I spend an inordinate amount of time at the theater. Now that I've made you think I'm cultured, I should clarify that I watch a great number of movies at our local Cinemark and Coming Attractions theaters.
In between films — while waiting in line or for friends to return from the restrooms — I stare at the posters for the upcoming features.
A poster for a new movie is supposed to inspire excitement and a need to see that movie. Some do get me excited, inspiring fits of jumping and squealing, but it's usually not because of the poster itself, but from my prior knowledge of the film.
Perhaps I've seen the trailer or heard the director describe the film. When I get excited over the new "Captain America" poster, it's not because the art has inspired me.
The days of the truly inspiring movie poster seem to be all but completely gone. Illustrated posters that capture the essence of a film have been replaced by Photoshopped movie stills that often bore me.
Growing up, the highlight of nearly every Friday night was the trip to the video store to rent that weekend's entertainment. For younger readers out there, a video store was where you rented video tapes before Redbox and Netflix existed. That might have made things more confusing. Video tapes were these big, plastic cassettes that played movies. Actually, ask your mom or dad, I don't want to waste any more time with this explanation.
I would walk up and down those video-store aisles in awe of the box art. When I was very young I mostly stuck to animated features. As I began to approach the double-digit age range, I began to move into the classic genre films of the 1970s and 1980s.
Picking up these films wasn't based on a synopsis or trailer. Occasionally I would hold the box up to my dad and ask, "What about this one?" This was met with either approval or "Maybe when you're older." The main thing that attracted me to these movies was the art on the box.
During my formative years, the main movies I was attracted to — the "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" and "Back to the Future" trilogies — featured art by legendary artist Drew Struzan. Now that I am older and more comfortable in my geek skin, I realize how much Struzan's art directed me to the movies that I point to as some of my favorites.
Those days are almost gone. With video stores nearly extinct, also gone is the joy of discovery that was associated with mining those shelves for cinematic gold. Now, browsing involves a thumbnail poster accompanied by a much larger synopsis.
There is a small amount of resistance from artists and filmmakers who opt for illustrated posters. Those posters just rarely get used because of studio interference.
In a documentary about Struzan, director Guillermo Del Toro tells a story of when he commissioned the artist to create posters for his films "Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy" and "Hellboy 2," only to have the studio decide on a photo poster. By the time "Hellboy 2" rolled around, he knew the studio would do the same thing, but commissioned the poster anyway, essentially buying it for his own personal collection.
Some posters do get through to audiences. The upcoming horror/science fiction film "Almost Human" features a beautiful and horrifying poster that captures the essence of what the movie could be. Seeing that poster was perhaps the first time in years that a poster alone inspired a twinge of excitement about a movie.
For film junkies who wish to adorn their walls with posters for recent movies they loved, but aren't into the "art" that the studios have released, alternative poster houses exist to satisfy that need.
Mondo and Oddcity are a couple of the companies that get licenses to screen print original art that, in my opinion, should have accompanied the movies to begin with. Artists also get the chance to create their own take on posters for the movies they grew up with.
I can't be the only one out there who feels this way. How many out there saw posters for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Masters of the Universe" and said "I need to see that movie?" (To borrow from actor Thomas Jane, how many are still waiting to see the movie they imagined when they saw the poster for the latter?)
Poster releases by the companies I mentioned above sell out in minutes, which shows there are people who clamor for this type of art. Maybe there's something movie fans can do to make Hollywood realize that we can be swayed by decent art; that a good, illustrated poster can get us out to see what may turn out to be a subpar movie.
Maybe it's just me, a sucker for good marketing.
Ian Hand is assistant editor for Tempo and an enormous geek. Follow him on Twitter @IanHand_MT