Movie Marketing

Movie Poster Design Has Lapped Itself

There have been so many hot takes about how Hollywood is out of original ideas in the movies being made that the combined inferno could scorch the earth several times over. That’s not anything new, though, the same argument has been made in the press for decades at least, as I can remember reading those kind of op-eds in Entertainment Weekly about The Firm and other book adaptations, which were the predecessor of the comic book adaptation trend. But at least the marketing of these movies still strove for originality, even if certain components contained plenty of call-backs to other things the audience may like and identify with.

Now, though, it seems we’re working toward a world where not even the marketing teams can come up with original ideas. Two recent examples show how completely unrelated movies are looking at the past for poster inspiration for no apparent reason other than it evokes a sense of familiarity and nostalgia.

First was the recent Zac Efron/Robert DeNiro comedy Dirty Grandpa. The first poster for that movie used the format and style of the one-sheet for the classic Dustin Hoffman/Anne Bancroft movie The Graduate. Both show the main character walking into a room to see someone putting something on their leg. On the original it’s a woman pulling up a stocking, on the more recent it’s an old man pulling up an orthopedic sock. The photo placement is the same, the alignment of the title treatment and copy points are the same. It’s the same poster, just with the specifics swapped out.

Second is the recently-released one-sheet for the upcoming bros-in-war comedy War Dogs, which is meant to evoke the classic poster for Scarface that adorns countless college dorm room walls. The former features two characters versus the latter’s one and the title treatment and other details are different, but the overall look and feel here is meant to evoke the favorite poster of everyone who’s appeared on “MTV Cribs.” The two-tone color usage, the way Jonah Hill’s suit bleeds into the white background on that half of the poster and the way he’s holding a gun at his side.

So what might be behind this near-trend – we need one more in the next six months to call it a trend officially – of ripping off classic one-sheet design for new movies?

Well one thing that’s *not* is any sort of thematic connection. It’s not like Dirty Grandpa is also about a young man having an affair with an older woman. And it’s not like War Dogs is about the drug trade. There’s no connective material here, which means it’s just a case of blatantly try and create a false equivalency in the mind of the audience. The designers want to create something that’s not iconic in and of itself but which evokes something iconic to try and draft off the goodwill of what’s come before. There’s not anything new in that approach in the overall marketing world but this does seem to be new to the movie marketing world specifically.

What we haven’t seen yet is this approach pay off. That Graduate-inspired poster didn’t, it seems, help Dirty Grandpa soar at the box-office and I doubt the Scarface-homage is going to help War Dogs, the trailer for which looks like a mess. It may help with awareness since it creates a quick and ephemeral connection in the audience’s mind but that’s about it. There doesn’t seem to be, at least not in these cases, any moving of the needle on intent.

Again, it will be interesting to see if this goes on to become a full-fledged trend. But it’s a bit disheartening to see that not only is Hollywood not concerned about original ideas in the movies but that the marketing creatives are out of original ideas when it comes to selling them.

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