The movie poster is thought to have originated in the 1870s when Paris artist and lithographer, Jules Cheret, introduced a printing technique that produced images with intense colour and rich texture. By the early 1890s, Paris streets were plastered with lithographic images hawking everything from bicycles to cognac to circus performances. These artful graphics became instant collectables, spawning exhibitions, journals and dealers.
Perhaps the very first movie poster was the one created by Jules Cheret, in 1890, for a short film called Projections Artistiques. The lithograph poster depicted a young girl holding a poster announcing the times of the show. Two years later, he created another poster for Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique called Pantomines Lumineuses.
However, it is the poster for L’Arroseur Arrosé (also known as The Waterer Watered and The Sprinkler Sprinkled) a 1895 short black and white silent film, that is considered the first poster ever designed to promote an individual film. Although posters had been used to advertise cinematic shows since 1890, early posters were typically devoted to describing the quality of the recordings and touting the technological novelty of these shows. This poster for L’Arroseur was different, illustrated by Marcellin Auzolle, and shows an audience laughing in the foreground as the film and is projected in the background onto the cinema screen. It shows the moment the gardener is splashed in the face and is also the first movie poster to depict an actual scene from a film.
Since the dawn of the Hollywood age over 100 years ago, movie posters have been used as a medium to promote films with a commercial intent of getting people to buy tickets. Over the years the style of movies has evolved and with it, the design of movie posters has also changed. Since the 1920s through to the modern-day will examine how the process has changed from the original hand-drawn images by artists and illustrators to today’s modern computing software produced photographic illustrations.
As modern printing and distribution costs continue to rise for movie posters, many movie studios are choosing to promote their films through television and the internet. We have seen digital media start to overtake printed media. Although both share similarities in their fundamental aims, digital media has the capability to reach and attract a far bigger audience.
Digital media can be presented in a variety of formats such as social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, through the movie studios own websites, through film oriented websites like IMDb, various fan or review blogs and emails which can reach a global mass market. With internet usage globally surpassing over three billion users – around 40% of the worlds population – and with 50% of internet usage based on searching, it makes a clear statement as to why movie studios have chosen to focus on digital markets.
Through the use of film oriented websites like IMDb trailers and other promotional material can be placed readily and easily accessible to the masses. It offers the movie studios an opportunity to place a wealth of information that just cannot be placed on a movie poster. These are the advantages which have consolidated digital marketing above printed media.
As well as utilising digital media on the internet, many cinemas are now going ‘digital’ by replacing traditional movie poster frames with digital video screens. Digital movie posters offer the ability to show movie trailers, animated stills or simple animations to tease the movie goers and generate excitement. The panels can be rotated to show multiple movies in one frame thus eliminating the need for a single framed movie poster. I would expect autostereoscopic displays to be used in the future, depending upon how quickly the technology can be developed, which will provide 3D images without the need for any special headgear or glasses.
Movie posters have been powerful visual aids used in the promotion of the film’s using themes and narratives. Analysing movie posters in relation to major film stars and cult films, they had the ability to express the movies characteristics, for example, movie posters containing Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe reflected their iconic statuses that was instantly recognisable with audiences. This also applies to movie posters for cult films, which contain familiar attributes which devotees of the titles. Despite this, the movie poster as an industry is becoming increasingly dominated by digital marketing rendering paper formats obsolete. Digital marketing has the ability to contain far more information, in various different formats and can be instantly updated; this is unmatched by a printed movie poster.
Will this mean the demise and eventually end of the paper movie poster? Will this mean that those uniquely designed iconic masterpieces will no longer be available in a paper format? Ultimately, who knows but with a world more focused on technology and rumours that some studios are already limiting the print runs of movie posters, it could. However, the artistic creativity used to develop these posters will continue whatever the medium used to deliver the material, as it remains an important aspect for movies that strive for originality and artistic quality.