is that the tale is told through the eyes of a little girl -- one with a wild imagination and unwavering hope -- and that’s exactly what this poster represents.
A bright and striking image, not only does the design pack the power to get your attention, but when you’re watching the full feature, and you catch that shot of Hushpuppy running through the crowd with a set of sparkles, it makes you appreciate the moment and, in turn, this poster that much more.
6. Django Unchained: We certainly see our fair share of character posters each year, and while the ones released for Django Unchained are far more textured and appealing than the lot, they still make that very first minimalist design the standout. The minimalist approach is definitely on the rise, but even while more and more crop up each and every day, the technique forces artists to deliver something unique and hyper specific to the movie, demanding that they’re all unique.
It’s quite a bit of fun to check out the clever things designers come up with to represent stories, but the technique is particularly appropriate for Django, not just because you can conveniently dangle a chain and show it detached from our leads, but also because the style is right in line with the style of the film – smart, daring, often blood red and as powerful as they come.
5. Flight: Yes, we eventually did get that poster entirely consumed by Denzel Washington’s face, but it was a bold move for the marketing team to relegate the A-lister’s presence to mere text at the top of the design for Flight’s first piece of promotional material, and it paid off big time. Here we have yet another example of a minimalist design done right, one that deeply considers the material and represents it in a striking manner.
The bright blue with the white text that pops off the page is bound to catch an eye or two, but for folks who already have a sense of what Flight is about, this image can even take on a beautifully ominous feel. Knowing poor Whip Whitaker’s flight is doomed and then seeing it in one of the most isolated and helpless positions possible makes for a guaranteed strong response from any viewer whether you’re apprehensive about flying or not.
4. Bully: Just compare this poster for Bully to this one. Which says more while literally saying less? First off, The Bully Project sounds more like a lame school-assembly title while just going with Bully is punchy and packs the power to stick. Then there’s that tag line: “A year in the life of America’s bully crisis.” I’m all for supporting any and every anti-bullying effort, but that suggests you’re about to be drowned in a year’s worth of bullying facts. “It’s time to take a stand,” on the other hand, suggests that by watching Bully, you’ll be part of the effort and support the anti-bullying cause. To top it all off, can there be a bolder design? This image is attention grabbing to the max, and, even better, while it’s selling the movie, it’s also sending a very powerful and important message. Thanks for pulling double duty, Weinstein Company.
3. Ted: Wouldn’t it be just magical if your favorite childhood toy came to life and became your best friend? Maybe if your toy was a brown-nose Boy Scout like Toy Story’s Woody. Ted turns the toy-comes-to-life concept on its head by introducing us to the title character via this wildly crass and amusing SXSW poster. Now that we know and love Ted, we can enjoy shots of him guzzling a beer or stealing Mila Kunis’ attention, but a walking, talking teddy bear in a live-action setting can be much tougher to digest than in an animated one. This design eases the transition by cutting the difference. Don’t go full Ted just yet, but put him in one of the most unusual positions for a teddy bear to be as possible.
2. Sinister: My name is Perri Nemiroff and I am a Sinister addict. But regardless, you’ve got to admit this film enjoyed a truly sinister poster campaign. Every single design took the film’s title to heart, rocking disturbingly foreboding images that’ll make you squirm even before sitting down for the full feature. However, this spot on the top 10 goes to the poster that not only has an eerily aesthetic appeal before catching the film, but will be seen in an even more horrifying light after. Hanging this Sinister poster up in my living room was one thing, but getting this up close and personal with Bughuul seemed a bit too risky.
1. The American Scream: It’s one thing to hang a poster for a movie you admire, but it’s another to display a poster that you can admire – and admire time and time again, at that. As someone with a major soft spot for Halloween and horror, The American Scream melted my heart. Do I need a repeat viewing? Maybe not, but the film’s poster most certainly deserves many. This Johnny Sampson rendering is just downright stunning and has something for everyone, displaying every holiday-appropriate character imaginable. Clearly quite a bit of attention was paid to each and every detail, but Sampson doesn’t forget about the promotional value of his piece. Even as you’re drawn to zoom in and examine each element, the film’s title still pops. And in case you want to watch The American Scream, it's now available to buy directly through its official site. We highly recommend.
Thanks for following along with Best/Worst Movie Promos of the Week. Here's to a new year filled with only "The Best Stuff."