how many americans does it take to screw up a movie poster?

with a few rare exceptions, the american movie poster shows a decided lack of imagination (dvd covers are even worse). they are almost exclusively based around selling the celebrities in the film with little room for any artistic interpretation. when there are no stars in the cast you have a slight chance of someone coming up with a bit of imagery that, given time and good fortune, could become iconic but almost all of the good examples of that come from the genre ghetto. large studios/major films seldom take that sort of risk. when you compare the quality and imagination of american graphic design in this field to the work of their counterparts in poland over the last sixty years they absolutely destroy us. their poster work is rife with the poetic, grotesque and surreal. when you aren't bound to selling pretty faces (hell, some aren't even bound to selling the content of the film) then whole new vistas open up before you.

some examples:

innerspace (1987) - there is simply no comparison. although, there is something to be said here for truth in advertising. i would actually go to see this based on the polish poster. then i would have to ask for my money back.

eyes wide shut (1999) - which one of these puts you more in mind of a peculiar odyssey where hidden dangers lurk and nothing is as it seems? i thought so.

someone to watch over me (1987) - who could forget the sizzling chemistry of mimi rogers and tom berenger? they're the bogart and bacall of 1987. i know you're thinking "wait a minute! what about goldie hawn and kurt russell in overboard?!" but that's much more of a bogie/hepburn vibe. forget it, it's better to just have a head full of crows.

apocalypse now (1979) - on the odd occasion that one of the performers is featured on the poster the polish versions are still superior. this depiction of brando is appropriately terrifying and mad. while this american version isn't a particularly bad poster (no superstars clogging it up, the hint of the horror of the unknown before you) it is still nowhere as compelling as its polish counterpart.

trading places (1983) - this is just madness. i know which one i am buying a ticket to, without a doubt.

and this is just a miniscule sampling of the majesty and lunacy you will find. there is a beautiful gallery of wiktor sadowski's work here and a nice archive with dozens of posters from several artists here. my favorite, though, is andrzej pagowski whose work you can view here.

chodźmy do kina!


  1. Wow, that "Trading Places" poster is really something else! These Polish posters are amazing works of art in their own right, with or without the movie. The American versions are downright embarassing!
    Great post.

  2. Seriously amazing, this makes me want to go find a source to buy some of these Polish posters to hang on my wall.

  3. I now feel familiar enough with your blog to comment-- great work here, Cole. I was wondering how you would decide to share your insights with more than just a lucky group of close friends. Graci!