Movie posters help sell tickets, but they’re also an art unto themselves, whether they hint at the plot, highlight the stars or just offer an abstract representation of a key moment in the film. We looked at the best poster for each year of the past century. That meant leaving off of some classics, but offering look through movie-poster history.
1911: Out of the Ashes
This early example of a silent-film poster paints the climax to give audiences something to look forward to.
1912: Richard III
There’s Richard III crying out in front of the carnage; a vivid depiction of Shakespeare’s play.
1913: The Last Days of Pompeii
The history of Pompeii was well known thanks to the rediscovery of the city 200 years before this film came out. All the poster needed was Vesuvius looming in the background to entice moviegoers.
1914: The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
This dramatic Western is one of the first posters to depict such horrific events to the masses.
1915: Les Vampires
Actually a 10-part French film series, the poster asks “who? what? when? where?” to show the confusion about what exactly was terrorizing the characters.
An intruding hand reaches for a terrified woman clutching her baby with a subtitle that reads “the cruel hand of intolerance” hinting at the four plots all based on intolerance.
The story of Cleopatra has been told so many times on film, but this was the first and the basis of so many posters to follow.
1918: Over the Top
The film was all about Sgt. Arthur Guy Empey and the poster focused on selling his name. It’s as simple as the sergeant going over the top.
1919: The Grim Game
Here’s Houdini doing what he does best: escaping. It sells the plot of the movie and sells the image of the escape artist as well.
1920: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Caligari is the ideal German expressionist film, and here’s the only poster that could suit the film’s needs.
1921: The Kid
Chaplain spent a full year (a ridiculous amount of time by 1921’s standards) to craft one of the greatest comedies of all time; it looks like Chaplin knew what he was doing by having the poster proclaim it has six reels of joy.
It was terrifying then and it still is. Even though recent posters use a still from the film, this painting does better justice for the expressionist film.
1923: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
There’s the Hunchback, and there’s Esmeralda. Unlike the Disney remake in the 1990s, this shows Quasimodo as the grotesque figure he’s supposed to be.
1924: The Thief of Bagdad
The film had exceptionally strong special effects, and the poster helps get viewers into the mindset by showing a flying horse over a majestic landscape.
1925: The Gold Rush
There were two great posters for this film. The other shows Chaplin’s character sitting on a mound of snow. Both do a great job of depicting a down-on-his luck character.
1926: Brown of Harvard
MGM cashed in big on the love for football that just hit the country. Here we have two burly players crashing, with everything on the line.
One of the best film posters of all time is still recognizable 85 years later.
1928: The Fleet’s In
So far we’ve seen female leads, but The Fleet’s In puts the actress front and center with nowhere else to look. Plus, look at the red hair!
1929: So This is College
“College is supposed to be fun,” this poster screams. The cartoon is a clever way of expressing how, well, cartoonish college can be.
1930: All Quiet on the Western Front
For a film about war, the poster is rather quiet. It’s just a soldier silently looking out of the black abyss that rages on.
The film claims to be “the nightmare of horror” and the poster delivers the tease. Everyone wants to see the horrific vampire, and here he is ready to suck the blood out of an attractive female.
1932: Blonde Venus
So far female actresses have been rather tame, but not here. This poster shows a seductive lady looking right into the eyes of any man that pass by.
1933: King Kong
There are so many great posters of Kong on top of a building snapping a plane. It’s one of the most iconic moments in film history, and this specific poster shows the magnitude of the beast that was killed by Beauty.
1934: It Happened One Night
There’s the now-iconic poster of the two leads embracing on the moon, but this is the original that promoted the first film to win every major Oscar.
1935: Dante’s Inferno
Hell’s demons are pushing through and ascending onto the city. It’s an adaptation of one of the most famous scenes in the film and done with a very disturbing painting.