Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Best (and Worst) Movie Posters of 2015

We've reached that point. And while I've yet to wade my way through enough of the past year's releases, I've certainly seen all their posters. Ironically enough, 2015 was heralded as a breakthrough year for "big" movies, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any of those studios' one-sheets here, as they seemed to play it as safe as ever when it came to advertising art. This resulted in a Top 10 full of underseen titles, little known indies, financial flops and even some films that have yet to see a U.S. release. But these are the most impressive posters, and while whittling them down to ten wasn't difficult, deciding which they'd be was trickier. That any of the runners-up could probably inserted into the top 10 depending on my mood or the day may speak more toward my apathy at the selections this year than their quality, but there are still some gems among them.

The top choice is probably the littlest known film to have its poster to earn that designation from me, but it's unquestionably the year's best one-sheet, or really pair of them. There's also a somewhat controversial selection when it comes down to the worst. Visual simplicity, use of space and color and, perhaps most importantly, how well the poster reflects the film and/or its themes factored into the decision-making process. Or more accurately: Were any posters able to pique my interest for a film I previously had no interest in seeing? It's a good test. Just a reminder that any posters released in 2015 (even for 2016 films) qualify, but they must be official posters approved and released by the studio. "Alternative" movie posters (like Mondo's) are not considered, no matter how much better they sometimes seem in comparison. All poster images supplied via Here's the top ten, followed by some runners-up and, of course, the worst.  Enjoy.         

The Best...
10. It Follows

This definitely won't earn tons of points for originality, as 80's style throwback horror posters seem to be all the rage lately, but this is one of the best recent examples of that because of its bold simplicity. And the illustration by artist Akiko Stehrenberger is a notch or two above in at least bottling the spirit of those retro posters and VHS covers. There's kind of a Driving Miss Daisy thing going on with this in terms of the rear view mirror, but with far more menacing results and thematic unity since this is a film about a girl literally watching her back. While I'm not as crazy about this poster as some others are, it's entirely possible that an actual viewing of the film could enhance my appreciation. Love that blood red title treatment across the bottom.

9. The Lobster

Some would undoubtedly rank this higher but if I did it would be tough to shake the feeling that it was being rewarded out of pure weirdness rather than originality. Still, there's no question this pair of posters (featuring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz respectively) for the still unreleased Yorgos Lanthimos dystopian romantic comedy, The Lobster, is an unusually inspired design that offers up a great visual representation of its film's themes of loneliness and isolation. Off-white almost always beats white and using the black and white stills of the characters against a seemingly endless landscape of negative space was a great idea, especially with the bold black title and credits treatment at the bottom. I like that this is a set of posters, each providing a different visual perspective on the same idea.

8. The End of the Tour

An ingenious visual device for what was ultimately a deeply moving, insightful film that hasn't left my mind since I saw it. Featuring a career high performance from Jason Segel as late author David Foster Wallace, the film details the last leg of his 1996 U.S. book tour during which he's interviewed by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). It's just a great, wholly original idea having the reels of tape form the characters' faces. It would have been almost too easy to just slap the actors on there and call it a day but designers P+A accomplish far more with an aesthetic that better captures the story's melancholy tone. The tagline for its poster is almost painfully accurate. "The greatest conversation you've ever had." Also, a nice touch with courier style type.

7. Steve Jobs

Those thinking it impossible to screw up a poster for a Steve Jobs biopic, look no further than last year's hideous Jobs design, when in trying to incorporate Apple's color scheme (I think) they instead wound up with a snow cone-infused monstrosity. Always a proponent of sleek, crisp design, there's a good chance that while the man himself may have taken issue with his unflattering (but perhaps painfully true) depiction in Danny Boyle's film, he would have at least appreciated this poster. Simply put, it's perfect.

It may not necessarily "grab" you visually but in this particular case it's easy to argue it was the most practical choice for a one-sheet. Besides featuring the best use of negative space on a poster in years, it captures Fassbender's pensive Jobs in arguably his, and the film's, most impressive point. Not to mention the clever positioning of the credits, particularly that cursor after the title. Such a fan of this poster I cribbed it for the banner of this site. And how many iconic figures actually have their own identifiable color?  Well, on second thought...   

6. The Program

If ever there was an image that told you everything you needed to know about the subject, it's this. Formerly titled "Icon," the Lance Armstrong biopic starring Ben Foster as the embattled cyclist shouldn't be confused with that 1993 James Caan football movie of the same name. But looking at this, how could it? Two very different "programs" for sure.

I'm not entirely sure when this is due to be released or if it hasn't already in some locations, but the bigger news is that an all yellow poster has been designed for a Lance Armstrong movie in which he's being CHASED BY A SYRINGE. And the tagline is actually "Winning Was In His Blood." That's seriously the tagline. It almost seems too easy to include this on the list but how many studios would have been afraid to go through with it? Regardless of how the film turns out, no one can accuse them of false advertising. A controversial figure deserves an appropriately controversial image.

5. Love and Mercy

One of the most underappreciated films of 2015 was Bill Pohlad's imaginative, quasi-biopic on the life The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Its illustrator, rather bravely, forgoes the entirely predictable route of doing a John Cusack and Paul Dano (who both play the singer at two different ages) floating heads treatment or some kind of split screen nonsense. The two stars are nowhere to be found as artist Kii Arens seems a lot more interested in presenting an image that captures the FEEL of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. And did he ever.

It isn't hard to imagine this an actual cover of a Beach Boys or Wilson solo album during either of the time periods the film depicts, even as it's clearly going for a 60's vibe. From the vibrant colors to the typeface to that hypnotizing wave inside the magnificent silouette of a young Wilson at the peak of his songwriting powers. it's a reminder just how easy it is to take for granted the power of illustrated artwork in a film's ad campaign. And I love the light blue border. More posters need borders. Simple, classic,elegant. Of all the choices here, this is probably the one most likely to make it onto my wall.

4. Insurgent

Here's another take on the famous Escher's Staircase design we've gotten accustomed to seeing for the past few years, and yet it still manages to come off entirely different and fresh again in LA's design for Insurgent. Not exactly sure of its meaning or even how it relates to the franchise, but considering I've yet to see the films, that hardly sways my opinion. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it has nothing to do with the series at all and they just went with it because it looks really cool. If that's the case, it's hard to cry foul because it is a really powerful, hypnotizing image that draws you in, demanding closer examination.

This is certainly the ideal one-sheet for any IMAX 3D showing, effectively conveying the feeling of that medium on paper. Everything revolves around that central image of Tris falling and you have to appreciate that they extended the upside-down approach to the credits as well. The highest compliment is that it could easily pass for an alternative Mondo print since it's almost hard to believe a big studio signed off on something this creative.    

3. Louder Than Bombs

One of the few cases where a single image can really be worth a thousand words and yet another great example of using negative space...and air. If you're going to use a still from your film (which I'm only assuming this is since it hasn't been released yet stateside), it better be good. The upcoming 2016 film is described merely as "The fractious family of a father and his two sons confront their different feelings and memories of their deceased wife and mother, a famed war photographer." On paper, it may not grab you, but luckily none of that verbiage is anywhere to be found on this beautifully uncluttered one-sheet.

Is this meant to be entirely metaphorical or symbolic? Are there actually cheerleaders in the movie? Do they play an important role?  I have a feeling none of this matters. What does is that everything here is lined up in perfect symmetry, from the girls on the left to the credits on the right, and everything just hanging in the air against a clear blue sky. There's never been a poster layout quite like this before and it's impossible to turn away. It could pass as the cover of a bestselling novel, which is an outside-the-box quality more designers could be emulating. It should also be said that Louder Than Bombs is a great title for a movie.

2. James White
The first question that comes time upon glancing at graphic designer and The Poster Boys podcast co-host Brandon Schaefer's one-sheet for the low-budget indie, James White is "How the hell did he come up with THAT?" If it's true that all these designs start with only an idea, than this one is the most original one of the year. But he still had to execute it, or maybe go through a bunch of lesser ones to finally arrive at this. But that's all speculation.

Going beyond the central idea of a torn loose leaf paper as the title character's face, the way it's actually done with the shading and three-dimensional effect is just so eye-catchingly cool that it nearly leaps off the page despite being fairly subdued. It's the thematically convenient choice of the stark white against a black background and white border that makes it all pop. Knowing nothing of the film, I could still tell you it's a dark drama with a morally conflicted protagonist going through the worst time of his life. All that from a single image. And it just missed the top spot.

1. Queen of Earth (French and American Versions)       

Considering it was an illustrated poster featuring actress Elisabeth Moss that snagged the 10th spot on last year's list, it seems oddly fitting that this sadder, more haunting depiction of the actress tops the list this year for a far different film. That these French and American one-sheets for Alex Ross Perry's polarizing indie Queen of Earth manages to somehow visually bottle the mental breakdown that's befallen it's incredibly difficult main character is no small feat. While I'm still sorting my very mixed feelings on the film (which may admittedly need a second viewing to fully absorb), there's no denying that it's advertising campaign pulled out all the stops in at least attempting to brace audiences for its insanity. Just take a look at this trailer.

Nothing succeeded more in getting the film's ideas across than this pair of unforgettably rendered posters, the French version of which captures an unnerving close-up of  Moss' Catherine at one of her lowest, darkest points. Drawn with frightening accuracy by Brooklyn-based artist Anna Katrina Bak, there's very little color here besides the eyes, leaves, and lips, creating an appropriately washed-out look for a very washed-out character. And the pink, cursive title against the white really stands out. Unless it's a poster for a Wes Anderson film, you don't often see title treatments like this anymore, only heightening its impact.

Bak's American version is more over-the-top, playing into the campy aspect of the story, but it's equally powerful. Moss has these large, unusually distinctive facial features that just envelope the screen, making her the ideal subject for an illustrated poster. This one has much more color and nearly veers into caricature in terms of how hard it hits on the theme of Catherine's fractured identity. Also reminiscent of great paperback novel covers, it  conceptually recalls this inventive poster from over a decade ago, which was also one of my favorites. Notice the quote and credit placement, as well as that the same font and color of the title treatment being carried over from the foreign version, along with the white framing. Despite being wildly different, both versions really represent two sides of the same coin, delivering the same message in divergent ways. Even the staunchest defenders of the actual film couldn't make an argument that these posters promise an experience any filmmaker would have trouble matching.             


And The Worst...

Okay, hear me out. These aren't ranked and I wouldn't try to sell anyone on the idea that this is the absolute WORST poster of the year, as it's "better" than just about everything below. But what a disappointment. And after actually seeing just how great the film is, this poster now only stands as an unforgivable letdown that clashes in every way with the product eventually delivered. Given that Disney was so slavishly devoted to maintaining the integrity of the original trilogy and bottling up all that nostalgia, you'd figure it would have extended to the advertising. And in many ways it did. Just not here. Everyone was going to see this anyway so why not risk bringing back the legendary Drew Struzan to do one of his classic illustrations that are as ingrained into the fabric of this franchise as John Williams' music? Well, they did. For an underwhelming 11x17 insert that was handed out at conventions. What a shame. And it's still better than this.

Say what you want about the prequels, but Struzan's posters for them (especially his masterful Dr. Zhivago-inspired Attack of the Clones print) were brilliant. I'm guessing, unlike George Lucas in the past, J.J. Abrams had no input in this decision knowing his vision for the series. Designer LA does occasionally great work (as demonstrated with The Hunger Games posters and above with his Insurgent print), but he was clearly hired for a job here. A slick, photoshopped mess, it's basically a case study in how to cram a bunch of action onto a page and make it seem meaningless. It's almost as bad as all those Marvel posters, which are cut from similarly uninspired cloth. Both the special IMAX and Rey character posters listed above in the runner-up section far surpass it, as do type-only retro teasers like this, this, and this. But what a relief that we can now look at this poster and laugh, knowing this kitchen sink-style approach had nothing to do with what eventually ended up on screen.

Speaking of Marvel, here's perhaps their dreariest yet. Dark, visually uninteresting and airbrushed and photoshopped within an inch of its life, this was supposedly the least of this movie's problems. Still, you can't help but think it's in a way emblematic of all the bigger issues that sunk it. Reboot coming next year?

There will be hell toupee when John Travolta fully completes his transformation into Nicolas Cage, complete with cheesy VOD movies and wild hair to match.

A Cage triple feature here.  It's almost too easy to joke about him being up to his knees in something else other than oil as an explanation for his choices these last few years, but I won't go there (alright, it's debt!) Seriously though, when your posters are starting become as interchangeable as these movies, there's a problem. I like the very tiny "Academy Award Winner" designation above the Dying of The Light title. Have we almost literally erased his Oscar win now?  

The ultimate in big star, floating head laziness. Just put Hanks on the poster and audiences will be there. And they were!

This does gain points for originality. I've never seen anything like it before, but hope never to again. And can we just talk about how unimaginative a title Our Brand Is Crisis is for a movie? In fact, they were so ashamed they buried it at the bottom, all but invisible within a mess of text. Purple is your color, guys.  

And I thought there was a lot going on in the Star Wars poster. But this has cars, helicopters, motorcycles, explosions, guns. "Vengeance Hits Home" alright. Getting dizzy just looking at it. And who's Scott Adkins? Better yet, who's Isaac Florentine? I forgot the movie's title already and I'm looking right at it.


You know, the Entourage teaser poster that was released actually isn't too bad, effectively channeling the spirit of the HBO series. Whether that's good or bad is up to you, but at least it did its job. This, on the other hand, looks like a print ad for Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Not a fan of posters like these. You know the ones. Where one character is doing something to another character as they're sitting there, obliviously staring into space. In this case it's someone's hair. And that someone is Will Ferrell. It can't get much worse. Wait, it can. The title.

Indeed. The pained expression on Patrick Wilson's face says it all. Can you blame him? This is actually a photo taken of the actor by his agent after he was given the identity of his latest co-star.

I'm all for minimalism. And focusing on big star names to sell your movie. And even big, bold titles. But this is too much (or rather too little) even for me. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the studio PR meeting when this approach was discussed. It was discussed, right?

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