You can’t judge a book by its cover, as we’ve recently discovered with not only books, but also music. That holds true with film as well — not just with movie posters, which have their own problematic elements, but when it comes time to sell you the movie in physical form. For years, DVD distributors have uglified some of our favorite movies — often even eschewing the classy and striking movie posters for Photoshopped, Frankensteined monstrosities of their own making, designed to move units at all costs. We’ve assembled some of the ugliest and most terrifying DVD images for movies we actually like — and provided their original posters as well, just so you can see how far they can fall.
The original poster for Soderbergh’s Ocean’s remake was sharp, classy, eye-catching, and a perfect encapsulation of the film’s cool style. But it didn’t feature any faces from the all-star cast, so when it was time to put it out on video, Warner Brothers grabbed still frames from the movie, Photoshopped them together, put the whole thing through an orange bath that looks less like Ocean’s than Piss Christ, and called it good.
We understand the need to update posters that betray a film’s ’80s aesthetic a bit too clearly. But we don’t understand what the hell’s going on in the cover for the DVD release of Real Genius, in which a haloed Ken doll that vaguely resembles Val Kilmer is being electrocuted.
*batteries not included
And we’re pretty sure the same “artist” who did Real Genius is responsible for this madness, because seriously, what on earth is happening here?
Again, that is a very ’60s poster (though we hear people love that throwback stuff, FWIW). But it at least conveys the tone of The Apartment, which the DVD misses by a mile. Look how smiley everybody is! Look how whimsical it all is! Shirley MacLaine is welcoming you into the apartment, where only happy things happen!
The original poster for Michael Mann’s moody 2004 thriller perfectly captures its sleek, post-noir feel with an image of Tom Cruise at rest. But we Blu-ray buyers like our Cruise to be in motion, with vague, generic cityscapes and oddly proportioned Jamie Foxxes in the background.
The poster on the left nicely captures the throwback feel of Ti West’s slow-burn horror film. The DVD case on the right is a throwback of a different kind — to the sort of cheapo VHS garbage that you’d laugh at in the video store and quickly return to the shelf.
Behold a Pale Horse
And who said you’d never use those paper doll cutting skills?
Look closely at the gunslinger’s face on the DVD case, and you’ll see what might be the worst Photoshop job of all time. Sure, that’s Jack Nicholson. Sure it is.
The original image of Hoffman’s broken glasses became so iconic that not only was it replicated for the 2011 remake’s poster, but (inexplicably enough) for a Madea movie. So why on earth would its recent Blu-ray replace that image with a generic shot of Dustin Hoffman holding a shotgun? Are they really going for the action movie crowd here?
The Hunt for Red October
The original poster: classy, simple, memorable. The Blu-ray cover: GIANT HEADS AND SUBMARINES SELL MOVIE.
The pink tone and cursive writing of the original poster don’t quite go all the way in selling Polanski’s disturbing psychological thriller, but it comes pretty close. No such luck with the DVD cover; we can’t help but picture a cigar-chomping would-be mogul in an ill-fitting suit, slamming his desk and screaming, “Get me some cheesecake shots and sell the broad, you monkeys!”
Huh. Who knew Ridley Scott and Tom Cruise did a Hellboy video game?
Raise the Red Lantern
The original poster for Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous art house hit doesn’t tell you much, but at least it doesn’t look the story of a minor character from Avatar.
Killing Them Softly
We wouldn’t expect the starkness of the early (but amazing) teaser image to make a DVD cover, but even the second, shotgun-gripping version was better than this ugly, busy mess that can’t decide between pull quotes, star ratings, and cast head shots, so they just slap ’em all on there and call it a day.
Children of Men
Yeah, I remember the first time I used Photoshop.
Flirting With Disaster
The rest of our gallery focuses on one company: Miramax, the fiercely independent distributor (and, later, mini-studio) that joined the Disney family in the early ’90s. And while the deep pockets of the Mouse House were certainly good for the company, their clueless home video division did the product no favors, jettisoning the classy posters of their films for repugnant, cut-and-paste nightmares and incongruently exclamation-point-strewn box copy and quotes. Exhibit A: David O. Russell’s terrific familial comedy/drama, here repurposed into what looks like a movie about a long-legged woman smoking in front of people without legs.
Here’s another, in which Todd Haynes’s dramatization of the glam rock era gets ugly head shots and a prominently placed electric guitar (it’s about rock music, you see). “Electrifying!” goes the pull quote, though it’s hard to tell if that’s a description of the movie or the guitar. But it has an exclamation mark, so it’s exciting!
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
“Yeah, I know that black-and-white-and-red thing is cool and sharp and looks kinda like the Clooney kid’s Ocean’s poster, but that shit doesn’t work on DVD! Gimme a chunky orange font and random screen grabs! But you can keep the sexy silhouette, that’s fine.”
Okay, these last two aren’t great movies, but we had to make exceptions — their DVD art is simply too terrible, and further illustrates the Miramax/Disney disconnect. The original poster for the 1995 omnibus comedy is serviceable enough: here’s the setting, here’s some of the stars, here you go. But that won’t fly on DVD, where consumers are apparently attracted to detached torsos and heads in an elevator. How wildly outrageous!
Putting aside the fact that Larry King thought Jersey Girl was “terrific!,” let’s really get a look at the cover of Kevin Smith’s 2004 misfire, which gives us a charming scene of Ben Affleck looking at Liv Tyler, who is looking at us, while the little girl looks at them, and Jason Biggs pops up to look at — well, we’re not really sure, that’s a very peculiar eyeline. Maybe he’s looking at whatever Smith is looking at, from that folded-over top corner. Whatever the case, trying to figure this one out made us feel the way George Carlin looks.