The best film posters are so memorable that you instantly know the film they are promoting. In many cases, even if you took the wording away, the image would still be instantly recognisable.
Some people would choose the best movie posters based on their favourite films. In which case, the posters would bring back a rush of emotion including nostalgia from childhood, or the joy they felt when they first saw that film.
However, you can also select the most impressive movie posters based on their artistic merits. There are some occasions when the design team who create film branding produce truly outstanding imagery. This leads to movie posters with enormous impact. Some could even be described as works of art.
On other occasions, the best film posters are those which do a brilliant job of summing up the story, in a fresh or evocative way.
Our list of the top 10 posters is a mixture of all these different measures. They are in no particular order!
Best Film Posters
This ground-breaking film still has the power to hold audiences on the edge of their seats. The horror is largely muted, and the tension palpable. Much rests on the relationship between FBI student Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and serial killer Hannibal Lecture (a menacing Anthony Hopkins).
The movie poster features a pale Clarice, with wide red eyes. In vivid contrast, there’s a sinister death's-head hawkmoth across her mouth. Considered to be an omen of death, this insect features in the film. Even if you didn’t know that, it implies silence and suffocation. It also shows the battle between innocence and evil.
There’s a theory that when you magnify the skull markings on the moth it reveals naked women, linking pleasure to death. Whether that’s true or not, it’s still a creepy image!
Sometimes the simplest of motifs can create an incredible impact. This is certainly true of the posters used to promote this thriller starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.
Director Alfred Hitchcock was ahead of his time in building and maintaining a sinister atmosphere. Which is why he is widely respected and much copied, even in the age of high-tech film making. Every little detail of his films served to build suspense and intrigue.
The Vertigo poster has a simple visual effect featuring a spiralling movement. In the centre, the lead characters grapple, with the male figure seemingly ready to let the woman fall into the abyss. Or, is he trying to stop her falling?
This film is epic in every sense of the word, and a cinematic triumph. The scale of the drama it encompassed was a revelation. It also packed a mighty powerful punch in terms of emotion. The final part of the film is legendary: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Though these aren’t actually the last words spoken.)
All that vivid landscape and emotional turmoil is encapsulated in the film poster. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are entwined with eyes locked, while around them fires burn, and soldiers bring violence to their homes.
This is a much-copied image that’s appeared on everything from jigsaws to t-shirts. But nowhere is it more powerful than on a movie poster.
The original and undoubtedly best film in this franchise featured a poster that brilliantly showed the overarching sense of menace. You knew exactly what to expect from your viewing experience, even before you heard the legendary music that set your nerves jangling!
The poster features an innocent swimmer above the surface, while beneath her lurks a monstrous shark with cruel teeth. It’s impossible not to immediately identify with that poor unsuspecting girl, who is about to meet a grisly death.
This refers to the original film about mass hauntings and a group of misunderstood geniuses. It produced a truly iconic poster, showing the Ghostbusters logo and the film slogan “Who ya gonna call”. Try saying that line without singing it!
One of the reasons it deserves a place on this list of the best film posters is the fun image of a rather shocked, curvy ghost popping through the red no entry sign. It perfectly illustrated the tongue in cheek nature of this film.
This is another movie poster that uses one high impact motif to great effect. If you saw this dinosaur graphic from a distance (and with no text), you would still know it was promoting Jurassic Park. The poster also includes a clever movie summary, “An adventure 65 million years in the making.”
Both the original copies and reproductions are regularly offered for sale due to the timeless nature of this branding. Subsequent films in the franchise have also produced some of the best film posters.
This movie franchise is huge. However, it's this film poster that is most often associated with the marketing of the original cast. It shows them fanned out in dramatic poses, under attack, with the sinister Darth Vader dominating the background.
This poster’s appeal means that it has been used in countless parodies. It has also been copied for many other forms of “collage” imagery.
This film is popular with every generation, thanks to its mixture of humour, action and time travelling mayhem.
Much of its attraction rests with the central character Marty McFly (Michael J Fox), a super hip dude who time-hops in a DeLorean. The 80s fashions, the much-loved car and the appealing hero are beautifully reproduced on the movie poster. It shows a sense of urgency and of peril from the flames. Yet it still conveys humour. “He was never in time for his classes. He wasn’t in time for his dinner. Then one day, he wasn’t in his time at all.”
This film poster used a simple graphic to imply the vast loneliness of the cosmos. It also shows a sinister egg cracking. However, in this case it was the text that makes it so important.
The poster did not give much detail about the movie and all the official credit text was squashed on the bottom. The now legendary Alien lettering is there. The only other wording is, “In space no one can hear you scream.”
That’s the sort of marketing genius that deserves its place in social history, as well as a slot in the top ten best film posters.
Sometimes the best movie posters inspire countless imitations and variations. In the case of the famous ET poster, the original image is in fact an imitation! The highly evocative picture of the alien’s long bony finger touching the little boy’s, is based on Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Which is a piece of art that appears on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
Using this image so beautifully suggests a highly significant meeting between the supernatural and humankind. It shows an important connection being made.
There were other movie posters to promote this much-loved and timeless film. One featured Elliot’s highly memorable cycle ride with ET in his basket, as the moon fills the background.
That’s our list of the best film posters. Which ones would you include?
Filmography images courtesy of IMDb.