10. Cloverfield (2008)
Why it's good: We’re so used to images of NYC going up in smoke that we’re not thrown off until we notice the decapitated Liberty...then the fading churn of the huge wake across the murky Hudson...wait, what the bejesus is going on here?
A rare example of a one-sheet that really stands up to – nay, demands – closer scrutiny; each time you look, you see something new. Well, for like the first four looks. That’s three more than most posters manage.
What would break it: Even the slightest glimpse of monster. Also, that tagline is precisely as clunky as it can afford to be without squandering all the buttock-clenching ambiguity of the image.
9. Jurassic Park (1993)
Why it’s good: Using a specific logo or item lifted directly from the in-film world – this one being the self-same graphic that InGen use to brand everything in their demented theme park – really helps to create that world in the mind of the audience.
As well as being much more iconic, here a logo rather than a screenshot also kept things secretive, preserving our first real dino-peek until we were sitting down, popcorn in hand.
What would break it: The merest whiff of CGI dinosaurs. And, if they imagine this finding its way onto living room walls across the nation, a bit less space dedicated to the credits wouldn’t go amiss.
8. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Why it’s good: Look at it! It’s creepy as all hell, but it’s difficult to say why. Well, apart from the fact that she’s got some kind of horrible creepy-crawlie for a mouth.
It’s always impressive, too, when a poster resists vomiting the entire cast up itself (especially as a lame raft of ‘floating heads’). Hopkins as Lecter is nowhere to be seen, saving the film’s most memorable chills until we’re huddled in the dark.
What would break it: Any overt depiction of death, or even violence – those of us who haven’t read the book are left wondering what the title even means, but the ghostly visage and the creepy moth are enough to tell us it ain’t a good thing.
7. American Beauty (1999)
Why it’s good: Well, right off the bat, the fact that every available millimetre of it is taken up with naked ladyflesh is likely to earn this little beauty the initial double-takes.
However, the genius here lies in the way this particular image, with its slightly uneasy balance of eroticism and innocence, perfectly captures the atmosphere of the film.
Also, that tricky tagline is of a very rare quality indeed.
What would break it: Some lengthy, rambling text synopsis. The owner of the belly clutching a Polaroid of Spacey like she does in the Japanese version.
6. Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Why it’s good: Chiefly because the film’s overgrown starlet, Allison Hayes, is depicted as being massive, hot and scantily clad. That’s quite literally a killer combination.
Also, it’s just a wonderfully dynamic drawing, and a sumptuous piece of design. It’s amazing how many classic movie posters of this era used the red-on-yellow theme – Breathless, anyone?
What would break it: Er, if the woman was anything like 50 feet tall.
The first set of apartment blocks in the middle-distance look about that, if not slightly more. Our leggy lassie here is 200 feet if she’s an inch.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
Why it’s good: The tagline is the coup de grace to finish off what that brilliantly action-packed image has already pummelled us around the chops with – this is Batman with teeth, Batman gone feral. Badass Batman. Batbastard, even.
Plus any poster that literally involves ACTUAL SPARKS FLYING offers a fair indication that this film probably needs to be watched. Right now.
What would break it: No clever-clever close-up of a knitted bat-brow or similar could hope to capture the prevailing mood quite so well as his unapologetically visceral slab of exploding eye candy.
Also, the office fire not forming a bat logo would’ve greatly reduced the overall level of win.
4. Hard Candy (2006)
Why it’s good: It’s sparsely stylish, immediately grabs you with its juxtaposition of vulnerable youth and big scary sharp things, and there’s a disquieting nod to both Little Red Riding Hood and Don’t Look Now in the girl’s get-up.
However, the best thing about this poster is that it throws us a complete curveball – our immediate assumption that this kid is in for a torrid time, but then we look again and notice, hey, she isn’t actually caught in that trap...
What would break it: A hulking great tagline pointing out what it took us a couple of moments to clock from the graphic. Pictures of sweets, especially sweets with blood on them or whatever.
3. Jaws (1975)
Why it’s good: Compositionally, it’s bloody amazing – we’re not about to get overly technical on your cushion-loving asses, but scholars of this sort of thing will appreciate the way the shark’s snout helps form an imaginary ‘X’ right at the centre of the image.
In addition, the simple font is nice and bold, the colours are striking, and that thing rushing at our bikini-clad waif on the surface is absolutely. Bloody. HUGE.
What would break it: Screenshots of the shark from the film itself, in which the big fibreglass bitch actually looks faintly crap when she’s not being pasted together from actual wildlife footage.
2. Vertigo (1958)
Why it’s good: They don’t come a lot better than this – we can probably count on one hand that number of film one-sheets (‘ironic’ B-movie art not included) that you might conceivably want to hang on your wall even if you’d never seen the movie.
Saul Bass is responsible for most of them, and no list of best posters would be complete without at least one of his. This one just pips Bunny Lake Is Missing – although it’s a tough call – by arguably better capturing the essence of the film it’s advertising.
What would break it: It must’ve been a tough call to leave the already-highly-bankable mugs of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak off the poster, but it pays dividends here. A tagline would further have detracted from the power of the dizzying graphic.
1. Metropolis (1927)
Why it’s good: It’s a proper, honest-to-goodness work of art, innit?
The moody sketching, the juxtaposition of harsh geometric angles, smooth robo-chrome and jagged, sinister font...it’s beautiful. And sepia. Sepia is cool.
Furthermore, it says everything you need to know about Lang’s masterpiece itself. We’re going to the future, aren’t we? And we’re going to have mixed feelings about it when we get there, right..?
What would break it: Well, obviously screenshots would likely have been rather weak, given that this is the 1920s, but really it's hard to see any changes not taking something away from this uniquely attractive, skinny-fit beauty. This one's about as close to perfect as they come.
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