Why Are Modern Movie Posters Not As Good As the Classic B Movie Posters of the Past?

Modern movie posters are rubbish. They have no life, colour, inventiveness or artistic pretensions. yesmovie  They just have one job to do:- clearly and concisely display a film in typical poster format to advertise the fact it is showing at a cinema near you now or in the near future. Full stop. Period. Boring! How has the movie industry allowed the quality of movie posters to fall to such a parlous state?

There was a time not too many years ago when cinemas were exciting places to look at and be in. Cinema chains were smaller and more widespread than they are today and as a result each cinema had a certain character to it, be it in the garishly colourful and musty, carpet upholstered chairs or the ice cream lady touting for business at the interval. Oh, and the cinemas back then actually showed x rated films (mostly b movies and lots of them!) that adults would watch, none of this dribbly MOR 12 certificate rubbish back then, oh no!

Nowadays, just about the only place to see a film is at concrete carbuncle multiplex where 6 or 7 films are displayed across an enormous amount of screens, most of the films featuring adult themes, watered down to a 12a for comfortable tweenage consumption and re-consumption (and adults might also like them). One size fits all – and not a very comfortable fit at that. And that reminds me, despite being more spacious than they used to be, the seats seem to make my derrière ache with much more brio than in the old days. So what has all this got to do with the nosedive in quality of modern movie posters?

Firstly, there just aren’t as many independent movie theatres and cinemas around today. The only place I can conveniently see a film is at a large concrete multiplex – a capitalist cathedral. This is not how it used to be. 40 years ago I would have had the choice of 4 independent cinemas to go to within one mile of each other in my local town. I’m speaking as a UK resident although I am sure the situation is the same in many other countries in the western world. There is a distinct lack of competition at modern movie theatres because the large studios run the show now – there are only a limited number of films showing at any one time because the studios purchase multiple screens to show the same film and ensure maximum exposure. In the earlier years of cinema, right up until the late 80’s, there were more studios, more independent cinemas and a system that was not dictated by a few powerful film studios. There was a much more level playing field between films and studios over which films played. How long a film played for was a different story. If a film did not do well during its first week it would get pulled ruthlessly and another shoehorned in to take its place. If it did well it could keep its place for months (I remember when I was little boy when star wars came out and it seemed like it was playing at my local cinema for years!) Some cinemas even changed movies twice a week meaning a massive turnover of films. The movie poster was therefore a vital tool for getting bums on seats and ensuring a film had as long a run as it possibly could. If people were in the cinema foyer and unsure whether to watch Scanners or Table for Five, a quick look at the respective movie posters would quickly make their minds up. And this brings me to my second point.

In earlier decades people rarely had a clue what they wanted to see when they went to the cinema. My father said he would go every Saturday and often during the week for the simple reason there was not much else to do in the evenings in a provincial town in those days. So he would go to the cinema for something to do and then make up his mind what film to watch later when he got there. Today, people already know which movie they are going to see before they go to the cinema. Why the change? Quite simply, the media. Media promotion of films is now dominated by the internet where we can easily view trailers, see and read film star interviews, making-of videos, and more. And the hype starts earlier. There is drip, drip, then a trickle, culminating in a tidal wave of media coverage when a film’s release is imminent. What chance has any other film got in the face of such a media deluge? And when the target demographic nowadays is predominantly the naive and gullible teeny market the film studios are rubbing their hands with glee. Who needs a crappy film poster to sell a film at the cinema? You don’t! It’s already been sold.

This leads me to another point – the changing demographic of cinema-goers. In earlier years there were many more adults going to the cinema than there are today and therefore many more adult oriented films, b movies and exploitation movies. This resulted in better subject matter for film posters (even though the films were often substandard). I think it would be very hard not to make a good poster for a b-movie if it was an exploitative nazisploitation movie like “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”!

Finally, and though it pains me to say it, films at the cinema today are generally of a much better quality than those in years gone by. Coupled with much more expansive media coverage, the movie poster’s importance as a tool to sell a movie is significantly reduced. As I have mentioned above, a much wider variety of films, in terms of both quality and subject matter, used to arrive at your local cinema – including b-movies. It was a kind of a scatter gun approach. A “Lets show as many films as possible and see what works” approach. And that meant there were a lot of crappy films about. This is where the movie poster becomes a vital promotional tool. If the film sounds interesting and the poster looks interesting, its got to be a good film right? Wrong! Just because the poster has had a bit of money spent on it, it does not necessarily follow the film did! But a good quality movie poster always gives that implication. Most films that arrive at movie theatres today are big budget studio affairs and always have high production values even if the film content still regularly falls badly short of good quality

Modern movie posters are rubbish. They have no life, colour, inventiveness or artistic pretensions. They just have one job to do:- clearly and concisely display a film in typical poster format to advertise the fact it is showing at a cinema near you now or in the near future. Full stop. Period. Boring! How has the movie industry allowed the quality of movie posters to fall to such a parlous state?

There was a time not too many years ago when cinemas were exciting places to look at and be in. Cinema chains were smaller and more widespread than they are today and as a result each cinema had a certain character to it, be it in the garishly colourful and musty, carpet upholstered chairs or the ice cream lady touting for business at the interval. Oh, and the cinemas back then actually showed x rated films (mostly b movies and lots of them!) that adults would watch, none of this dribbly MOR 12 certificate rubbish back then, oh no!

Nowadays, just about the only place to see a film is at concrete carbuncle multiplex where 6 or 7 films are displayed across an enormous amount of screens, most of the films featuring adult themes, watered down to a 12a for comfortable tweenage consumption and re-consumption (and adults might also like them). One size fits all – and not a very comfortable fit at that. And that reminds me, despite being more spacious than they used to be, the seats seem to make my derrière ache with much more brio than in the old days. So what has all this got to do with the nosedive in quality of modern movie posters?

Firstly, there just aren’t as many independent movie theatres and cinemas around today. The only place I can conveniently see a film is at a large concrete multiplex – a capitalist cathedral. This is not how it used to be. 40 years ago I would have had the choice of 4 independent cinemas to go to within one mile of each other in my local town. I’m speaking as a UK resident although I am sure the situation is the same in many other countries in the western world. There is a distinct lack of competition at modern movie theatres because the large studios run the show now – there are only a limited number of films showing at any one time because the studios purchase multiple screens to show the same film and ensure maximum exposure. In the earlier years of cinema, right up until the late 80’s, there were more studios, more independent cinemas and a system that was not dictated by a few powerful film studios. There was a much more level playing field between films and studios over which films played. How long a film played for was a different story. If a film did not do well during its first week it would get pulled ruthlessly and another shoehorned in to take its place. If it did well it could keep its place for months (I remember when I was little boy when star wars came out and it seemed like it was playing at my local cinema for years!) Some cinemas even changed movies twice a week meaning a massive turnover of films. The movie poster was therefore a vital tool for getting bums on seats and ensuring a film had as long a run as it possibly could. If people were in the cinema foyer and unsure whether to watch Scanners or Table for Five, a quick look at the respective movie posters would quickly make their minds up. And this brings me to my second point.

In earlier decades people rarely had a clue what they wanted to see when they went to the cinema. My father said he would go every Saturday and often during the week for the simple reason there was not much else to do in the evenings in a provincial town in those days. So he would go to the cinema for something to do and then make up his mind what film to watch later when he got there. Today, people already know which movie they are going to see before they go to the cinema. Why the change? Quite simply, the media. Media promotion of films is now dominated by the internet where we can easily view trailers, see and read film star interviews, making-of videos, and more. And the hype starts earlier. There is drip, drip, then a trickle, culminating in a tidal wave of media coverage when a film’s release is imminent. What chance has any other film got in the face of such a media deluge? And when the target demographic nowadays is predominantly the naive and gullible teeny market the film studios are rubbing their hands with glee. Who needs a crappy film poster to sell a film at the cinema? You don’t! It’s already been sold.

This leads me to another point – the changing demographic of cinema-goers. In earlier years there were many more adults going to the cinema than there are today and therefore many more adult oriented films, b movies and exploitation movies. This resulted in better subject matter for film posters (even though the films were often substandard). I think it would be very hard not to make a good poster for a b-movie if it was an exploitative nazisploitation movie like “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”!

Finally, and though it pains me to say it, films at the cinema today are generally of a much better quality than those in years gone by. Coupled with much more expansive media coverage, the movie poster’s importance as a tool to sell a movie is significantly reduced. As I have mentioned above, a much wider variety of films, in terms of both quality and subject matter, used to arrive at your local cinema – including b-movies. It was a kind of a scatter gun approach. A “Lets show as many films as possible and see what works” approach. And that meant there were a lot of crappy films about. This is where the movie poster becomes a vital promotional tool. If the film sounds interesting and the poster looks interesting, its got to be a good film right? Wrong! Just because the poster has had a bit of money spent on it, it does not necessarily follow the film did! But a good quality movie poster always gives that implication. Most films that arrive at movie theatres today are big budget studio affairs and always have high production values even if the film content still regularly falls badly short of good quality

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