Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Best (and Worst) Movie Posters of 2013

So, it's time. Which movie poster will join the ranks of The American, Funny Games and The Master as my choice for the year's best? It's always fun to look at how trends in movie poster design emerge and evolve, but a fairly unsettling one surfaced in 2013. This shouldn't come as a surprise since we've been building toward it for a while now, but it's impossible not to notice how few mainstream movie posters warranted mention or even runner-up status on anything other than a WORST list. Just scrolling up and down the page, you'll see a shocking amount of titles most of the general ticket-buying public have never heard of, much less seen. And that's definitely not their fault.

More money on the line frequently means a studio is less likely to take the risk accompanied with hiring an artist or experienced creative mind to handle the print advertising for their film. The result is a bunch of suits deciding what we want as a marketing committee airbrushes and photoshops performers' heads and bodies to the point of unrecognizability. The notion that posters just ain't what they used to be was recently touched on by Movie Geeks United co-host Dean Treadway on the show and in his must view 200 Favorite Movie Posters list on Filmicability, which provides valuable insight into what makes for a truly great print, citing some terrific examples that span the decades. I'd agree that poster art has turned the corner in over the past few years, provided you know where to look. The best ones make it impossible to divorce yourself from the experience of watching the movie every time you lay eyes on them. And yes, many have made a difference in nudging me toward titles I never would have checked out otherwise. The choices below hopefully represent the cream of the crop, along with some others that are unfortunately scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The Best...

10. Diana

Okay, so the movie was supposedly pretty terrible. But I wouldn't blame anyone for being excited for a Princess Di biopic based based on this simple,stark poster that makes great use of negative space while doing something creatively interesting with its placement of title and credits. In this case, showing Naomi Watts from a distance and even kind of downplaying her star value might be a positive since we all know the actress's physical resemblance to the late Princess of Whales is minimal at best. But here, from this angle, in that pose, she's her double. Based on this classy image, if I didn't know any better, I'd think this movie does for Diana what Gandhi did for Gandhi. False advertising? Probably. Smart advertising? Absolutely.

9. Salinger

In case you didn't hear, JD Salinger was a pedophile who was once married to a Nazi.  At least that's according to Shane Salerno's much maligned documentary that treats rare sightings of the late, reclusive author with the bombast of a Discovery special on Bigfoot. Everything turns out to be info you wish you could unhear, and while the sensationalistic presentation seems to be the very antithesis of what the author stood for in his work, this poster isn't. Yes, it was probably easy to design. Yes, it's obvious. And yes, it's plagiarism (insert sound of author rolling in his grave). But what's most surprising is that they were smart enough to do it. There couldn't have possibly been a cleaner, more respectful design for the film, which of course is a cruel irony considering the treatment of its subject. Salinger would have a good laugh at this. Before suing them. 

8. Computer Chess

This low-budget, 80's set satire depicting a chess tournament pitting nerdy computer programmers against each another wasn't the easiest watch for me, despite it being frequently heralded as one of the year's best. But I love this U.K. quad poster, which was designed by Atari 2600 cover artist Cliff Spohn. The man responsible for the classic box art for Asteroids, Defender and Video Chess actually came out of retirement to design this and it's hard to argue it wasn't worth it. Poster art doesn't get much better than this. Chalk it up as another win in the column for hand drawn illustration. It almost makes me want to revisit the film in hopes that I'll be proven wrong and see something that even slightly resembles the greatness hinted at in this design. The movie is different and one-of-a-kind. I'll give it that. But the poster? Even more so.

7. Short Term 12

So many questions. Where's the kid going? Why is he draped in an American flag cape? Why is he screaming? Who are these people chasing him? A poster is supposed to tease and you want to find out more. I kind of know the answers to a couple of these just based on reviews and write-ups but now it apparently must be seen (as if the presence of the always awesome Brie Larson wasn't already enough). Grabbing images from the film or capturing characters in motion have resulted in some real disasters (just see worst list below) but this print is basically a clinic on how it can be done right. From the yellowish filter used, to the positioning, size and font of the title, to the screaming kid coming right at us, this is a winner all-around. And I do like that effect of the title being blinded out by the sky. There were also some impressive illustrated prints for the movie, but this easily takes it. Quietly one of the best reviewed movies of the year, you definitely feel every bit of that promise bursting through here.

6. Afternoon Delight

This little seen indie made some waves when Quentin Tarantino revealed it as his favorite film of 2013 back in October. While the verdict's still out on that, I can at least get on board with its poster, which easily amongst the most eye-catching. You just can't go wrong with neon. If there were an alternate neon version of every poster I wouldn't complain, but this is a reminder that it really only works as a novelty that can best be appreciated under the right circumstances. Bringing in a stripper to spice up your marriage qualifies. This has been done better before, but there's no denying this is top notch work, sparking interest in a movie where there would have been none.  

5. Nebraska
The most predictable entry on this list is no less effective because of it. It's a simple, haunting silouette of Bruce Dern that tells us exactly what the movie's about, while simultaneously revealing nothing. While it remains to be seen whether this can be said for the film itself, if this were done in color it just wouldn't have carried nearly the same impact. I also really like the 70's style credit presentation on the bottom, which is fitting considering everything we've heard about the character-based, throwback style of Alexander Payne's latest. The design is so simple that it's a wonder there aren't more posters like it. But that's probably a good thing since it only makes this layout seem that much more unique and inspired.

4. Rewind This!

Appropriately, the influence of old school, hand drawn posters are on full display with a one-sheet that would look great in anyone's den. I'd tell you this is documentary about about the impact of VHS and home video, but it's not even necessary. This design tells you all that and more. This "kitchen sink" 80's throwback approach doesn't always work and has honestly been a bit overused of late, but when it's called for, as it is here, few styles can match it. Besides the art work being quite a few notches above what we'd expect and the illustrated design style matching the time period and subject being covered, it just looks immensely cool. Anyone longing to be transported to the '80's when videocassettes ruled the day needn't look any further. Also love the retro futuristic font style of the title. Whoever this unknown artist is really nailed it.

3. √Čvocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

One of the big highlights of √Čvocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie are cleverly animated vignettes that  randomly appear during the documentary, which profiles the rise and fall of the controversial eighties talk show host. What you see above is that animation in all it's glory. The film makes a damn good case that he's the forefather of trash TV and a precursor to the Glenn Becks and Jerry Springers with footage that's shocking even by today's standards. Brash, obnoxious and in-your-face, there's no better image that encapsulates the loudmouth who briefly turned TV upside down with his confrontational antics. It's the only poster on this list that's actually kind of scary, presenting a caricature that certainly doesn't veer far from reality. The use of the red, white and blue for the titles is brilliant and unnerving. Yes, it kind of recalls Pink Floyd The Wall poster but not nearly enough to claim it's doing any more than paying tribute. When did documentary posters get this good?

2. Escape From Tomorrow

Lawyer up. If it wasn't enough that filmmaker Randy Moore covertly (and illegally) shot a black-and- white horror movie on handheld cameras and iPhones at Disneyland and Disney World, the poster basically rubs the company's noses in it with an image that defaces the company's historic iconography. Disney did the right thing by ignoring it, as a long, drawn out legal battle would have just brought more attention to the film while making them look like bullies. As a result, the movie flew under the radar and kind of faded away. But this poster never will. It's basically a masterpiece in promotional design and I still can't believe they got away with it. Using Mickey's hand and even cribbing the classic Disney font. Talk about asking for trouble. The colors and details here are tremendous enough that this would be able to fool anyone into thinking that Disney's branching into R-rated horror. And yet it's so clean and simple, with a tagline that absolutely kills. "Bad Things Happen Everywhere."  No wonder this is going for big bucks on eBay. It's worth every penny.

1. Spring Breakers

As divisive and polarizing a film as Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers was, it seemed the one thing everyone could agree on was that it was one of the most beautifully shot movies of the year. Even those who considered it a piece of trash (and many did) at least had to respect the technical expertise that went into it and admit cinematographer Benoit Debie is owed an Oscar nomination for the neon colored nightmare he engulfs viewers in. At the start of the year a top contender for my favorite poster would have been that first creepy Spring Breakers teaser you see below. Then I saw this. Again, grabbing a screenshot and plastering it on a poster is problematic in most cases, but this isn't most cases. Alien's oceanside serenade to the girls is undeniably the defining visual moment of the film, coming during what's easily the most memorable sequence. That the marketing team had the wherewithal to know that and use it on the poster is impressive enough, but it's really the colors and the Ralph Steadman style title font that takes this to the next level. You don't see typography like that every day, but it fits perfectly here. Talk about the replicating the experience of watching the movie. This is the movie. All of it. Captured perfectly in a single, unforgettable image.


And The Worst...

Well, that didn't take long. Riding high after last year's Silver Linings comeback, DeNiro's back at it again, cashing those checks. But look how many big names he's dragged along with him this time (though Heigl probably deserves it). And, hey, doesn't this Robin Williams role look familiar? Amanda Seyfried's expression is priceless and accurate: "Get Me Out of Here."

                                Coming soon to V.O.D. and Redbox. A movie. Starring three airbrushed people.With a happy ending.

You're marketing a movie called The Lifeguard starring Kristen Bell and your only job is to place a photo of the actress in a swimsuit on the poster. And you mess it up! You'd never know from the above image, but the movie isn't a romantic comedy and nowhere near this sunny and cheerful.

An attempt to go artsy and minimalistic goes haywire with this design as that thing hangs helplessly in the air. If not for the title I wouldn't be able to properly identify this as a little girl and figuring out she was on a swing took even longer. Whatever it is, it sure doesn't look comfortable. As if "From The Producers of The Kids Are All Right" wasn't enough of a warning to keep me away. 

                                                            Well, you can't say the title isn't oddly appropriate. Love that tagline.

How fitting is this? It's as if Stallone and DeNiro each realized their posters are so bad separately that they'll combine forces to really give us the worst imaginable. While it's not quite THAT bad and some of the alternates for this are actually pretty decent, this is still embarrassing. And what's with all that text? 

It was tough choosing exactly which character poster from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was (un)worthy of placement here. I'm kidding. I immediately picked Alan Arkin's. Just look at it. It's Alan Arkin. As a magician. Named Rance Halloway. I kind of want to see this now.

Fred Claus, Four Christmases, Couples Retreat, The Dilemma, Lay The Favorite, Delivery Man, The Internship. You'd have this expression too.

Finally, one of 1999's lowest grossing, action packed thrillers arrives on DVD and VHS. Paranoia is available for a limited time only at participating Best Buy locations for the bargain bin price of $2.99. Act now and you'll receive this free theatrical poster, which features the first image of TRON 3.0, starring Liam Hemsworth.  

Maybe the sloppiest, laziest poster of the year. And that's saying something. At least the ones above are interestingly bad in a fun way. Nothing of the sort is true about this. Glum and poorly realized in both idea and execution, it's bland enough on its own that photoshopping the three additional actors in there seems like excessive punishment.  

What's sad about this is that Iron Man 3 is surprisingly entertaining. It deserved a really good poster. Instead, it predictably got the treatment every other Marvel film does. I actually even prefer this instead.

See above. But far worse. Just look how much is going on here, and yet it's still impossible to make out any of it. If i didn't know better. Is this a parody of a superhero movie?

What do you get when you combine the posters of Iron Man and Transformers? Apparently this one for Pacific Rim. There were so many bad ones for this that they were basically interchangeable. All these summer blockbuster posters look exactly the same. Same colors. Same title font. Same explosions. I'm convinced there's just one guy sitting in an office somewhere designing these for every studio.

poster images via


Dean Treadway said...

Excellent choices, and terrific writing! My vote is for NEBRASKA as the best of the year (but I do love that SIDE EFFECTS poster, too). Thanks so much for the shout out, too!

jeremythecritic said...

Thanks, Dean. "Side Effects" is a great one. Just barely missed my top ten.

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