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'Spider-Man' to 'Ali': Grading the Latest Movie Posters

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In Hollywood, everyone has a hang-up—though some are a bit more literal than others. Take those eye-grabbing, credit-crowded marketing tools that hang at bus stops and in theater lobbies. While you can’t judge a flick by its key art—remember Planet of the Apes?—you can make plenty of critical judgments. Here’s our biannual roundup of the latest cinematic-art attacks.

GROUP MENTALITY

There are a number of easy ways to sell the Rat Pack casino-heist remake Ocean’s 11, especially with a cast featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts. But Warner Bros. (a division of EW parent AOL Time Warner) wisely went retro with this classy throwback to the screen images of the ’60s and ’70s. The too-cool group shot downplays the film’s A-list cast—Julia’s notably absent—and instead plays up the characters’ stylish swagger. Deal us in. Meanwhile, the crowded poster for Wes Anderson‘s ensemble comedy The Royal Tenenbaums is full of small touches: an old family photo to the side, a Dalmatian-like mouse in the corner. And while such minutiae may not make sense until you see the movie, the detail-driven imagery makes for one princely poster. But what can we make of the final image for the eagerly awaited launch of Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy? The Fellowship of the Ring boasts a huge cast of elves, hobbits, and spell casters, but the poster is curiously devoid of any of the pointy-eared denizens of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Middle-earth. Instead, it settles for a rather static shot of the famed Great River—a scene that looks more like the cover of a generic fantasy-novel paperback. Why is Frodo a no-show?

OCEAN’S 11 A
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS A
THE LORD OF THE RINGS B-

TEENAGE WASTELAND

It’s the dilemma facing every preteen without a fake ID: Which R-rated movie to sneak into? Not Another Teen Movie promises a Scary Movie-like genre send-up, and provides helpful examples of each character’s stereotype (”the cocky blonde guy”; ”the token black guy”). But how many 16-year-olds will get the reference to The Breakfast Club? The no-frills poster for How High is, naturally, more blunt (note that suspicious diploma). And while stars Method Man and Redman are draws, the biggest enticement comes courtesy of the MPAA: rated R for ”pervasive drug use and language, and for sexual dialogue.”

NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE B
HOW HIGH C+

HEAD TRIPS

With so many heavily hyped Best Actor prospects this winter, it’s easy to get confused about who’s playing whom. (Just FYI: Tom Cruise has not been bulking up to play Muhammad Ali.) Thankfully, this quartet of straight-shooting one-sheets—all featuring simple head shots—makes it clear where each Oscar hopeful is harbored. The grainy, gritty shot of an on-the-ropes Will Smith in Ali throws down the glove, with Smith’s dramatic ready-for-battle expression perfectly capturing the poetic pugilist. The real-life subject of the Russell Crowe biopic A Beautiful Mind may not be as well known (troubled Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr.), but the subdued shot of Crowe—clearly not in ”unleash hell” mode—is intriguing, though a bit bland. Still, at least Mind isn’t as confusing as the nostalgic spread for Jim Carrey‘s The Majestic: In a nod to Capra-era posters of the past, Carrey is re-created in an oil-painting style that suggests the disintegrating bad guys from Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for Vanilla Sky, what more do you need to sell a Tom Cruise movie? Besides, is there anyone in America who doesn’t know Penélope Cruz is in this movie?

ALI A
A BEAUTIFUL MIND B-
THE MAJESTIC C
VANILLA SKY B+

WHAT ABOUT (BILLY) BOB?

The ubiquitous Billy Bob Thornton pulls a Hollywood hat trick with three new posters: For the dark Monster’s Ball, he plays backup to a pensive (and possibly Oscar-contending) Halle Berry. Few posters just say ”noir” as well as the sleek sheet for the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There. With Thornton’s icy stare, James Gandolfini‘s grimace, and Frances McDormand‘s pursed lips, it expertly distills the film’s slow-burn menace—and you wouldn’t even know it’s about a barber! But the dull teaser for the oft-delayed Waking Up in Reno is enough to put us to sleep—though it shows off Thornton’s best rug in years.

MONSTER’S BALL A-
THE MAN… A
RENO C-

COMING DISTRACTIONS

Spandex! Sequels! Sarah Michelle Gellar! Studios have already tossed out their first summer pitches. Two Spider-Man posters should comfort fans of the web crawler (Tobey Maguire): The costumes don’t look too goofy, and the poses suggest director Sam Raimi might stay true to the comic-book origins. (A second spotlights Willem Dafoe‘s villainous Green Goblin.) While we love Scooby-Doo‘s tag line and cast shot (proving our belief that Matthew Lillard was, like, born to play Shaggy), that pooch looks a bit too CGI. Hopefully, we’ll change our ‘toon. And Men in Black II seems awfully familiar—same big-gun posturing, same oversize title—but it’s nice to see the word scum during the holidays.

SPIDER-MAN A
SCOOBY-DOO B
MIB2 B+

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