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15 Most Iconic Movie Posters of All Time

June 20, 2018
10 min read

Collecting merchandise from our favorite films has always been a hobby for youngsters and hardcore film enthusiasts. I remember collecting anything that had the image of Spider-man after the second part in Raimi’s trilogy came out. Posters constitute a major part of that memorabilia, and were the perfect wallpaper for the pre-21st century kids. Arnie’s ‘Terminator’, Ford’s ‘Indiana Jones’, Stallone‘s ‘Rambo’, the ‘Goonies’ or Jamie Lee Curtis, they adorned the bedrooms with their much talked about presence. But unfortunately posters get limited to that, and only a few people take out time to appreciate their quality and preserve the art of poster-making. In a time when there was no social media, posters were the best way of advertising movies and production houses let no complacency creep in during the designing.

Now I’ll be looking at the most famous posters of their respective generations, that still never fail to appear in your mind, decades after their creation. I will only be considering posters that are “iconic” and became essential images in pop culture. Here is the list of top most iconic movie posters ever.

15. The Thing

John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ defined the horror scene in the 80’s, and almost everything about it challenged the genre, including the poster. It’s one of the first string of high quality posters from that decade, and gives subtle indications to the plot. We see an unidentifiable human, whose face emits light, shrouding his identity. This raises a question : is it a human or a humanoid? The figure is heavily dressed with gloves acting as both resistance to the harsh climate and concealment of some sort. The figure stands in an upright manner, like a zombie with its hands stretched out, and its resistance to the icy storm in the background signifies its strength.

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14. Vertigo

Alfred Hitchcock‘s ‘Vertigo’ was the forerunner for the rise of psychological thrillers in the industry. It also had, what could be described as the archetype of the modern movie poster. Similar to the condition the movie is named after, the poster shows a man stuck in a spiral, and it metaphorically conveys confusion. Also to be observed is the contrasting difference between the man and the woman, which poses a question on the nature of their entities, which is the mystery in this Hitchcock film.

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13. Back To The Future

“Great Scott!”, this is what I exclaim every time I watch ‘Back to the Future’. It’s been 32 years, and this movie hasn’t lost its charm, instead it continues to grown on the incoming generations. This one is not very obvious, and has a title that works as an oxymoron. Look at the character’s shocked expression after looking at his watch, and also observe the car’s fiery trails going back a long, long way. By matching this with the title, it is understood that the movie deals with time travel. With the sassy butterfly doors, the jacket, the shades, the color composition and the font of the title is retro themed, a fad during the 80’s.

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12. The Exorcist

There was a time when William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ was the scariest movie ever made. The spider crawl, the rotating head, the exorcism process, never had a horror movie been so brutal in its depiction of demonic possession and its unpredictability made it super effective. The poster shows a scene from the movie, where the priest gazes towards an illuminated window. The man’s stationary stance at the gate hints at the entrance into a misfortunate world, and the light blazing through only one window during night only talks about the presence of something awfully wrong in that room.

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11. Blade Runner

‘Blade Runner’s poster is a great example of early neo-noir posters that still incorporated the foundations of typical noir films. The technicolor appearance, the armed male lead, the sexy female, and beneath them the dystopian world. Harrison Ford was a big name by 1982, after cruelly being frozen in carbonite two years ago, and hence has his name in big letters above the title of the movie. The use of black is dominant as the movie became the holy grail for contemporary cyberpunk movies, and the color palette is a great reflection of the scintillating lighting used in the movie.

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10. Pulp Fiction

The poster for ‘Pulp Fiction’ is literally the pictorial representation of its title. Pulp magazines were inexpensive fictional comics that were known for their cheap quality and sensationalist content. They were the predecessors to the modern superhero comics. They were usually crime thrillers with content that was deemed ludicrous in terms of respectable literature. Tarantino‘s cult classic is a similar movie and never holds back in its attempt to turn any situation into a dark comedy. Uma Thurman poses  as the femme fatale in a black dress which adds mystery and also her casual smoking next to a gun signifies danger and power, things she is used to.

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9. Fight Club

What’s the first image that springs up in your mind when you hear ‘….. ….’? It’s always the image of Tyler Durden holding that bar of soap, in my case. ‘Fight Club’ may not be a great film, but it’s definitely one filled with great moments. Durden’s face covers most of the poster with the soap being pressed like a stamp, with the character imposing his authority. In the background is Edward Norton, with a twisted smile on his face, that would make us question the narrators’s character.

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8. Metropolis

‘Metropolis’ was the first sci-fi feature length film and inculcated cyberpunk elements in 1927! Its visuals and themes have influenced classics like ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Dark City’. It underwent many cuts and the original version was considered lost until 2010 when it was finally restored. The poster is a great representation of German Expressionist Cinema, with the black shadows on the complimenting the blinding yellow light. The crudely structured text was another feature of German posters, and highlights the dark subject matter of the film.

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7. E.T

Steven Spielberg‘s ‘E.T’ was probably the first time we had such a humanized version of an alien on screen, and came out 3 years after Ridley Scott terrified the world with his ‘Alien’. The poster features the most famous scene from the movie with Elliot flying on his bicycle with some help from his best friend, E.T. We do see a human guiding the cycle through the air and a unidentifiable creature in a basket whose origins may be deciphered by the text at the bottom.

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6. The Godfather

“You don’t even think to call me Godfather”. The opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola‘s classic captures the calm and dominating god-like presence of Vito Corleone. The poster is subtle but has powerful imagery, especially with its use of colors. The black and white is an indication of the film noir manner in which the movie is shot, and also serves as a distinction between good and evil, something we discover in the movie. Apart from these two, there’s a red colored rose close to the heart, and this hints at the blood that runs through families, something Corleone emphasizes. Another aspect would be the violence, which is a has a predominant role in a mafia boss’s life. The puppeteer’s hand over the text signifies the control The Godfather has on people.

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5. The Silence Of The Lambs

 The poster for the most iconic thriller of the 90’s, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is as intriguing as the movie. The poster features white and black, but the white expresses coldness and the black adds an element of mystery in the background. The placement of the moth on the lips acts as concealment of the truth, or maybe “forced to conceal”. The moth is also shown at various crime scenes in the movie, as we come to know the killer collects them. There’s a pattern on the moth’s back and if you look closely, there are 3 naked female bodies arranged to form a skull.

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4. Goodfellas

Now, though ‘Goodfellas’s poster may not be as creative as most of the other choices, it brilliantly conveys Martin Scorsese‘s serious approach to filmmaking. Though he indulges himself in fancy visuals, not for a minute does he let that overshadow his plot. Breaking this down, there are three figures on top, with the one in the middle clearly being the boss. The three men look like they belong to the mafia, and are present unflinched over the body of a man, portraying their acceptance towards such crimes. The color palette is cold, and the bottom half consists of only black and greyish blue.

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3. A Clockwork Orange

 “I’m singin in the rape, just singin in the rape, what a glorious feelin, I’m happy again”. Probably the poster wasn’t as notorious as the movie, it still delightfully flaunts our beloved antihero, Alex DeLarge. The poster shows Alex creepily standing within the “A” of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and the only part emerging out is the hand grasping a sharp knife, which obviously indicates the violence present. Kubrick also depicts his fetish for the human eye in the movie by placing 4 of it in the poster; two on Alex’s face, one near the hand and being pierced by alphabet and the other in the “O” in Orange.

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2. Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ is a landmark, because not only did it successfully terrify audiences, it marked the return of the forgotten monster genre of the 50’s. The poster of ‘Jaws’ doesn’t waste a single bit of space to make a statement, and this is natural considering Spielberg was an upcoming director. Like most thrillers from the 70’s it features the “best seller adaptation” message, and this helps in targeting audiences. The positioning of the shark not only shows the incoming threat underwater, but works as a scale to compare its size with an average human.

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1. Star Wars

“A long time in a galaxy far, far away” and the John Williams score. There has never been something so monumental in the history of blockbuster films. Every moment of ‘Star Wars’ has managed to etch itself in mainstream culture, including this glorious poster and anyone arguing otherwise would be sentenced to a planet 1000 parsecs away for their disturbing lack of faith. The poster is very similar to the horror posters of 30’s, especially ‘Frankenstein’, with the evil Darth Vader‘s enlarged head in the background. In front of him is Luke Skywalker with a dazed expression and with the sword that emits light (revelation of the light-saber). Princess Leia beside him has a gun in her hand, which explains her courageous and bad-ass attitude. The death star in the background and the army of spaceships seem to be coming from Vader, asserting his command over them. The presence of two robotic figures in the background and the ruin-like city hint at a bleak futurist universe.

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