The best movie posters of 2021
Well, it’s been another weird year for movie marketing, a mixture of uncertainty about when movies will be released and the growing dominance of streaming sites making the most of this opportunity to fill the void.
Still, the chaos hasn’t stifled the incredible creativity the studios call upon to champion their product, with a fantastic variety of illustrative approaches that eschew homogeneity. Here are some of my 2021 highlights:
Spencer; Design: Empire Design
Faced with coming up with something that didn’t look like an ad for the next season of The Crown, Empire Design launched Spencer’s poster campaign with this bold and tragic image, burying Kristen Stewart in a sea of taffeta. (Diana’s particular story of abandonment within privilege apparently lends itself well to interpretation – see also equally evocative of Concept Arts 2013 poster for Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana.)
The Last Son by Isaac Lemay (née The Last Son); Design: Caspar Newbolt
With a wry nod to the name of its star – Machine Gunned Kelly? – Caspar Newbolt eschews the usual approach of grizzled faces and dusty perspectives for Tim Sutton’s modern western, opting for something more abstract. As with many on this list, a more conventional poster design was also used, but strong visual identities like this are key to standing out among streaming services’ endless carousels of content.
Lamb; Design: Rory Jurtz and AV Print
The cinema has gotten a bit Old MacDonald lately, with the upcoming Cow from First Cow, Pig and Andrea Arnold (the only IMDb trivia bit being “Just about two cows doing cow stuff”). Perhaps the most sinister and surreal of this film cycle is Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb – promoted with this stunning Rory Kurtz painting of Noomi Rapace cradling the titular baby-sheep like some kind of woolly messiah.
Go on! Go on; Design: Mike Mills
Few films would benefit from the simplicity and frolic of no-frills promotional studio shots (although imagine if Lamb had tried it), but this trio of minimalist posters perfectly captures the goofy, uncle-nephew energy of the Mike Mills movie. Refreshingly simple and cheerful.
I care a lot; Design: Empire Design
As the idea of what a poster actually is continues to evolve, it’s interesting to see designers gearing them more towards online use than print. Empire Design’s poster for I Care A Lot is striking even at the most miniature of sizes, keeping the print brief but bold, with imagery that makes full use of Rosamund Pike’s shadowy gaze and sinister Gone Girl-evoking bob.
Remembrance: Part Two; Design: Intermission
However, not all posters have the luxury of such brevity. For Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical sequel, Intermission produced an elegant composition of imagery – perfectly placing Honor Swinton Byrne at the intersection of fact and fiction – and text, of which there is plenty. The end result seems effortless, but there’s an incredible amount of finesse to this balancing act.
The history of cinema: a new generation; Design: Intermission
Another cleverly executed poster, this time integrating text and images in unexpected ways, as Mark Cousins literally climbs through story and into film pixels for this sequel to his 2011 documentary series.
Stanleyville; Design: Aleksander Walijewski
Continuing the painterly tradition of Polish film poster art (originating in the communist era, when film distributors were unable to source official advertising material), Alexander Walijewski has produced some incredible and weird portraits in recent years – most recently this weird treatment for Stanleyville by Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.
In the ground; Design: Richard Wells
One of the UK’s most prolific directors, Ben Wheatley is apparently a magnet for great design – think of the recursive triangles of High Rise or the nothing but arms poster of Free Fire – and that trend continues here. , with film and television graphic designer Richard Wells completing the day’s work by applying his signature linocut style to fantastic effect.
To flee; Illustrations by Mikkel Sommer and Kenneth Ladekjaer; art direction by Martin Hultman
There are plenty of clouded and disturbed faces in this list, but the poster for Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary about a man’s escape from Afghanistan to Denmark goes completely the other way, throwing the whole cast of characters on the page. It is the story of a man, but he is one among many others.