When it comes to marketing, cool movie posters can still deliver the biggest bang for Hollywood's buck. But is the current collection suitable for framing?

By Steve Daly
Updated June 19, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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This summer, the major studios are reportedly spending as much as $50 million a pop to promote their big flicks in the U.S.—more than double the average 1997 per-film marketing tab of $19.2 million, which itself is a 67 percent increase compared with five years ago. Most of the bucks go for TV ads, websites, and slogans on buses and buildings (our dream update: “HIS GROSSES ARE AS BIG AS THIS TACO STAND”). But in a hype chain that grows more formidable each year, one modest link still binds audiences to the moviegoing experience more effectively than any other: the movie poster. Typically, these single-image, sound-free enticements cost between $50,000 and $250,000 to design, yet the goodwill they can bring to a hit can literally be worth millions.

What makes a great poster? “Silhouette value,” according to veteran designer Brian Fox, whose Santa Monica agency B.D. Fox & Friends came up with the bike-across-the-moon image for E.T. and the stark Batman logo. ”Something that piques your interest without telling you too much. You have to be able to get it rushing through a theater lobby or motoring past a billboard.”

Here, then, is our drive-by assessment of some of the season’s most ubiquitous iconography.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Fierman)

Can’t Hardly Wait B-

Hmm, where have we seen this before? Smells like a teen-spirit retread of the Trainspotting poster, right down to the music-video poses, bright colors, and overlapping-photo motif. It’s reasonably smart, since the thinner-than-Kate-Moss addict look invoked by association lends a dose of dangerous-cool chic to the well-scrubbed Jennifer Love Hewitt and her Gen-X cohorts. Another plus: The trendy, bold yellow-lettered opening date lends the poster a datebook feel (the better to prime that all-important first-weekend gross).

Six Days, Seven Nights B-

The Negotiator A-

It’s the oldest trope in the book: When your flick is about characters who can’t stand each other, stand them beside each other in full-figure shots. But while Six Days‘ classically (read: timidly) star-powered design undersells both the film’s romance and its island-castaway plot (and adds a jaundiced tint that hardly flatters Ford and Heche), The Negotiator scores with a graphically ingenious red-tinted background, and a distinctive typeface for the title that literally plays go-between—a neat encapsulation of what the movie’s about.

Mulan B+

Madeline B-

Should a kiddie-friendly movie court moppets first and foremost, or dress itself up as more adult fare? Disney is taking the latter tack, targeting grown-ups with a highly stylized Mulan poster that aims to do for its cartoon features what director Julie Taymor did for The Lion King on Broadway: add the stamp of art to an enterprise that’s really all about selling stuffed animals and expensive T-shirts. Meantime, TriStar’s more juvenile nun-on-a-speed-bike campaign for Madeline will likely hit two speed bumps: Little boys and twentysomething males wouldn’t touch this.

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