Commentary, Lead Commentary

Marketing Breakdown: Best and Worst of the Summer

Now that the summer is over, cinematically speaking, let’s take a look back at the posters it offered — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Top 5 Best Posters

1. “Captain America: The First Avenger”

Unfortunately, the best poster of the summer didn’t grace the walls of movie theaters. It lives exclusively online, in the homes of the film’s cast and crew and with the lucky winners of a giveaway at the Hero Complex Film Festival. Matching the movie’s retro aesthetic and patriotic exuberance, this poster is a perfect embodiment of the film itself. With its “Casablanca”-style design, it is also evidence that the heart of Old Hollywood is still beating. And if you’re a comic-book nerd like me, you’ll appreciate the Stan Lee reference near the bottom — a nod to one of his best-selling comic-books, “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos,” which Lee created to fulfill a bet that he could make a successful comic book with a bad title. Last, but not least, this poster has Captain America punching Hitler, a reference to the first issue of the “Captain America” comic book.

2. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

In my last “Marketing Breakdown” column, I wrote, “This simple, unsettling image perfectly summarizes the film. The movie’s tone is evident in the ape’s cold, fiercely focused eyes. And the central figure and title are initially difficult to see, which draws you closer to the poster and makes it all the more eerie. At once murky, ambiguous and perfectly clear, this is one of the summer’s riskiest — and therefore most effective — posters.” I stand by those sentiments.

3. “The Devil’s Double”

I didn’t see the film, but I love the poster. It’s a startling, arresting, flamboyant image reminiscent of a vintage James Bond poster, only scarier. And it seems to perfectly match the movie’s tone, which is like that of an operatic gangster film in the vein of Brian De Palma’s “Scarface.”

4. “Super 8″

What a ballsy poster. What could have easily been an obvious nod to posters for early Spielberg films is scrapped in favor of this murky, eerie image. It grabs your attention and holds it, forcing you to uncover the poster, and the film’s, mystery. Its true stroke of genius is the way it literalizes the fact that the characters’ world is turned upside down. And look at that stormy sky! So ominous, so intriguing. But this isn’t a simple horror image. As in most Spielbergian spectacles, this film — and its poster — strike a perfect balance between danger and wonder.

5. “Bad Teacher”

Not a “great” poster, but I like it because, like the film’s title, it is charmingly simple and straightforward. What you see is what you get.

And the Worst (in no particular order)…

“The Help”

Simply put, this is a boring image. Why not design the poster as a close-up of a maid’s uniform? Or a dirty dishrag? Any of those images would be more interesting than this one.

“30 Minutes or Less”

The deer-in-the-headlights expressions worn by Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari fit perfectly considering their characters face the surprising situation of being forced to rob a bank. However, this poster is lazy and flat. It seems more focused on attracting moviegoers to the film’s stars rather than its plot. See “Marketing Breakdown in 30 Minutes or Less” for more.

“Green Lantern”

If you are not familiar with Green Lantern as a comic-book character, I suppose this poster would be enticing. But if you are a comic-book fan, this image isn’t all that exciting. I felt the film’s whole marketing campaign was a bit lazy, depending too much on summer moviegoers’ blind loyalty to superhero films.

Well, there you have it. Although this wasn’t an exceptional summer for movie posters, it wasn’t without a few great ones and some stinkers. Which posters did you love — or loathe? Feel free to comment here and discuss the promotional artwork that caught your eye or got your blood boiling. And stay tuned, as I will shine my magnifying glass on more posters in the weeks to come.

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5 Responses to “Marketing Breakdown: Best and Worst of the Summer”

  1. Keith says:

    Jim: Of course moviegoers can have opinions about movie posters. But we’re talking about form vs. function. Yes, a studio’s marketing department wants them to have an opinion. But they also want the message to be clear: "This movie has these stars in it, and is generally about [blank]. Go see it!" As idealistic as us film enthusiasts would like to be, marketing is about making money–literally selling the movie. The Help poster has the actors. 30 Minutes or Less has the actors. Green Lantern has the actor. In terms of selling the movie they succeeded, because that’s what speaks to moviegoers. Not symbolism.

    But artistically, you’re right–it is subjective. Films themselves are art, and I respect critics because they are able to take their opinions and create an argument for why a film is good or bad. But you’re not going to get so lucky critiquing movie posters because they are created to sell the film, not itself. That’s not to say we can’t acknowledge a particularly badass poster, such as Super 8. But look at the difference in mainstream DVD covers and Criterion covers, and you can see the audiences that each are appealing to.

    I love movie posters, but this article is trying to suggest "better" posters (for movies like The Help–that’s going to have a HUGE fan art community) or praising posters for evoking a tone of something that hasn’t even been seen. It’s misguided.

  2. sandi mojzuk says:

    I have found that marketing in general has slowly gone away. No matter what area, marketing has lost the ability to make me want to see something, do something, go somewhere… I have never found that a poster made me want to see something anyway. Maybe it’s just a "guy thing?"

  3. Jim says:

    Keith: Are moviegoers simply not supposed to have opinions about the posters hanging on the walls of theaters if they have not seen those movies? That wouldn’t make sense and it goes against the whole point of advertising a film before its release. Posters are meant to be seen before the films themselves. Marketing executives want audiences to decide whether to see a film based on its marketing campaign. They want them to have an opinion.

    Art is subjective. Beauty or ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. So, I don’t really understand your point about this article needing to be written by an "expert." You also contradict yourself by saying a "layperson" could determine a good or bad poster. A layperson could determine anything that involves his or her opinion.

  4. Keith says:

    I think a layperson can determine what makes a "good" or "bad" poster. Unfortunately, I think this article is being a bit forward. For instance, commenting on the tone of Devil’s Double without having seen it? Also, it’s an ugly poster. Or suggesting alternate poster ideas? I think this would have some credence if spoken from at least a college marketing major–much less an expert. But as it is, it’s rather empty. I don’t think any of the "worst" posters are necessarily bad–they just didn’t risk anything. They don’t want to–they’re trying to appeal to a broad audience. A better critique might be to look at official posters vs. popular fan-made ones, like the Olly Moss posters.

  5. Jack says:

    I’ll do some research and get back to you – this was a cool topic. Cheers!