Movie Posters In the Age of the Internet

By  · Published on April 6th, 2017

With the release of new ‘Free Fire’ and ‘Baby Driver’ posters, we ask: what role does a movie’s poster play in the digital age?

Character posters for ‘Free Fire’ (Ben Wheatley, 2017).

Recently, Ben Wheatley, the director of the shoot-off thriller Free Fire, described the role of film posters in relation to the ‘whole package’ of cinema (i.e. from the film itself to its marketing strategy) and how this has changed in the digital age. At Creative Review, which showcased ten character posters created by Empire Designs to promote Free Fire, Wheatley said of this part of the package that:

“It’s interesting, over the last few years with the posters, the kind of received wisdom [was] you wanted an integrated campaign which was just one poster and you just hammer home that image. But the net has changed all that. So, certainly with High-Rise and now with Free Fire, there was just dozens of posters and they penetrate through the net to different audiences. And I like that.”

From viewer-created posters on sites such as PosterSpy to professional design companies such as Gravillis Inc., it’s clear that filmmakers and film viewers alike have more choice and visual awareness than ever before when it comes to a film’s visual marketing design. However, while an array of designs are a visually stimulating and creative experience for a film’s audience, as proven by the creative briefs run at PosterSpy, it leaves the danger of departing from the tone of the film as well as the question of a film’s endurance in history. From Casablanca’s center-staging of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman to the curious look from Audrey Tatou in the central image of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, it’s clear posters are just as influential to a film’s longevity as the film itself; these single, iconic images are what audiences remember.

Today’s films and TV shows are presented with multiple potentially iconic images, making it hard to find “the one” that will continue the creative conversation after the film has been watched, a la Pulp Fiction. For example, the team behind the up-coming American Gods are releasing a steady flow of gifs and videos from the most visually focused parts of the first season, along with general posters of the iconography that’s sourced from Gaiman’s novel, individual character posters and the modern reimagining of classic works of art. Logan also offered an array of posters, from its most memorable hand-holding close up to the sunset-lit orange haze action scene. Meanwhile, the U.S. and U.K. posters for Paul Verhoeven’s Elle stuck with one image each, changing only the color of the font, while Moonlight’s poster cut into three shards, each representing a phase of Chiron’s life, has become an instant classic despite the multiple impressive designs and re-designs made by viewers.

When we think of the posters for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or The Silence of the Lambs, our minds are immediately drawn to the Michelangelo-esque touching of the fingers and the moth covering Jodie Foster’s mouth. The question of whether there will be any lasting images audiences will remember ten to twenty years from now pervades the conversation around the subject when looking at what came before. However, contemporary posters have proven that a definitive design is, while welcome, not necessarily needed in order for an iconic poster to become iconic, as proven by those recently released for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.

Providing a thread of viewers’ posters and art along with tweets releasing the official teasers for Baby Driver, Wright merges the creativity of filmmaker and film-watcher. The film’s tone (as gathered from the trailer) is never lost, with the theme of Baby Driver’s teaser poster (minimalism, a framed border, gunplay font, and a deep pink) continued in conversation through Wright’s audience’s art.

Ultimately, Wheatley’s comments on the role of poster designs in a digital age sum up their lasting importance. He says, “obviously it was lovely in the past when you had one definitive design, one poster, but as a filmmaker, if you were on the receiving end of a poster you didn’t like […] there was no where else to go with it.” Instead of one design being made in either the style of the “brutally commerical” or “the incredibly arty,” filmmakers and viewers can now have both. More importantly, a conversation between filmmaker and film viewers is enabled through the creative dialogue in recreating a poster.

Freelance writer based in the UK.