Mike’s Top Ten Movie Posters of 2012
I threw an article together of these last year, and I had so much fun picking them out that I decided to make it an annual thing.
The creation of movie posters is a lost art. All those classic images of movies — when you think of certain movies, the first thing you see in your mind is the poster. Gone With the Wind, Scarface, Ghostbusters, Forest Gump, Jaws, The Exorcist — these are classic images that we’ll always remember. Nowadays it’s all just cut and paste and photoshop — get as many faces on the poster as possible, repeat the same layouts over and over to remind you of other successful movies. Not to mention — so many movies have multiple posters, and then they change the DVD and Blu-Ray artwork, so there are so many different images for a film that nobody even looks at the posters anymore. It’s a shame.
So this exercise has become not only about pointing out which movie posters I liked over a year, but celebrating the lost art of movie poster making. I love when posters (whether the film is good or not. As you’ll see, I loved some posters this year from movies that weren’t well-received at all) have really smart or iconic images on them. Think of my favorite poster from last year, Ides of March — that’s one of those posters that’s gonna be one of the most famous images of all time (or so I’ll keep saying until it is). A good movie poster should tell you what a film is about in a single, memorable image. And so few do that now.
So let’s celebrate the good movie posters of 2012:
I came up with some honorable mentions, before we get to the list. I found about 25 that I liked enough to mention, so we’ll rapid-fire a few before we start counting down for real.
Also let me mention that when I look at what posters I liked — I’m looking at the posters themselves, and not the films. Of course, having seen the films may enhance my feelings of the posters, but ultimately I’m ranking the images on the posters and the job they do of getting me to want to see the movie while also being a strong image that describes the film. I’m not gonna put The Avengers on here just because it’s a collage of superheroes. That’s not an interesting poster. Or The Hunger Games, because it’s a close-up of Jennifer Lawrence’s face. Granted, those two are what those movies are about, but it’s not like they’re that memorable. They’re more like posters designed to get the people who are crazy excited for those movies to be even more crazy excited for those movies. There’s really nothing interesting or unique about them. Which is another reason I wanted to start this list as an annual thing — too often do these pop movie sites list the best posters of the year and only end up listing the mainstream stuff. (How many lists are gonna include The Hobbit on them? Because oh man! It’s Bilbo opening his door! That’s not a great poster. Granted, it’s a good poster, but it’s not like it’s gonna be remembered in five years. Hell… two years.) I wanted to be able to post the images that actually stood out to me as being really strong and different from all the shit we always see.
So these are my choices for 2012…. starting with some honorable mentions:
The Honorable Mention for Simple, Effective Poster Image of 2012 goes to Lincoln, for pretty much showing you all you need to know about the film in a single image. It’s just Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. His face looks etched in granite. And that’s all you need to know. What makes this stand out from something like a Hunger Games poster is — this is an iconic man. And they make his face seem like a monument on the poster. Because he is a monument, even when he’s living. This is one of the most important men in history, and the poster does a brilliant job of putting all that in his face. It’s a brilliant design.
The Honorable Mention for Solid Action Movie Posters That Probably Went Unnoticed goes to Resident Evil: Retribution, for the image of Alice in the middle of a crosswalk as thousands of infected come toward her (that images makes me real excited to see that movie), and Total Recall, for that interesting image of Colin Farrell fading into little paper squares or whatever they are. (They’re probably little cels of film, since that’s what they’re meant to evoke. Images, memory — either way, you get what it’s supposed to mean.) I thought that was a really effective image for that movie. And, being action movies that didn’t really get great reviews… people probably didn’t notice how strong those posters are. (Don’t worry, I did. You’re welcome.)
The Honorable Mention for Simple Poster Image That Stands Out Because of Its Use of Color goes to Seven Psychopaths. There’s really nothing that interesting about the Seven Psychopaths poster. It’s just all seven of them standing there. (Though the fact that the names are out of order on the list is pretty cool.) But the strong use of the green really makes the whole thing pop and seem like a great poster. I loved that.
The Honorable Mention to Posters That Are Throwbacks to Old Movie Posters goes to Haywire and Hitchcock. If there’s one thing I love about movie posters (and I say it every chance I get), I love when they go old school like that. Those Saul Bass type posters. Nothing makes me happier than when a movie is willing to do that. Haywire ended up here because it was supposed to come out in 2011 and they pushed it. So I’ve been looking at this poster for like, a year and a half, and it’s just not as interesting to me as some of the ones I saw for the first time very recently. I said last year I was gonna have it on this list, because if it didn’t get pushed to this year, I’d have had it in my top ten for last year, and here it is. It probably would have made my top 15 had it not been so long from when I first saw it until now. Still — great poster. About as Saul Bass as you can get while still having real people on the poster. (Though you can see, around the edges — they’re working toward Saul Bass-iness. It’s very exciting.) And Hitchcock — it just feels like one of his posters. Which I imagine is the point. The little slices — it’s like the Psycho poster, and is a very Saul Bass design while still looking very modern. I’m a big fan of this one. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, but it does make me feel very warm and happy, and is still one of the better poster images of the year.
Then, shout out to the Ruby Sparks poster, for the interesting image of him pulling her out of the words of a written page (big fan of that one), the Sound of My Voice poster, for just being interesting to look at and trying something different (even though I have no idea what the fuck it means or what it has to do with the plot of that movie. But I like that it makes itself stand out from other movies. So A+ for that), the Looper poster for just having a really nice image of Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis being mirrors of each other, even though as a whole the poster isn’t all that flashy, and the Ted poster, for making me picture a teddy bear having a dick and using it to piss. I wasn’t over the moon about these posters, but they were solid and were ones I liked more than the usual schlock we get. So I wanted to show them some love without going so far as a bronze medal of an Honorable Mention.
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Okay, now for the 11-15, before we get into the actual top ten (I’m stretching this shit out like a motherfucker):
15. Red Tails
This poster makes the child in me happy. Look at this thing — it’s colorful, and there are planes fighting! Shit’s getting blown up! I want to see this! Also, I love the use of color. Strong use of primary colors. That makes the child in me very happy, too. This poster is just awesome. Why wouldn’t you see this movie after seeing this poster? Seriously, this makes me and my imagination so happy. Go childhood!
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14. Stand Up Guys
This is the entry for posters that remind me of old school Saul Bass-type posters. Silhouettes, primary colors — simple, effective. Huge fan of this poster. What more do you need in a poster? And this is the primary poster for the fim, too! Usually this is a side one they throw out after the mainstream one. No, no. This one goes straight for the target audience. I love it. More like this, Hollywood.
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13. Upside Down
I’m not sure what the deal is with this movie — allegedly it got a theatrical release in December, and allegedly it’s getting another release in March. So that’ll probably explain why there isn’t really a set poster for this. But basically all the posters include this same image. Most of them are small in size, and when you blow them up, they look shitty. And most of them are foreign. There’s not really a US poster for this at all. This is the same image from all those other posters, only full-size. But no text, so it doesn’t feel like a poster. So I wasn’t sure how to rank this one. Plus, if it’s gonna come out in March, it technically would count for 2013, but if I let it slip to next year, it seems like it’s gonna be another Haywire situation, where it only ends up being an Honorable Mention because of the amount of time in between. But anyway — this is an image that’s so strong, it got me to want to see the movie. This poster made me stop and go, “What’s that?” Because look at it — forbidden love, and two worlds that are actually upside down to one another. That’s such a brilliant concept. It’s a perfect image. So, I docked it because I don’t know when the film is “officially” coming out (even though I’ve seen it already) and what the “official” poster for this is gonna look like (if there even is one). That said, had there been an official US poster release for this, it would have probably been in my top ten.
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12. Chasing Mavericks
This one is a cross between the “old school poster design” and the “sporting event flier design.” I love how they designed this, and looking at it now makes me want to put it higher. But this feels pretty good for it. Still — I love how they did this. The red and blue with the scratchy blacks and whites on it — oh… so good.
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11. The Grey
Simple, effective image. Kind of like Lincoln. Only Neeson. (Who ironically was gonna play Lincoln for a while.) What more do you need to know after this? Neeson, snow, beard — survival. They knew this was all they needed. Who needs wolves? Just Liam Neeson’s face and that’s it. (They did this with the Taken 2 poster as well. And that works too.)
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Now for my actual ten favorite posters of the year.
You’ll notice a correlation between the greatness of the poster images and the overall quality of the film. That’s because the better films actually spend time and effort thinking about the poster, rather than letting a studio marketing team throw one together from focus groups and numbers.
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10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
This goes in the category of ones like Forrest Gump or The Exorcist — just put your film’s most memorable image on the poster. And it works. This has next to nothing to do with the movie, it’s just a shot that happens, but man — you remember this poster, don’t you? Which is Poster Design 101. Don’t overthink it. You have a strong image, use it. Huge fan of this poster.
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The use of color here is astounding. Using all the blues and greens to make the red in her hair really pop forward from the center of the poster. Stunning use of color. This was originally gonna be an Honorable Mention, but it just kept climbing up the list. This is seriously all you need out of a poster, right here. It’s simple, and perfect.
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I guess I should also throw an honorable mention to Zero Dark Thirty, which basically took the exact same poster design concept. Though there it was about classified information, and this was more like the whole Enron, “shred everything” concept. The reason this one is officially on the list and the other one isn’t was because I liked this one more (and I wasn’t putting both, with so many great choices for inclusion this year), and because this one specifically reminded me of a great image from a movie I saw a decade ago. This is gonna have nothing to do with anything, but I felt I should explain myself more than just “The poster just looks awesome and makes sense, given the premise of the film.” There’s a movie from 2001, that some people may still remember, but I feel most people have forgotten, called Bandits, with Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett. And it’s (very) loosely based on an Elmore Leonard book (pretty much not at all, actually), and is about two bank robbers whose M.O. is to break into bank manager’s houses and spend the night with them and their family, so that way they could just go to work with them in the morning and rob the bank before anyone showed up and can get away clean. Anyway, in the first bank they rob, we see them go in with the manager, and in the bank, there’s this long window in the front of the bank that has a long set of blinds on it, and the blinds are painted to look like a giant hundred dollar bill So when you open and close them, the hundred dollar bill is either facing outside on the street or inside to the tellers. And I thought that was just a brilliant idea. So this reminded me a bit of that, and that made me happy. So that, coupled with the fact that it’s a simple, great image, is why this is here.
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7. The Dark Knight Rises
Respect to this one, this one, this one and this one (specifically the last two), but the original is still best. As an image it’s just perfect. That’s not only the theme of the movie in one image, but it’s also building from the previous posters of the franchise. It’s perfect. You have to love a poster you don’t have to say anything for. This actually speaks entirely for itself.
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6. Django Unchained
All right, so I’m cheating a little bit. This isn’t really much better than some of the other ones that are below it. But it is a poster for Django, and it does remind me of the old school poster designs. And honestly — it’s simple and really effective. The two of them, guns, and the broken chain. That’s all you need.
I also was gonna go with this poster, but I’m still not sure if that’s an official poster or not, or if that’s just one somebody made that got proliferated around the internet. So I stuck with the official one. And then of course this one is really good too.
Oh wait a minute… hold on, playa…
We have a last minute change. I was NOT aware that this poster existed:
Now that’s a poster. That’s my fucking choice for this movie. Holy shit, that’s amazing. I might even bump that up a spot. But I guess it’s not like it matters now. Still — I fucking love that second poster.
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5. Anna Karenina
Just pure beauty. That’s what this is. Plus it’s thematically relevant and rich in color and all that. It’s just a perfect poster. But mostly it’s about the simple beauty in the poster. That’s all I got. Just look at it. Perfect.
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4. Killing Them Softly
I kind of suffered a bit from options fatigue on this one. There were so many great posters to choose from for this one that I didn’t know what the fuck to do.
There was the original, and then there were some other great thematic iterations of the poster, like this one and this one. (Not to mention this one, this one, and this one, which I just found while getting the one I actually chose.)
I just chose that one because of how strong that image is, colorfully and thematically. But otherwise — look at all those incredible posters I had to choose from. There’s no way it couldn’t be here.
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3. Les Misérables
Not totally original, no. But this is one of the most famous images on Broadway, and they turned it into a live-action poster. I can’t not put it here. I just can’t.
I got nothing. This is just here for me. Deal with it.
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2. The Master
Also, props to this alternate poster. That’s also a really great image. Just not as good as this one.
What a fucking genius poster image. I’m just gonna leave this one right as it is. It doesn’t need anything said about it.
Just — perfection. One of the best posters I’ve ever seen.
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He’s walking down the barrel of the gun! How have they never used that image before?! That’s one of those images that’s so perfect you can’t believe no one’s thought of it before. Not only that — how PERFECT is that image for this particular Bond movie on top of that? This isn’t even the bias talking — they took one of the most iconic images in all of cinema, made it more badass AND made it relevant to the plot of their film. There’s no way this isn’t the number one movie poster of the year for me. This works on every conceivable level.
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This felt like a good year for movie posters. Let’s hope next year is just as good.
Tomorrow we get into all the Oscar stuff hardcore, leading up to the nominations on Thursday.