Design Lessons from 20 Phenomenal Vintage Movie Posters

Design Lessons from 20 Phenomenal Vintage Movie Posters

Imagination is the beginning of creation.” – George Bernard Shaw

Ever felt horrified or all lovey dovey by a movie poster before? I know I have. It doesn’t matter if a poster has been designed for a horror movie or a romantic chick flick, you must admit they bring out strong emotions (or reactions) in the most unexpected of moments and manners. They jump off walls and fascinate one and all, wherever they are.

Vintage Movie Posters

I find movie posters most fascinating because even the simplest of them like this vintage one created for West Side Story, may seem innocuous to an onlooker requires a lot of thought and creativity put into it. Based on this premise, I would say good movie poster designs are the ones which have been carefully worked upon to entice and appeal to emotions so onlookers feel curious, intrigued and develop the urgency to watch the movie as soon as it’s released. This I’ve found relevant in the case of “vintage” movie posters.

West Side Story

Vintage movie posters especially so because they have a certain charm, sensational characteristics, and storytelling appeal to them that they work even with today’s modern movie enthusiasts. The term ‘vintage’ here refers to everything that has value because it’s old. Vintage movie posters have always been loved because of their power to pull viewers with their beauty, and create the urge to possess them. That’s when it occurred to me, vintage designs have something worth learning about.

As a designer, you must have noticed that vintage is all the rage today, all the more reason to learn and cleverly weave it into design jobs, and impress clients. Whether it’s a poster or an illustration, you will find that a dash of vintage can make all the difference and make your design stand out from the crowd. That’s why you will find the 10 design lessons which I am about to outline, valuable, offering insights on how one can add dynamism and sensationalism into modern designs with vintage elements, and create instant impact on movie fans and the general audience.

So, are you ready? Let’s get inspired and learn.

Make it Sensational

First off, the number one element that all vintage designs have in common are sensationalism and captivation. One look at them and you can’t help but stare. The Creature from Black Lagoon (vintage) and the Black Swan (modern with vintage elements) both hold your attention don’t they?

Black Swan/Creature from the Black Lagoon

Keep it Personal

The personal characteristics of vintage posters are what set them apart. Instead of focusing on an inanimate object, these posters feature the actors up close and personal as the main design subject, whether it’s to project the ultimate romantic couple like in Casablanca or a horrifying exorcist girl like in The Last Exorcism Part II.

Casablanca/The Last Exorcism Part II

Show but Don’t Tell

Tell a story, build up intrigue in the viewer’s mind, but don’t tell the whole story, that’s the key to vintage poster attraction. Let the onlooker thirst for the complete story and motivate them to go watch the movie.

Gravity/The Last Days of Pompeii

Know Your Color Choices

Colors were and still are an important part of design; vintage or modern. However, if you want the vintage effect, choose your color tone carefully to give that old look without being garish. Basic bright colors like blue, black and yellow may make The Return of Dracula stand out, garishly, whereas the dull yet vintage color hues in The Dark Knight is as attractive with sophistication.

The Return of Dracula/The Dark Knight

Place Credits Strategically

Though vintage posters have cast and staff credits literally all over the place, you needn’t follow the same pattern. Instead, be more strategic and place them where the movie goers have been trained to find them – at the bottom at the poster.

The Brothers Bloom/The Philadelphia Story

It’s Okay to be Bold & Daring

When designing posters for any kind of promotional material, don’t be afraid to be bold and daring. The aim is to evoke strong emotions like shock (Attack of the 50 ft Woman), outrage or even horror (Kill Bill), to make them memorable.

Kill Bill/Attack of the 50ft Woman

Mix Fonts Intelligently

Fonts are essential but more so in the case of posters because they are used in captions, titles, display names, productions etc. Some of the fonts which you can use are Matchbook, Bazar, Ugly Qua or you can even mix new and old together to create something spectacular. I would recommend using one or two font types to make it more readable (Moonrise Kingdom) instead of mixing and matching (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

Moonrise Kingdom/Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The Fusion Formula

The Shining/The Count of Monte Cristo

Being a designer in this era, you have the advantage of mixing design styles without being accused of doing it wrong. So I would suggest do it lavishly in the case of posters, by combining both vintage and modern art together to create something unique and smashing like these two posters. One cannot distinguish which is modern except for the fact that The Shining has included certain sophisticated elements like dull colors and paisleys which makes the poster stand out.

Don’t Overcrowd

One of the worst things which you can do to your poster design is to overcrowd it with either a lot of imagery or typography which vintage posters tend to have. Lesson learned here is, keep it simple with style.

The Fly/Flying Down to Rio

Love What You Have

Once everything is said and done, admire your art work and believe in it; and hopefully your poster will travel across the world to be admired by all sorts of audiences. A word of caution though, when venturing into new territories in terms of design, never let negative feedback dishearten you. Instead, I would suggest be encouraged by it because it only means your attempt at vintage design has worked.

Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark/So This is Paris


You can learn and take away quite a lot when you are looking in the right places. Carefully studying both vintage and vintage-modern movie posters will show you exactly what is crucial in your line of business. Take special care of color, typography and imagery along with placement of credits and you will be good to go.

The rest is completely up to you, your imagination and your creativity, so go ahead and design something that is inspired by vintage posters but has that essence of its own which will make it stand out proud.



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