An Indisputable List of the 20 Greatest Movie Posters of All Time

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Our esteemed editor sent me an email last week that included the poster for Kevin Smith's upcoming movie, Tusk. Whatever your opinion of Smith's filmography -- or your views on the potential entertainment value of a horror movie based on a SModcast bullshit session about a mock Gumtree ad -- the poster is pretty outstanding.

But the purpose of this entry is not to debate the merits of the Askewniverse, but to finally, once and for all, provide a definitive listing of the greatest movie posters OF ALL TIME. The only criteria being that I could find jpegs of them online, that the movie in question was in a theater at some point in its existence, and the posters were used for the theatrical release (no Criterion or Mondo editions).

I also tried to limit any given artist to two entries, otherwise this would be nothing but 20 Saul Bass posters.

20. Mean Streets (1973)

Martin Scorsese's first good movie (we will not speak of Boxcar Bertha) was highlighted by this poster which gives us the impression that 1970s New York City might have been kind of a violent place.

19. Excalibur (1981)

Bob Peak's "bleeding" style gave posters for Apocalypse Now and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (among others) their distinctive look.

It was also a nice touch to give him a shot at this more adult take on the Arthurian myth after he created the Camelot poster in 1967.

18. Intolerance (1916)

Four separate stories, three-and-a-half hours, influence stretching across decades and continents, and ... NO DON'T HURT THE BABY!

17. Vertigo (1958)

The first Saul Bass entry on the list is probably his most memorable effort, the poster for what is arguably Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movie (I wouldn't argue that, I still prefer Rear Window). And to think, all he needed was a Spirograph.

16. Jules et Jim (1962)

Christian Broutin created more than 100 movie posters between the years of 1954 and 1966, but none is as memorable as this vibrant piece for François Truffaut's classic. Jeanne Moreau is captured in wondrous fashion that both showcases Broutin's other career as an illustrator of children's books and helps distract viewers from the film's bummer ending.

15. Jaws (1975)

That's some nightmare fuel right there. But look closer and you'll see some significant flaws: those proportions, not to contradict Matt Hooper, aren't nearly correct; the poster version of the shark is more megalodon than carcharias; the teeth are actually mako-like; and no matter how hard you squint, you can't see the girl's boobs.

14. Fargo (1996)

Is this cross-stitch? Needlepoint? Macrame? Is there a difference? I suppose we should be happy they didn't try to "knit purl" the wood chipper scene.

13. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Billy Wilder's classic polemic on term limits (okay, I made that up) was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, losing most of them to All About Eve, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Judy Holliday, who probably won Best Actress because Bette Davis and Anne Baxter split the vote.

Gloria Swanson does look a little ... off here.

12. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

I can't in good conscience recommend this movie. Holly Golightly is a terrible person and for whatever reason struck all the wrong chords with me (though Hepburn's performance can't be faulted). And then there's, you know, that other thing.

But as iconic goes, it's hard to beat Hepburn in that dress with the cigarette holder.

11. The Endless Summer (1966)

John Van Hamersveld was responsible for several album covers (Magical Mystery Tour and Exile on Main Street among them), but it was his fluorescent poster for Bruce Brown's legendary surfing documentary that may be his most influential work, as it was had a huge impact on the poster scene in San Francisco, coincidentally enough, before the Summer of Love.

10. Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960)

AKA. the movie that inspired the song "Eyes Without A Face" by Billy Idol. Now that's a legacy.

Artist Jean Mascii created over 2,000 movie posters for everyone from Terence Malick (Badlands) to, uh, Oliver Hellman (Tentacles). His style recalled the pulp magazines of yore, often lurid and compelling at the same time.

9. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Like I said, I could easily do a list of the 20 best Saul Bass posters, but I'll go with this one for Otto Preminger's visionary groundbreaking drama. Viewers by now were used to seeing the darker side of Jimmy Stewart, but many were taken aback by the film's frank language about sex and violence.

Also, Jimmy Stewart seems like he's in a lot of these movies.

8. Moon (2009)

Not only is Duncan Jones' directorial debut a poignant and (mostly) scientifically accurate throwback to 70s sci-fi flicks like Silent Running, but I really dig the poster, with its strobe effect pattern and the tagline coyly hinting at Sam Rockwell's fate.

And from a purely economic perspective, Lunar Industries was in the right. There I said it.

7. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

As was so often the case with these low-budget 1950s science fiction "epics," the scale of destruction depicted on the poster was rather exaggerated. I think one bar and several cars get destroyed, which is hardly the level of carnage we expect when confronted with a five story woman scorned.

6. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

The terrifying premise of the film is somewhat muted by the fact that -- since "Adrian" would be 45 or 46 by now -- he must be a real slacker as spawns of Satan go. Oh Generation X, even the Prince of Darkness was unable to break through your legendary apathy.

5. My Fair Lady (1964)

This is probably my favorite musical (shut up, lots of guys have favorite musicals), as long as I turn it off before, "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?" Yeesh.

This is the great Bob Peak's second appearance, and also the second appearance of Audrey Hepburn and her cheekbones.

4. The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

"The doctor blew it." The doctor *blew* it? You mean, the same doctor who managed to sew a functioning head onto another body? The doctor who revolutionized both neurosurgery and transplant techniques at the same time? That doctor? Tough room.

That said, this is a really busy poster, with its Blues Brothers style police car pile-up and Milland and Grier's heads switching places in the scene at bottom left.

3. Chinatown (1974)

If there's a one-hit wonder of the movie poster world, Jim Pearsall (not to be confused with this guy) might be it. The poster for Roman Polanski's classic noir tale of betrayal, incest, and water rights ranks among the greatest of all time. Enjoy it, because you'll never see a character smoking a cigarette on a poster for a major studio release again.

2. Metropolis (1927)

The poster for Fritz Lang's mash-up of Biblical epic and technocratic cautionary tale must have been as alien to audiences in 1927 as the movie it advertised. And for all its earnestness and naivete ("The mediator between head and hands must be the heart?"), the observations about the gulf between social classes rings just as true today.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Lewis Milestone's adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's searing anti-war novel is in many ways just as effective now as it was in 1930. It's hard to believe nearly a century has passed since the "War to End All Wars" and we're still sending children off to die and not taking care of the men and women who return.

I'd like to have ended this list on an up note, but this poster, depicting a soldier's face lit by -- flame? The setting sun? -- is still one of the most powerful images in cinema history.

But man, The Thing With Two Heads gave it a run for its money.

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