I get paid to be a graphic designer. Mixed together with my love of movies, it’s only natural that I’d have an appreciation for interesting movie poster art. Each year, studios produce several outstanding posters for their various movies. It’s nothing new. They’ve been doing it for years, going all the way back to the silent era. Here are 20 of my favorite posters for silent films. Much thanks to the IMP Awards website, which houses most of these:
The Trail of ’98 (1928)
I include this one because seeing someone being lit on fire is a pretty shocking thing to see in a poster from 1928. Good for them… I guess.
Birth of a Nation (1915)
This one is on the list because, well, look at it, for crying out loud. It openly brags about being based on a book about the Ku Klux Klan, and refers to the death of John Wilkes Booth as robbing the south of its “best friend”. Don’t get me wrong–I know what this movie is all about, so it’s not new to me. The fact that it’s so brazen about it is what’s shocking to me. That’s how far society has come since 1915. Think about that the next time you’re lamenting how disappointed you are that people watch reality TV or that something called a “Snooki” is a star.
I love art deco.
The General (1927)
The first of two featuring Buster Keaton. I think it’s fascinating how they tried to capture his “stone face” in the artwork. I have no clue why they put him in lipstick and mascara.
Safety Last (1923)
Do you see what’s going on in this poster? It actually happens in the movie–Harold Lloyd dangling from the top of a building, inches of his grasp away from hurtling to his doom. If you’re afraid of heights, watch it, but I almost guarantee your palms will sweat.
City Lights (1931)
Why not complete the perfect triumvirate of silent comedians–Keaton, Lloyd, Chaplin?
Any list about silent cinema would be incomplete without this triumph of German Expressionism.
The Fighting Streak (1922)
How about an early Western?
The Scarlet Letter (1926)
Ah, 1920’s sexuality. I think that “A” stands for “boobs” and she’s supposed to be ashamed of them.
A war film:
The Unknown (1927)
This poster features more Lon Chaney, and more sexuality in film. If you’ve seen it, then you know that it’s about a character who pretends that he has no arms because it helps him escape the law for his crimes, while simultaneously lusting after the object of his affections. As you can see, the poster-makers went subtle on the “no arms” angle and went right for the “lusting”. Also, the visual elements make a perfect ‘Z’:
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
What I find fascinating here is that so much is lost in translation. A significant part of what makes this movie so amazing is the extraordinarily expressive face of Maria Falconetti. And yet, you can’t capture that in a drawing.
The Cameraman (1928)
Here’s yet another Buster Keaton film poster. First and foremost, we can see yet again how they’ve opted to accentuate Keaton’s “stone face”. But secondly, I had to include this one because some day in the relatively near future, I’d like to get a tattoo of Keaton, the camera, and the monkey from this poster.
October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928)
Purely from an art standpoint, this may be my favorite.
The Ten Commandments (1923)
And last but not least, here’s a print promoting Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic: