The 9 Biggest Clichés In Movie Posters

Stop it with the giant floating heads already.

In the days before Photoshop, film posters were often as much a piece of art as the film itself. When we think of Jaws, Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, or Scarface, the first thing that comes to mind may not be a scene from the film, but the image of the promotional poster that advertised it.


Can you recall what the posters for this year’s blockbusters looked like? The sheer ubiquity of the clichés in current film advertising makes it more than a little difficult to differentiate between one film and another. Most studios rely on the same, tired tricks to tease their films.

Cecil Trachenburg of Good Bad Flicks put together a guide to the shortcuts film advertisers take in poster design. Here are some of the worst clichés:

1. Orange And Blue
Don’t underestimate the power of complementary colors, those that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. The Monet painting that launched the Impressionist movement? Orange and blue. The color scheme of pretty much any generic poster, for cinematic masterpieces ranging from Night at the Museum to G.I. Joe to Step Up 2: The Streets? Orange and blue. What harmonious color hell hath we wrought?


2. Giant Floating Heads
When the best thing a studio can say about a movie is that it stars a well-known (or just sexy) actor, why fight it? Just fill most of the poster with the sexy foreheads of your leading cast. Put something vaguely representative of the plot in the lower or upper third (a plane for The Aviator, a ship for Pirates of the Caribbean), and call it a job well done.

3. Standing In Front Of The Apocalypse
One man, silhouetted against a towering image of an apocalyptic wasteland, a battlefield or some other insurmountable obstacle which–spoiler–the character will eventually surmount. See: all of these.

4. Dude Looking Over Shoulder, Carrying A Weapon
If the lone-guy facing the apocalypse seems too high-budget, just hand your lead actor (or actress) a weapon and shoot a close-up of his back. Maybe just a back is too boring–how about having him turn back toward the camera in a somewhat uncomfortable contortion? Like so.


5. Orange and White Action Movies
Tired of blue and orange? Want to remind the audience to be prepared for at least one fiery explosion? Go with with an orange, black, and white color scheme, like the one favored by Ghost Rider, The Fast and the Furious and Bangkok Dangerous. It helps if the movie stars Nicholas Cage. This about sums it up.

6. Romantic Comedy Duos Standing Back To Back
He looks kind of dopey; she’s clutching on to his tie like maybe she’ll give it a good yank and send his head rolling across the floor. It must be love! They’re leaning against each other because they’re co-dependent! Alternately, they’re literally tied together. Either way, romance is in the air.

7. White People Almost Kissing
Usually near a beach/in the rain, and almost always with, as Entertainment Weekly’s Grady Smith puts it, “the clutching of a lover’s head like a giant grapefruit that must instantly be devoured.” A cliché typically reserved for Nicholas Sparks movies, but by all means, not exclusively. Put it away, Nicholas Sparks. Forever.


8. The Evil Eye
Eyes are creepy. That’s why even horror movies that have nothing to do with eyes, like The Skeleton Key, get reduced to a terrible pupil-less eye closeup.

9. Between A Woman’s Legs
When in doubt, just remind people that women are sexy! At least one sexy woman will be in this movie, and that’s reason enough to buy a ticket, right?

Studio execs and designers: take a few cues from these minimalist poster designs. Not every film deserves a floating head in a generic color scheme. God forbid, someone might mistakenly buy a ticket for the wrong generic action movie!


About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut


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