They’re bizarre and beautiful takes on films you know and love – and in many cases, you’ll wonder if the artists knew anything about the movies they were illustrating apart from the title. These promotional posters for classic US films are unique and wonderful – and they can also be yours.
Some writers attribute the bizarre nature of Czech (and Polish) movie posters from the 1960s through the 1980s to “an artistic alternative to banned U.S. publicity material” (what, the posters were banned, but the movies weren’t?), but the actual story is much more interesting.
While artists behind promotional material elsewhere needed to be able to sell their product in the most effective (read: least imaginative) way possible, the communist regime inadvertently created a unique environment for this particular form. Free from most commercial interests, the artists behind these posters were given an incredible amount of free reign over their design – an artistic freedom even the filmmakers behind the movies didn’t enjoy.
The results were frequently bizarre – just take a look at that Ghostbusters poster below – but just as frequently beautiful, with popular artifacts of the time creatively re-imagined in the form of a movie poster that could legitimately be called a work of art.
Of course, the art of the movie poster is now all but gone. Next time you see giant floating heads and choppy PhotoShop work while walking down the street or in a metro, you can shed a tear for a dead art form.
But all is not lost: love the posters below, or looking for a unique gift for a film lover this Christmas? Most of these original posters (and many, many more) can be purchased from the online shop Terryho ponožky (www.terryhoponozky.cz). Some can be had for as little as 100 CZK, though you’ll have to pony up 5000+ CZK for rare prints. You can also browse through selected posters from the shop in person at the Kino Světozor box office.
All images courtesy of www.terryhoponozky.cz.
The Apartment (1960)
Artist: Josef Flejšar, 1962
This low-key but expressive sketch for Billy Wilder’s classic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine screams 1960s minimalism – just like much of the design in the film itself.
Artist: Karel Saudek, 1971
A perfect mash-up of the original French comic and the Jane Fonda live action feature by famed Czech comic book illustrator Karel Saudek.
Artist: Bartošová, 1988
In the US, Tom Hanks’ giant mug encompassed nearly the entire poster. This one’s a little different.
The Birds (1963)
Artist: Josef Vyleťal, 1970
The lakefront background and setting sun here evokes images of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, but the weirdness up front is more H.P. Lovecraft.
Artist: Bartošová, 1989
I love the artistic representation of Liza Minnelli in this poster for the classic musical.
Artist: Anonymous, 1971
Many of the Walt Disney features got unusual posters that didn’t retain the classic look of their famous characters. This one for Dumbo is a standout.
Five Easy Pieces (1971)
Artist: Karel Machálek, 1973
Striking artwork for the Bob Rafelson drama starring Jack Nicholson. I’ve seen this concept – angelic wings emerging from the eyes – elsewhere, but I’m not sure if it has a specific connotation.
Artist: Zdeněk Ziegler, 1987
Through stylized text alone, this one perfectly recreates the feel of the 1980s classic.
Artist: Petr Poš, 1988
This poster for the supernatural comedy is one of the most bizarre creations on this list. Squint and you can make out some elements from the film, including the proton pack.
The Gumball Rally (1976)
Artist: Miloslav Disman, 1980
Beautifully minimalistic, and probably classier than the cross-country car chase movie it represents.
High Noon (1952)
Artist: Břetislav Šebek, 1962
A gritty and beautiful take on the Fred Zinneman Western starring Jimmy Stewart. But it might be more evocative of another psychological Western from the same era – Henry King’s The Gunfighter, with Gregory Peck.
The Hospital (1971)
Artist: Karel Machálek, 1973
Like Machálek’s Five Easy Pieces poster, this one is striking and evocative, though I’m not sure of its precise relevance to the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted satire.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Artist: Zdeněk Kaplan, 1970
This one wins the award for most strained relationship to the actual film, with the Sidney Poitier-Rod Steiger racial drama turned into some kind of neon hot rod porno fantasy.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Artist: Eva Brýdlová, 1966
This simple design manages to effectively convey the concept of this all-star comedy, something that US advertising struggled to do.
Artist: Olga Fischerová, 1976
This (seemingly) arcade game-inspired take on the Steven Spielberg blockbuster reminds me of Killer Shark, the light gun game briefly featured in the film.
Mary Poppins (1964)
Artist: Eva Galová-Vodrážková, 1969
This one is just gorgeously rendered, with a classy-but-fun appeal that matches the tone of the Julie Andrews-Dick van Dyke musical.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Artist: Zdeněk Kaplan, 1967
There’s… a lot going on in this classy artwork for the Audrey Hepburn-Rex Harrison musical.
The Omen (1976)
Artist: Karel Saudek, 1976
Another by comics illustrator Saudek, with an… interesting depiction of Satan & Gregory Peck.
Artist: Zdeněk Ziegler, 1974
A simple concept for the Steve McQueen-Dustin Hoffman film about famed fugitive Henri Charrière, beautifully pulled off. I love the detail of the fingerprints on the scissors.
The Party (1968)
Artist: Jaroslav Fišer, 1970
There’s the elephant, the suds, and much more: see if you can identify all the elements of the Blake Edwards-Peter Sellers comedy included in this groovy poster design.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Artist: Vratislav Hlavatý, 1970
The sci-fi classic meets Hair in this strange but strangely appealing piece of late-60s psychedelia.
Raging Bull (1980)
Artist: Zdeněk Ziegler, 1987
How many Robert De Niro faces can you count in this surreal poster for the Martin Scorsese classic?
Rio Bravo (1959)
Artist: Karel Vaca, 1967
Simple-but-striking, this poster for the Howard Hawks Western starring John Wayne is a perfect fit.
Short Circuit (1987)
Artist: Zdeněk Vlach, 1989
You can vaguely get a feel for Number 5 in this poster for the 80s sci-fi film, but the artwork is much more ominous than the comedic film it portrays.
Zulu Dawn (1979)
Artist: Petr Poš, 1982
Whenever I think of the Zulu (1964) or its sequel, this artwork immediately comes to mind. Terrific.