On the State of Movie Posters: 1953-1974


Courtesy of critics and practitioners during the supposed golden age of film advertising:

“It is important to note that there is relatively little creative and mature film advertising produced in the United States. That which is produced, comes about sporadically, and does not grow out of a consistent attitude or policy of any business organization. There are many reasons for this, but they all focalize in the lack of confidence of the advertiser in the maturing and taste of the audience (a frequently encountered phenomenon in other business areas as well).” - Saul Bass, Graphis #48, 1953

“One cannot help wondering why our film posters are so bad, and the answer that first comes to mind is a piece of advertising psychology: an advertising medium must never promise more than the goods can hold. Yet there are good films too, and the posters made for them are still bad. The film distributor is of course fond of quoting the low-brow man-in-the-street and claiming that only low-brow advertising will ever get him to come to the cinema. He pushes his own bad taste on to an anonymous scapegoat and so feels exonerated from all responsibility.” - Franz Hermann Wills, Graphics #84, 1959

“Although the film has long taken its place among the recognized mass communication media, it has still not entirely shaken off the odium of the early days, when it was the plebeian substitute for the theatre and less than refined form of entertainment. This is not altogether surprising, for the advertising directed at the potential film-goer has remained for the most part lurid and loud, with texts festooned with devaluated superlatives and a graphic face hardly less primitive than that of winter sales placards. A glance at film advertisements and posters, or at the printed matter available at the box office, only strengthens one’s conviction that film publicity deliberately chooses a cheap and common graphic idiom in order to attract the masses. This sort of advertising has come to be taken for granted, if only because it seems not unreasonable that the cinema owner should use the most appropriate methods-as he seems them-for wooing the broad public on whom his survival depends.” - Dr. Maria Netter, Graphis #113, 1964

“I have since worked on hundreds of films and have experienced an unchanging frustration over their graphic progress. Compared to the improvement in packaging, record albums, book jackets, displays and other areas reaching for mass market response, film advertising seems unwilling to relate to the change in public taste.” - Joseph Caroff, Graphic Design: Works & Words, 1974

Iconography from West Side Story (top, Saul Bass; bottom, Joseph Caroff)