Everyone loves fan movie posters. They’re a great way for fans to lick their graphic design chops while paying tribute to a much beloved film. They’re big business too, with companies like Mondo raking in cash hand over fist selling fans after-market posters for popular cult films.
Unfortunately, most of them are just fan art, and not really better than the originals in any real way. Although the Internet has generated a seemingly endless number of listicles for alternate movie posters that are supposedly better than the real thing, most are unnecessary at best, terrible at worst.
So I decided to try my hand at putting together a gallery of some great alternate movie posters, along with an explanation on why I think it’s better than the original. To make things at least a little bit less arbitrary, here’s my methodology:
1) The poster has to genuinely be better designed than the original. That means if the original movie poster is iconic, we’re not touching it. There’s lots of great alternate posters for Star Wars, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and so on, but you’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone to seriously argue that they’re better than the originals, all of which have imprinted themselves upon popular culture.
2) A great alternate film poster can’t just be fan art that references to something that happens in the movie, or a collage of such references (ahem, Mondo). It has to illuminate central themes of the film, evoke its mood, or be notably clever to warrant a place on this list. It also has to depend on visuals, not words, to convey the spirit of the movie.
3) Almost every movie has numerous “official” posters. For the purposes of this list, every alternate movie poster is being judged compared to the “official” poster listed at the top of its Wikipedia entry.
It’s a short but sweet list, but that’s by design: hundreds of posters failed ot make the cut according to the criteria above. Hopefully, it’ll at least give prospective designers some food for thought on how to go about their work.
If you know an alternate movie poster that you think is better than the original according to the above methodology, submit your own in the comments below.
Contagion by Joel Amat Güell
The original poster for Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 medical drama Contagion is your standard collage of beautiful Hollywood heads, dramatically looking off-camera. There’s no real encapsulation of the themes, here: if you took the words off the poster, you’d have no idea what this movie was about. “Okay, in the poster, Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet are both talking on the phone, so maybe they talk on the phone to each other during the movie? And Marky Mark’s waving bye-bye to someone. Maybe it’s Gwyneth Paltrow? She looks sick. Is this a movie about GooPing?”
Joel Amat Güell’s poster is much better. The eerie image of an outstretched hand, with smaller hands growing out of the tips of each finger, conveys a sense of sickly horror, pandemic, and dread. Juxtaposed against the universal language of biohazard symbols, Güell’s poster memorably conveys both the tone and the plot of Contagion, all without words.
Children of Men by Noah Hornstein
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 apocalyptic thriller, Children of Men, is a modern day masterpiece. It deals with a world of global human infertility, in which Theo Faron, a former political activist who lost his faith after the death of his son, is charged to protect the life of the first pregnant woman in 18 years against a background of social breakdown.
To be fair, the original movie poster gets all of these ideas across, but artlessly. Without the tagline, the Children of Men would just be Clive Owen looking at you through a broken glass window. Did he break it, or was he hired to fix it? Noah Hornstein’s poster, on the other hand, beautifully conveys the movie’s essence with one single, haunting image: a chiaroscuro pool of blood shaded with humanity’s family tree, trickling down to just a single branch.
Drive by Unknown
Ryan Gosling turned in a mesmerizing performance as the nameless, cipher-esque driver in Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 neo-noir masterpiece, Drive, but you’d never know it from the official poster. This is a movie about fast driving, ultra-violence, and the operatic allure of the city in the dead of night. But the poster is seemingly about Ryan Gosling waiting patiently for a Big Mac at a McDonald’s drive-thru window.
We’re not quite sure who designed this alternate poster for Drive (please leave a comment if you know, so we can give credit where it’s due), but it’s a vast improvement. Using the markings on a shift stick to spell out the film’s title is clever, as it putting them in the shape of a hammer, a reference to one of the film’s most memorable (and bloody) scenes. The neon pink skidmarks outlining the knob, meanwhile, gives a nod to Drive’s Miami Vice style color schemes.
Black Swan by Daniel Norris
Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film about a high-strung ballerina who cracks under the pressure of looming success is a film about duality that owes much of its nightmarish feel to the Italian giallo genre: mysteries or thrillers with often fantastic visual languages that also incorporate elements of horror and/or eroticism.
The original poster is okay, but I really like Daniel Norris’s version. Not only does it tap into Black Swan’s central theme of duality by counterbalancing a white dancer’s hand with the silhouette of a blood-drenched swan, but it screams giallo. This poster looks like it could have hung up outside of an Italian movie theater in the 1970s.
American Werewolf in London by Olly Moss
For my money, there’s no better werewolf movie than John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London: a film that manages to be comic, tragic, and horrifying, all at once. But let’s face it, absolutely none of this is conveyed in the original theatrical poster on it, which looks like it could be a page from a Patagonia catalog during the puffiest point of the early-1980s.
Olly Moss is a master of “minimalist poster” re-designs, and he gave American Werewolf the tribute it deserves. The way he uses negative space in the silhouettes of the British Isles to create a werewolf face is just brilliant. Moss makes it look effortless, but seriously, this is expert graphic design work.
Rear Window by Laurent Durieux
Let’s look at this 1954 poster for Rear Window shall we? Holding a pair of binoculars that are easily three times as big as his head, Jimmy Stewart obsessively spies on something, oblivious to the half-naked woman about to be murdered in the building behind him. Meanwhile, Grace Kelly looks smug, silently mocking his gigantic binoculars. “Men!” she seems to be saying to herself. “Always compensating for something!”
Comparatively, French illustrator Laurent Durieux’s poster for Rear Window is perfection. On opposite sides of a reflective pane of glass, Durieux’s drawing expertly conveys the essence of the film’s plot, setting, protagonist, and antagonist. It’s just dripping with mood, mystery, and dread.
The Visitor by Jay Shaw
If you ever walked through the horror aisle in a video store in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you probably know the poster for The Visitor, if not the movie itself. An Italian/Egyptian sci-fi horror movie directed by Giulio Paradisi in 1979 and re-released by Drafthouse Films a few years ago, Film.com’s David Ehrlich said The Visitor was like a remake of The Bad Seed as reimagined by Alejandro Jodorowsky.”
I love the pure cheese of the original The Visitor poster, but Jay Shaw’s trippy poster for Mondo really brings out the psychedelic, Jodorowsky-esque elements. This is like The Visitor filtered through the mind of Mœbius, which really brings out the movie’s weird, Jesus-is-an-alien allegories.