Thursday, September 24, 2009

Poster Trends: Attack of the Floating Heads

Since my last post got me thinking of movie marketing, I've decided to do a series of entries that will point out and analyze different trends in movie poster design. I'll go ahead and get my least favorite poster design out of the way so I don't keep putting it off.

The dreaded Floating Heads style is easily the most commonly seen movie poster design there is, because Hollywood pays big bucks to its stars and they need to make sure they use that star power to the fullest. As a result, we have to deal with looking at arguably the ugliest, least imaginative posters around.

The intentions behind this design are simple: recognizable faces sell movie tickets. If you were a Tom Cruise fan or a Will Smith fan and had no idea what movies they were in at the time, one look at the poster would be enough to bring you in. These designs perfectly embody the business end of filmmaking. The movies are a product that needs to be sold and these faces help sell it. As you can see from the choices above, Floating Heads are always accompanied by some tiny representation of the story. A tiny silhouette or a landscape or an object. Other than that, any sort of message or impressive design sense takes a back seat.

That said, despite the constraints of this design, there can be many variations. I call this the Totem Pole variation:

Much like a totem pole, these heads are stacked from top to bottom. The order they're placed in always represents some sort of hierarchy. The biggest is either the most important character or the most expensive or popular actor in the film. This design is most commonly used for epic adventure films, which makes me think it's a throwback to the old painted designs for similar films of old:

However, back then the fact that it was handmade at least lent a sense of artistry to the piece. Now, the figures are just plastered onto the image in Photoshop, resulting in an extremely shoddy fade out around the edges of the figures. This is actually what irks me most about the Floating Heads:

It looks so rushed. And cheap.


  1. The first "Cassandra's Dream" poster has kind of an "Inside Man"-thing going on, Still annoys the piss out of me - that and the second one:

    And I know I've harped on the "Melinda and Melinda" thing a lot to you, but here's direct access to what I'm talking about. First is the official movie poster, sadly followed by what I currently have on my DVD shelf:

    It always bugged me that Luke's lightsaber was blue in all of the "Return of the Jedi" posters. Guess they were trying to keep it a surprise when he reveals the green one (previously unseen in any SW flick) out of nowhere in the thick of the action (an undeniably cool moment, actually - maybe I agree with the marketing decision after all).

  2. It is weird how, for the most part, an adventurous or interesting poster design is almost always replaced by a Floating Head or WORSE for the DVD. I guess they think people won't notice a strong design when it's smaller than a poster, so, Floating Heads it is.

    Re: Lightsabers: It's crazy how badass the color green can be. It's like "Blue: yeah, pretty cool," "Green: BADASS." What happened there? haha