Slight spoiler alert; we may be about to ruin every movie poster that you’ve ever seen.
In the modern era of filmmaking, promotion and advertisement of the movie itself is paramount. With millions, even billions of dollars being ploughed into the production, they have to make sure that bums actually hit the seats to watch it.
Without adequate promo, they may as well just set fire to lots of money. Something like this.
We get all the action-packed trailers, the interviews on Graham Norton, but historically, the singular piece of promo that ends up being the most viewed is the movie poster.
As dazzling, as colourful and as a bold as movie posters can be, they all follow a certain set of codes. And those codes were designed to decieve our little eyes, sending us straight to the Odeon ready to spend the equivalent of a small mortgage.
With all good design, whether it be graphics or typography, good examples of the latter are those that the brain sees but doesn’t conciously clock. It conveys something to us that we might not necessarily be aware of, but we register unconsciously.
So what are these subtle prompts that we have so stupidly missed for all this time you say?
The first one is the colour scheme.
Most action movies will use some blue on a black background, with strikes of orange or red to assimilate fire, to prompt the viewer to think there will be plenty of explosions.
What about comedies? Well, red is the colour for them. Pink too aswell (often female cast comedies, not avoiding stereotypes or anything…).
But why red exactly? The idea is simple, and that is when you put red text on top of a white background, your eyes are centered towards two particular things.
The bold text and the characters.
It is quite hard to convey a film is a comedy on a movie poster, and thus drawing the viewer directly to the facial features of the characters helps to point it out immediately! Simples!
Now the old mischievious yellow…what is it’s place in this secret world of codes?
Yellow is the attention grabber, a colour that jumps directly out at you no matter where you are looking. So it’s the little indie films that lean towards this background colour more than any other, for the simple reason they don’t have the enormous budgets of the super funded counterparts, so they must stand out as much possible!
Next time you see a film with a yellow background, have a little look and see if it is an independent.
Using negative space also drags the eye to what the designers wants us to see, as when a picture or piece of text is isolated, it becomes the focal point of the poster.
Another very sly trick some use is essentially just copying! Take Titanic for example, with Jack and Rose’s faces pictured above the doomed boat, looking tragically to the floor. If you saw this poster, went to the film and loved every second of it, then you have a positive mental image of the poster.
So, if a new film of a similar genre or style mimics or mirrors the film poster from the other film, our brains subconsciously like the idea of going to see it. Unbelievable! But, sort of smart really.
Another slightly more obvious trick is the tagline, and there have been some corkers over the years. Take Jaws 2’s, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, or Ridley Scott’s, “In space no-one can hear you scream.” Draw you in, leaving you wanting more. The art of a brilliant tagline.
Designers, film producers and promo guys will spend hours upon hours coming up with an amazing tagline for a film, one to blow away the masses, only to come up with something not worth the paper it with printed on.
Die Hard 2’s team went for Die Harder, and when Dwayne Johnson played the role of the tooth fairy, the tagline team decided to adapt his infamous moniker to “You can’t handle the tooth”.
So now the movie poster world has become crystal clear, what is stopping you from taking on the big dogs? Take their codes and beat them at their own game.