Great movie posters are a rare breed. Usually, they're thrown up for no other purpose than to simply say 'THIS MOVIE EXISTS!' Today, movie posters are a damned desert of art, aesthetic, and inventiveness.
With the advent of Photoshop, posters have somehow gotten worse, with most of them simply following the "line of faces" design. These say "LOOK! LOOK! A MOVIE WITH THESE PEOPLE IN IT! What's it about? THAT DOESN'T MATTER! LOOK!"
For me, though, the biggest failure is that today's posters so rarely provide a sense of wonder. They don't provide a promise of adventure, or romance, or terror. There was a time when movie posters were painted by skilled artists. Some of the posters were so amazing, they've become iconic images, like Star Wars original poster. The images on the poster look nothing like the movie! But, it doesn't matter. The poster sold itself. Now they're simply cobbled together by a Photomonkey, earning 30k, from stock photos.
This is one of my favorite posters. It's for the movie Camelot from 1967, if you couldn't guess from the huge CAMELOT on top.
I didn't like the movie all that much. I've never really liked overly dramatic portrayals of Arthur and Camelot, especially the ones that focus on romance. And the fact that the Arthur legend is absolute and total hogwash, with the real Arthur likely being a total prick, well, I just can't swallow the pill.
But the poster! The poster is great. It's got a bit of a Mucha-ish flare to it and absolutely promises wonder and fantasy. It has texture, and color, and drama. The poster makes you want to be near it, to look at it, and think about the experience that it portends.
I think that a positively minuscule group of directors today understand how important the poster is. It's like the album art for music, even though most people don't even own the LP or CD anymore. The trailer and poster are things with which the director absolutely must be involved because they are part of the gestalt. A film is not simply a series of images, projected on a screen. A film is the sound, the smell, the food, the temperature in the air, the case of the DVD, the commercials on TV.
A poster is the movie, just as much as the frames on the film, and the actors on screen.