movie posters and playbills

Despite pictorial movie posters and playbills are often considered collectible items nowadays, they were originally designed for advertising and informative purposes.

The reasons for such a widespread use are closely linked to the industrialization process that took off in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Indeed, growing average wealth and the start of mass production of goods led to the need to capture the interest of emerging social classes in order to avoid an excessive imbalance between supply and demand.

Large format - webphoto

Technical evolution

By the mid – 400’s, with the invention of Johann Guttenberg’s mobile font printing, the habit had spread of putting on the streets notices of races, shows, prints, banners and laws. stampe, bandi e leggi.

From a technical point of view, however, it was lithographic printing by Alois Senefelder in 1796 that changed how advertising worked, with the launch of much more complex high-volume and low-cost image reproductions.

Once monochrome lithography joined chromolithography, printed illustration paved the way to modern pictorial posters and playbills.

Unlike former posters, whose purpose was mainly informative, these aimed at promoting products by transforming them into desirable objects.

The intent was no longer to merely describe, but rather to shape a purchase need.

Large format - webphoto


Jules Chéret was one of the fathers of the advertising poster, which he produced thousands of for French theaters and clubs. In the late 1800s, he upset the layout criteria of the time by choosing to raise prominence and importance of images rather than texts.

Likewise, German painter and advertiser Adolf Hohenstein involved several artists to pursue a new graphic language for wall posters, postcards, and opera booklets.

With this in mind, they began to develop pictorial posters in which every portrayed element was designed to draw the attention of customers.

Large format - webphoto

The film industry

Acknowledging this type of communication as a suitable language for such purpose, the film industry began to display playbills and posters on shop windows, building facades, outside movie theaters, and along the sides of means of transport.

These types of illustrations continued to exploit the intertwining of graphic design and advertising communication, although they raised awareness on an important difference: not a product but rather an exciting experience was being sold.

With this in mind, master painters developed a new visual language in which images, signs and colors served as a means to foreshadow cinema emotions.

Large format - webphoto

The evolution of style

Despite the single style of artists, who based their works on personal research or artistic influences shaping the nature of their productions, a common stylistic evolution can be identified.

At first, visual language was particularly narrative, with iridescent color effects and vibrant, less realistic figurative images.

Later, with the rise of Hollywood, movie stars gained importance, both as characters and actors.

Eventually, compositions became more synthetic and flat-toned, featuring contour lines to define characters and, in some cases, the introduction of photographic elements.

From the late 1990s, the production of pictorial film posters started to drastically decline, but, over time, the beauty of creations carved out a well-deserved position for film painters in the artistic landscape.

Large format - webphoto