Birth of movie poster
Movie poster have been used since the earliest public exhibitions of film, at the end of the 19th century. It was then the main promotional tool for a movie, in which studios invested large amounts of money, using best artists to distinguish their movie from competitors like Jean Mascii, Boris Grinsson, Constantin Belinsky, Guy Gerard Noel, Saul Bass, Enzo Sciotti, Tom Jung, Drew Struzan, John Alvin ou Richard Amsel (see Movie Poster Artists Galery).
Here is the first movie poster, for the film l'Arroseur Arrosé by Louis Lumière (1895) :
From illustration to photomontage
Illustration instead of photos was far more common, prior to the 1990s. Photos were introduced in movie posters from late 1950s, because they were cheaper ; but they also allow less artistic originality (even if many photomontages are also beautiful).
Meanwhile, printing methods become more and more industrialized : after silkscreen follows lithography, and then color-offset printing, with color quality loss and wider print run.
Promotion being more and more dedicated to trailers, radio, TV and internet, the budget left for movie posters has been progressively reduced, limiting the creativity of movie poster artists.
Since the 2000's in particular, advertisers have more and more put aside artistic consideration, to concentrate on well-known marketing techniques aiming to fill movie theatres, like a close-up of the movie star, a background color depending on movie genre (white for comedy, black for thriller..), going as far as pretesting the visuals on a representative public sample.
Consequence : the general tendency to visual standardization, and because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a great poster setting from the blog of Christophe Courtois :
Fortunately, there are still many exceptions among recent movie posters, like the beautiful "advance" english posters of Black Swan (2010), Love & Mercy (2014) and Inherent Vice (2014), or the movie poster of Star Wars 7 (2015) by Drew Struzan. :
Digital movie poster
This is THE main threat that hangs over movie posters.
Indeed, apart from the visual standardization, movie documents (including movie posters) are exposed to growing digitalization of promotional tools, of which famous producer George Lucas is a fervent supporter. According to him, all movies being already digitalized, why won't it be the same for their promotional tools ? Besides, numerous press kits are already sent on digital medium. And it is foreseen that in a near future, movie posters will not be displayed in movie theatres, but screen shown.
To conclude, it seems that we are really witnessing the slow extinction of "paper" movie posters, and of paper documents in general. Fortunately, the movie poster market is still in great shape, thanks to collectors more numerous and willing to preserve this unique historical heritage.
The Mauvais Genres team