A film poster is a poster used to advertise a film. There may be several versions for one film, with variations in regards to size, content and country of production of the poster. It usually contains an image with text, though this has evolved over time from image-free bill posters through to the highly visual digital productions of today. The text usually contains the film title in large lettering and often the names of the main actors. It may also include a tag line, the name of the director, names of characters, the release date, etc.
Film posters are displayed inside and on the outside of movie theaters, and elsewhere on the street or in shops. The same images would appear in a film exhibitor's pressbook and may also be used on websites, DVD-packaging, flyers, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, etc.
Use of such posters goes back to the earliest public exhibitions of film, where they began as outside placards listing the programme of (short) films to be shown inside the hall or movie theater. By the early 1900s, they began to feature illustrations of a scene from each individual film or an array of overlaid images from several scenes. Other movie posters have used artistic interpretations of a scene or even the theme of the film, represented in a wide variety of artistic styles. Movie posters are produced in a large number of sizes to meet various advertising needs.
Originally, film posters were produced for the exclusive use by the theatres exhibiting the film the poster was created for, and the copies of the posters were required to be returned to the distributor after the film left the theatre. In the United States, posters were usually returned to a nation-wide operation called the National Screen Service (NSS) which printed and distributed most of the film posters for the studios between 1940 and 1984. As an economy measure, the NSS regularly recycled posters that were returned, sending them back out to be used again at another theatre. During this time, a film could stay in circulation for several years, and so many old film posters were badly worn before being retired into storage at an NSS warehouse (most often, they were thrown away when they were no longer needed or had become too worn to be used again). Those posters which were not returned were often thrown away by the theatre owner, but some film posters found their way into the hands of collectors.
Beginning in the 1980s, the American film studios began taking over direct production and distribution of their posters from the National Screen Service and the process of making and distributing film posters became decentralised in that country.
CollectingThe collecting of film memorabilia began with such things as scrap-books, autographs, photographs, and industry magazines, but quickly expanded in the post-World War II era. Collectors began seeking out original advertising material, and the classic "one sheet" film poster became the pinnacle object to own for any given film. Other material, such as lobby cards, other-sized posters, international posters, personality posters, and glass slides also began to become highly sought after. Today, the field of film memorabilia collecting has grown into an internationally recognised community of increasingly serious and financially secure collectors, making it one of the fastest areas of speculation for investment.
After the National Screen Service ceased most of its film-poster printing and distribution operations in 1985, some of the posters which they had stored in warehouses around the United States ended up in the hands of private collectors and film-poster dealers. Today there is a thriving collectibles market in film posters. Some have become very valuable among collectors, with a few rare examples being auctioned for US$500,000 or more. The record price for a poster was set on November 15, 2005 when US$690,000 was paid for a poster of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis from the Reel Poster Gallery in London. The 1931 Frankenstein 6-sheet poster, of which only 1 copy is known to exist, is considered to be the most valuable film poster in the world.
As a result of market demand, some of the more popular older film posters have been reproduced either under license or illegally. Often there is no indication on these reproductions that they are reproductions, which has led to some problems in the collectibles marketplace.
Today, film posters are generally produced in much larger quantities than necessary to promote a film at the theatres, because they are also sold directly to the public by retailers who purchase them at wholesale prices from the studio distributors or from websites set up by the studio to promote a given film. Because of this, modern posters are not considered rare, and are usually readily available for purchase by collectors.