Movie Poster Artists - A Chronology
We opened our blog series 'The Artists' with a look at the birth of the movie poster in the late nineteenth century.
In this, the second of the series, we outline the key period that the 'The Artists' will cover and provide a downloadable Infographic showing a Chronology of the most prominent movie poster artists - many of whom this blog series will take a look at.
As you will see in the Infographic below, from the perspective of the artists, we believe that the period since the birth of the movie poster can be split in to three eras.
The Lost Era
Within fifty years, the movies progressed from minute-long silent vignettes to the blockbusters of "King Kong", "Gone With The Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz".
The movie poster saw equally dramatic progression, from the sandwich boards of the Nickelodeons to the twenty-four sheet traffic-stoppers of a Cecil B. De Mille spectacular.
With more than ten films released in a typical week, competition between studios was intense. Each employed ever increasing marketing budgets and ever elaborate campaigns, all laid out for cinema owners in the film's 'Press Book'.
Celebrated artists of the early twentieth Century, such as Harrison Fisher, Henry Clive and Franklin Booth, were drafted in by studios desperate to lure the public in to their own production. In 1919 the Universal Film Manufacturing Company arranged a competition to find a poster for Erich von Stroheim's "Blind Husbands", with Charles Lennox Wright winning out against seventy-four other artists.
Despite this, very little is known of most posters produced during the period. Films were ephemeral and their posters, no matter how beautiful, were transient pieces of paper, thrown away at the end of their film's run.
Few survive today, and, as so few were signed, even less is known about the artists that produced them.
We call this 'The Lost Era'.
The Golden Era of Movie Poster Artists
The end of the Second World War brought about seismic changes in society and culture.
As the 1940s closed, the impacts of conflict slowly began to recede and normality (albeit a new and very different normality) started to re-establish itself.
However, the movie industry still had a fight on its hands. Whilst Europe struggled with the economic impact of rebuilding itself, Hollywood was hit by the triple impact of federal anti-trust reviews, domestic inflation coupled with labour unrest, and, protectionist moves by major International markets.
By the early 1950s, the movies also needed to combat the threat of the television. They did this by exploiting their greatest strengths - scale and colour. By 1954, more than fifty percent of American feature films were produced in colour and the 'block buster' film had truly been born.
The rise at this time of the recognised movie poster artist, is probably the result of a number of factors, each accumulating to provide us with "The Golden Era of the Movie Poster Artists":
- In the early to mid 1960s movie studios began to recruit established commercial artists to produce their movie posters. These artists, such as Bob Peak, had a recognisable style that was already familiar to many.
- Whilst it was certainly not always the case, (in fact, studios have been known to remove signatures from final posters), some artists (for example Alvin and Struzan) signed their poster artwork.
- Many of the leading directors of the time, such as Spielberg, Lucas, Scott and Del Toro, had grown up with the movies. The posters they had seen in their childhood remained with them. In the 1970s and 1980s they began to reshape the movies. They hired phenomenal artists to help publicise their films and to build the global brands of their film franchises - many of which have had long lasting cultural impact.
- At the same time, the movies moved to the home. The release of the video cassette and then the digital disc meant a home audience were exposed weekly to movie poster art in the form of VHS and DVD covers.
- During a period of relative prosperity and stability, many movie posters have survived, rather than being routinely destroyed.
- The recognition of movie poster art as a valid artform has coincided with the emergence of movie poster collecting as a global hobby. The research of collectors has greatly increased the pool of available information on posters and their artists. With the rise of the Internet, this is available globally, with the click of a mouse.
This 'perfect storm' led to a golden thirty or forty years, during which many fantastic artists produced some phenomenal pieces of art and design.
The 1990s saw a significant change in artistic direction and the rise of photography as the dominant medium for movie poster design.
Whilst some great posters continued to be produced, it effectively brought to a close the Golden Era of the Movie Poster Artists.
The Agency Era
A department store owner, John Wanamaker (1838 - 1922), once said that...
"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
... it would probably still be true today, one hundred years later.
The pace of technological change over the past twenty to thirty years has been phenomenal.
- It is only twenty five years since the emergence of the Internet.
- Facebook is only fourteen years old.
- Instagram eight.
It has revolutionised a business' ability to reach potential customers, globally.
The age of the Internet and social media has given rise to the need for ‘multi-channel’ marketing campaigns, using new routes to potential audiences that movie studios do not have experience of exploiting.
It requires physical media, such as paper posters, to integrate with digital marketing campaigns on search engines, websites, email, social media and phone apps. This is new and complex stuff.
Movie studios therefore employ ‘full service advertising agencies’ with skills to work from concept development to delivery of multi-media physical and digital campaigns.
When studios allow these creatives the freedom to think independently and to work outside the bubble, they have the potential to create high-impact designs that live long in the memory.
There are clearly very talented artists and creative designers doing fantastic work. Some superb posters are being produced. Just take a look at the posters for “La La Land” and “Moon”, for stunning recent examples.
But, it is the name of a 'holistic marketing agency’ that is associated with the poster, not the individual artist.
We therefore call this ‘The Agency Era’.
As I write this, a new age is beginning to emerge - one that may see a new era for 'painterly' movie poster artists - it is to the ‘Golden Era’ that we return.
We'll work hard to cover this new generation within the blog.
Below you will find our Infographic showing the prominent names from the Golden Era of Movie Poster Artists. There is a lot of information in the image and it may be hard to read on screen. If so, you can download a PDF version just below.
Future posts in 'The Artists' series, will take a name from this Infographic and take a look at their influences and the key movie posters that they produced.
In the meantime, you can look through all three 'eras' by using the filter in our Catalogue to select a decade.
We hope you find something you love.
Adam and the Art of the Movies team.