How Do We Solve the Character Poster Problem?

How Do We Solve the Character Poster Problem?

Nov 20, 2013

Are individual character movie posters out of hand? That's what film critic and columnist Kate Erbland believes, and earlier this week she published an editorial at Film.com referring to this marketing trend as "dumb" and sometimes "laughable." She does have a point that there is an overbearing glut right now, to the point that many unwarranted movies are being sold with multiple one-sheets to accomodate every piece of their ensemble cast.

The Railway Man, which I'd never even heard of, indeed does not deserve character posters. And it is probably true, as is hinted by a graphic designer Erbland quotes, that this instance in particular is a matter of agents pushing their talent above being mere pieces in a single advertisement. It probably helps ease the sorts of egos that brought about marquee credit battles in the past. Here everyone is an equal to the eyes of the multiplex crowds.

Erbland makes some other cases regarding how character posters should be done (names of actor/actress and character please, and maybe a trait or other visible distinction if possible) and notes a lot of this year's examples are half-assed, poor quality and barely effective at turning us onto the movie at hand. There are other issues with the trend, one being that not every movie can or has to be promoted like it's a Robert Altman movie. I understand The Avengers getting character posters, but not Harry Potter or Man of Steel, which logically should maintain that they are focused on one hero.

Marketing isn't logical, though, and neither is taste. And to be honest, I like character posters, I like the idea of them, I like a ton of specific examples. I've even held on to some for movies I didn't even love, such as my Angelina Jolie as "Franky" character poster from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. And hey, now thanks to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire marketing onslaught I can finally have a poster of just Jeffrey Wright, one of my favorite actors. 

If only I could have had individual posters for my favorite characters from older movies. Some off the top of my head I'd love to have on my walls (provided I had unlimited walls) include Time Bandits, The Goonies, Nashville, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, True Romance, Ghostbusters, Clue and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. And any Marx Brothers movie (I really just want a solo Harpo). Knowing we don't have any of these makes me want there to be character posters for every movie today just for the chance that they might have fans down the road and those fans will have the option already.

Sure, we could still get character posters after the fact, especially given the popularity of limited edition prints these days. I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see character posters for Clue and Time Bandits via the Mondo brand. But it's not really the same, even if movie geeks tend to appreciate works by hip graphic designers to those employed by studios and marketing agencies. As someone who used to collect trading cards for all kinds of crap, especially movies, and who never had a problem with variant comic book covers, official character movie posters appeal to me in a way that retroactive artworks don't. 

Yet at the same time I don't really hang many movie posters in my house (I ony have so much wallspace in my office, the only allowable place for movie memorabilia), so it's just about hoarding them for me. Therefore, what I'd like to see is these character posters put out in a smaller, more collectible format. My favorite part of Premiere magazine when I was young was the movie poster trading cards included in the back of each issue. I want character posters distributed in that size and in similar fashion. If only we still subscribed to movie news and features in montly print periodicals. 

Outside of my having a preferred alternative, I don't see the big deal with character posters. Those that are really unnecessary and useless will be forgotten as they head off to a landfill somewhere. Those that are great, for movies that are great, will be there to cherish for as long as the movie is favored and there's places to display them. And in between, we'll always secretly love the odd and maybe tragic guilty pleasure ones, like Anna Kendrick with a baby bump (among the many What to Expect When You're Expecting character posters) and the one of Gwyneth Paltrow dying for Contagion.

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Categories: Movie Posters, Editorials
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