Exploring the World of Film Posters

Go into the majority of student halls and the chances are that you’ll find someone with a film poster on their wall. From Pulp Fiction to Gone with the Wind, film posters have been providing people with wall art for decades.

But how did the film poster become to hold such a high status and who are the pioneers in this industry?

Seen as one of the most prolific designers of his time Saul Bass produced some of the most iconic film posters ever seen. Responsible for classics such as Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder and The Man with the Golden Arm, Bass is known for his use of colour and visual metaphor.

Take the poster for Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo, Bass uses the spiraling circle design as a visual representation of the sensations that someone experiencing vertigo may experience, whilst the red background represents danger. Or Bass' work on Anatomy of a Murder where his dissection of the body is also a direct link to the dissection of evidence within a court room. The inconsistent lettering used for the films title, where every letter is different, is a metaphor for the different version of events presented to the lawyer by his client in the film.
Saul Bass 1958 Vertigo One Sheet Movie Poster
Anatomy Of A Murder

This use of colour and metaphor is also prolific in Polish film poster design. Due to the film industry being controlled by the state, there were restrictions on all films and as a result there were only two institutions responsible for film poster designs; Film Polski (Polish Film) and Centrala Wynajmu Filmow – CWF (Movie Rentals Central). Both of these commissioned artists to design their posters as opposed to the traditional graphic designer and as a result the Polish film poster is artist driven and steers away from the commercial art produced by other film studios at the time. With complete artistic freedom to create what they liked, the artists created powerful poster imagery inspired by the film with no star headshots or movie stills very akin to the work of Saul Bass as you can see below.

Polish Film Poster

A student favourite is the poster for controversial Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange. Designed by Phillip Castle this iconic poster is built around the strong graphic shape of a triangle with the focal point being that of the eyes – a reference to the main character Alex’s ‘treatment’ where his eyes are pinned wide open whist being made to watch violent images. The imagery Is very ‘spiky’ and the shining blade held by Alex in the poster is almost 3D in the way it pushes out at you, similar to the role that violence plays in the film. This spikiness is also echoed in the typography of the poster which once again makes use of the ‘eyeball’ theme with the large ‘O’ in orange.


Unsurprisingly typography plays an important role in the success of a film poster. Take the font used for Academy award winning film There Will Be Blood, which derives from the 'Black letter' family of type, dating back from the German birth of the printing press. Not a usual choice for film posters, the subversive and distinct use of this font adds gravitas to the statement 'There Will Be Blood'. Its similarity to biblical fonts of the past is no coincidence and is a statement that this will be an 'epic' film.

There Will Be Blood Poster

We asked our in house designer Annette Bowery about her thought process and approach when designing posters.

My approach to designing posters is influenced by my favourite poster designers – Saul Bass, Richard Amsel, Milton Glaser and more. I try to think about the tone of the piece and then reflect that in colour, composition and the dominant shapes of the poster image, typography and proportion. I usually try to take one of these basic elements as a starting block for design. A Clockwork Orange is one of my favourite film posters because it uses all these elements in perfect harmony, and captures the tone of the film exactly.

Here at THSH we're all big fans of film, so we've collated together some of our favourite film posters below!

Truman Show

The Truman show movie poster is one of my favourites of all time. Jim Carrey’s face is made up of, what appears to be, tiny TV screens – it’s simple and effectively draws on the key themes within the film. I think both the film and Carrey’s incredible performance in it are frustratingly underrated and if anyone hasn’t seen it yet I urge them to go and watch it immediately!

Charis Jardim | Assistant Marketing Manager (Digital)

Trainspotting –the majority of people will be able to picture that poster without even thinking about it! Choose Life!

Kat Hodgkinson | Production Liaison Officer

I think this is great because it draws people into a film which may not necessarily appeal in the first instance – a film about a classical music composer from the 18th century? But this somehow contemporises it and gives the allure of so much more than a simple biographical picture. Great film too.

Nick Loveland | Chief Operating Officer
My Neighbour

My Neighbour Totoro. This is my favourite film poster because it is so instantly recognisable for any fan of Studio Ghibli. Totoro is such a lovable character, and this scene is particularly iconic.

Becky Homer | Assistant Marketing Manager (Communications)
Annie Hall

My favourite film poster is Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” The simple black and white image featured on the poster immortalises the point where Alvy (Woody Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) walk around New York’s South Street Seaport where they share a romantic moment. The stark tagline ‘a nervous romance’ says it all - a beautiful and quirky film that taught me everything I know about love, loss, and catching lobsters!

Sally Pennington | Development Manager

If you're an avid lover of all things film then why not come along to our screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood, accompanied by a live orchestral performance by the London Concert Orchestra. You can even add an extra bit of spice to your night at Symphony Hall with our exclusive Bloody Mary cocktail!

Find out more here.