Top billing

John Cooper flicks through the book Film Posters of the 80s, which brings together the iconic posters of the decade that influenced generations

The first emotion you feel when you open Film Posters of the 80s is nostalgia, especially if you were too young to see the films when they were originally released.

At 13 years old, I was too young to see The Terminator at the cinema, but I still salivated over the poster because I knew any movie with a poster like that would be filled with blood-curdling violence and state-of-the-art special effects. What more would a 13-year-old want from a film? In reality, the poster for The Terminator is the slickest thing about the film. It fetishes star Arnold Schwarzenegger – he looks like he’s been cast in bronze – and every detail in the poster, from the Colt .45 to Schwarzenegger’s sunglasses has a polished, airbrushed quality that would become synonymous with high octane, brainless action adventures made in the 1980s. The poster promises adult sci-fi with Star Wars-quality special effects; the movie delivers action that is almost as clunky as the film’s monolithic protagonist.

Many posters for big budget movies in the 1980s did reflect the movies: they were loud, obnoxious, vacuous and totally irresistible. The Top Gun poster has all the exuberant style of Tony Scott’s film, all the better to persuade punters that this film is unmissable. In their introduction, Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh describe films Flashdance and Fame as ‘videos stretched to feature length’, adding that they ‘did the business for aerobic classes and manufacturers of legwarmers’. Well, Top Gun’s stars may have been young, dumb and full of come, but the film (and the poster) did wonders for sales of leather bomber jackets with lots of gung-ho patches sewn on.

The Right Stuff poster uses the same jingoistic imagery as Top Gun, with a logo in glorious red, white and blue, but there are subversive forces at work. The astronauts in the poster appear to be the stars, but the real hero of the film is Chuck Yeager, a pilot, not an astronaut. Yeager used his skill and guts to fly planes at unprecedented speed and altitude, the astronauts were thought of as monkeys strapped to an enormous rocket. Yeager is the one with the right stuff, not the astronauts in the poster.

Independent film makers provided the fodder for many of the classic posters of the 1980s. One look at the poster for The Evil Dead tells you this is not family viewing. The image shows a zombie grabbing a girl by the throat and the typography has been custom-designed, producing a logo with a jagged, edgy style that perfectly reflects the kinetic, visceral, darkly comic appeal of the film.

By the 1980s, moviegoers had, according to critic Pauline Kael, tired of films ‘that are all car crashes and killings and perversity’. Family movies like ET, with its fantastic poster image of Elliot riding his BMX over the moon, were the films that were bringing in the big bucks. Studios had honed their marketing tactics with films such as Star Wars and Jaws in the 1970s and posters became a crucial weapon in their arsenal.

But the posters lost something. In trying to be all things to all people, they lost some of the single-minded passion that made posters for films like The Evil Dead and The Right Stuff the perfect complement to their celluloid brethren.

Film posters of the 80s is edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh and is published on 1 November by Aurum, priced £14.95

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