Movie Poster Cliches, or Why You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

This is a great little roundup of every movie poster cliche currently operating right now.

So many penises. Guns! I meant guns!

It’s easy to poke fun at Hollywood (fun too), but the underlying problem with such a massive industry relying so heavily on visual cliches is that it works.  From action films to romantic comedies, we the audience respond to the cliches because we don’t really want something new and different.  We want our fix of stories that validate our utterly imaginary view of the world.  We know when we see a movie poster with the starring actor and actress back-to-back smirking at each other over their shoulders that we are going to get a story we’ve seen a billion times already that will end with a wedding.  We know when we see Jason Statham in black and white on a movie poster that the movie’s climax will include Statham kicking the bad guy in the face to right the wrong/avenge the death/rescue the girl/kid.

And it’s okay.  Sometimes you just need to see a happy wedding or see a guy get kicked in the face.

What is more interesting about the so-called critics’ complaints about Hollywood cliches is how they revile the films that break the formula.


The Break-Up Poster


<i>The Break-up</i> was advertised with a cliche movie poster featuring the starring couple in the bed staring out at the camera much like those other rom-coms on the site linked above.  The problem is that the movie wasn’t the cliche.  It didn’t end in a wedding.  The plot was constructed in exactly the same way as all the others, but in that archetypical scene where the man confesses his fear of commitment and the woman confesses to her obsessiveness, instead of it ending with a reuniting, it ends with a explicit rejection.  In <i>The Break-Up</i> both parties acknowledgement the failure of the relationship, and both come to accept it’s revival or rehabilitation as futile, pointless, and ultimately what neither one wants.  And the film ends with them going their separate ways, not into the arms of anyone else, just alone into the world.

In the film, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston play the same characters they always play, and yet the critics panned it precisely because it didn’t match the hackneyed formula they claim to hate.  And yet the film portrays relationships more accurately than other rom-coms do.  So the criticism of this film amounts to it failing to represent the fantasy but choosing to depict the reality.

Another film that everyone hated because it broke the mold was Guy Ritchie’s <i>Revolver</i>.  The film is presented as something of a thriller a mystery wrapped in a heist film, when in fact it a brilliantly insightful meditation on greed, ego, and identity.

But when critics didn’t get it, they panned it.  Their criticism upon the film’s UK premiere was so brutal that it forced Ritchie to drastically recut the film, delaying its US release for over a year.  The result is that <i>Revolver (UK 2005)</i> is an entirely different film from <i>Revolver (US 2006)</i>, in which some scenes are deleted, dialogue is altered, scenes are cut in a different order (often breaking continuity), there is a different ending, an idiotic postscript from pop-psychologists like of Deepak Chopra and a voiceover from Statham that attempts to fill in the gaps for the hapless critics.  And when US critics still didn’t get it, they blamed Madonna for piquing for Ritchie’ interest in Kabbalah.  Because it’s okay to mock religious beliefs as long as they aren’t popular ones.  Right, Scientology?

Revolver Poster

"Your Mind Will Not Accept a Game This Big." How prescient. This is the best British film of 2005 and the worst American film of 2006.

The reason so many movie posters are rehashes of the same visual cliches is because they advertise films which are themselves derivative, hackneyed and trite.  And this is really what audiences want. The rule-breaking, mind-bending, truth-telling films are out there.  You can find them by checking the bottom of the box-office receipts list each week.

Related posts:

  1. Why are all female characters in pop culture cliches?
  2. How to tell if a movie is made in USA
  3. Blind – a cautionary tale
  4. Drive is the best David Lynch film not actually made by David Lynch
  5. The Death of the Last Action Hero

8 Responses to Movie Poster Cliches, or Why You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

  1. Guy Fox says:

    I’ll have a ditzy, but emancipated 32 year-old blonde, an unshaven, rugged hunk who still looks good in a suit, and a comically supersized dog. Oh and can you supersize the pathos and wacky misadventures too? The kids are acting up in the backseat. And one honey mustard and one barbecue. Thanks.

    (P.S. I know where HTML lives. If you pitch for gas, we can go and mess ‘im up bad.)

  2. JohnJ says:

    “You can find them by checking the bottom of the box-office receipts list each week.”

    You can also find a lot of garbage that way. I don’t think good movies are more common at the bottom of that list than at the top.

    If you really want to find a bunch of amazingly good movies, check out film noir from the 30s and 40s. Good stuff.

  3. Rocket Surgeon says:

    Revolver is my secret favorite movie. Both the UK and US versions are fantastic and are relatively the same except for 3 or 4 plot points. I don’t exactly have the time right now, but I could talk about that movie for hours.

    Rom-coms are another secret pleasure, because they generally exist in some fictional reality where something like the throwaway plots from the sitcom Three’s Company are actually plausible happenings. Essentially making them highly enjoyable to due the fact of how unreal they are.

    BUT my favorite part about watching rom-coms is finding ones that treat the viewer as an intelligent person by allowing a smart and interactive narrative, rather than treating them as consumption machines to pander to. Although, that usually works for them.
    Oddly, Jennifer Aniston has done a few “good” rom-coms. Management is particularly notable.

    Another movie that uses the same type of poster and neatly fits into the Romantic Comedy section but definitely is not the average rom-com is It’s Complicated.

    • AdamSaleh1987 says:

      Oh and Revolver was awesome in my opinion, I don’t understand why critics hated that but loved Donnie Darko. They were both similar, except Revolver was not a piece of vapid dog shit.

      • Rocket Surgeon says:

        Yeah, I don’t have anything against Donnie Darko but I can see how people wouldn’t like it or see how they wouldn’t like Revolver. An interesting exercise in watching Darko is to get the original DVD release and watch it with the director commentary. It is blatantly obvious he had no clue what he was doing but was still able to pull something together that had really good inherent film language and was sound.

        OTOH, Revolver was constructed in a fashion that was totally metaphorical, yet Ritchie made the small mistake of getting metaphors and “realness” mixed up. Overall, I think the US version is better, but I think he may have cut a little to much out of it.

  4. John R says:

    To speak in its favor: isn’t this basically the meaning of tradition, of the formation of “thick” cultural practices and narratives? You tell the same, safe story over and over, with “safe” variations, and there’s your medium for change over time. Cf. TLP’s history of the action movie; the genre builds and perfects narratives over decade-long arcs.

    • JohnJ says:

      You can say the same thing about food. People tend to eat the same “safe” stuff over and over, rarely trying anything new, because they know they’ll like it. The same with friends.

      Hard times, especially, make people want to stick with the safe and familiar.

  5. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    A lot of the action movie use bright blue and orange, as has pointed out. In fact, it is the main 2 colors in more Michael bey films, I guess their juxtaposition is very eye-popping. I also want to note that every movie you picked is a member of a series and/or belonging to Nicholas Cage, which is also interesting. The movie posters are just a reflection of how little risks Hollywood is taking. Ironically the best action movie of this year (Drive) also had an Orange tinge to the Action Hero’s skin, albeit with a bright pink cursive font instead of the metallic ones of the posters you put up.