Film Art

Collectable movie posters

Some tease. Some entice us to go to a theater. Some even end up on our walls, at a price. Cinemalicious recently learned that certain film posters can eventually become more valuable than the films they promote…

Often the most indelible and iconic images in cinema history have come from the film’s poster as opposed to an actual onscreen scene. Take Jaws for instance, in which the picture of a shark about to attack a swimmer is more iconic than the film itself. Silence of the Lambs is another example, where a now iconic image of a moth over Jodie Foster’s mouth is forever etched in many a film buff’s memory. In the case of a great film it can be the fine artistic icing on a cake. More so than trailers or cast interviews, film posters are the most crucial way to raise interest in a film. And that’s exactly what a good piece of art should do.


"Film posters have been used to promote films since the very early days of the industry," says Curtis Bellman, owner of Kino Clicks. "The first major film poster produced was for the 1915 film The Birth Of A Nation." Widely credited as being the first Hollywood blockbuster, that film helped pave the way for feature length films. As the film industry grew, more and more effort was put into the design and concept of film posters – effectively turning them into art.

The History

Originally, film posters were produced for the exclusive use of theaters that were showing the films. A group called the National Screen Service would then distribute them for promotional purposes at the cinema. Once the theatrical run was done, the posters had to be returned to the NSS to be locked up in a warehouse. Because the posters weren’t made available to the public, only industry insiders such like studio employees or cinema managers could obtain the posters for collecting purposes. They were also obtained illegally; posters were often peeled off walls or stolen from cinemas.

Eventually during the eighties, studios realized they were missing out on potential revenue; hence the decision was made to reproduce film posters and sell them. Thus, the hobby of collecting film posters went mainstream. Shortly after, the hobby was taken to another level when the NSS disbanded due to the studio’s decision to distribute promotional materials on their own. "Once they closed down, all the posters were sold off to collectors who were buying in bulk," says Bellman. "That gave us supply. Demand popped up immediately."

As buyers soon learned, not all film posters were created equal. Obviously, the age and rarity of a poster is a major factor, After all, no one would expect a mass produced I Am Legend poster (starring Will Smith) from 2007 to be worth as much as The Omega Man poster (starring Charlton Heston) produced in limited quantities bock in the 70s before the hobby existed. But there are other interesting factors as well. "Posters that were pulled by the studios and replaced with a revised version are extremely valuable because those are usually very rare," claims Bellman.

The best example would be the poster for the third installment of Star Wars. "The studios originally titled the film Revenge of the Jedi" Bellman continues. But Star Wars geeks started complaining that Jedis don’t seek revenge." So the title was changed to Return of the Jedi – but not before advanced posters were already printed. The Revenge posters are now worth over US$700.

Posters that are recalled due to bad timing also quickly gain in value. For example, the original advance posters of Spider-Man featured an image of the World Trade Center (which was reflected off Spidey’s eye). But nobody expected what would happen on 9/11. In the wake of that tragedy, the posters were immediately pulled.

To date, the most valuable film poster in the world is a nine foot high panel poster of the 1927 sci-fi movie Metropolis. Only four copies are known to exist and two of them are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Berlin Film Museum, respectively. Another one was sold in 2005 for a record US$690,000. One is still out there and unaccounted for.

Locally, Bellman describes the poster collecting scene as "tiny" compared to the States. "There are not that many serious collectors in Asia," says Bellman. "The rest of my customers are usually guys in their 20s and 30s looking to hang a poster in their office." Bellman attributes the lack of space as one of the reasons why there aren’t more serious collectors.

"It’s harder to hang posters when there’s not enough space in your flat," he explains. "There’s no point in buying film posters if you’re not going to hang them." After all, most collectors in the end are just film buffs. "Very few buy posters for investment purposes. In the end, everyone buys because they love films."

That said, the most valuable poster in the storeis a poster of the 1947 film Lady From Shanghai, which sells for $1,500. But with Bellman constantly sourcing from dealers and collectors all around the world to bring in new posters, it’s hard to single out one poster as ‘The most valuable’, "I have a Thunderball poster that sells for around $1,500 as well," he adds. "And I had a very rare advanced hologram poster of The Matrix Reloaded that was sold recently."

Check out our collection of 1990s movie posters!

The End of An Era…

Just as the digital age has put a huge dent in the music industry over the last decade and seems destined to kill off CDs in the next few years, Bellman thinks the same fate awaits film posters. "In a few years we will not have film posters any longer," Bellman says bluntly, almost as if he has already accepted the idea.

"What will happen is an artist will design a digital image of a poster, and instead of physically mailing the poster to the cinema, they will just upload it digitally for the cinema to display on an LCD billboard. Film advertising will soon become a virtual advertising medium, and movie posters will no longer be necessary."

What? No more film posters? It’s an idea that seems implausible, considering there will always be fans looking to hang the next Batman, or film idol like Johnny Depp on their wall. But Bellman is quick to clear up the misconception. There will be film posters available to the public, he claims, whether they are sold at HMV or come free with a movie magazine. However, those will be reproduced posters, and to serious collectors, they are worthless. "Collectors collect original theatrical posters, and those will no longer be made in a few years."

Reissues Vs Reproductions

Reissues and Reproductions are the two dreaded ‘R’ words for collectors, as both have significantly less value than originals. But don’t get them confused. There’s still a major difference between the two.

Reissues are in fact original film posters that have been re-released at a later time, whether due to a second theatrical run for a film or a film that is getting wider distribution. Reproductions are photographic copies of the original posters and have no collectible value. Beginning collectors will be able to spot reissues by looking for an ‘R" before the date in the small print of the poster.

Interesting Fakes…

Knowledgeable dealers are able to spot fake/reproduced posters easily. One way to check is to see if the fine print is in focus. Yet, as David Bellman explains, there are other ways to tell as well… "There are a lot of fake Pulp Fiction posters around, and one way to tell is to look at Uma Thurman’s chest. For some reason, all reproduced posters have tiny white spots on her chest."

"You can also spot a thin black line on Luke Skywalker’s belt buckle in the fake Star Wars posters. It’s probably because when they photographed the poster on the negative, a hair fell on the poster."

Did You Know?

Many original film posters are double sided – they’re printed with a reverse mirror image on the back. The reasoning behind that is to improve the color quality of the poster when on display in a light box at cinemas. If a poster has on all white backing, the light shining through would dim the colors on the other side.