History of advertising: No. 173: The first film poster

Film posters are one of the few advertising forms to have shown the power to burn itself into public consciousness so deeply that its appeal can endure for decades after the creative work first appeared.

History of advertising: No. 173: The first film poster

It is truly remarkable how many examples of what started out as nothing more than mere printed marketing materials should have achieved the status of high art while those that created them have built cult followings.

With all that in mind, it would be natural to assume that Hollywood, the spiritual home of movie-makers for more than a century, was also the birthplace of the film poster.

In fact, film posters first saw the light of day not on the US West Coast but more than 5,800 miles away in France and 15 years before the first movie came out of Hollywood.

Jules Chéret, the painter and lithographer who is generally regarded as the father of outdoor advertising, is credited with creating the first movierelated poster in 1890. It was a lithograph depicting a young girl holding a poster announcing the times of a film show. However, it was visual artist Marcellin Auzolle who set the tone for what was to come by designing the first-ever poster promoting an individual film.

It was a 49-second slapstick comedy called L’Arroseur Arrosé produced by Louis Lumière, shot in Lyon and first screened on 10 June 1895. Until then, movie ads were crudely drawn block-lettered signs that announced only the film’s title, producer and director.

Things you need to know

  • Few famous US movie posters have survived from before the 1940s. An original poster from this era discovered in a Pennsylvania attic recently fetched £340,000 at auction.
  • Lead times for posters can vary from 18 months to two weeks. Designers usually start on concepts at the beginning of filming.
  • A volatile movie industry has resulted in studios producing too much risk-averse advertising, critics claim. Ad-makers often have to face countless approvals because of sensitivities about credits and star billings.
  • Theatres chose not to promote individual films but rather the technical marvels of the novel new medium of cinema. Auzolle, though, set the pattern for future film advertising, focusing on the fact that people go to the cinema to have a good time. His poster features an audience laughing as the film is projected on a screen.
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