Hollywood movie-poster design cliches


Kinda hard to tell, but those red-dress movie posters seem to start around the 30s; and there are 160 of those posters. So, about 2 movie posters per year with a woman in a red dress? I guess that’s a cliche…


So the original Cat People was really a romantic comedy. I’ll go back and watch it again with that in mind.

1 Like

Apparently, so was “Coffy.”


Actually the point is that if the movie being advertised is a romantic comedy the cliche is that the poster will usually feature the female lead in a red dress. Although I think they’re fudging a little–Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ain’t a romantic comedy, and neither are some of the other films in that particular composite. They could have just as easily said women in red dresses are a cliche.

Now that they brought it up, though, I would absolutely go see a romantic comedy if the poster had the male lead in a red dress.


Tootsie. It’s right there, near the top on the second line. Enjoy.


Thank you for pointing that out. How could I have missed it? I’ve loved Tootsie ever since I saw it at a church function, not long after its initial release. And I still want that dress.

Right, although I’m questioning how much of a cliche it actually is. According to this list:


… there are at least 390 romcoms since 1989 (I ignored the first entry, since it was such a chronological outlier). That’s about 16.25 of them per year. Since that red dress collage included movies that were not romantic comedies, I’m going to make a ballpark assumption that my previous estimate is correct, that we have 2 movies per year with a woman in a red dress on the poster. That’s about 12%.

On the surface, yeah, it does seem like the red dress thing is a bit of a cliche, but I’m not sure that it’s a statistical home run, either (Seriously — I’m not sure. It’s been a while since I’ve done any Poisson-Monte-Carlo-5-Sigma-blah-blah-whatever, but I’m at least a little more than vaguely aware of how this stuff works.).

There’s certainly a trend going on here, although this sort of format for presenting information creates a huge confirmation bias, too.

[quote=“SpunkyTWS, post:5, topic:5744, full:true”]Now that they brought it up, though, I would absolutely go see a romantic comedy if the poster had the male lead in a red dress.

lol, as would I.

1 Like

Yeah, this is one of those things where while I do think it’s good to point out, it gets problematic when you zoom in our out.

Zoom in, of course Puss in Boots will use that poster - it’s intentionally riffing on the cliche. Zoom out - why didn’t he do ones about how all (insert color not depicted) background movie posters are the same?

1 Like

Most, if not all, of these mosaics were created by Christophe Courtois: http://afficheschristophecourtois.blogspot.com/

Please provide attribution.

Gizmodo posted about it in 2011.


Thanks! No wonder this post felt vaguely familiar. Incidentally, the original site makes no mention of romantic comedies for the red dress series; it actually talks about how the red dress is used for evoking the feeling of seduction.

Obviously this “movie poster cliche’” web page wasn’t compiled in a statistical fashion. It seems to have been done in all good fun. However, I would argue that most major films that are released have unique poster graphics. For instance, how many posters look like the poster for “PATTON” or “THE GRADUATE” or “JAWS” for that matter? As the actual quality of a film is reduced, the movie poster usually veers toward cliche’ - then again, pop culture in general is full of maudlin cliche’

1 Like

I’ve edited the signature block/website out of your comment. That info should go on your profile page.


I feel like this is being discussed in quite a negative light - ‘the enormous uniformity of Hollywood’s marketing machine’ - but from my perspective, this is proof of marketing and design working well. A movie poster has to communicate quickly, through purely visual terms, wether this is the kind of film you might be interested in seeing. Commonalities between posters indicate the existence of a basic visual language, a set of shared symbols that are (consciously or otherwise) understood by audiences, that quickly communicate information about genre and tone.

Rather than just being about unoriginality and cliche, I think there are more interesting things going here.



Nicholas Sparks uses basically the same formula for all his stuff …

books: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/nicholas-sparks-books-have-one-thing-in-common_n_2956749.html

movies: http://www.pajiba.com/seriously_random_lists/cloning-101-a-study-in-the-hilarious-works-of-nicholas-sparks.php

story lines: http://www.cracked.com/funny-4725-nicholas-sparks/

I disagree. Visual shorthand is all well and good, but I’m more inclined to see laziness of design. Just as motion pictures are kinda supposed to be an artform, there’s really no law prohibiting a movie’s promotional materials (including the one-sheets) from being art as well. I suppose the people who actually design the posters consider themselves some form of artist. Probably says “Art Department” outside their door.

One could extend your argument in defense of these posters to the movies themselves, and say that there’s nothing wrong with making a movie that can be completely defined in terms of the successful earlier films which it shamelessly rips off, that such homages are simply using comfortably familiar narratives, situations, stock characters, and derivative dialogue so the audience can more easily digest the product without having to think very much (or at all) about it. And though that may be perfectly true, few would admit to actively seeking out regurgitated crap like that.

The fact is, the production of a feature-length motion picture (especially a studio one) is a horrifically expensive risk, and so the studios tend to mitigate that risk as much as possible by greenlighting what they feel to be relatively safe and familiar bets. In the same fashion, the advertising, publicity, and promo departments are inclined to want to communicate the movie’s charms as quickly and efficiently as possible, as you say. But really, they don’t need to keep using these same tired, familiar old tropes. It wouldn’t kill them to retire the ol’ “frame the poster between a standing woman’s spread legs” thing, any more than it would kill Hollywood to retire the creaky old plot chestnut where the remote self-destruct doesn’t work, so somebody’s gotta crawl down into some remote tight-fitting closet to pull the manual handle.

It’s fine (and funny) when the poster for Puss In Boots recalls the poster for Unforgiven; it’s supposed to, and it’s a legitimate joke. Same thing with the poster for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aping the poster for The Breakfast Club. That right there is comedy. But I think too many of these movie posters resort to cheap, derivative, lazily referential imagery. Boing Boing has more than once featured posts about Polish movie posters (many for familiar American movies) that illustrate just how original and arresting an artform it can be, when it doesn’t stoop to instant-eye-catching lowest-common-denominator dreck. I recommend using BB’s search function to check them out, since I think I’ve run out of links.

1 Like

I don’t necessarily disagree with most of what Mr Roboto says about the intention of the movie marketeers. They are trying to get across a lot of information about a movie with just the one image. My problem is that too often the marketing template they choose to use for a movie is completely misleading. I can’t tell you how many movies that are billed as comedies with a nice comedic poster and a funny trailer only to discover it’s something incredibly depressing or heart wrenchingly sad. (I generally prefer my heart to be left right where it is thank you very much!)

Can I suggest one that is missing? (John K pointed this out on his blog: If it’s a cgi animated movie at least one character has to have the one raised/one lowered eyebrow smirk.