When illustrator/designer Peter Stults sits down to watch a movie, he isn’t thinking about plot, popcorn, or any distracting filmgoers who might be around. Instead, all he can do is wonder what the movie poster would look like once he got through with it.
It first started back in college. Stults was studying film and digital media at UC-Santa Cruz 10 years ago, and wasting a lot of time on Photoshop. One day, he decided to amuse himself by developing fictitious movie posters, with titles derived from songs. “I’d think of a genre, then actors, and out came a poster,” Stults says. “The really fun part was coming up with a cheesy tagline.” After he discovered the alternative movie poster work of Sean Hartter, though, the digital content editor decided to try his hand at re-imagining instead of making up movies altogether. His latest work has the retro twist of pairing recent movies with the style and actors of Old Hollywood (picture an even more noir-ish Pulp Fiction with Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston in the lead roles, and you’ve got it).
When it comes to casting, there’s no real method to Stults’ madness–it either feels right or it doesn’t. Some of his decisions seem dead-on. James Dean taking over for Ryan Gosling as the lead in Drive, for instance, is an especially astute choice. Other times, he’d just try out actors in combinations that seem plausible, like a young William Shatner and Natalie Wood in Avatar. Finally, every now and then, he would just do something absurd to see if it works, like putting Leonard Nimoy in John McClane’s bare feet for Die Hard (Unfortunately, nowhere on the poster does it say, “Die Hard and Prosper”).
It’s not that movie posters today are so awful–although there are clearly a ton of cliches that need to be retired–it’s just that they could be better. And according to Stults, they used to be. “Although the function of the movie poster was still the same back in the day, they managed to work around the limitations that they did not realize they had,” he says. “Back then, the people behind the poster had to get creative: the fine art approach, the painted scenes of a film, the really dramatic typeface, the vibrant colors; in the end, they were really just trying to tell a story.”
By honoring some of his favorite styles–the Connery-era Bond posters, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and lots of Godards–Stults is helping to reignite interest in movie posters, and perhaps inspiring others to improve them and bring the storytelling element back. He’s also definitely forcing us to contemplate Spock shooting a bunch of German terrorists, but let’s not hold that against him.