The first movie poster was created in 1890 by French painter and lithographer Jules Cheret for "Projections Artistiques." In early Hollywood, playbills began illustrating a film's scene or an array of overlaid images from several scenes. Ordinarily, they contained a basic image and text with the film title in large lettering, sometimes with a tag line. Soon, actors' names were added to the posters.
The illustrators were most often anonymous and did not sign their work. They were hired as studio staff. Prior to the 1990s, illustrations instead of photographs were far more common. Today's movie posters contain a billing block in small print at the bottom which includes an array of licensing and consumer information.
Today, movie poster images are used on websites, DVD packaging, magazine ads, and movie databases. They can hint at the plot, highlight the stars, or offer an abstract representation of a key moment in the film.
Between 1940 and 1984, film posters were exclusively made and distributed by the National Screen Service. The advertising traveled with the film canisters from one exhibitor to the next. At the end of the film's run, the posters were returned with the film canisters and pretty beat up. Few survive intact. In the 1980s, the American film studios took over the direct production and distribution of their poster advertising and began to license the sale of poster reprints for fans. These have little or no value to collectors.
The first movie poster auction by a major house occurred on December 11, 1999. Today, original artwork and vintage posters command huge prices. The record price paid for a single poster was $690,000 for Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis, far more than the original film cost to make.
Nine decades of movie posters are depicted with a brief explanation of trends for each decade. There are many fan favorites shown.