How to Design a Great Movie Poster

How to Design a Great Movie Poster

December 28, 2021

What does it take to design a truly iconic movie poster? Let us look at great movie poster designers of the past for some inspiration. What made posters designed by Saul Bass, Reynold Brown, or Anselmo Ballester unique and how did their poster designs stand out? 

Poster and cover designs are arguably one of the most important elements in the distribution of a movie. A good poster can not only help sell more tickets, but also helps with marketing and general media presence, helping to give a movie exposure outside of the cinema. 

Movie posters are essentially a combination of art and design. Think of great movie posters like a puzzle: each piece ignites a certain feeling. The hero is the center of attention so they need to deliver a clear main message. The tagline needs to somehow relate to the film, yet at the same time stand out from everything else at eye level.

Also a great movie poster is not limited to just a visual – it also relays to its audience what the film is about. So how does one go about making something that has such little space to portray information and still manage to grab people’s attention?

Make sure the Title Stands Out
Make the title BIG. Your poster design should convey the title and genre in a glance. Don’t use fonts or colours that stop the title from popping out, make it readable in a glance. This is because viewers will usually make a judgment about your poster within seconds of spotting it. So you have to make sure that they are aware of what they are looking for, by making the title obvious. By making your title state out you increase the chances that people remember the name of the movie and ultimately go and watch it. Our poster for Bombay Clipper and the 1953 documentary The Conquest of Everest are great examples for effective title illustration. 


Bombay Clipper

The Conquest of Everest


Focus on Stars - If they are True Celebrities
Stars sell! Featuring a Hollywood star to promote a movie is one of the most common approaches to poster design. Iconic Bond actor Sean Connery is portrayed on numerous 007 posters. The Thunderball (1965) poster features him, while also showing the famous underwater fight scene in the background. This approach was already popular with posters that were painted.The 1946 poster for the noir movie Calcutta, for instance, features lead actor Alan Ladd

007 James Bond Thunderball Poster

Caclutta - Alan Ladd


Convey the Plot of Movie
Being able to draw eyeballs is absolutely critical. Especially movies that do not feature tier-1 celebrities benefit from posters designs that manage to capture audiences’ attention. This can be done in different ways and conveying the narrative of a movie is one approach that can work well. The 1961 adventure movie Gorgo does this by portraying the godzilla-like giant monster that is featured in the film.

Gorgo - Movie (1961)


Create a Memorable Style
Creating a unique and memorable poster design is a less common approach as most movie posters either feature lead actors or movie scenes. However, as a result posters that are designed this way stand out. The acclaimed designer Saul Bass has created a number of posters this way. He inspired Joseph Caroff to create the poster for West Side Story and designed One, Two, Three. Two examples of highly artistic approaches to movie poster design.

West Side Story - Movie Poster

One Two Three - Movie Poster