It is perhaps the most viewed form of art in mainstream culture: the movie poster. It may not make or break the success of a film, but a beautifully-crafted piece of visual marketing can go great lengths in building hype, raising eyebrows, piquing curiosity, and promising a unique vision.
In some cases, the inspiration and execution of poster possesses more clarity of intent and artistic skill than the film itself. Fans who had their hopes raised by a promising poster must sometimes face the reality of a disappointing film – but doesn’t that make the quality of the poster even more impressive?
To help answer that question, we’ve assembled a select few of our personal favorite posters that outclassed their respective films. We hope you enjoy our collection of 10 Great Posters For Bad Movies.
The Message: Striking, bold, sharp, and shrouded in shadow. Obviously the movie it’s advertising will be similarly so, and the best thing since Darkman (1990).
The Truth: The poster highlights the most compelling features of the vigilante, weighed down in the movie by camp and silliness. Less, in this case, was more.
Certainly not the worst comic book-to-movie adaptation the world has seen, The Shadow deserves attention for the amount of potential it failed to deliver on. Based on the 1930s radio dramas and pulp magazines, the movie followed a young man who takes to the streets cloaked in darkness, face covered, fedora donned, bringing justice to thugs and mobsters alike – how? Through the ability to cloud his enemies’ minds, rendering him nearly invisible.
Alec Baldwin’s steely gaze and raspy voice was perfect for the role, with the actor even donning prosthetics when shrouded to emphasize his disguise. It’s that sense of mystery and secrecy that the poster recalls, with only The Shadow’s eyes visible in the blackness.
Fans who knew the source material, or were simply enticed by the blending of a superhero-ish moniker and a poster that repeated it visually, were ultimately let down. Campy, and lacking any real memorable features, the franchise was immediately abandoned. That wasn’t the character’s fault, and Sam Raimi has remained interested in rebooting the character for years.
Whether he ever sees the light of…night again, The Shadow lives on in the pages of his own comic books – not to mention a poster too inspired to be tarnished by the movie’s failure.
The Message: Alright, well played. You successfully made a ‘green hornet’ seem cool.
The Truth: The movie itself never made as strong an attempt to be ‘cool,’ as opposed to silly, corny, or crass.
Professional and amateur sports teams have shown an irrational attachment to one of nature’s most annoying insects, so perhaps the stunning and downright slick poster for Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet shouldn’t have convinced anyone on its own.
Where the poster is minimalist, edgy, suggestive and original, those qualities are some of the most difficult to translate to moving pictures. The story written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was no exception.
One might ask exactly why the decision was made to advertise The Green Hornet as anything resembling a superhero or masked vigilante movie with a serious tone, since it was when the clumsy comedy attempted to shoehorn in elements of that genre that it most floundered.
But what the movie gets right the poster accentuates. When your iconic car is a blacked-out 1966 Chrysler Imperial, it’s a wise move to put it front and center in all of your marketing.
Goldberg spoke at length about the lengths to which fanboys will go when a beloved property is being revisited. And as much as we’d like to think that the poster deserves to adorn any dorm room wall, we can’t help but think the movie was just too juvenile to do so without raising some eyebrows.
The Message: How did that guy get on top of the Sphinx? His coat says he’s cool and young. I bet the way he ends up up there is a cool story…with jumping.
The Truth: While a strong premise, the closer we got the the silhouetted figure, the more we lost interest.
By no means the worst film that Hayden Christensen has been a part of, Jumper will be remembered as one of the first clear signs that George Lucas wasn’t totally to blame for Anakin Skywalker’s dull screen presence. For us, it was proof that all the potential in the world can still beat the odds, and result in a boring, misguided movie.
The premise was a strong one, with a lead character able to teleport to anywhere in the world he’d seen himself, including (but not limited to) the Sphinx. That kind of access to wealth, romance, and world traveling would absolutely turn any young man into the embodiment of sci-fi cool (thereby totally justifying those billowing coat tails). Even the name ‘jumper’ changes up what we’d typically expect from a movie about a teleporter.
Unfortunately, the action scenes we immediately imagined upon first seeing the poster are few and far between in the actual movie. In fact, the action scenes that do take place usually involve antagonists we’re not sure are actual villains, electricity, and a disappointingly small amount of Sphinx-mounting.
On the whole, Jumper turned its potential into an experience, as our own Vic Holtreman put it, akin to “watching a first time driver trying to work a manual transmission.” In short: as far from the slick, stylish and most importantly, edgy message conveyed by the poster as one could get.
The Message: …*stunned silence*…*nerd weeping*…
The Truth: Star Wars fans had no idea what was coming.
The recent 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace didn’t change any of the overarching problems that arose when George Lucas revisited the Holy Grail of science fiction and fantasy. But as many problems as the ‘first’ (*shudder*) Star Wars movie had, it’s this poster that sits the worst with all of us fans.
Why? Because of what this single image promises, drawing on every fan’s nostalgia. The sands of Tatooine, the rough clothing of the young Luke Skywalker, and the looming shadow of the galaxy’s most threatening soldier. The image said it all, promising fans that Episode 1 wouldn’t be exploring random corners of the larger universe, but the core narrative alluded to in the original trilogy: Anakin Skywalker’s life from a good man to an agent of evil, destined from the age of ten to bring and end to the Jedi Order.
But then, that’s not at all what was delivered. While the poster promised the world – the story of a boy’s development into Darth Vader – what the movie showed was the journey of a young boy into…a slightly older young boy. We don’t want to lay blame solely on Jake Lloyd’s shoulders, since the terrible miscasting is anyone’s fault but his – and he’s admitted it was all a mistake.
In this single poster, young Anakin seems more innocent, likable and childlike than at any point in the actual film. The image states: “this kid is going to be Darth Vader.” We just hoped the filmmakers had something more complicated in mind for the actual movie.
The Message: Comic book legend Will Eisner’s shadowy vigilante acting out of a sense of duty to a personified city? Sounds like Batman’s loyalty to Gotham taken to a whole new level. And just look at that fluttering tie!
The Truth: We underestimated just how much of the movie’s coolness would hinge on the tie. Not even that billowing trench coat could save it. And you know how much we love trench coats.
The most outstanding entry on our list (not a compliment), The Spirit is one of the few movies in recent memory that was much, much worse than almost any of the posters used to promote it. And yes, we mean all of the posters.
That in itself is truly baffling feat, and a marketers worst nightmare. There’s just no two ways about it: the movie managed to kill every ounce of excitement that the posters were building among audiences who couldn’t smell this one a mile away.
Back when Frank Miller’s only contribution to the world of black and white was Sin City, also as author to the source material, the idea of him being trusted with Eisner’s masked crimefighter seemed promising. And when this first poster was released, we couldn’t help but be optimistic. Equal parts Batman and Sin City, the tagline seemed to possess the same tongue-in-cheek mature camp…boy were we wrong.
Regardless of just how bad the movie is, the poster still survives. As long as we tell ourselves it’s a tribute to the comic book, not the movie that taught Frank Miller that writing movies and directing them is really hard.
The Message: No more of this meandering backstory or less interesting secondary characters. The movie is named after Logan, and there he is. Just *snikt* those claws, and get down to business.
The Truth: Any sense of realism, grounded-ness, or darkness seems to have been used in its entirety for the poster design.
As if the film wasn’t already struggling to stay afloat under the name X-Men Origins: Wolverine (quicktip: when your movie is bound to be panned, don’t lay the plans for a franchise in the title itself) the action set-pieces, lacking effects and plot that still managed to miss the core of the character. While still an improvement from its predecessor for many, the poster conveyed a singularity of vision and tough-as-nails poster that those making the film had not interest in.
In more than a few ways, this poster for X-Men Origins: Wolverine perfectly demonstrates the need for audiences to be even more suspicious when the movie being advertised is an adaptation of an existing property. “How do we get people excited about this movie? They already love the character, just put their face on a movie poster and they’ll FLIP!”
No need to prove that this movie would offer great (not goofy) action, a strong story, and build off past fiction instead of ignoring or ret-conning it, since people knew Hugh Jackman’s Logan and loved it. Some would call thinking – and this poster – manipulative, others would call it downright cheating.
For the upcoming The Wolverine (2013) the advertising mentality is much the same – the leading man hasn’t aged, why should the impact of Logan’s face or claws? But fans now know: a great character doesn’t translate to a good movie.
The Message: A somewhat under-utlizied Twilight star, disturbing, disgusting imagery and a tagline that at least hints at a new take on the all-too-common ‘haunting’ horror movies.
The Truth: Those hands are probably just moviegoers trying to silence star Ashley Greene, and demand their money back.
In case anyone was intrigued by the posters or marketing of The Apparition, allow us to save you the time and money required to investigate: this movie is terrible. Now, horrible horror movies are certainly nothing new, as ream after ream of movie posters match black background with young girl, and scaaary white text.
Ashley Greene was far from a dull actress, the image of hands groping a human being without clothing takes the horror and discomfort to entirely new levels, and the tagline promises a plot device or narrative theme that hasn’t been seen much in recent horror movies.
If other posters on this list are a case of poster artistry exceeding that of the film, then The Apparition‘s is a classic case of bait-and-switch. The tagline bears no impact on the movie in any way, Greene’s eyes in this image convey more emotion and believability than any line of dialogue, and there’s more chemistry between the ghoulish hands than can be witnessed in any of the movie’s scenes.
Yet even after we’ve seen the film, it’s impossible to deny that the poster is visually interesting. The play of light and dark, the hazy glow, the animal-like unkempt hair, and the primal reaction to so many hands surrounding a single human form. This one deserves to be placed in a museum. Or a dumpster.
The Message: *gulp*…Wow, this poster actually embodies all of the same qualities that define the world of burlesque and titillation that Vegas showgirls actually turn into an art form. Nothing’s actually being shown, but beyond eye-catching, all this one does is raise our interest.
The Truth: Well played, Verhoeven. That’s some serious window dressing for a nudity-filled schlock-fest.
Anyone who was around when Showgirls hit theaters (or rental shelves, for that matter) knows this image. The first poster caught attention by showing skin tastefully and promising sultriness, not smut. Considering what the actual film turned out to be, it should surprise no one that the poster’s origin has little to do with it.
The poster is based on Slovakian photographer Tono Stano’s “Sense” (1992), portraying a model emerging from a wall of black fabric. Stano’s works largely signified the emergence of Eastern-European art and culture from the Iron Curtain, shown fairly clearly in one of his most famous works.
Exemplifying the complicated history between art and business, MGM purchased the rights to the photo, made some adjustments, and splattered it across billboards as the poster for Showgirls, a movie that redefined gratuitous nudity for many.
It wasn’t all bad though: there’s no question that the poster is remembered better than any parts of the actual movie. Credit to Stano for that one. And MGM’s eye for…art.
The Message: Crisp, clean, edgy, bold, and most importantly, bringing more of that Vegas style and ensemble-charisma that worked so well for the cast the first time around.
The Truth: Not so much.
There are some in the movie business who hold strongly to the theory that ‘two many cooks spoil the broth,’ and that a director calling on all their friends and acquaintances to make a movie with total creative freedom is a recipe for disaster. But Ocean’s Eleven (2001) proved that wasn’t the case, as a cast fueled by unmatched star-power teamed up to produce one of the slickest, most stylish caper movies in the modern era.
For Ocean’s Twelve, people expected Steven Soderbergh to simply give more of the same. This poster made good, mimicking the art style of that of the first film. What the poster should have been was a group of silhouetted figures aimlessly wandering around a Mediterranean seaside with Catherine Zeta-Jones front and center. Oh, and a French man doing gymnastics.
The charisma was still there in the individual actors (Clooney or Pitt couldn’t downplay that if their lives depended on it) but Ocean’s Twelve was nothing if not disappointing. In hindsight, maybe if the poster had used a Roman Numeral ‘XII’ instead of the Arabic Numeral people would have better prepared themselves.
These posters oozed ‘cool,’ and the first film delivered. The sequel tried the same trick, but failed to give more of that same slick and effortless style fans were craving. For Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) the team returned largely to form, but by then the poster scheme was almost completely changed.
The Message: The terrifying chill of one of America’s most shocking attacks, captured tastefully and beautifully, letting the haunting image speak louder than any words could.
The Truth: Stunning direction, but perhaps the “It was a Sunday morning…” and Ben Affleck’s name plastered over it should have told us something was off…
Look, we don’t have anything against Michael Bay. Well, that’s not entirely true. But if we’re talking about Pearl Harbor (and not interested in merely repeating every criticism that’s been leveled) we can confidently say that when it came to the actual attack, there are few directors who could have crafted action as chaotic and massive as Bay. But that’s not what the early posters advertised.
The many posters – like the haunting one seen here – were designed to call upon the deeply personal and historically-informed accounts of December 7, 1941. Mainly the event that the words ‘Pearl Harbor’ have become synonymous with: an unprovoked attack by the Japanese that caught sailors and civilians completely by surprise. It’s that chilling juxtaposition that lies at the heart of this poster; but not what Bay and company delivered.
What moviegoers got was a love story centered around Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett – not Bay’s strong suit.
In many ways, Pearl Harbor was a colossal assault on the American public in its own right, and the lesson that taught Michael Bay not to outreach his grasp. It’s a shame such a historic event had to be abused in the process, and that the tasteful, picturesque film advertised in the poster was never to be. But maybe that’s a price worth paying.
There you have it: our list of posters that were either more aesthetically pleasing or memorable than the films they were trying to draw from.
The potential for more entries is always there (most bad movies have at least one marketer doing their job) but we think this sampling gives a sense of each genre’s own means of tricking audiences. They may not be the most deceitful or ill-intended examples, but they’re the ones we can’t help but forget.
Which disappointing movies had your hopes raised by inspired artwork? Can a truly stunning movie poster be so good, it can rise above the lead weight that is the film itself? Share your thoughts in the comment.
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