With the invention of motion-picture cameras, a new age of inspiration and creativity was born. Though film began in the 1890s, cinema became a large hit in the 1920s, largely to escape the harsh realities of the Great Depression (cinema was a cheap form of entertainment). It was also the time when sound was added to film, making it a lot more appealing to the mass. To market the film, posters were designed and created for the public to see.
In the early age of cinema, printing was much more difficult. Most posters were illustrated by hand, so reproducing posters was extremely expensive because of the effort involved. The posters of the early 1920s were illustrative, playful, and depicted people in action. Many colors were used and typography was applied with a more liberal aesthetic.
Posters changed throughout the 1930s. Though the illustrative and iconic storytelling remained, the composition and layout of characters became more dramatic, lighting was implemented better, and new applications of typography were explored. Typography was warped to stand out from the overall composition. This is also the time when Disney introduced the first animated film, marking a stepping stone in cinema.
1940s + 1950s
In the the American Golden age of the 40s and the 50s, film posters drastically changed as many different genres emerged. Aside from horror, drama, and comedy, sci-fi and adventure films became widely popular. By this time, the modern meaning of “handmade type” is brought to life. Display typefaces were dominant and the composition of many of the posters were centered or diagonal. Storytelling in posters became gradually less important as the focus moved to the characters of films.
In the 60s, photography and screen printing were used to reproduce posters more quickly and efficiently. With these new mediums, the “collage” or “cut-out” style is used and some posters would only consist of 4 colors or less.
1970s + 1980s
Similar to the 60s, photography was used in film posters throughout the 70s and 80s, and became more prominent than ever before. However, traditional mediums are still used and iconic storytelling is still evident, though more minimalist than previously. Typography, however, drastically changed. The morph and warping of typography was dramatic and using text as part of the image became a common practice. Though display typefaces are used, there is more attention to detail as well as both kerning and tracking. This period marked a shift towards more modern sans-serif typefaces, slowly leaving hand-made display typefaces behind.
From the introduction of Photoshop to experiments in 3D, the 90s was a large leap for cinema posters. Computer programs became more widely used, slowly moving the creation of posters from traditional and hand-made mediums to faster, cheaper forms of production. Typography by this point became mainly standardized serif and san-serif typefaces, though a few decorative elements were added.
2000s + On
Since the new millennium, the use of old school traditional mediums has almost completely disappeared. Photography and Photoshop have largely taken over, and long-winded explanations about the film no longer appear on posters. Rather, most film posters consist simply of title, tagline, and a stylized images. Posters have become simpler and the grid design is almost universally implemented. Many compositions are centered, and story telling has become less illustrative and more minimalistic in approach.