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The Artists - The Movie Posters of John Alvin

When an artist / illustrator / designer has had such a major influence on twentieth century culture, it is hard to know where to start...

Steven Spielberg's E.T?
Tim Burton's Batman?
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner?
Disney's The Lion King?

 

Just a few highlights of the extraordinary work of movie poster legend Mr. John Alvin...

Early Years

Born in 1948 into a military family, John Alvin's childhood would be heavily influenced by his father's career and the need for frequent relocations. The young Alvin responded by using his artistic talent to draw fast cars and women to make new friends.

Even from the age of six he was rushing home from the movies to recreate scenes from his favourite films.

After a brief dalliance with the medical profession, he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and landed a job with Hanna Barbera, the animation studio behind Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo (to name but a few).

Whilst there he bunked off to attend a trade show and met graphic designer Anthony Goldschimdt. It would be Goldschmidt who would propose that they produce a speculative poster for a forthcoming Mel Brooks film...

Mel Brooks

Luckily for both Alvin and Goldschmidt, their speculative effort paid off. The stunning design for Blazing Saddles (1974) incorporated Brooks as a native American chief with a Yiddish head dress and Cleavon Little's 'Sheriff Bart' astride a resplendent steed. 

An original movie poster for Blazing Saddles by John Alvin

Loved by Brooks (and admired by others in the industry), the poster was used for the theatrical release, beginning a multi-film partnership between Brooks, Goldschmidt and Alvin - and - launching Alvin's movie poster career.

Steven Spielberg

By the start of 1980's, Steven Spielberg was establishing himself as one of the leading film directors of his generation. Following the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), he began production of a new science fiction film, under the cover name "A Boy's Life".

The concept of the 'Michaelangelo hands', taken from the Sistine Chapel's "The Creation of Man" (1508-1512), came from the studio, but Alvin made it his own, using his daughter's hand as a model together with (given the secrecy around the film) some production drawings of the alien arm.

An original movie poster for E.T. by John Alvin

E.T. would become (at the time) the highest grossing film of all time and Alvin's poster one of the most iconic in movie poster history.

He would go on to work on many more Spielberg movies, including The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Always and Hook.

Disney

In his foreword to "The Art of John Alvin", Jeffery Katzenber describes joining The Walt Disney Studios in 1984 at a time when animation was considered "just for kids".

After the golden years of the 1930s-1950s, Disney Studios had struggled to reproduce its earlier magic. By the early 1980's it was battling hostile takeovers and fighting to save the animation department.

Later that decade, a new management team was in place and the Oscar winning "The Little Mermaid" had given the studio a new taste of success. They doubled down with the development of "Beauty and The Beast". A $25M film that they needed to appeal to both children and adults alike. 

They needed an iconic image that would work for both audiences and they turned to Alvin to produce it.

Beauty and the Beast (1991) would go on to take $425M at the box office and firmly place Disney in a Renaissance period. 

It was the start of a fruitful relationship between the studio and movie poster artist. Whilst their collaboration would continue through to Mulan (1998), the crowning glory was The Lion King (1994).

 An original movie poster for The Lion King by John Alvin

John Sabel (then executive VP of creative print advertising at Walt Disney Pictures stated "... there was a reason why The Lion King did the numbers it did. There was a reason that the Hunchback [The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)] became a big success. It's because of the images that were produced, and a lot of those were John Alvin's paintings."

Star Wars

Whilst Alvin was not directly responsible for a Star Wars theatrical release poster, he does hold an important place in Star Wars history.

We will leave the story of Alvin's 'Star Wars concert poster' for another blog post. It is one of the rarest Star Wars posters, highly sought after by collectors.

 The Star Wars Concert poster by John Alvin

Alvin's 1987 poster celebrating the tenth anniversary apparently recalls the original film's 1977 release by incorporating seventy-seven graphics in to the letters of 'STAR WARS'. On the far right, Obi-wan stands, light sabre in hand. On the far left Darth Vader waits...

 

The Star Wars First Ten Years Poster by John Alvin

 

The Star Wars Celebration events were launched in 1999, with the first being held in Denver, Colorado. Who did they turn to for the first Celebration poster? John Alvin. His amazing image of Darth Maul above the young and innocent Anakin was a fantastic introduction to the prequel trilogy.

His poster for Celebration 4 (Los Angeles, 2004) is amongst our favourites. Young farmer Luke walks on the Tatooine sand lit by the famous twin suns. Above him, the galaxy swirls, providing a hidden clue to his future path. Beautiful and iconic. 

An original poster for Star Wars Celebration by John Alvin An original poster for Star Wars Celebration 4 by John Alvin

Photographic Work

Alvin began his work in a period that we refer to as "The Golden Era of Movie Poster Artists". Alongside the like of Drew Struzan, Bob Peak and Richard Amsel, his illustrated work was could be seen across cinemas and movie theatres.

As the 1980's gave way to the 1990's, a new era began, one dominated by the photographic movie poster. Alvin appears to have embraced this change more than other artists, producing iconic work within the form, alongside his continued illustrative work.

His amazing poster for Rain Main achieves, in photographic form, what his best movie posters do - to capture an idea, an emotion, a story, in single frame.

 An original movie poster for the film Rain Man by John Alvin

His Touch

It was apparently his work on Beauty and The Beast that led to the coining of the term "Avinesque". Within that poster he created "heavy light" through the use of warm diffused colour.

It is however, his use of white light that we find so distinctive. 

Look at elements of E.T., Cocoon, Inner Space, Arachnophobia, Hook and Aladdin and you see pure brilliant light, captured for an instant in the eye and then the hand of an artist.

An original movie poster for E.T. by John Alvin An original movie poster for Coccon by John Alvin An original movie poster for Inner Space by John Alvin
An original movie poster for Arachnophobia by John Alvin An original movie poster for Hook by John Alvin An original movie poster for Aladdin by John Alvin

Phenomenal.

John Alvin died at his home in Rhinebeck, New York in February 2008.

Such was the scale of his work that, in this long introduction, we have scratched the surface. We haven't even mentioned his poster for Blade Runner...

His wife Andrea says that John described his work as "Creating the promise of a great experience...". We think that below, we have identified ninety-four of them.

The Movie Posters of John Alvin

Which ones have we got wrong? Which ones have we missed? Over to you…

Up to and including the 1970s

An original movie poster for Pinocchio by John Alvin An original movie poster for Lawrence of Arabia by John Alvin An original movie poster for Blazing Saddles by John Alvin

Pinocchio (1940)

1992 Re-Release

The IMDb logo

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

1989 Re-Release

The IMDb logo

Blazing Saddles (1974)

The IMDb logo

We are unable to track down a good image of this poster.

If you have one, let us know!

Alvin was responsible for the 'Style B' poster.

An original movie poster for The Nickel Ride by John Alvin An original movie poster for Phantom of the Paradise by John Alvin

Conrack (1974)

The IMDb logo

The Nickel Ride (1974)

The IMDb logo

Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for Young Frankenstein by John Alvin An original movie poster for The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother by John Alvin An original movie poster for Rancho Deluxe by John Alvin

Young Frankenstein (1974) 

The IMDb logo

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)

The IMDb logo

Rancho Deluxe (1975)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for Smile by John Alvin An original movie poster for Mother Jugs and Speed by John Alvin An original movie poster for Mel Brooks' Silent Movie by John Alvin

Smile (1975)

The IMDb logo

Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976)

The IMDb logo

Silent Movie (1976)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for The Turning Point by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film 10 by John Alvin

We are unable to track down a good image of this movie poster.

If you have one, let us know!

The Turning Point (1977)

The IMDb logo

"10" (1979)

The IMDb logo

B.D. and Karalee (1979)

 

An original movie poster for The Frisco Kid by John Alvin An original movie poster for Hanover Street by John Alvin

The Frisco Kid (1979)

The IMDb logo

Hanover Street (1979)

The IMDb logo

 

1980s

An original movie poster for the film Melvin and Howard by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Serial by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film A History of the World part one

Melvin And Howard (1980)

The IMDb logo

Serial (1980)

 The IMDb logo

History of the World Part One (1981)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film S.O.B. by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Blade Runner by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial by John Alvin

S.O.B. (1981)

The IMDb logo

Blade Runner (1982)

The IMDb logo

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film My Favorite Year by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Pirate Movie by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Verdict by John Alvin

My Favorite Year (1982)

The IMDb logo

The Pirate Movie (1982)

The IMDb logo

The Verdict (1982)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Victor Victoria by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Twilight Zone by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Gremlins by John Alvin

Victor Victoria (1982)

The IMDb logo

Twilight Zone - The Movie (1983)

The IMDb logo

Gremlins (1984)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Red Dawn by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Rhinestone by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Cocoon by John Alvin

Red Dawn (1984)

The IMDb logo

Rhinestone (1984)

The IMDb logo

Cocoon (1985)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film The Color Purple by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Goonies by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Legend by John Alvin

The Color Purple (1985)

The IMDb logo

The Goonies (1985)

The IMDb logo

Legend (1985)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Spies Like Us by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film That's Dancing by John Alvin

Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

The IMDb logo

Spies Like Us (1985)

The IMDb logo

That's Dancing (1985)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Cobra by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Golden Child by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Mosquito Close by John Alvin

Cobra (1986)

The IMDb logo

The Golden Child (1986)

The IMDb logo

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Raw Deal by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Running Scared by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Short Circuit by John Alvin

Raw Deal (1986)

The IMDb logo

Running Scared (1986)

The IMDb logo

Short Circuit (1986)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Solarbabies by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Tai-Pan by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Empire of the Sun by John Alvin

Solarbabies (1986)

The IMDb logo

Tai-Pan (1986)

The IMDb logo

Empire Of The Sun (1987)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Innerspace by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Ironweed by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Lost Boys by John Alvin

Innerspace (1987)

The IMDb logo 

Ironweed (1987)

 The IMDb logo 

The Lost Boys (1987)

The IMDb logo 

An original movie poster for The Milagro Beanfield War by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Princess Bride by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Project X by John Alvin

The Milagro Beanfield War (1987)

The IMDb logo

 

The Princess Bride (1987)

The IMDb logo

 

Project X (1987)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Space Balls by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Arthur 2 On The Rocks by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Cocoon The Return by John Alvin

Spaceballs (1987)

The IMDb logo

 

Arthur 2 - On The Rocks (1988)

The IMDb logo

 

Cocoon - The Return (1988)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Rain Man by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Willow by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Willow by John Alvin

Rain Main (1988)

The IMDb logo

 

Willow (1988)

The IMDb logo

 

Willow (1988)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Always by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Fabulous Baker Boys by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Leviathan by John Alvin

Always (1989)

The IMDb logo

 

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

The IMDb logo

 

Leviathan (1989)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film The Little Mermaid by John Alvin

The Little Mermaid (1989)

1998 Re-Release

The IMDb logo

 

 

 

 

1990s and beyond

An original movie poster for the film Arachnophobia by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Darkman by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Flatliners by John Alvin

Arachnophobia (1990)

The IMDb logo

Darkman (1990)

The IMDb logo

Flatliners (1990)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Joe Versus The Volcano by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Mr Destiny by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Nutcracker Prince by John Alvin

Joe Versus The Volcano  (1990)

The IMDb logo 

Mr Destiny (1990)

The IMDb logo

The Nutcracker Prince (1990)

The IMDb logo

An original movie poster for the film Beauty and the Beast by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film By The Sword by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Cape Fear by John Alvin

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

By The Sword (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

Cape Fear (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film City Slickers by John Alvin

An original movie poster for the film Dying Young by John Alvin

An original movie poster for the film Ernest Scared Stupid by John Alvin

City Slickers (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

Dying Young (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Hook by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Star Trek VI by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Aladdin by John Alvin

Hook (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

Star Trek VI (1991)

The IMDb logo

 

Aladdin  (1992)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Batman Returns by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Christopher Columbus The Discovery by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Newsies by John Alvin

Batman Returns (1992)

The IMDb logo

 

Christopher Columbus The Discovery (1992)

The IMDb logo

 

Newsies (aka The News Boys) (1992)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film The Lion King by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film The Shadow by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Thumbelina by John Alvin

The Lion King (1994)

The IMDb logo

 

The Shadow (1994)

The IMDb logo

 

Thumbelina (1994)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film Ace Ventura When Nature Calls by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Balto by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Batman Forever by John Alvin

Ace Ventura - When Nature Calls (1995)

The IMDb logo

 

Balto (1995)

The IMDb logo

 

Batman Forever (1995)

The IMDb logo

 

An original movie poster for the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Cats Dont Dance by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Hercules by John Alvin

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The IMDb logo

 

Cats Don't Dance (1997)

The IMDb logo

 

 

Hercules (1997)

The IMDb logo

 

 

An original movie poster for the film Mulan by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film Quest For Camelot by John Alvin An original movie poster for the film WXIII Patlabor 3 by John Alvin

Mulan (1998)

The IMDb logo

 

Quest for Camelot (1998)

The IMDb logo

 

WXIII Patlabor 3 (2002)

The IMDb logo

 

 

You can find out more about John Alvin and his work at the John Alvin website. We also recommend the fantastic book "The Art of John Alvin" (Amazon UK / US). It is packed full of information and was a great help in preparing this post. The sketches and interviews within it are great testaments to his work.

If you'd like to find a John Alvin movie poster, why not take a look at the John Alvin posters we currently have available.

We hope you find something you love.

 

Adam and the Art of the Movies team.

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