Looking for movie poster inspiration? This new area on the website of the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas at Austin has you covered.
The university is scanning its collection of 10,000 movie posters from the 1920s to the 1970s, and putting them online in an archive. You can download high-resolution versions of the posters at around 1,900- to 2,000-pixels wide, though be careful before using them in commercial work. The university is making no claims about the copyright for the posters, saying that “this material is made available for education and research purposes. The Harry Ransom Center does not own the rights for this item; it cannot grant or deny permission to use this material.”
You can search the archive by film, collection or year – though a lot of the posters are missing this last detail.
Fans of well designed and illustrated posters may be a little disappointed. While there are some wonderful examples of poster art such as this beautifully simple poster for 1973’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, much of the collection is much more mundane. The collection is useful more for research into the tropes, conventions and clichés; if you want to create a poster design with an authentic feel of the late 60s, check out what 1968 has to offer.
The designs are often on the same level as the films they’re promoting – which span bog standard action flicks, mainstream musicals, blaxploitation films, horror and what appears to basically be porn and as well as arthouse classics. The posters are by turn artistic, crude, bland, bizarre, inventive and inspiring.
Of course, that’s not something that’s different these days, 2018 modern posters can be just as conceptually weak or strong – it’s just that we have Photoshop now. But there has been a growing return to hand-painted movie posters – though usually digitally painted rather than with airbrush.
What’s different to now (hopefully) is the misogyny on show.
And it’s not just the sleazy films that are shocking to modern eyes. This poster for the 1953 film version of the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate has similar issues in its presentation of women to the Shakespeare play at the centre of the film (The Taming of the Shrew).
This is much better.
The full archive is at hrc.contentdm.oclc.org.