Top 20 iconic movie posters

We celebrate the most inspiring and memorable movie posters of all time, plus leading designers explain why they work so well.

An iconic movie poster is one that has been burned onto the public consciousness, something that has become so recognisable that you feel that you’ve always known it. It should spring to mind as soon as you hear the film’s name, be easily described and trigger excitement and intrigue, no matter how many times you see it. The unforgettable movie posters featured here fulfil all these demands, and more.

Here we celebrate the most inspiring examples of the cinematic one-sheet, and ask some leading designers for their own take on why they work so well…

20. Moon

 Moon

One of the most exciting and prolific design studios of recent years, All City Media, was responsible for the original poster for Duncan Jones’ atmospheric SF debut Moon.

According to the London agency’s official notes on the poster:
“The main themes from the film are loneliness, isolation, madness and rebirth. We created an image that explored these themes and stylistically took influences from sixties and seventies sci-fi.”

The one-sheet is a poster laced with lunar clues, from the empty black void to the swirling, vertigo-esque circles forming the moon itself, with the diminutive, slightly cowed form of Sam Rockwell at its centre. Then there’s the actor’s name, typed solitary and understated in the top right-hand corner. Look closely and you’ll see it’s replicating, each new copy fading away…

Designer view:

 Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas, creative director at Huge: “A wonderfully minimal and striking movie poster that beautifully captures the isolation and loneliness one would feel 950,000 miles from home: Sam Rockwell looks pretty bloody miserable! It’s lovely, simple and very graphic while avoiding the usual moony clichés.”

19. Trainspotting

 Trainspotting

When briefed to create the poster campaign for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, designers Mark Blamire and Rob O’Connor were given a still from the Beatles biopic Backbeat to use as inspiration.

They hated it almost as much as PolyGram’s idea for the poster – a group shot of the film’s characters huddled together. Try as they might, they couldn’t get it to work.

Teaser trick

Luckily, PolyGram had already approved the use of individual character posters, a teaser trick that had been used for Reservoir Dogs four years previously.

“Irvine Welsh’s novel was written from the multiple points of views and in the voices of each of the main characters, and we felt it was important to stress the individuality of those personalities,” Rob O’Connor told Creative Review in 2011.

At the time only Robert Carlyle and Ewan MacGregor were well known so it was a risky move, but one that ultimately paid off. “The characters in the story themselves almost seemed more important than the actors playing the roles.”

Departures board

Armed with a series of strong black and white photographs for the individual posters, the design team was able to persuade PolyGram that combining the shots into a grid was the way to go.

“We introduced the device of a train station departures board,” recalls Mark Blamire, “and added the caption ‘this film is expected to arrive 02:96’ to continue the theme of the departure board.”

Designer view:

 Simon Jobling
Simon Jobling

Simon Jobling, web designer and developer: “Arguably, this is one of Britain’s most iconic movie posters of all time. The distinctive style set of the white/orange lower-case Helvetica, under grayscale photography of the main cast, captured the tone of the movie perfectly: dark, moody characters encapsulated in the vibrant, young drugs scene of the nineties. Definitely one of my favourites.”

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