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Best Posters of Best Pictures?

I visit the IMP Awards pretty often since it's such a great source for movie posters, and because they get posters from different markets, not just the typically lesser American ones.

At the moment they have voting open for you to choose the best movie posters from all 83 Oscar winners. I'm telling you about this because West Side Story (1961) is not in their top ten at this current voting tally and that is yo-yo, schoolboy... KRUP YOU, voters!* You'd think that this would be the one type of voting where the most recent movies wouldn't automatically win from familiarity because it's a visual marketing opinion, not a "which movie is your favorite?" question.

The famous poster conveys two things that you'd think wouldn't go together. It gives us the gritty edge of inner city stories and the transcendent power of the musical genre and it manages both in perfect harmony. It's just Reason #100,721,009 that Saul Bass was a buggin' ever lovin'* genius. I have the West Side Story poster framed on my wall right next to the All About My Mother poster as they're maybe my two favorite posters of all time.

Go vote... and tell us what you selected in the comments.

*Creative profanity courtesy of the immortal West Side Story, the 50th anniversary of which we'll celebrate this coming October.

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Reader Comments (34)

Went and voted - and yes, included WSS, not JUST because you mentioned it but yes, it is brilliant graphic design. I really wish I could have gone ten wide on this one (Gigi or - All About Eve? The Godfather? Choices, choices.) I chose :

All Quite on the Western Front
Silence of the Lambs
Gigi (Could have gone with All About Eve, but the fact that I remembered Gigi more than AAE's poster must say something)
West Side Story
Ordinary People (I forgot until about two minutes ago that I have seen the film - in high school, so it was a while ago. So apparently the movie didn't stick in my brain so well but the poster gets me every time I see it; so achingly lonely. Bare space gets overused in posters nowadays - which I prefer to overly cluttered posters, honestly - but this one uses it to quietly stunning effect.)

One of the things that surprised me, actually, was how bad many of the choices were. I tend to prefer fairly clean graphics when it comes to movie posters, and so many are sub-par during the "golden age of Hollywood".

Another thing that surprised me was that, of the current top ten, I had picked one (Silence of the Lambs. I haven't seen the movie btw, except in clips, so I can honestly claim it's not a fan-dom thing; it's just great poster art); and several would have been either my "alternates" (American Beauty, No Country for Old Men, Schindler's List) or I understood why other people would pick them EXCEPT for "LOTR Return of the King". That has to be a "fan" pick for the movie rather than the poster, because the visuals on that one are a MESS. You'd think a movie trilogy as iconic as that has become could inspire better poster art than that.

I also noticed - not much color in the Top Ten picks (with the exception of American Beauty), mostly lots of neutrals. (Maybe we're a depressed culture?)

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Man, older posters sure used to be messy.

I voted for...

01. The Silence of the Lambs
Just a classic, classic poster; creeps you out and makes you question

02. West Side Story

03. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jack's big smile, looking up and the text takes up nearly 3/5 of the poster...but it works, and gives you a complete characterization of Murphy

04. Amadeus
Just epic, and terrifying

05. American Beauty
Lust. Provocative. Sexy.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam C.

Sam -- i chose silence and amadeus as well. I still remember the first time i saw that AMADEUS poster. It just seems to epic and IMPORTANT. Maybe that was my first inkling that big prestige movies were for me ;)

Janice -- it is weird to note that posters weren't that great early on (messy messy) and then they got terrible again (today's crudely photoshopped and fucked up spatial relations -- that LORD OF THE RINGS poster is hideous). But from the late 40s through the 70s man there were some good posters. and i mean that more in general than in what's exhibited here.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

west side story is in the top ten now

i chose -

west side story
all about eve
all quiet on the western front
in the heat of the night
tom jones (hadn't seen this one before - love it)

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

par -- i know. i loved the tom jones poster too. i'd also never seen it. it's so funny and it does capture the horny comedy of the movie well.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I chose Amadeus, The English Patient, American Beauty, Chariots of Fire, and In the Heat of the Night. I tried to vote purely based on aesthetics.

To me, Amadeus is the clear and obvious winner.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDylan

I love the poster for The French Connection because they have the nerve to choose that frame. It's your hero, shooting an unarmed man in the back.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

The Hurt Locker
American Beauty
The English Patient
The Silence of the Lambs
All About Eve
All Quiet on the Western Front

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

The top ten they have currently is.. weak. My vote went to All About Eve, An American in Paris, Gone with the Wind, The Apartment, Annie Hall. Tom Jones is a great one too.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

My final five was Amadeus, The Hurt Locker, American Beauty, The Silence of the Lambs, All Quiet on the Western Front.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Haha, seeing them side by side makes you realize how simlilar the Rocky and Annie Hall posters are. Both films also have wonderful taglines:

'His whole life was a million-to-one shot.'
'A nervous romance.'

A good tagline can really make or break a poster IMO. Titanic has the most hilariously awful one. 'Nothing on Earth could come between them.' Except, um, the damn iceberg?!

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRax

Oh, forgot to say which I went for!

American Beauty
The Silence of the Lambs
Ben Hur
My Fair Lady
Ordinary People

I chose Ben Hur because I really dig posters that give you an idea of what kind of film you're going to watch (unlike, for example Shakespeare in Love's, which is way too serious and stodgy for the film).. and Ben Hur's poster really says: 'An epic of epic epicness' like no other.

Another one I like for that reason is Driving Miss Daisy, because you know you're gonna be in for 'classy Oscar-bait to make you feel all fuzzy inside', if that's your thing.

Ordinary People's poster really surprised me... the black background with the small image at the bottom... there's something familar, yet unsettling and discomforting about it - and again, the tagline really sells it.

that was a great link. I wish more films had good posters. And taglines.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRax

Nathaniel - I could have easily have gone only with posters from exactly that time range (40's - 70's) and in fact I did except for All Quiet and Silence of the Lambs. I'm glad to see other All Quiet fans here, and it only occurs to me just now that symbolically you can draw a straight line from one to the other - the lone face emerging from the darkness. Each film about very different types of horror, if you will.

If I could have voted for 10, it would have been stacked with ones from that time period you mention. Like you say, it's not hard to think of iconic ones from that period. (Although there are some awful ones from the early 1970's, mostly studio pictures, using illustration art that looks like something from Mad Magazine, with lots of big heads on small bodies - Soylent Green, etc.)

Dylan - Heat of the Night nearly made my top five; definitely would have been in my top ten. Although I've seen less impressive posters for that film, and like many here I've never seen that one for Tom Jones. It's obvious that some are actually original release posters and others not - the one for Oliver is actually post-Oscars. (How hard could it have been to find that one?)

How mind-blowing would it have been to have posters of ALL the best-picture nominees to peruse and vote on?

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

No one will ever compare to Saul Bass. Ever.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlexa

I think it's difficult to feature the actors in the poster, and still make it something more than just portraiture. Only a few succeed. For me, the most memorable posters are the ones with an image that is evocative and rings true to the content of the film.

My picks are:
American Beauty
Tom Jones
West Side Story

If I had five more slots I would have included Silence of the Lambs, Schindler's List, Ordinary People, The Hurt Locker and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMysjkin

Just voted. Loved the Tom Jones poster.

#1 for me would also be The Silence of the Lambs. It's definitely the most iconic movie poster of the last 30 years, and maybe all-time.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Silence of the Lambs
West Side Story
All About Eve
In the Heat of the Night

Most of these posters were pretty drab, I thought... best picture does not a best poster make. I considered a few others: the stark American Beauty, the iconic but simple Titanic poster, Shakespeare in Love, which was a favorite design of my teenage years (love the color scheme), and some of those "pretty" but not "great" floating head illustrations like ROTK and especially My Fair Lady. I didn't notice the Tom Jones poster when voting, but it's pretty neat. Ordinary People is interesting also.

I'm surprised In the Heat of the Night isn't getting more play. It seems really interesting, bold, and thematically attuned to me. Glad West Side is in the top ten.

But Silence of the Lambs is the clear winner of the last 30 years or so. Totally iconic image.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Keller

Oh, and I voted for

All About Eve
American Beauty
The Silence of the Lambs
Tom Jones

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

My five (in order):
The Godfather
Ben Hur
American Beauty

First, I narrowed down the field to about 25 by thinking about which poster images I associate with the film. For example, whenever I think of American Beauty (which I hated), I think of that movie poster and the rose scene (which I love). Out of those 25, I tried to pick ones that were daring (The Godfather's puppet-master symbol is brave and iconic) and then which were the best representation of the movie (Rax is right: Ben Hur's poster, while cluttered, describes that film PERFECTLY).

Amadeus doesn't fit this criteria exactly, but it's one of my favorites of all time and one of only two that I own (the other is Shakespeare in Love solely because of Joseph Fiennes... ha. Otherwise, it's forgettable).

My honorable mentions go to: Chariots of Fire (the only scene anyone thinks of when thinking of that film), The Sound of Music (so merry!), Chicago (Bill Condon's aesthetic on a poster), Forrest Gump (iconic movie image), and All Quiet on the Western Front (simple in a time where all the other posters are messes; there should totally be a "Distant Relatives" entry on All Quiet and The Hurt Locker).

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Sorry- forgot some things:

-My friend points out that the Godfather's poster design was used on the book originally. That's cheating a bit, I guess, but you have to give them the benefit of sticking with what works.

-The same friend pointed Gone with the Wind's re-release poster is much more widely known and much more iconic than the one given on IMP. It probably wasn't eligible.

-Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola looks like Alec Baldwin on that poster. I've seen that poster numerous times and only just realized this.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

You know how sometimes kids get obsessed with a movie, and watch it over and over and over again, yeah that's my 4 year old niece with West Side Story, that's why I sort of have a physical reaction to anything WSS related, very A Clockwork Orange, but she could be obsessed with worse movies I guess.

Anyways I did vote, picked WSS, the hurt locker, schindler's list, Amadeus and Silence of the Lambs, the Amadeus one is probably my favorite, so epic.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfrancisco

I went with Slumdog Millionaire, In the Heat of the Night (a poster I'd never seen), All About Eve, All Quiet on the Western Front... and then The Departed, which I immediately regretted putting before My Fair Lady. The Silence of the Lambs has a cool poster as well, but I don't think it's as interesting as this group.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

"American Beauty": By far my favorite. I hate that movie with a passion, but the poster is incredibly striking.

"All Quiet": Fantastic. You can probably count the good instances of "floating heads" on posters on one hand, but this is one of them.

"Ordinary People": I get an emotional reaction just looking at it.

"Silence of the Lambs": Iconic.

"Midnight Cowboy": I love a good black and white poster.

Comments: The "Return of the King" poster is butt ugly. We're voting for the poster, people, not the movie. And I would like the "Hurt Locker" poster a lot more if it didn't spoil a shocking key scene from the movie. Not cool.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

So now WSS is in the top ten? See, Nathaniel, you do have the power to change the world! :)

Evan, I love your analysis and how you selected; I wish I'd been a bit more analytical.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Based on the choices they gave me...American Beauty, Silence of the Lambs, Amadeus, Gigi, All About Eve.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

Thanks, Janice. I like your choices, Andrew!

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

My picks:

My Fair Lady
West Side Story
All Quiet On The Western Front

Other posters taken into consideration:

The King's Speech
The Hurt Locker
Schindler's List
The Silence Of The Lambs
Godfather 2
Midnight Cowboy
Tom Jones
All About Eve

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDimitra

01. "The Silence of the Lambs" (best. poster. ever.)

02. "American Beauty"

03. "West Side Story"

04. "The English Patient"

05. "Chicago"

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

ooh, what fun! My top 3:

1) All Quiet on the Western Front.
I find it arresting, but also a little bit creepy. Like it's saying, you don't know me, but open this Pandora's box, and you will see suffering and misery that will damage you forever, you naive little twit.

2) In the Heat of the Night
Great tag line, really effective in combination with the visuals - it makes you want to see the movie. You know there will be a good sharp narrative in the film, but also something more thoughtful. A tag line they also used at the time was "They're going to pin something on that smart cop from Philadelphia...maybe a medal...maybe a murder!"

3) All About Eve
Another one that makes me want to run right out and see the movie. To me, it says, this womens' movie is witty, clever, stylish, and fun. What a glorious rare combo.

For the rest, I couldn't really decide. I love movies, so I probably like too much.

I like the "perfect moment" posters, Chariots of Fire, The French Connection, The Hurt Locker, Midnight Cowboy. Or the "just right image", Gigi, West Side Story, Ordinary People, Shindler's List.

But I also like "pretty" ones. Forgive me. I love the Art Deco look of Wings, and the other painterly hand drawn posters, like My Fair Lady, the Sound of Music, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, The Sting - although I think they are more effective if you already know and like the movie. I hadn't seen Tom Jones before, but I loved that one. Wasn't it considered too risque when it came out? What a clever way to get the amusing sexual escapade of it across without using any "lewd" photos or even color?

And I have nostalgia for the kind that are terrible design like Casablanca, with the montage of photos. Lots of photos were my absolutely favorite kind as a kid. I wasn't allowed to see any adult movies, so I had to use the photos to create my own narrative of what the movie was about. So the more photos, the better.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

"And I have nostalgia for the kind that are terrible design like Casablanca, with the montage of photos. Lots of photos were my absolutely favorite kind as a kid. I wasn't allowed to see any adult movies, so I had to use the photos to create my own narrative of what the movie was about. So the more photos, the better."
I HEART THIS SO MUCH. that is the sweetest. I'm so glad the internet brings likeminded people (especially movie lovers) together.

March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I went with:

American Beauty
West Side Story
Schindler's List
All About Eve
The Silence of the Lambs

I have the West Side Story poster on my wall too! Thankfully, unlike many of my posters (including poor James Dean), it's yet to curl off and fall to the floor.

I'm appalled All About Eve isn't in the top ten (especially when Lord of the Rings and Forrest Gump are - one of THE classic posters, surely? Very witty take on the movie and the colours are so eye-catching. Perhaps I'm just overenthusiastic because it was on my calendar last year so I'd wake up to it for a month.

I can see why The King's Speech is getting votes - the framing of the shot is thematically and aesthetically applaudable - but that yellow is just so ugly.

(Must confess my love for the Crash poster, though. The hues are beautiful.)

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Amadeus. A no-brainer. Impressive and haunting. You can hear the music just by looking at it.

My Fair Lady, because I love all things My Fair Lady. This poster is so preeeeetty!

Tom Jones brings the funny with very little, remaining a class act while being naughty.

All Quiet on the Western Front, for leaving me breathless. I haven't even seen that movie, but I know exactly what to expect when I look at that poster. Scary.

And, yes, The King's Speech. First modern poster in a while that I stop to stare at.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

I always thought the WSS story poster just copied from the Broadway book? Is that not the case?

I chose Silence of the Lambs, Amadeus, In the Heat of the Night, Ordinary People and All About Eve's bouncing arrows.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

In chronological order, I picked:

All Quiet on the Western Front (interesting how many people here picked that one)
West Side Story
The Sting
American Beauty

Others I seriously considered:

Ben Hur
Tom Jones
The Sound of Music
Out of Africa
The Last Emperor
Driving Miss Daisy
Schindler's List (bumped this one to make room for "Western Front")
Forrest Gump
Slumdog Millionaire

I, too, have a nostalgic fondness for older movie posters (pre-1950) but mostly found myself responding to the relative simplicity of later ones.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob T.
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