The best film artwork is *not* coming to a theater near you

Curator's Note

I stopped collecting studio film posters in the mid-'90s.

Growing up primarily in the 1980s, at the time I grabbed as many film posters as possible by simply asking (or begging) theater and video store managers for any leftovers. My favorite artists included Drew Struzan (The Goonies, Police Academy), Richard Amsel (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Max Max Beyond Thunderdome) and William Stout (Rock 'n' Roll High School, Monty Python's Life of Brian). Basically, any posters that were similar in style to National Lampoon and Mad magazines caught my attention, and covered my bedroom walls through my college days.

Then the mid-'90s hit. Aside from a few directors that still seemed to have a say in their promotional campains (see Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton), the studios abruptly switched from crafting stunning pieces of art to using airbrushed, Photoshopped head shots as their poster artwork. It was suddenly more about communicating the stars of the film and less about the stoyline or generating any form of emotion. As an artform, collectible film posters went dormant for nearly two decades.

At around this time I switched aliegence from collecting film art to concert gig posters, and one year at the Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, Illinois), I noticed that a small handful of poster artists began to push back against the studios, once again crafting jaw-dropping hand-drawn pieces. Very quickly, and perhaps for the first time ever in the art world, underground artwork was suddenly more collectible than the official rival artwork. Some alternative film posters surged into the thousands of dollars on the aftermarket.

I brought attention to this movement in two volumes of underground film art books. Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground (volumes I and II) showcased 400 posters and 200 artists from more than 20 countries. The artform is also featured in the upcoming documentary Twenty-Four by Thirty-Six, on which I served as an Exectuive Producer.

Time will tell is the mainstream studios will follow the underground trends, once again using hand-drawn film posters that grab attention and turn heads. In the mean time, venture into this world via the book series, the documentary (coming soon to a theater near you), or by simply researching the topic on-line.

Fifteen years later, collecting film posters is cool again.


Thanks, Matthew. It's great to hear things from the perspective of a collector, and to learn that there's a documentary on the way. It's worrying how few filmmakers seem to have influence over the promotional materials; or, at least, it's a forceful reminder of how seldom art triumphs over commerce in mainstream cinema. On the other hand, it's encouraging that underground artwork suddenly become more collectible, and that the effort and talent of those making the posters didn't go unnoticed purely because they were working independently.

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