July 5, 2011


Welcome back! Let’s take a look at ten more posters this week!

40. This Island Earth
Another problematic design, great artwork marred by a busy composition and workmanlike typography. Yet the illustration is worth the ranking here: the facial expressions, the explosions, the spaceships, and especially the creatures are all fantastic and gorgeous. Here’s a poster where I wish the artwork area was scaled down so that all of the text could be placed above and below, leaving the artwork to stand on its own. We don’t even require the tagline, “The supreme excitement of our time!” The artwork says it all for us. Love the “2 ½ years in the making” under the title (designers call such things ‘violators’) — the “atomic flower” is really cool!

39. Twelve to the Moon
Admittedly, the poster design for Twelve to the Moon is quite similar that of Battle in Outer Space, which came in at #50. And while I appreciate aspects of each poster (especially the action going on in the poster for Battle), from the design perspective the upgrade in quality here is straightforward: the imagery is more highly resolved — especially considering the treatment of the two figures in the foreground; the overall composition is less busy, with fewer elements clashing with each other in such a tight space; and most importantly, the typography in this example is a much more sophisticated than in the poster for Battle. The strength of which lies in the vertiginous alignment of the tag, leading the viewer’s eye directly to the title, as well as the cropping of the box behind the two figures, creating another layer of pictorial space. And while it strikes me as a little careless how the placement of one of the stars in the artwork makes the word “THE” difficult to read, the gestalt of the composition makes the designer in me rate this one a little bit higher.

38. Devil Girl from Mars
Hooray for cheesecake, even if it is Martian. Artistically this isn’t one of the stronger entries in the countdown, but it scores big points for content. There are only few examples in fifties sci-fi poster design that have a strong female character out front, and this is one of them. We’ll see one or two others in the coming weeks. While the typography here is not particularly inventive, the artwork is: these are some of the more original spacecraft of the period, and take special notice of how the robot depicted on the right has an almost … feminine quality. If the Devil Girl herself didn’t appear to be floating, if one of the taglines at the top could have been removed, and if the title could have been lettered with a little more panache — and maybe a bit bigger, this would have rated higher — maybe even as high as The Queen of Outer Space, which we’ll be seeing soon.

37. When Worlds Collide
One of the better films of the cycle, this was an Oscar winner in the effects category and a nominee for its vivid color cinematography. Hooray for good type! When Worlds Collide gets one of the strongest type-treatments in the entire countdown. For once we have a poster that does a good job of addressing the actual content of the film — showing a streaking rocket exiting the planet as the “worlds collide” destroying all those left behind. Simple, narrative, striking, and with realistic expressions of terror on the faces of those caught in the tumult. I beg the pardon of anyone bothered or offended by the inclusion of a poster that depicts a NYC skyscraper toppling over, no offense was intended.

36. Attack of the Crab Monsters
Another Roger Corman no-budget gem. Classic artwork with a cute blonde menaced by a terrifying otherworldly creature. There’s something strangely unsettling and … human … about the crab monster’s face. What this lacks in dynamic composition and jazzy type it makes up for with iconic imagery.

35. Satan’s Satellites
I might be cheating by including this, as Satan’s Satellites is nothing more than a slapdash feature cobbled together at Republic Pictures from their Zombies of the Stratosphere serials, but I think the poster for Satellites is stronger than that of Zombies, and rates a spot in the countdown. Satan doesn’t actually make an appearance in the film, so the title itself is a little confusing, but the poster isn’t: fairly well executed photographic image of a Martian clutching at yet another passed-out young woman, with spaceships above, a campy robot below, a crumbling city in the background, and a eyebrow-raising watercolor wash (rare for film posters) holding it all together. The title typography is a good custom-job, and the tag line is handled even better — “cosmic thrills” is in a wonderful script; I wish I could do that! At first I wished the title was a little larger, then I realized how it is employed to cover up the inadequacies in the photograph: Our damsel-in-distress oddly has no fingers or toes, and for some inexplicable reason the Martian himself has no right hand! Where is it? He must be using some sort of extraterrestrial power to hold her up with the power of just one arm!

34. The Wasp Woman
One of the campiest entries in the countdown (another from Corman) boasts a surprisingly elegant and pretty poster. Most people tend to get hung up on the admittedly awkward way in which the female face has been applied to the wasp figure, but if you are able to get around this what remains is a stunning poster: vivid colors, a simple composition, appropriate title typography, a well-organized tagline, and fine artwork. The way in which the wasp woman is grabbing at the male figure — and the resulting expression and body language is superb. Notice also the quality of the fleeing figures, the loosely rendered urban landscape, and most of all: the skulls. If you happen to download this one be sure to zoom in on the skull area — the rendering is very impressive. Bad movie, great poster.

33. Beginning of the End
OK, so this one is over the top — it’s so busy one almost doesn’t know where to look first. There is so much wrong happening here that I’m amazed this poster somehow manages to be a winner. First, allow me to applaud the artist for taking a film where the radioactively enhanced creatures are … grasshoppers … and turning them into some of the coolest looking sci-fi creatures in the history of the genre! Rest assured folks, if you get to see this film you won’t find these critters anywhere inside — and while that’s definitely a let-down of sorts, it really makes for a great poster.

All of the typography struggles to be seen: yellow tags against yellow buildings at the top, and a red title against a red-ish background in the middle. Why not swap red and yellow and make both pieces of type a bit easier to read? It’s also a little unfortunate how the title typography covers up so many of the soldiers firing on the creatures, and even worse how the creatures themselves are so strangely out of proportion: the ones in the background are as large as buildings, yet the one in the center of the design is small enough to have a woman in its maw — who knows, maybe she’s the 50 ft Woman.

Yet in spite of all of these flaws, this is an amazing poster: get a load of the cubism-inspired buildings in the rear, and the creatures themselves! Fascinating juxtaposition of illustration and photography, all within a design that hides a million secrets — I find something new every time I look at this.

32. Killer Shrews
Great stuff, especially from the design point of view. Part of the allure of science fiction / creature films is that moment at the end of the show when the monster is finally revealed. Here’s one of the only posters in the countdown that actually titillates the viewer, just begging them to step up to the box office and buy a ticket — after looking at this poster who doesn’t want to see the rest of the killer shrews? The inclusion of a blood spatter and a high heel push this dangerously close to horror, but considering the nature of the beast, this film is right at home in science fiction. Instead of the previous poster, which looks cool but ultimately disappoints ticket buyers, this does just the opposite: it teases and delivers.

31. Destination Moon
A simply beautiful poster for the quintessential film that set off the sci-fi boom in Hollywood. Required viewing, enough said!

Back next week with ten more!


  1. Zombies of the Stratosphere/Satan's Satellites indeed has merit in an "insider" vein, as even though he's not credited on the posters, it was one of Leonard Nimoy's first jobs in Hollywood -- playing an alien!

  2. Mark, I'm amazed how some of the worst movies (and believe me, I've squandered my youth with some of these movies) have the best posters, graphically. The Killer Shrews poster is so elegant, restrained and enticing, while the movie was so unfortunate (I shoulda known if James Best is the leading man, stay away!).

    This Island Earth only needed a silhouette of the big forehead guy and his minions to get over the imaginative strangeness of this movie, not all that uncoordinated action.

    Then again, we have to remember that the target audience for these movies was writhing in adolescent angst and boredom. They were probably more interested in violence, sex, the apocalypse, sex and the dangers of the unknown more than clean lines and allusive content, so maybe those posters that tried to jam in as much color and action as possible were on the right track.

    Great post for summertime, btw!

  3. Thanks Moira, great comment! I find the This Island Earth poster to be extremely frustrating - there's so much potential there.

    I've seen many of these films (I think 30 or so of the final 50), but The Killer Shrews is not one of them. My extreme familiarity with the crime films made the writing of that countdown so much easier than it has been for this one.

    You are spot on about there being a connection between the posters' busy-ness and the target audience. It also isn't lost on me how, for that same reason (and the wars with television), so many of the posters advertise their use of Technicolor in such large text.