Saul Bass is the Mozart of poster designers: the one name that everybody knows (and justly so!) However, key art does not start and end with him. Today we’ll take a look at five other classic creators, whose work you have certainly seen around.
Best known for: Blade Runner, E.T., Blazing Saddles
Alvin is the man almost single-handedly responsible for the iconic illustrated look of the 1980s poster. He was an animator by trade and stumbled upon his career by pure chance, when a friend invited him to work on a poster for Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles. Alvin knocked the assignment out of the park. His lively, detailed artwork riffed on a Roy Rogers magazine cover and incorporated quirky elements unique to the film. Brooks loved it; so did the industry.
Alvin went on to create 130+ pieces of key art for movies as varied as Gremlins, E.T., Blade Runner, Predator, The Princess Bride, The Lion King, and Batman Forever. For many of those, the poster is as iconic and recognizable as the film itself.
Fun fact: Not one to be content staying uncredited, Alvin had a habit of hiding his signature somewhere in the poster. Look for it in the curvature of the Earth in E.T. or on a building in the background of Blade Runner.
Best known for: Breathless, Pickpocket, Battleship Potemkin
Hans Hillmann is Europe’s answer to Saul Bass: an artist with a distinct style and the ability to distill a film down to its main themes. Where the typical movie poster tends to pack in as much information as possible, Hillmann took the opposite approach. His economy of color and content made for striking imagery — mysterious and metaphorical, inviting multiple interpretations.
Hillmann’s most productive relationship was with the films of the French New Wave, which, much like Hillmann, rejected conventions in favor of visual experimentation. In turn, New Wave superstar Jean-Luc Godard paid tribute to Hillmann by prominently featuring one of his posters in Two or Three Things I Know About Her.
Fun fact: PosterSpy previously ran a full-feature article on him before, which you can read here!
Best known for: Apocalypse Now, Star Trek, My Fair Lady
The New York Times said it best: “Mr. Peak won praise for injecting vitality and vibrant colors into movie posters.” His incredible command of hues is truly the most striking feature of his work; where many contemporaries stuck to subdued or otherwise limited palettes, Peak went all out. His posters practically ooze color.
An industry legend who was honored with a lifetime achievement award from The Hollywood Reporter, Peak created promotional artworks for over 130 films during his long and industrious career. He often worked in partnership with designer Bill Gold (more on him below); posters for My Fair Lady and Camelot were born in collaboration between the two.
Peak’s son Matthew continued in his footsteps: he is the designer behind the posters for A Nightmare on Elm Street film series.
Fun fact: The original version of the poster for Apocalypse Now had Robert Duvall’s face in the (now empty) upper left corner. It eventually had to be removed because of Duvall’s strained relationship with the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola.
Best known for: Casablanca, My Fair Lady, The Exorcist
Did you know that the poster for A Clockwork Orange (illustrated by Philip Castle) and the poster for Casablanca were designed by the same person? Well, now you do. They are both the output of Bill Gold, who had a real knack for adapting his artistic vision to the mood and genre of the film.
At first glance, there’s nothing that unites the Rockwell-esque illustrations of The Sting (illustrated by Richard Amsel) and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the minimalist foreboding of Alien and The Exorcist, and the modernist shapes of Barbarella and Cool Hand Luke. However, they all showcase Gold’s tendency to go for “the road less traveled” and focusing on the film’s vibe over its plot points.
In his own words, “I know what movie posters should look like, instinctively. My style is and has always been less is more. I don’t like a cluttered look. Clean, simple and to the point.”
Fun fact: Gold was the favorite poster artist of actor/director Clint Eastwood. Gold once said, “Clint and I have become very good friends over the years. Professionally, he is as good as it gets. He appreciates everything I have done for him, and has wonderful taste and a remarkable eye for art.” In total, he created over 30 posters for films that Eastwood produced, directed or starred in — from Dirty Harry to Unforgiven. Fittingly, his very last work, in 2011, was for yet another Eastwood movie: J. Edgar.
Italy, b. 1935
Best known for: The Neverending Story, Conan the Barbarian, Once Upon a Time in America
Casaro, whose windswept canvases have promoted many an epic, got his career start as a teenager drawing posters for local theaters in exchange for tickets. At 18, he moved to Rome, where he was eventually discovered by the legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis commissioned the young designer a poster for John Huston’s blockbuster The Bible — and the rest is history.
Casaro’s posters are highly theatrical, with a look that harkens back to old school fantasy. The heroes bulge with muscle; the heroines are mysterious and swoon-worthy. The viewer is transported from the theater lobby to thrilling otherworldly landscapes.
Fun fact: Casaro is currently enjoying something of a career renaissance after Quentin Tarantino commissioned him to design a poster for an in-universe movie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The fun look of the resulting poster lent the movie extra retro cred, and gave Casaro, now in his 80s, a new popularity boost.