As Sam Smith sung so unmemorably in “Spectre” this year, the writing’s on the wall. The writing, in this case, being the titles and taglines of movie posters, and the walls being bus shelters and blog posts. Movie posters still operate an enormous place in our culture — for the layman, they might be the first time they become aware of a film’s existence, for others, they can become icons that embody everything great about a particular picture.
Between Mondo-style artwork, endless character posters, and smart, upstart distributors not playing by the rules, there’s a greater breadth and variety of film posters than ever before, and as such, there felt like no better place to start off our End-Of-Yearpalooza of coverage of the best of 2015 than with a look at our favorite film posters of the year.
We had only one real rule: a poster had to be part of a film’s official marketing campaign (i.e. not Mondo artwork), and it had to be for a movie released in 2015, or a poster released for a 2016 film. Last year, we gave our top slot to the artwork from Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” — who’ll win out this time? Take a look at our top 20 below to find out, and let us know your favorites in the comments.
20. “Nasty Baby”
Sebastian Silva’s Sundance pic, a cult film in the making about a gay couple who team with their best friend (another in a string of impressive turns this year from Kristen Wiig) to have a baby, has a sting in its tail, and that’s reflected in the poster that The Orchard’s campaign centered around: a sort of cross-stitch textured image of an infant sticking out its tongue. Aesthetically similar to recent posters for “Bad Words” and “Nightcrawler” to some degree, this nevertheless stands out, perfectly selling the don’t-give-a-fuck punkish attitude of both this film, and Silva’s work in general, to date.
One of the better, and certainly most underseen, British movies of the year, and one of the best Brit crime pics in some time, was Gerard Johnson’s “Hyena.” The film, starring Ben Wheatley regular Peter Ferdinando as a corrupt cop, had a striking, neon-soaked visual aesthetic that, in places, felt close to a horror movie (it’s not surprising that Nicolas Winding Refn is a fan). And that carried through to this poster, showing a blue-tinged London street being crossed by a hyena casting the shadow of a man. InSync and BemisBalkind’s U.S. poster, linked here, was strong too, but a touch more familiar.
18. ”Goodnight Mommy"
The Gravillis Inc designs for Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala‘s "Goodnight Mommy" (Austria’s foreign-language Oscar entry) are also excellent, evoking an old-school "Village of the Damned" feel, but they do somewhat tip the film’s hand in advance, and could almost be considered spoilery. So, for eerie impact that remains enigmatic, almost otherworldly, we’re going with the film’s other campaign by Austrian designer Matthias van Baaren, this Saul Bass-inspired poster that were also used more widely in the film’s European release (the German title is "Ich Sehe, Ich Sehe").
17. ”High Rise"
One of our favorite designers, Jay Shaw, returns to the list he conquered last year (his design for Denis Villeneuve‘s "Enemy" was our favorite poster of the 2014) with this supremely iconic teaser for Ben Wheatley’s as-yet-unreleased "High Rise." Shaw seems remarkably adept at evoking very precise influences, and this poster is no exception. In fact, we had to double and treble check that it was an original artwork and not a repurposing of a 1970s book cover design for the JG Ballard novel on which the film is based. Chilling, dystopian, brilliantly simple, and perfectly apropos.
16. ”Digging For Fire"
Some of the most individual and idiosyncratic of designs come from some of the smaller, more idiosyncratic, indie films, and they don’t get much indie-er than mumblecore pioneer Joe Swanberg. But "Digging for Fire" marks another step towards a more accessible, more overtly entertaining style of moviemaking (if no less personal) for Swanberg, and that’s reflected in this bold, colorful, striking poster design from P+A, featuring an almost Frida Kahlo-esque painting by Akiko Stehrenberger.
15. “The Martian”
In an age when we’re told only franchise movies can be blockbuster hits, “The Martian” proved everyone wrong, taking half-a-billion dollars and climbing and cracking the years’s top-ten grossers. And a fair amount of credit has to go to the smart, distinctive marketing campaign, and a genuinely artful collection of posters, including this terrific alt-one by Ignition. It’s a nifty twist on the instantly iconic ‘Bring Him Home’ teaser, juxtaposing Damon’s perfectly round helmet against a red-orange planet with a spiral-like texture, setting up both the plot, and the impossibility of the situation that the character is stuck in. As with the movie in general, this was just that little bit smarter than most of the competition.
It’s not often a Marvel movie makes it onto lists like these — as an institution they’re more known for endless boring character posters and "teasers" that turn out to be a logo given a vaguely brushed-steel finish against a black background. But credit where it’s due, perhaps we wouldn’t have found this jokey "Ant-Man" poster so amusing if we weren’t aware of just what a departure it was for the brand. Designed by BLT Communications, it’s the visual equivalent of someone who makes you pay more attention to them by whispering, and, with tongue firmly in cheek, perfectly acknowledges the silliness, but also the point of difference, of the "Ant-Man" concept.
A riotous, buzzy Sundance breakout, the only real flaw in Rick Famuyiwa‘s “Dope" is that it tries to do too much. Yet that jumble of multiple different narrative threads is also where it derives its infectious sense of energy from, and that brash, up-tempo pace is reflected in this simple, non-photographic graphic treatment in the film’s teaser poster. Also reflecting the movie’s own acknowledgement of the various different meanings of the word "dope," it’s fresh-faced, youthful and buzzy, a lot like the thing it sells. (The overall campaign is by Gravillis Inc, so we assume this teaser is too, but let us know if you know differently).
12. “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter”
With a Sundance ’14 premiere, and a release in March this year, it’s easy enough for a film like the Zellner Brothers’ “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” to fall off a year-end list. And that’s a shame, because this riff on the urban legend of the woman who died looking for the money in “Fargo” was terrific, and this poster, by Sam Smith (not that one), was incredibly striking. Riffing on the little-red-riding-hood-ish imagery of the main campaign, but abstracted, colorful and featuring both rabbit Bunzo and a VHS tape, it’s the kind of image you’d stick on your wall, or at least a sweatshirt of some kind, regardless of the movie connection.
11. ”The Witch"
If not the best entries on this list then certainly the blackest, the inky, foreboding posters for Robert Eggers‘ Sundance horror breakout "The Witch" use the classical imagery of superstition and ritual — the goat especially plays an important role in the film — but undercuts the folksiness with unnervingly-hi res photography and hyperreal image quality. Also the brainchild of Gravillis Inc, who are the designers behind the "Dope" campaign as well as about half of our honorable mention list ("Beasts of No Nation," "Chi-Raq," "The Hateful Eight" "Iris"), these posters are so unsettling they almost prepare you for the movie. Almost.
10. “It Follows”
There’s nothing like a good horror movie, especially one with such an immediate hook as “It Follows,” to inspire poster designers into doing some stellar work, and David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” inspired plenty. The pick of the bunch was this image, used late in the game by Radius-TWC and designed by Akiko Stehrenberger (also on this list for “Digging For Fire”), who captures both the film’s pseudo-80s aesthetic, and its ultra-paranoid tone.
9. ”The Revenant"
Fresh from a fruitful collaboration with David Fincher that saw him create striking imagery for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," not to mention landing on last year’s list with "Gone Girl," superdesigner Neil Kellerhouse (who also created the iconic early poster for Jonathan Glazer’s "Under the Skin") created this design for Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s "The Revenant." As ever with Kellerhouse designs, it’s a combination of striking simplicity and drama, here ballsily taking a chance by not showing stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy (though they do obviously show up in close-up glory on the alternate versions). Instead, we get a forbidding, snowy blue yonder that evokes Lubezki’s spectacular cinematography, with the flaring sparks lending just a hint of apocalypse.
We often bemoan the fact that the vast majority of film posters through the year feature the beauteous faces of the stars and/or a still from the movie, incorporating some sort of relevant vista, with a big, usually sans serif treatment of the title at the bottom. It’s pretty impressive, then, that Empire Design, who created this poster for Justin Kurzel‘s "Macbeth," managed to find a way to incorporate all of the above, and yet make such a punchy, impactful visual. There is an alternate version of this same artwork which is entirely doused in blood-red, but there’s something less expected about the purity of the white background, and it makes the flame motif creeping up Fassbender’s spine all the more dramatic.
From design house LA comes one of the best-looking posters of the year for one of the best-looking films of the year. Denis Villeneuve’s "Sicario," shot by the great Roger Deakins actually has a number of official posters (all done by LA), most of which (and the most frequently used, naturally) are of the "picture-of-the-marquee-stars-holding-guns-and-looking-badass-under-an-ugly-typeface" school of design. But this graphic treatment, with its dirty gold background and tattoo-ish skull icon composed of guns, roses, snakes, spiderwebs, nooses, thorns, crosses, stars and eagles is by far the most striking and inspired.
6. ”Bone Tomahawk"
There’s certainly an evolving trend for retro-styled posters of all stripes (even the "Star Wars: the Force Awakens" poster directly refers back to the first "Star Wars" imagery). But often it’s kind of an afterthought: after the tried-and-tested formulaic posters have done their job, a few prettier, edgier "alternate" versions are quickly whipped up. Which is why it’s good to note that this was the very first poster for "Bone Tomahawk," designed to create interest at Cannes (in fact, it was followed by some less inspired theatrical release character posters), and its throwback, yet coolly modern, design (by Brandon Schaefer) does indeed give a deliciously accurate first taste of the genre treat in store.
If ever a film was notorious before anyone had even seen it, only to become notably less so when it finally opened, Gaspar Noe‘s "Love" was surely it, and a lot of the reason lies in these advance posters. The main design is rather lovely though, and surprisingly subtle: it’s only on closer inspection that you really notice there are three participants, mainly it’s just about the pinkness and softness of tongues and those suggestive cords of clinging saliva. Though the delicate effect is kind of contradicted by the gloopy title treatment, and then altogether jettisoned in the uber-, super-, redefining-the-term NSFW alternate poster, which features a breast, a penis and a spurt of semen, in case we were worried he might be talking about platonic "Love" or brotherly "Love" or whatever.
4. ”Louder Than Bombs"
Contrary to its title, the reception for the latest Joachim Trier film was decidedly muted, even if we seemed to like it a great deal more than most. Then again, it could well have been that this teaser poster from Norwegian design collective Handwerk (who also did the design work for Eskil Vogt‘s "Blind," among many other Nordic titles), which showed up all over Cannes, simply set expectations too high. It’s a striking, clean, yet oddly joyful image, and sticks in the memory because where so many more adventurous posters these days are going the retro, illustrative or pictorialist route, this is "just" a photographic treatment, yet it speaks volumes as to the clean, modern and yes, rather Scandinavian outlook of the film.
Not all photographic treatments have to be rote…and proving that, here’s the thematically appropriate shredded-image poster for Riley Stearns‘ "Faults," featuring images of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser that are as jaggedly disordered as the characters’ minds. A terrific, unsettling and imaginative design from cold open, who were also responsible for 2015’s "Suffragette" campaign.
2. ”Queen of Earth"
Another ongoing collaboration that is evolving between an artist and a filmmaker is that of French painter Anna Bak-Kvapil and Alex Ross Perry. Bak-Kvapil previously painted the images used to promote "Listen Up Philip" (posters which also placed on this list last year), but this year sees, if anything, her artwork become more central to the poster design. Both versions, whether the single image of Elisabeth Moss‘s mascara-streaked, windblown face, or the triple-header, stylishly capture the sense of fragmenting sanity, and the aura of high-strung feminine breakdown that the film deals in, again perfectly contained in a throwback overall design whose cursive title font recalls the film’s 70s-inspired titles.
1. ”The Lobster"
The art of simplification is a hard enough one to master, but the art of simplifying one of the most arcane, intricately imagined and inexplicable films of the year down to probably the most stunningly simple posters on this list, is kind of genius level. Take a bow, then, Vasilis Marmatakis, here reuniting with Yorgos Lanthimos for "The Lobster" having also designed the artwork for "Alps" and "Dogtooth" (you might remember the latter’s sine-wave graphic). Lo-fi and yet very fresh feeling, punchy but also evocative, this series of posters is the perfect companion to the film, in posing a visual puzzle that is striking, absurd, impossible, poetic and melancholy all at once.
As ever, there’s more that we could have talked about here. Going in the honorable mention category, there’s the bullet-hole/octopus hybrid teaser for “Spectre,” the warm, charming one-sheet for “Alex Of Venice,” the stoner-y title treatment of “American Ultra,” the striking, albino snake-featuring work on “Bare,” the haunting poster for “Beasts Of No Nation,” and the very clever, reverse billboard of Harry Lloyd-starring indie “Big Significant Things.”
There was also the comic-book aping look of “Blackbird,” the mythic feel of SXSW hit “The Boy,” the excellent artwork of Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary “Call Me Lucky,” the utterly original, gorgeously realized “Catch Me Daddy,” the Saul Bass-esque artwork for “Chi-Raq,” the red-and-blue teaser for “Crimson Peak,” the psychedelia of “Darling,” and the clever, genuinely funny “Graduate” riff for “Dirty Grandpa.”
Let’s also not forget the rainbow censorship of “Do I Sound Gay?,” the cassette-tape portraits of “The End Of The Tour,” the abrasive provocation of “Entertainment,” the striking, what-does-that-look-like imagery for “Felt,” an inventive teaser for next year’s Natalie Dormer-starring horror “The Forest,” the underwater portraiture for “Gabriel,” the dino/handprint iconography of “The Good Dinosaur,” the Leone-ish minimalism of “The Hateful Eight,” and the clever coloring for documentary “I Am Big Bird.”
Plus there was the overhead whale shot for “In The Heart Of The Sea,” the colorful one-sheet for doc “Iris,” the black-and-white, notepad minimalism of “James White,” that clever storage-set poster for “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Magic Mike XXL,” because obviously, one sharp alternate poster for “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl,” the clever overlay of “Meadowland,” the robotic exoskeleton of “Ex Machina,” the mountainous poster for “Some Beasts,” the beaten-up Gyllenhaal on “Southpaw,” consistently strong work for “Spy” (including the delightful ‘Turtleneck’ one-sheet taking the piss of out of “Spectre”), the hand-stitched “The Visit” teaser, and the excellent tree-focused work on “Wild Canaries.” Plus, of course, the immaculately arranged “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” poster.
Dishonorable Mentions: Unnecessary character posters are something of a bugbear of ours, but in a year full of them,“Unfinished Business” might take the cake. Maybe we’re wrong, but we can’t see the tweens lining up to put Tom Wilkinson holding a man in a gimp mask on a chain on their walls. Or anyone. “We Are Your Friends’ (which did have some good artwork), had some horrors too, including the grossly pandering “It’s Our Moment/Time/Future” character series.
“Brooklyn” gets a special mention for the greatest disparity between the quality of the movie (very good) and the quality of the posters (like something even your grandparents would think was dusty and old-fashioned), while “Unexpected” falls into a similar category, a lovely little movie with a poster that makes it look like something you see when you scroll too far down Netflix.