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A Countdown List of the Greatest Movie Posters Ever

So, a couple of days ago, I threw up the new Star Wars, The Force Awakens poster and proclaimed, in possibly the shortest post of all time, that it was the greatest movie poster of all time. So, yeah, I’m known for my hyperbolic pronouncements. That’s just how I roll. Deal. But instead of just whining about it, I figured I’d throw together a best posters list for you to argue with me about. So here, for your viewing (and swearing) pleasure, are my top 30 favorite movie posters of all time.

#30 Memento 

memento-poster

Let’s kick this list off with a movie from my backyard – Memento. Polaroids are integral to the movie. As are the notes contained on them. So to have a movie poster made out of hand written Polaroids makes perfect sense. But to send them backwards in on top of themselves is something straight out of a psychosis. And yes, perfection.

#29 Fight Club

figh-club

The trick here is to not give the trick away… and yet it is right here staring you in the face. Soap anyone? Pretty fantastic poster right here.

#28 American Beauty

american-beauty

It’s no secret that I’m in love with the movie American Beauty. Proves my flawed, and jacked-backwards way of thinking. This is one of the most morally bankrupt movies ever. And yet, here we have a poster hinting at the bathtube rose petal scene. Here we have love and beauty. Which actually has nothing to do with this movie whatsoever.

#27 Amadeus

amadeus

The Academy Award winner for best picture in 1984 was it?  This poster hangs on the hook, “The man, the music, the murder, the motion picture.” Which, as far as hooks go, is a pretty good one.

#26 RockyrockyBecause I’m not as big an idiot as I look. Obviously Rocky changed the face of movies made since it hit the theaters. Sports movies have been shaped by Rocky ever since it premiered. The poster is dark and gritty, and yet triumphant. Which, now that you mention it, is EXACTLY what Rocky is all about.

#25 – Gone With The Wind

gone-with-the-wind

I’m sorry, but I hate this poster. It isn’t ironic. It is actually the least ironic poster in this list, and yet, it should be. It’s more like the Blazing Saddles poster than anything else. But I figured I’d be boo’d off the planet if I didn’t include it in here somewhere. Hahah.

#24 Trainspotting

trainspotting

Is is possible to create a poster completely out of typography and make it to the list? Apparently, when you are trainspotting, and your typography is this particular rant. Really a fantastic poster. Definitely leaves a mark.

#23 The Shining 

the-shining

I’m a little biased on this one. I really enjoyed reading about the creation process of making this particular poster. And the complications involved in getting to this final look. But I think the trouble was really worth the result.

#22 Ghostbustersghostbusters

There was no such thing as the NO-whatever sign before this poster took the world by storm. This poster was big big big back in the day. It became a meme before there were things called memes.

#21 The Dark Knight

the-dark-knight-2008

Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s now classic movie The Dark Knight is a lonely tortured soul. He has everything anyone could ever want, and yet he is the epitome of unhappy. He wants justice. And this is clear. As he stands watch over Gotham…

#20 Reservoir Dogsresevoir-dogs

What a fantastic movie. 4 guys. Mr. White. Mr. Pink. Mr. Brown. And Mr. Blue. Four guys and a downward internal struggle that devolves like no other.

#19 Back To The Future

backtothefuture

Iconic flames from the Delorian. Michael J. Fox looking at his watch. And voila, we have the movie in a nutshell. Great art, and we can wrap this movie up nicely in the 19th spot of our list.

#18 Titanictitanic

Obviously we know now that Titanic is one of the single most successful movies of all time. But before we had the poster, we had no idea why we’d want to go see it. We all know how it ends! Hello! But it was because of the poster that we all realized we had a larger story on the boat than just a re-telling of the sinking.

#17 E.T.

ET

Such a beautiful poster. The only problem I have is that we don’t get much idea for the type of movie we are in for. Is it all about a boy and an extra-terrestrial running around earth trying to eat as many Reeses Pieces as possible? Why yes. Yes it is. How’d you guess?

#16 King Kong 

king-kong

Such an iconic movie, of course it has to be on this list. But I’ll be honest, I can’t get the Peter Jackson reprisal out of my head to think about this particular movie. But the poster is great none the less.

#15 Goodfellas

goodfellas

The Mafia. A dead guy. Liotta. Pesci. De Niro. That’s a poster that is going to move movie tickets in a hurry.

#14 Attack of the 50ft. Woman

posterattack

Honestly… never seen this movie, minus short clips on Youtube. I have a bit of a fear thing for tall women… so I’ve avoided it for years. Hahah. But this design is even better laid out and conceptualized than even King Kong. Definitely peaks your interest and makes the movie play out in your head in advance. Great poster.

#13 West Side Story

west-side-story

I’m a huge fan of Romeo and Juliet, and by absentia, must be a huge fan of West Side Story. Right? Nah, not really. But this poster is gritty, and tells the story in one fell swoop. We knew it already from Broadway, but this poster takes us back to the streets of New York all over again.

#12 Moon

mo

Moon is such a good movie. So I could possibly be swayed by the movie as opposed to the actual poster. But this poster is an isolation nightmare which is what the movie is all about. Dark. Gritty. And disorienting. The concentric circles definitely throw you into a downward spiral. Great poster for a great movie.

#11 Apocalypse Now

apcolypse-now

Seriously? Apocalypse Now is a drug induced haze of a movie about two guys spiraling ever deeper into the heart of darkness. Could this synopsis have been better illustrated than the poster we have before us now? No. I think not.

#10 Pulp Fiction

pulp-fiction

To make the movie cover like the cover of a pulp fiction novel, with the actress holding a book entitled Pulp Fiction? Priceless. Really love the thrashed look of the design. And the design implemented here, from the 10 cent symbol, all the way out to the author title block is the stuff of design brilliance.

#9 – Social Network

social-network

We have Eisenberg and the enormous stamped lettering on top, which invokes a message of despair and angst. We have the Facebook running down the side. It’s all here. The only thing missing? An audio clip from Trent Reznor’s soundtrack. But otherwise? Perfect.

#8 Blade Runner

blade-runner

John Alvin was basically a design god. Like seriously amazing work. And the darkness of this futuristic poster just completely encapsulates this movie perfectly. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the “Man has made his match, now it’s his problem” tag line shoved up in the corner. But whatever you do, don’t drop it onto the art!

#7 – Usual Suspects

usual-suspects

The story is all here. (Hopefully you’ve seen the movie, or I’m about to ruin it for you). There’s Verbal Kint, tucked away on the side, with his lame arm. There is Keyzer Söze. There is the whole band of cronies. And oh by the way… they are all fake, in Verbal’s head. This whole poster is inside Kint’s head. Brilliant.

#6 – 2001 – A Space Odyssey – 

2001-space-oddysey

Possibly the greatest poster for setting the tone of a movie before hand. 2001 is such a stylized movie from beginning to end… and the poster completely launches you into that mood and experience without even seeing the film. Pretty impressive.

#5 – Star Wars A New Hope

star-wars

Remember, this was back before science fiction was gritty. This was a whole new day for an old genre. Pretty fantastic poster for a pretty epic little movie.

#4 Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders-of-the-lost-ark

So many different homages here. We are taken back to the classic Humphrey Bogart movie posters. Its all hand drawn and painted art that is out of this world by the ever-brilliant Amsel, who created the Sting poster that clocks in at #10 of this list. This is brilliance.

 

#3 – Silence of the Lambs

silence-of-the-lambs

Silence of the lambs is possibly one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. And this poster absolutely rocks it out of the park. It has the death’s head hawk-moth covering Foster’s mouth. The darkness… just such a great representation of an amazing movie. This poster has it all.

#2 – The Force Awakens 

image

There are a lot of reasons why I adore this poster. I have already posted about the dubiousness of the name. But this poster is mythological in scale. It has a ton of expectations riding on it’s back. We need a new bad guy. Check. We need new heroes. Check. We need a new Deathstar – CHECK! What else is there? We have the force struggling for survival again, we have the dark side storming back to life. And we have the ABSENCE of our key character… Luke. And once you see the movie you’ll understand. Promise. It’s brilliance. So I know I posted it was the greatest poster ever… but you can’t ever possibly beat number 1. Impossible.

#1 Jaws

jaws

Jaws. Enough said. Not only is it beautifully hand painted and illustrated by Roger Kastel (who also painted the Empire Strikes Back poster as well, which is money in the bank on this list as well.) This poster summarizes the movie up faster than any other movie on this list. Big fish, with LOTS of teeth, attacking innocent civilians, ALOT.

I will say that the typography of the hook in the J is a bit overdone… and almost campy for such a serious movie. But otherwise, this is a perfect movie poster. Absolutely perfect. Can’t imagine a poster ever beating this one… ever.

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12 Responses

  1. Jon

    All great poster. Forgot Alien 😉 But I think Indiana Jones is the king of montage posters. A pure joy to watch. Star Wars (1977) too. I disagree though with Fight Club and even 2001 (which is my favourite movie of all). I also think Silence of the Lamb doesn’t get to the core of the story well enough to be included here…

    I would though like to mentions these: The Thing (1982), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), A Clockwork Orange (1971), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Giant (1956) and Dune (1984) [the two moon version].

    Reply
  2. Taylor Holmes

    I got half way through this list and realized it’s so stinking subjective. So you know what? I’m going to let any commenters here push posters up and down. Going to be a crap-ton of work for me. But hey, if you guys care enough to vote posters up and down, I’ll jig ’em around. So, give me the weekend and I’ll try and add a few of the ones you mentioned here. Specifically Dune… and Full Metal – such blatant drops. hahaha.

    Great thoughts though. I’ll yell when I move ’em around a bit. Won’t do all of them, but some are really really obvious.

    Reply
  3. Jon

    An obvious question springs to mind: what defines a great movie poster?

    Is it just If it looks cool? Well then it is all about subjectivity. Does it have to represent some artistic ethics ? sbould it convey the movie or story it represents (of course is such a case STAR WARS 7 can’t be there as we haven’t seen it yet). Anyway, by agreeing on what a great poster is, we put some objectivity to the mix and so makes the list more interesting, I think 🙂

    So I ask ask: which creteria should we put forth?

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      I’d probably say that the best movie poster would be one that best sells the movie and it’s idea. Right? Seeing as though that is what a movie poster is all about, no? To entice people to see it? It almost hurts our ability to score this type of a criteria though is our having seen most of these movies. Right? But I still think that a movie poster that best sells the central idea of the movie, or even distills it down to an easily understandable idea…

      Reply
      • Jon

        Good point. This is why you are my Master and I a mere Padawan. Joking aside (or not) you are right, and so SW7 indeed qualifies. 🙂

  4. Jasparsin Tharou

    OK, I’m not disagreeing with you but there’s a couple I’d add to the mix… “In Space, no one can hear you scream”… (Yes I know it’s posters, just thought I’d make it fun..that was a good poster…) As much as I hate to admit it, the Jurassic Park promo’s were good… Matrix… Gremlins (1). Yeah… this subject matter is waaay too big… I suggest we quit now – Before I get onto Papillon etc… And you KNOW some 10 year old will hit us with TMNT….

    Reply
  5. Shelby

    I prefer posters that aren’t so chaotic, like with one subject or object on the poster. I usually don’t like the main poster that is at the movie theater or on the DVD cover (I prefer teasers). My favorite poster is Interstellar: http://tinyurl.com/jnyceg6 but I also really like this one from Fury: http://tinyurl.com/hk3z6qp Of the ones you posted, the only posters I would ever hang are Memento (which I actually do own) and Moon. The rest have too much going on, whether it’s text or visuals, or it’s just not aesthetically pleasing to me. My own opinion of course 🙂

    Custom/minimalist posters can be found on Etsy and some of them are really great. For example, this poster for the Matrix: http://tinyurl.com/zf9u6nm Some minimalist posters don’t even need a title because the single object tells all (for example, a poster for The Matrix that’s just a bent spoon)

    Reply
  6. Fuckov Ndi

    TH is an asshole. The spoiler in Usual Suspects is uncalled for when one thinks the spoiler is merely within the link. TH does this everywhere all the fucking time. Also, what is up with name-checking two movies, stating they are on this list, yet they are not? Slopping is modus operandi around here. Avoid bookmarking and returning to this site. Bye, dickless.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Chief,
      It really isn’t worth it. Take a deep breath. I edited Usual Suspects. And seriously? It’s like a ninety year old movie. I welcome you to help me fix this site. If you tell me I get something wrong I change it. You realize this is a hobby right? I literally write 10k words a week. Sometimes 20k. I do it for fun. And yeah, I make mistakes. If I namechecked movies that aren’t here, it’s probably because of edits and additions. So I apologize. But I can’t add them because I don’t know what you are referring to. If you had spent less time calling me names and more time helping me get it right I would be able to make more changes.

      It’s been a while since someone’s called me an asshole though. So there’s that. I honestly would prefer you stick around. Critics actually help make you better, so I’d prefer to learn than to keep making mistakes.
      Taylor

      Reply
      • Shelby

        What a great response and attitude, Taylor. Keep up the good work.

  7. De Advocate

    Great list, you could have done a whole section on just Drew Struzan art but I guess that has been done. Also, on Silence of the Lambs, did you catch the death head on the moth is made up of people.

    Reply

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