Thursday, December 5, 2013

Movie posters shouldn't have to suck

Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner were photographed in separate dimensions for this poster.

David O. Russell's American Hustle -- and forgive me for sounding like Dr. Seuss just then -- is a very promising-looking film. Top-notch cast. Interesting subject matter. Positive pre-release buzz. I'll very likely wind up seeing it. Heck, it might even be a contender for Best Picture for all I know.

The poster, however, is an abomination. It's not particularly distinctive. In fact, it's pretty typical of modern movie posters. That's partly what makes it an abomination. The film's five main stars -- all highly-esteemed, award-winning actors, mind you -- are gathered together for what should be a badass group shot but winds up being an unimaginative, uninspiring mish-mosh. Here's one major problem: each one of them has obviously been filmed individually, and their portraits have been lazily composited in a computer after being Photoshopped to within an inch of their lives. And then there's the whole deal about who gets to stand where and what order their names are listed. Here, just take a look at this mess, both on its own and with my markings:

Hey, kids! See if you can match up each actor's name with his or her picture!

You can practically hear the movie industry weasels negotiating each and every little detail. The actors definitely seem to be divided into two distinct tiers. The top tier is headlined by Christian Bale, whose name goes first on the poster over his fellow tier-mates Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams. But Christian Bale's picture is in the center because apparently we can't have the top-billed star in the movie standing off to the side like a loser. In fact, no one's name is matched up with his or her picture, so the poster ends up being like one of those puzzles in an activity book for children in which the object is to match each name to the correct picture. (I have done so for you above, using nice bright colors to make it pretty and add a little visual interest.) The second, lesser tier is occupied by Jennifer Lawrence (who's currently starring in the #1 movie in the country) and Jeremy Renner, the only actor whose face has not been rendered as smooth and featureless as unmolded Silly Putty. In both tiers, boys outrank girls. But J-Law gets the "and" billing, which is supposedly a status symbol on television. I don't know if it's one in the movies or not.

The point here is that there's no reason for movie posters to suck this hard. There are decades and decades of beautiful, creative, and eye-catching artwork created to promote movies. Nowadays, movie fans on the Internet will gladly create such images for free just for the fun of it! Why, then, do crappy posters continue to exist? Do they sell more tickets? I cannot imagine that they do. If you'll look at the list of the top-grossing movies of all time, you'll see that none of them were advertised this way. In fact, the posters for such all-time box office champs as Gone with the Wind and Star Wars have become icons in their own right!

Please, Hollywood, end the tyranny of shitty posters. Thank you.


  1. The one saving grace of this poster is that the actors are all roughly the same size, which is one way of "leveling" the playing field. My go-to example of the "size of the actor is relative to their importance in the film and/or to paying audiences" breed of poster is the one for 2003's The Rundown. Not only is it another case where none of the names at the top match the people below them, but when you look at how the cast has been Photoshopped into place, you can immediately tell how much value the other actors are given based on how they compare mathematically to The Rock.

    Second-billed Sean William Scott? 75% of The Rock.
    Third-billed Christopher Walken? 67% of The Rock.
    One-handed Rosario Dawson? 50% of The Rock.

    Sorry, Rosie. Next time, try not being a girl.

    1. Oh, the poster for The Rundown is a masterpiece of crap. Thanks for hipping me to it. It's the kind of thing you're not supposed to notice, but once you do, it's hilarious. Go to any place where there are a lot of DVDs on sale and study the cover art: it's a museum of mediocrity.

      My problem is that industry politics and Photoshop are ruining a great art form: movie posters -- the ideal marriage of art and commerce. Even the stars hate this. So why do we keep doing this?

  2. This poster has been pissing me off every time I pass it on the subway. I can't understand how nobody in the art department doesn't speak up to say, "Guys, don't you think people might think that Bradley Cooper being billed as Amy Adams could turn off some viewers?"

    1. It's so needlessly crappy, too. If the ad people spent more than 8 minutes on this, they were wasting their time.

      As for the Cooper/Adams switcheroo, maybe they were confused by the hair.