Movie posters: Graphic images vs. Still images


I was designing poster for one of my short film. For references, I was checking some posters. I noticed that in many old movie posters, graphic art images were used instead of the still images from the film or the photos that is normally taken during the shoot.

Some samples:

Gone with the Wind (
Lawrence of Arabia (
The 400 Blows (

I see this pattern from 1920's till 1960's, both US and Foreign movies. Is there any reason why they used the graphic art images instead of the actual images? Or it's just purely a style?
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IndieTalk's Resident Guru
I see this pattern from 1920's till 1960's, both US and Foreign movies.
1970's saw a lot of them; Alien, Star Wars, American Graffiti, Animal House,
Apocalypse Now, Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, Clockwork Orange, Enter The Dragon

1980's was the decade of Drew Struzan; Blade Runner, The Thing, The Cannonball Run,
Police Academy series, Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

1990's; Rocketeer, Army of Darkness, Dead-Alive, Fargo, Independence Day

From the 2000's
Session 9, Slither, The Happening, 28 Days Later, Baby Driver, Birdman, Cabin In The Woods,
the first Django Unchained, Free Fire, The Heat (one of my favorite posters), Moonrise Kingdom...

I could go on. I love movie posters, I collect them and have a fondness for drawn over
photos. Maybe you have seen a slight reduction but there are still a lot.


The purpose of the poster is to communicate wath the movie is about and to gain attention.
The purpose of every frame in a movie is to move the story forward.

It is very very rare that these 2 purposes come together in 1 movie frame.

Plus the difference in composition: portrait vs landschap (and then I don't even mention the ratios).

So it is more effective to actually design a poster than to take a frame and add titles.
But sometimes it can work perfectly, but then the frame is still being manipulated and altered towards a better design.


Staff member
in my own wild speculating opinion i'd say a big part of this was wanting to have movie posters in color instead of black and white. Art was in color, film was not.

a movie poster is an AD and it needs to grab your attention as youre walking down the street.
Color is way better at getting attention
I personally enjoy both styles. I like the graphic art more as the colors pop. For example I bought a poster of “Big Trouble in Little China” because I simply love the colors and subject matter. I think for me if there is more eye candy to look at it the better. I’m pretty much a fan of anything old style” because if it ain’t broke why fix it. Why reinvent the wheel? If the poster doesn’t draw you in and pull on your heartstrings then it fails to do its job. But that might not matter to some if it has a big name actor on it or Director behind it. Still go see the film if you are curious, then buy the poster if it stays with you after you leave the cinema into the next day or week has always been my philosophy.