A History of Movie Poster Design

Timeline created by theCountofKeys
In Film
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    The First Movie Posters

    As movies transitioned from simple moving pictures to a storytelling medium, their popularity drastically increased throughout the U.S. and Europe. As a result, they soon required advertising to alert people when and where they would be shown. Films were shown at amusement parks, fairs, and music halls, and eventually in specially established makeshift theatres called nickelodeons. During this time, the standard poster designs and sizes were simply borrowed from vaudeville stock posters.
  • The Motion Picture Patents Company

    The Motion Picture Patents Company
    Thomas Edison joins together the seven major film studios into the Motion Picture Patents Company to help regulate film production and distribution and to shut down smaller production companies. The first standard film poster size is set at 27"x41". The posters they produced were strictly censored, which of course led to independent printers making much more graphic versions for much cheaper.
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    The Rise of Movie Stars

    In the early 1910's audiences began demanding to know the identities of the actors in various films. Studios tried desperately to keep them anonymous, but eventually were forced to concede and embrace the stars' popularity. This caused a shift in poster design, with new ads highlighting the actors more than the film itself. At this time, nickelodeons were also being replaced by theatres, allowing for more poster space. Around this time, billboards were also put into use.
  • The End of the MPPC

    The End of the MPPC
    Edison's company is dissolved by a federal court decision, deeming that it went "far beyond what was necessary to protect the use of patents or the monopoly which went with them." Printers are immediately freed from design restrictions and are able to produce much richer and more lavish designs.
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    Stone Lithography Printing

    During the golden age of the silent movie, giant architectual masterpieces began to replace drab movie theatres, and poster design moved from being simple advertising to an art form. More precise printing processess were developed, allowing for more detail. After the invention of the radio, filmmakers began experimenting with putting sound and film together.
  • The Jazz Singer

    The Jazz Singer
    One of the first films to use sound, this primarily silent movie featured a few jazz songs and even a few lines by Al Jolson.
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    Art Deco and The Great Depression

    Following the rest of the country, movie posters reflected the new "art deco" fad, which favored geometric shapes and bold colors. One very noticeable change was the elimination of detailed backgrounds, shifting instead to blank white spaces. Contrary to the expected reaction, the Great Depression actually caused more people to come to the movies as a means of escape.
  • Gone With the Wind

    Gone With the Wind
    The longest American film with sound at the time, winner of ten Academy Awards, one of the first major films to be shot in color, the highest-grossing film of all time until 1966, and considered by many to be the best film ever made.
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    Immediately following the Great Depression came World War II, and movie studios responded by attempting to creat an atmosphere of great patriotism. Though they lost significantly less business than most industries, their advertising budgets had to be cut back. Also, fewer movies were produced after the invention of the television.
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    Competing With Television

    As soldiers returned from the war, the demand for fantasy rose. Subject matter changed from war to science fiction and comedy. Because television was continuing to draw audiences away, studios had to resort to new innovations such as wider screens and 3-D movies.
  • Movie Fan Magazines

    Movie Fan Magazines
    As magazines began printing color photographs of stars, movie companies followed. Posters began using tinted photographs and were made so that people in cars could see them clearly from far away.
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    Movie Content

    The 60's marked a period of films featuring teen idols and the "beach movie" genre. Another growing genre was action movies, and, because of the lack of censorship guidlines, more adult-oriented films were able to be produced. Posters continued replacing artwork with photographs, and the content of the designs changed to match that of the films.
  • 007

    James Bond helped drive the action genre forward in the 60's.
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    Basically a continuation of the trends in the 60s, posters continued useing photography and phasing out painting. With the popularity of Star Wars and Star Trek, movie fans began collecting posters from their favorite films.
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    Special Effects and Home Video

    The 80s saw the development of new special effects, which had an impact on what kinds of images were selected for advertisement purposes. New types of posters also had to be developed for advertising the new video rental market. These were made specifically for display at retail stores.
  • Return of the Jedi

    Return of the Jedi
    Star Wars was actually one of the few odd films that stuck with its original paited design.
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    Modern Movie Posters

    With the introduction of computerized effects in the 90s, posters began featuring fantastic images of exotic creatures and locations.
  • Minimalist Design

    Minimalist Design
    Modern posters have recently been removing extra clutter on posters and moving the focus to one specific image. Whether or not this trend will continue into the future remains to be seen.