Drew Struzan and the Lost Art of Movie Posters
Movie posters are one of my favorite things about the industry. When I was a kid, I didn’t surf through the internet looking for trailers; I went to the theater and looked at the giant, framed posters for upcoming films. For a long time, due to the lack of the internet, these posters had to show you as much about the movie as possible; the stars, the conflict, the tone, all of these had to be conveyed on one sheet of paper.
Perhaps the best example of great movie poster art is the work of Drew Struzan. His work, whether you know his name of not, resides in homes and theaters around the world. He started with album covers for bands; including Black Sabbath, the Beach Boys, Alice Cooper and Earth, Wind and Fire. He started working on movie posters in the 70’s, mainly working for B-films. However, in 1977, Struzan did the art for Star Wars and he soon became on the most in-demand artist for movie posters.
Struzan’s artwork was an airbrushed technique. He did the poster work for some of the biggest movies of the eighties; Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, The Goonies, and the Police Academy movies. Later in life, he also went on to do the poster for the first Harry Potter movie, as well as the Star Wars prequels. Major directors, like Guillermo del Toro and George Lucas, love his work, with Del Toro saying it wasn’t a movie until Drew Struzan made the poster.
Unfortunately, Struzan’s art fell out of favor with the industry. As the world became more digital and Photoshop revealed itself to be a faster and cheaper method, Struzan’s airbrushed technique was seen as archaic. On producer, as Struzan recounts in his book , claimed his Pan’s Labyrinth submission looked too much like art. The Art of Drew Struzan
Normally, this would simply be a sad story about a man and his career. Unfortunately, the movie industry took a dive in quality when it came to posters. Where once we might get a few intense scenes from the movie along with profiles of the actors, we now have quick Photoshop projects. The method is less about the movie and more about the actors, with little imagination. Typography and intense faces are the name of the game, not plot or imagination. The X-Men movies have been large offenders in this area, as are most generic action flicks. While I love Drew Struzan’s art, his departure from the field shouldn’t mean all movie posters must suffer.
I don’t want to sound like an old crank harping for the old days but movie posters are a lost art. They’ve become a general tease of a movie, but provide little to no information. Why bother filling a one sheet with information when they’ll be viral content and eight trailers to explain the film. It’s hard to argue with that reasoning, but movie posters become more than advertising. They become part of the experience. My Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings movie poster isn’t on the wall because it screams “buy more tickets!” It’s there because I love the film and it’s a wonderful testament to the movie.
There are some hopefuls, though. Marvel seems to be doing a good job at making their posters informative and cool. Captain America, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk all had decent concepts. Thor left something to be desired and The Amazing Spider-Man is a letdown. It’s too bad, what would a Struzan take on The Avengers or Pirates of the Caribbean looked like? It’s hard to accept the easy, PR approved ads we’re given these days when Struzan’s The Thing poster exists in the world.