Decoding Iconic Sci-Fi Movie Posters: A Journey Through Cinema History

Movie posters are a key part of advertising films and also can be a wonderful piece of art. Over the years there have been truly iconic film posters – such as the Jaws poster of the shark beneath the swimmer or the disturbing black and white poster for A Clockwork Orange. Sci-fi movies can have a difficult time trying to convey.

Star Wars

The Star Wars franchise is a useful tool to take us through almost fifty years of poster design. First and foremost, the poster is designed to get the audience interested in the film, then perhaps to give some idea of what the film is about. The posters for Star Wars: A New Hope scream science-fiction adventure – it shows the cast, ranging from plucky heroes to the sinister Darth Vader to cute robots; it has light sabres and blasters. The Empire Strikes Back poster is slightly more sombre but with a similar feel – the cast on the poster and some sci-fi accoutrements. Return of the Jedi again has the same style, but they have added an Ewok. In each poster, Darth Vader dominates the background. The major posters for the prequel trilogy follow much the same formula, with slightly sharper graphics. There is a poster for The Phantom Menace that is one of the most effective movie posters I’ve ever seen. It simply shows the child Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine and his shadow displayed on a wall behind – but the shadow is that of Darth Vader.


A film that came out two years after ANH was Alien, another seminal sci-fi movie with an iconic poster that spans the decades like Star Wars.. And as Alien is a very different sort of sci-fi film to ANH so is the poster. Whereas Star Wars tries to give you some idea of what to expect Alien does the opposite, most of the poster is sheer black, with a picture of an alien egg, a line of light cutting across the egg and the famous tagline – In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream. This is a mysterious poster, it is a cool poster, and despite the lack of detail and information, you want to see this film. For the later Alien films the posters change back and forth – sometimes focussing on Ripley and others the xenomorph. Prometheus is probably the best poster since the first film – again creating this mysterious image where a person will try and work out what is going on.

Posters As Art First

Cult sci-fi movie The One I Love has a film poster that only truly makes sense after you’ve seen the film and demonstrates a big shift in movie posters. There was a time when the ability to reach an audience was rather limited and posters may have been the most effective way to inform people about your film. Since the late 90s that is no longer the case – trailers are watched millions of times online, people know a great deal about the films they could see, so the poster has changed from informative and eye-catching to more like works of art. Moon is a great and underappreciated sci-fi film and it’s poster is also a work of art, perhaps not the most informative, but it look’s great.

The Best Film Poster Ever Made? The Truman Show

The Truman Show has one of the greatest posters of all time – it looks amazing, is intriguing and while not going into the plot demonstrates what the film is about. The poster is a huge picture of Truman’s face but is a mosaic picture – as this image is made up of lots of small images of Truman. The film is about a man who is being filmed every moment of his life, where people can see just about every aspect of him…it is almost perfect for a film poster.

Also Read: Movie Marketing: Films That Thought Outside The Box

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Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.