Brace yourself: soon Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” will be invading your brain all over again. James Cameron is releasing a 3D version of his sinking ship Titanic, and a new cut of the film means that a new poster has been released. We can appreciate the classic approach the studio is going for — particularly since the movie’s original one sheet always appeared as though the ship was about to devour Kate and Leo like Jaws — but it’s not the most flattering thing we’ve ever seen. The overused “Experience It Like Never Before” also doesn’t help. Cameron’s movie won the Best Picture Oscar in 1997, which got us thinking about other Academy Award winners that had terrible poster art.
Looking at film poster history overall, it’s interesting to note that Hollywood used to really play up the fact that they were adapting novels by featuring books in the artwork. Before the 1960s, the focus on hand draw images and more abstract concepts populated one sheets. Around the time of movies like Midnight Cowboy , stark photorealism became the focus. As frustrating as it is to survey the cruddier examples of poster art over time, movies like Kramer vs. Kramer were refreshing to note — they resisted the urge to do the obvious and rip the picture of the happy family in half. Not many studios would do the same these days.
Click through for a look back at the best of the worst of the best.
Perhaps we can blame 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You for the generic, floating head epidemic that has plagued film poster art for years. The artwork suggests nothing about Frank Capra’s movie starring the famed Lionel Barrymore that centers around an eccentric family. We inherently want to go easy on classic film art — because we have different expectations today and modern film audiences are far more savvy when it comes to understanding advertising and media — but all’s fair in love and war.
We like these drawings of Myrna Loy and the rest of the cast in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, but the poster is terribly dated and boring. It also suggests nothing about the narrative focusing on the social re-entry of World War II servicemen. It’s extremely smiley too, but thankfully they didn’t put Harold Russell’s image on there since he had his hands burned off during the war.
It’s hard to pick on one of the most critically lauded movies and actors of all time, but this poster for Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film Hamlet reminded us of bad Photoshop. It must be the funky, ghost-like cloud surrounding the actor, because we like the staircase drawing and the poster’s overall minimalistic approach.
We get it: king, corruption of power, a classic — but there are too many laurel leaves happening in this poster. The emphasis on “Pulitzer Prize” is another sad reminder that books once held higher rank in society and the movie industry.
For a film that changed the face of the fantasy genre, this poster isn’t very impressive. Sure, it’s got all the major characters (including Aragorn doing his best Fabio impression), but the “character montage” is so tired and predictable. This is the film that takes us into Mordor, a film with some truly amazing spectacles and epic battles, so why the insistence on such a generic design? Did all the actors have a contract clause stipulating they had to be on the poster, or what? Jackson’s film won Oscar gold — which makes it all the more disappointing that this poster is so pedestrian and visually uninspired.
Oh Kevin Costner. It looks like someone tore your photo from a magazine and taped it onto a misty cave painting of buffalo running.
Forced, preachy, about as subtle as a heart attack, and not nearly as cerebral as it thinks, Crash’s poster complements the movie perfectly.
A Mumbai game show win and the emotional rollercoaster that ensues for one man, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was an exhilarating rush — but that doesn’t necessarily translate well to its movie poster. The garishly overdone design makes its inspirations obvious, but we wish they would have left the stunningly jarring neon of the Indian cityscape in the movie.
We like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, despite the fact that Gibson isn’t even remotely Scottish and his historical epic plays fast and (very) loose with history. What we don’t like so much is the film’s poster. Gibson holding his Claymore and looking like he just sauntered off the cover of a romance novel entitled “Highland Sextasy” isn’t unforgivable, but that terrible orange glow sure is. What is that even supposed to be? We’re assuming it’s fire, which makes the idea of putting an image of Gibson hugging his beloved in the flames a bit on the nose for our taste. We get it — avenging her is the fire that drives him. No need to beat us over the head with it.
Hilary Swank had already won the Oscar for her role in Boys Don’t Cry in 1999, which is why there was no need to crowd her on the movie poster for 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. The dramatic image of Swank as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald would have been regal and graphically strong without inserting the disembodied heads of heavyweights Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. We understand why they’re there, but including them in some kind of context instead of just slapping their faces on top would have made for a much better image.