Without a doubt, the most time-honored form of movie marketing is the Theatrical One Sheet Movie Poster. Usually the first public touchpoint for most films released to the public, the “One Sheet” can make or break a film’s perception with the public, as It’s supposed to give off enough of a feel of what the movie is all about to entice in a crowd.
Over the years, movie posters have become iconic images in popular culture like Jaws and Star Wars, both great examples of when a poster delivers on a movie’s potential. There are however, movie poster misses as well. Some have overpromised and underdelivered while others have been downright misleading.
Following the mega success of ID4: Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich next put his unique spin on a worldwide recognized cultural icon and in 1998 delivered Godzilla. Famous for its early teaser trailer which came out over a year before its release, something that had never been done before in the industry, the awareness of the film was amazing and people were expecting something special.
Unfortunately, the film arrived with negative reviews from critics, and it’s hard not to notice that the scale of the monster we were promised in the theatrical poster, fell well short of what we got on the big screen. Godzilla looked nothing like the mammoth creature fans knew and loved and ended up looking more like a slightly bigger T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
At the time of the release of Unknown, Liam Neeson had moved away from the heavy dramas was known for and had established himself as a bankable action star after the success of Taken and The A-Team. Marketers for the film definitely intended to tap into the star’s newly found action status and released a slick theatrical poster for Unknown with Neeson looking intense and holding a gun by his side.
Even though the film is classified as an action thriller, Neeson never actually handles a firearm throughout the entire movie. Fans expecting a shoot-em-up flick were instead treated to a more thrilling film about a man traveling to Berlin who has his identity stolen after losing his memory.
‘Reign of Fire’ (2002)
Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey must survive a post-apocalyptic war zone of a city where dragons have taken over ruling both the earth and sky. Reign of Fire was released in 2002 with a bit of a box office thud and although it eventually found a fanbase over the years, its initial reaction drew the ire of fans who were expecting a bigger spectacle.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the aftermath of a planet overrun by dragons is already set it. Looking at the poster, fans would have been expecting to see epic battles with dragons laying flame to recognizable world landscapes while battling military helicopters. None of that actually happens in the movie and as such, the general movie-going audience shunned it upon release.
‘American Beauty’ (1999)
In 1999 first-time director Sam Mendes burst onto the Hollywood scene with his darkly comic domestic drama American Beauty earning him a Best Director win at the Oscars that year, joining the ranks of only six filmmakers to ever win for their debut feature. Earning five Oscars all up, the film tells the story of a man going through a midlife crisis and the tragic consequences that can unfold when secrets are kept.
A fun fact is fans of the film might assume that the image on the poster, which featured a woman holding a rose over her stomach was of actress Mena Suvari. The truth is, the body was just a double and the hand belonged to Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks, which she recently divulged in an interview.
‘The French Dispatch’ (2020)
2020 brought audiences the comedy The French Dispatch, a film directed and written by indie auteur Wes Anderson. The film was inspired by the stylized and absurdist nature of French New Wave cinema and follows the story of a French newspaper and its staff as they navigate their tumultuous relationships with each other and the world around them.
The film boasts a massive cast including Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Timothee Chalamet, and many more, all of whom feature on the poster, promising quite an ambitious narrative spectacle with characters intertwining throughout. However, the film unfolds like an anthology telling three separate stories all with their own unique cast never having them all interact, which was a real shame considering its potential.
‘Pretty Woman’ (1990)
Pretty Woman made a bona fide star out of Julia Roberts and launched her into the upper echelon of Hollywood. The story of a gold-hearted lady of the night who falls in love with a rich businessman played perfectly by Richard Gere, captured the imagination of the movie-going public and cemented the film as a rewatchable classic thanks to its amazing cast, feel-good narrative, and catchy soundtrack.
Now, the movie poster is instantly recognizable to even the most common movie fan. The bright pink text spelling out the film’s title on the right and our movie stars on the left looking suave and beautiful. Only thing is, that’s not Julia Robert’s body on the poster. The movie marketers superimposed Robert’s face on the body of her actual movie double Shelley Michelle.
‘Lady In The Water’ (2006)
Lady In The Water is a fantasy thriller by M.Night Shyamalan who was coming off the success of The Village. It’s the story of a building superintendent played by Paul Giamatti who discovers a young woman named Story played by Bryce Dallas Howard who happens to be a mystical creature living in the building’s swimming pool and is trying to return to her home, a place called the Blue World.
Looking at the poster, one could easily assume that the film was set in a magical, mythical world filled with wonder. In actuality, the entire film takes place in one location. A run-of-the-mill apartment complex with not one shred of fantasy. The movie was a commercial and critical disappointment and showed the first true dip in the quality of Shyamalan’s work.
The movie explores the early life that shaped Tolkien’s imagination and inspired him to write his iconic fantasy stories, including his childhood in the English countryside, his friendship with a group of fellow writers and artists known as the “Inklings,” and his time-serving in World War I.
Nicholas Hoult stars as J.R.R. Tolkien with a supporting cast featuring Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, and Derek Jacobi. The poster had elements of his narrative from his books, so audiences might have expected to see sequences in the film that were linked to the writings. The film however is a straight standard biopic drama exploring his early life before he even began his work on the novels.
‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ (2011)
Anyone unfamiliar with the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, on which the film We Need To Talk About Kevin is based, would look at the theatrical poster and possibly assume that the film was a comedy about a set of parents who were having an exhaustive time with a rambunctious handful of a child named Kevin. How wrong they would be.
It doesn’t help that sitting next to Tilda Swinton underneath the vibrant red font and balloons, is John C. Reilly who the majority of movie-going fans would recognize from successful comedies like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. In actuality, the film is a brutal and deeply disturbing story about the struggles of motherhood, and how to deal with family when tragedy strikes in the most horrific way.
The film follows the mundane lives of two convenience store clerks, Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), who spend their days working at the Quick Stop and RST Video in New Jersey. Throughout the course of the film, they engage in witty banter, discuss pop culture, love, and philosophy, and deal with a variety of eccentric customers.
Clerks was the first chapter in Kevin Smith‘s View Askewniverse and started the filmmaker down the path of a career that’s still thriving today. The film featured an original poster that had five characters on it with the title sprawled at the bottom, however, only two characters were the actual clerks. We also see writer/director Smith on the poster without his signature Silent Bob cap. Something we never see in the film, as any fan of Jay and Silent Bob knows, he’s ALWAYS in an overcoat and backward cap.