Copycats Building on Established Audience Approval

Ever feel like you’ve seen a movie poster before?  There’s just something about it…maybe the way the woman on the poster is posed, or the expression on her face, or the way she’s half hidden behind the main character.  Maybe something as simple as the font style and the color of the background.

It’s probably because you’ve seen almost the same thing, maybe a hundred times before.

Cabin Fever/Shrooms

Credit: Shortlist.com

For anyone who doesn’t know the movies, the two can be summed up as fairly similar.  In Cabin Fever, the characters escape into the woods for a fun, adventure-filled weekend when they are struck by a horrible disease that threatens to kill them all.  In Shrooms, the characters also escape to the woods, but this time in hunt of psychedelic mushrooms.  When the main girl accidentally ingests a poisonous mushroom, one that gives her a “bad trip” that she can’t separate from reality, before ultimately wondering whether she will die or not.

The movies are extremely similar, and the posters for these movies reflect that.  The skull in both is created from the environment, from a combination of light within the trees and the sky.  This symbolizes that their environment is causing the problem; assumedly, the characters would all not be dying if they never adventured into the woods.

Shortlist.com outlines a number of these eerily similar movie posters.

9gag user Urugag shares a giant compilation of images which contrast the sheer number of movie posters with similar themes.

On another level, Cracked points out similar actor poses on movie posters.  That is, actors very often pose in the same ways on posters in which they star.  My favorite example in Eric Yosomono’s article was Jackie Chan’s foot or fist always being larger than his head.  Jackie Chan can nearly always be found in the fighting stance, and this reveals a couple things to the viewer:

  1. This is going to be an action movie.
  2. You should expect action and violence.
  3. Jackie Chan is going to do some serious action scenes, and will dominate all of his enemies.
  4. The action in the movie is going to overpower any intellectual thoughts (hence the foot and fist being closer to the viewer, with his head far behind).

But these are wonderful keys for the audience.  If you like Jackie Chan movies, you’re going to like the one that the poster is advertising.  If you know you don’t like the movies, you can stay away from the new movie.

jackie chan for 2Credit: Cracked.com

Other movies trying to emulate Jackie Chan’s expertise also copy this style.  Even though Owen Wilson’s movie is obviously going to be a comedy, we can still expect to see action moments in a Jackie-Chan style.

Drillbit Taylor Credit: Impawards.com

The real question: why not come up with a completely new movie poster, so that audiences can recognize that this movie is going to be something they haven’t seen before?

One answer is obvious: because we have seen this before.  Same movie with different characters means the director should at least acknowledge how similar his movie is going to be with the ones who came before it.

Another answer is based on the audience.  If the audience liked a movie with specific themes, then, in recognizing the similarities, they will be drawn to the new movie as something they already know they will like.  If you like one movie about a vigilante, like V for Vendetta, you’ll probably like another, like Blade.  It’s an easy way to point viewers in the right direction.

It’s up to the viewer to decide whether he’s ready for repetition or a breath of fresh air.  It’s not that we can’t enjoy them, but change is good.

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About Katlyn Slough

I am an undergraduate student at Rowan University, currently studying Creative Writing and Rhetoric. It is my ultimate goal to write for a living, no matter how I wind up writing. For this blog, I'll be looking at the visual components and aesthetics of movie posters.

One comment

  1. I believe it was Ferguson who noted how many of the highest grossing movies are either remakes or sequels, capitalizing on the success of their predecessors. In movies, music, games and TV, producers reiterate on established trends because they know it’ll appeal to their audience, rather than risk something new getting lost on moviegoers and losing money . Just think of how often sepia tones are used in posters and trailers; once I became aware of the technique, I started noticing it everywhere.

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