How To Analyse a Film Poster
Begin by identifying the film and date of its release.
• Types of poster:Identify which type of poster it is:
The Teaser poster -This poster contains basic information to whet your appetite. It often does not indicate much about the plot, but may have a picture of the stars, and the name of the film.
The main theatrical poster- This contains information about the production personnel, the stars, and the distributors.
Video/DVD release poster - This one comes out when the film is released on DVD/video and often has all of the above plus short, one line reviews from relevant publications.
Identify the Genre
eg an action film will nearly always have images of guns/weapons, a Romance will always have the 2 lovers in very close physical proximity... etc...
Character Poster – this one features the main character. Remember that the posters could be a combination of two types.
• Images of the key settings and the main characters. What is the title of the film? What can you say about the way in which the title graphics have been written? Who is starring in the film? Where are the stars’ names placed on the poster? Why? Describe the key images on your poster. Why have they been chosen? Write about the images used - stars, setting, colours, symbols, (mise-en-scene). What do they suggest/signify? What other pictures can you see? What is their purpose? What are the most important colours on your poster? Why do you think these were chosen? What do you think the film will be about? Who is the target audience?
• Narrative:What clues are there to the narrative? What can you tell about the genre of the film and the types of characters from their facial expression, body language, stance, appearance and position on the poster? What makes you say this? What impression do you get of the character/personalities from their expression, clothes, props. Is there an enigma being presented? Is the poster composed of a series of images (montage, lack of perspective) Is the key image a still from the film?
• Colours:What colours are used in the poster? Are they relevant to the genre e.g. horror posters generally use dark strong colours especially black and red to represent death and evil. Romance films tend to employ lighter pastel and warm colours such as pinks, purples and other warm shades. Are the colours on your poster important? Why? What clues do they give about the genre, and how do they attract the target audience?
• Layout: analyse how the images are laid out. Are they are blended in without any concern for real perspective or size relationships between people and setting? Why do you think they are laid out like that? Do you know what the plot, genre and/or theme of the film is? If so, how? Most posters are portrait or landscape in shape. What shape is yours? Describe and discuss the title, font, typeface and graphics on the poster. What style are they in and where are they positioned etc? has the poster been painted and printed or produced using DTP ( mention how improvements in technology have changed production values).
• Written Text: scan the poster's written text. What does film's title and its font look like and what does this connote? Is there a catch or tagline? What does it tell us about the action, genre and attitude within the film? Who do you think is the target audience for the film? How has the poster been made attractive to these people? Discuss the billing/credit block. What information does it include about credits and information? Do we get information about who is in the cast, who directed the film, which company distributes it and promotes it etc? Where is the certificate? What does it indicate about the target audience and the content of the film? Does the poster list a website? If not, why not?
• Finally, what is the USP (the unique selling point) in each poster?What makes it different from other films? The plot, stars, themes, setting or characters?
This was part of an assignment for Media Studies where I looked at Movie Posters, I chose to look at original Movie posters and remakes.
Through the works of Roland Barthes, we have learned about semiology and how a sign is made up of a signifier (image or sound) and the signified (the concept). To the layperson however, signs still deliver the message but they are unaware of these concepts.
Movie Posters are advertisements, made to entice the viewer to the movie theatre or to pick up a rental or purchasable DVD.
Some posters we look at use words along with images to entice the potential viewer; some use the actors more than the story to sell the movie. Some of these original movies are better known than others and rely on the potential viewers previous knowledge.
Bad News Bears (1976 Vs 2005)
Fig 1. 1976 Poster
The original film was made in 1976 (Fig. 1) and the remake was made in 2005 (Fig 2). The story of both movies is based around the story of a Little League baseball team.
The poster images for both films are quite similar however there are a few significant changes. Both images have been manipulated to look like cartoons, giving the impression that this is aimed at a younger audience.
The 2005 film poster stays true to the original design, swapping the new cast for the original cast. However the leading actors are in proportion to the rest of the 2005 (Fig 2) cast in the image. In the original 1976 poster (Fig. 1) the leading actors are not in proportion to the rest of the cast, this almost immediately gives them a higher billing and more importance than their junior counterparts.
The kids in the 2005 version have been updated have also have skateboards, making it more ‘hip’ and contemporary. The original kids are very cartoon like, almost reminiscent of the slapstick style of Our Gang/Little Rascals (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0278213/) which was a film made in 1955 based on the 1928-1935 short syndicated TV show.(Appendix 1.) The kid with the skateboard in the 2005 version could almost modeled on Jay from the Jay and Silent Bob films (2001)
Fig 2. 2005 Poster
In the 1976 film, the stars are given a higher billing than the film title, giving the impression that the potential audience would first recognize the actors and then go to see the film because they were in it. In the 2005 version, the name of the film is given priority.
The 1976 poster almost gives you the plot of the story before you even know the name of the film. ‘The coach is waiting for his next beer. The pitcher is waiting for her first bra. The team is waiting for a miracle. Consider the possibilities’. Immediately you know some of the storyline and how the film may develop, not a great team but trying.
In the 2005 version, the tagline used ‘Baseball has rules. Meet the exceptions’ immediately gives the impression that these may be kids from the wrong side of town. However the placement of the tagline is three quarter of the way down the poster.
In the 1976 poster the story then the actors, the image, then the name of the film were given priority in that order, with the name of the movie not even in bigger font or in a different colour.
Fig 3. Jay and Silent Bob
In the 2005 version, the name is immediately seen followed by the image of the cast, then the star and the tagline.
The font used in both is synonymous with baseball with many teams using a similar font on their jerseys.
It could be associated that Little League baseball is part of the heritage in the USA with some of that style of typography, dating to the 1950’s.
The Hitcher: (1986 Vs 2007)
Fig 4. Hitcher 1986 Poster
The 1986 film (Fig 4.) was directed by Robert Harmon (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091209/). The 2007 (Fig 5) remake was directed by Dave Meyers (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455960/)
There are stark differences between these posters. The most obvious one is that the 1986 film poster is from the driver’s point of view from inside the car looking out at the stranger who has stepped out on the road. This gives a feeling of isolation as we can see the driver in the rear view mirror and therefore he is almost trapped inside the car. The driver’s eyes have been lit in a different way to bring emphasis to the fact they have a look of terror.
In Fig 1 the image of the Hitcher is keeping with the style of classic horror films. We see the shadows of the Hitcher falling towards us. These shadows act as a focal guide to direct our eyes from the drivers eyes to the hitcher. The light from behind the Hitcher outlines his figure but we cannot see his face, adding to the suspense of who this might be. The colours in the poster lead us to believe that it is nighttime. The clouds give the impression that it could be stormy, possibly with a full moon.
In this poster, the line ‘The terror starts the moment he stops’ again bring us to inside the car from the drivers point of view. The words ‘The Hitcher’ on the poster perhaps could have been bigger
but because of this, the focal point of the outside of the car is the Stranger. The fonts used in the title is similar to that used on road markings. Perhaps this is why the actual road markings are very faint on the road ahead.
Fig 5 Hitcher 2007 Poster
The text in the tag line from the 1986 poster ‘Never pick up a stranger’ is also quite small. The small font throughout the poster gives the impression that the image is solely what will draw us to watch the film.
The 2007 remake is from the Hitcher’s point of view, he is quite foreboding and possibly looking for him next victim. We can see him looking at an oncoming car but the road between him and the car is red. This is possibly a sign that blood has previously been spilled here. The environment is quite barren, which gives the impression that the movie takes place in an isolated area.
The colours in the poster are quite desaturated and the sky area looks like it has a film grain filtered over it to give it a slight retro feel. The car also gives a retro feel as it could be an American Ford Torino from the 1970’s. ( (http://www.hubcapcafe.com/ocs/ford-1970.htm)
The poster first refers to the Producers of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’. These are well know horror/thriller movies and act as a testimonial for the film.
The blood red text for ‘The Hitcher’, while easy to read, looks like it have been blood smeared on a wall, with some drops running further than others. The streaks in the text also indicate the smearing of blood. The credits in this poster are relatively unimportant as they are grey and blend easily with the stark barren background.
There is no tagline for this version of the film, however the original tagline has been used as a website address for the 2007 version, again in blood red, leaving with a gory feeling.
Scarface: (1932 Vs 1983)
Fig 6. Scarface 1932 Poster
The original Scarface was made in 1932 and directed by Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023427). Brian De Palma directed the popular 1983 version. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086250/)
The original 1932 poster is quite cartoon like. The initial emphasis is on the title’s font. The big yellow almost bubble like font immediately catches the eye. Under this we see a character holding a gun. We only see a side profile of the character who we believe to be Scarface.
Beside him on the left is a balloon like image. We are given the impression that bullets have been fired into this as the image indicates that air is escaping.
Below this we also see two scenes from the film, not as cartoon like as the major Scarface image. One where Scarface is moving along the outside of a building, giving the impression he is either sneaking up on someone or trying to get away from someone. There is also a circular picture of him with a damsel, who is giving him a scornful gaze.
The text placement is very interesting. Apart from the main title of the film the main text is placed on the bright background with the producers name most noticeable. The fact that Howard Hughes’ name is that big acts as a celebrity endorsement. The directors name then comes next in smaller font, in this instance seemingly less important than the producer.
Fig 7. Scarface 1983 poster
The lead actor is given a slight more prominent billing that the support cast but the only reason we are aware of who is supporting is through the use of the word ‘with’.
The 1983 poster has become iconic. We see the poster split almost in two with black and white. Its simple black/white/red colouring possibly has a number of meanings. The character in the centre, Tony, is between the two, it could be black represents the dark side of the law. Or as Tony is posed with a gun, it could be as simple as life and death.
The lack of gradients in the poster, apart from Tony’s face could also mean there is no in between, you’re either in or out of a situation.
The large ring on Tony’s hand also represents the wealth he has accumulated as a result of his gangster ways, which we know by the presence of a gun.
There is a lot of text in the poster but it doesn’t take away from the central image. At the top of the poster the actors name and the title are given joint billing. This could be interpreted as the actor as truly become the character. The use of only the actors surname also embeds this.
The main titles are also in red. Again, as in the Hitcher, this gives the impression that blood as been spilled, especially when we see that Tony is posed below with a weapon by his side.
The text on the black background gives the viewer an insight into the story. The synopsis talks of the American Dream and mentions he characters name Tony Montana. However, his nickname is emphasized by being used in block capitals ‘…SCARFACE’. It suggests that he is not a nice person.
Lower down the poster the text says ‘ He loved the American Dream. With avengeance’
The opposite side of the poster lists the credits in black on a white background.
‘Coming to a Theatre Near You’ at the bottom of the poster is in red, promoting the date of release. Red maybe representing the colour of blood and danger.
Our Gang / Little Rascals clips and images can be seen at the following links