Design Trends Used In Action Movie Posters from 1960-2010

Movie posters are one of my favourite sources of inspiration, and I love to look at how they have developed over the decades. In this post, we will be looking at how the designs of action movie posters have changed since the 1960′s. You’ll find one poster per year so we can closely monitor the changes, and a small selection of current trends that we’re going to be seeing over the next year (2010) or so.

Action movie posters in general are typically very interesting – captured images of fight scenes, guns, explosions and of course the odd flash of naked flesh are all things that express action films well. The design of a movie poster is commonly underestimated – even with the internet and social media sites, posters are still one of the most effective ways of advertising a new blockbuster film, whether they be up high in the sky on billboards, at bus stops or in the form of canvas prints on the wall of your favourite bar.

The 1960′s

The 60′s saw lots of washed-out colors and off-whites, which is actually inspiring thousands of graphic and web designers in this modern tech world. With hundreds of high-quality textures available on the net, ‘vintage’ effects like the ones seen in these posters can easily be recreated.

There is a lack of photography in the posters from the 60′s for obvious reasons – but paint and various printing techniques were so good that, to us modern day designers, it’s incredibly inspiring.

The Alamo (1960)

The Frightened City (1961)

Hatari! (1962)

The Great Escape (1963)

007: Goldfinger (1964)

007: Thunderball (1965)

The Wild Angels (1966)

A Fistful of Dollars (1967)

A Dandy in Aspic (1968)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The 1970′s

Painted posters were still a big thing in the 70′s, although we do a see several more photos being used in ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘Rocky’ as technology progresses. Bordered posters, especially thick, off-white ones, were still be used regularly in the 70′s, a trend that had been used for decades already.

The use of white space is also something that was developed and put into practice in the 70′s, which is still a huge aspect of design to-date.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

The Big Doll House (1971)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Papillon (1973)

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Hard Times (1975)

Rocky (1976)

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Superman (1978)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The 1980′s

The 80′s seemed to see several hit sci-fi action movies, bring along with them plenty of awesome effects which, at the time, were very futuristic. In fact, a couple of the sci-fi action posters such as ‘Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Aliens’ saw effects being used that still feel relatively modern almost thirty years later.

Three-dimensional and stroked typography (titles) is also something that the world saw more of in the 80′s as the digital world started to come to life.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Bladerunner (1982)

007: Octopussy (1983)

The Terminator (1984)

Ran (1985)

Aliens (1986)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Die Hard (1988)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The 1990′s

The 90′s was the, to most of us, the beginning of digital technology. Although computers and digital editing software was previously available, it was incredibly expensive and most people wouldn’t even know where to start. Because of this, the 90′s saw some terribly designed movie posters, especially from the very low-budget films. The selection of 90′s action hits below, however, had a slightly larger budget than most and therefore a better range of posters. I especially like the ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Matrix’ posters.

Die Hard 2 (1990)

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Alien 3 (1992)

The Fugitive (1993)

Speed (1994)

Braveheart (1995)

Independence Day (1996)

Air Force One (1997)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Matrix (1999)

The 2000′s

The millennium. The future. The birth of affordable yet brilliant digital technology. The year kick-started with a great grungy-style poster from the ‘Gladiator’ movie. The joys of photography and realistic photo-manipulation skills brought us some incredible posters, some of my personal favorites being ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. All of these posters are easily reconizable, achieving exactly what a poster is set out to do – promote.

Gladiator (2000)

Rush Hour 2 (2001)

Spiderman (2002)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Sin City (2005)

300 (2006)

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Avatar (2009)

2010: Current Trends

Ten years on from the millennium and maybe we’re pushing it a bit and relying far too much on the likes of Adobe Photoshop. Although the composition of the posters are good, as can be seen from the posters ‘The Bounty Hunter’ and ‘Takers’, manipulation skills, especially those used on the heads of characters, are quite obviously faked. In ‘Takers’, some of the actors heads are clearly oversized.

Surely setting up a studio to take professional photographs doesn’t cost too much more than getting professional editors to manipulate them, especially when a scene is actually more than possible? Manipulation as severe as this is fine if you expect a dragon to have a human head whilst flying through bursts of flames, but they’re not! Let’s hope these ‘trends’ or rather ‘faults’ don’t stick around too long!

The Book of Eli (2010)

Legion (2010)

From Paris With Love (2010)

The Bounty Hunter (2010)

Takers (2010)

(Source: IMP Awards)

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14 thoughts on “Design Trends Used In Action Movie Posters from 1960-2010

  1. Callum Chapman Post author

    @Rosti: Haha, nope neither of them ;) When choosing the movies I was going to use, I did a lot of research into the best rated action movies since the 60′s, and which movies made the most money. Steven Seagal or Van Damme didn’t make any of those lists, at least from my research ;)

  2. JC

    I have always loved movie poster design and would love to break into it some day. There are some great (and horrid-Takers anyone?) posters here. Thanks for the inspiration and the break down. Great work!

  3. Guerilla Grafix

    I like those drawn/painted Indiana Jones posters. The detail is crazy and they have a very strong presence.

    *I didn’t get what was wrong with the Bounty Hunter poster…?

    Appreciate the post.

  4. tejas

    Callum, I am a great fan of movie posters as well. One things that goes quiet unnoticed with the design of my gallery Footerama is the subtle noir poster look of the site.

  5. Pingback: Blood And Guts - Vampire and Zombie Movie Poster Inspiration | Spyre Studios

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