How to start collecting and buying movie posters: the smart 5-step guide to film art

Looking to adorn your walls with some choice movie posters?

Of course you are!

In the early days of cinema, movie posters were used for purely promotional purposes. Since then, they have evolved into glorious works of creative genius. Granted, some in more recent years haven’t been the most exciting, but considering how many movies are released each year, that’s to be expected.

For film fans, they’re an affordable first step into collectibles that happen to look utterly badass.

Before you yomp off eager to purchase, there are a few things you need to know.

See, it all depends on what you want them for.

You don’t want to splurge on a poster that looks cool, stick it up in your rec room, and then discover that poster for The Dark Knight which is half-dangling off the wall with loads of pinholes in the corner is actually worth more than your car. That would break your heart.

To ensure that *that* doesn’t happen, I’m going to run you through the basics of movie posters.

This here guide will run through the various types of posters. I’ll break them down into the five major types, explain what makes them different and supply you with plenty of tips on how to start a great movie poster collection.

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1. Original movie posters

An original movie poster is a poster produced by a studio or the National Screen Service (back in the day) that are distributed to movie theaters for advertising upcoming movies.

In the US the most common type of original is referred to as one-sheets and are portrait-style. You often see the double-sided one-sheets backlit in multiplex lobbies.

Other sizes range from the small to absolutely giant posters in bus stops, train stations, and on billboards. Two of my favourites in my personal collection were from bus shelters in the UK (Scream 2, and The Blair Witch Project).

An important thing to remember is that original doesn’t necessarily mean old. You could have an original poster for a film that’s in theaters right now. This glorious Avengers: Infinity Wars poster that’s going to grow increasingly rarer is on sale right now.

So why might you want to purchase an original?

Three reasons.

  1. You’re absolutely besotted with a film and the idea of owning an original, limited edition (because all originals are by their nature limited editions) piece of art is just plain brilliant
  2. You like the idea of building a movie poster collection
  3. It’s a potential future investment

If you love movies, and like the artwork, then by all means: collect.

If you want to keep your artwork in the perfect environment, in a sealed, temperature-controlled vault, then do it. I say, whatever brings you joy in this area: do it.

There are a few key details to remember, however.

Just because your original film poster is old, or for a popular movie, that doesn’t mean it has worth. That worth, the perceived cost, stems from demand.

For example, your original poster for Dark Star might be “valued” at a few hundred bucks (it’s in good condition, it’s an original, it’s not got too many dints) but the worth? Well that’s all about how much is willing to pay for it.

Here’s a great tip from a Lucasfilm fan relations director (via Aliens Collection) on how to figure out how much something is worth:

“What a collectible is “worth” is really the price that another person is willing to pay you for it. And the very best way to get up-to-the-minute information like that is to go to eBay.com, enter [collectible name here], and you’ll see what owners are trying to sell them for. Then click on “advanced search” and check the box “complete auctions only” to see what they actually sold for.”

It all boils down to what movie poster collecting means to you.

Do you want to rock a killer collection that’s kept away from prying eyes, or have an array of awesome posters on your walls?

2. Vintage movie posters

vintage movie posters for sale

Before you start scratching your head, you’re right: vintage movie poster does sound an awful lot like an original.

Vintage, classic, original… what’s the diff?

Original means an authentic poster.

Classic and vintage are used interchangeably to kinda mean the same thing.

While a term like antique means a piece that’s over a hundred years old, vintage or classic are not as clearly defined. For one person it might mean a poster for a movie that’s more than a decade old. For another it could mean a movie that’s pre-1970s. In any case – they typically mean older than a decade.

Bearing that in mind, a Gone With The Wind AND a Star Wars movie poster could both be considered vintage.

If you’re after a proper vintage – one that was produced back when the movie was first released – then that’s also, technically, an original. As I mentioned above, a poster hung in theaters now for the new Deadpool movie is an original, and in a few decades it will be known as a vintage. Star Wars opened in 1977 and those original posters hung in lobbies back then are vintage and now fetch a fair amount.

Jacker Hack
Often you can grab these original one-sheets from your local cinema once films have ended their time on the big screen. This movie theater in Mount Vernon even advertises their old posters online – for a mere $5! Bargain.

Okay, you’ve decided you’re doing it: you’re going to pick up a vintage one-sheet. Trouble is: how do you tell if it’s the real deal or not?

With the world catching on to the movie collectible market, you want to ensure you’re not purchasing a forgery. David Lieberman, who runs CineMasterpieces says this is a growing issue:

“Films that are very popular usually have all kinds of reproductions, licensed and unlicensed (bootlegs) and they are always on eBay. The market is flooded with them. Sometimes reproductions are so close in quality to originals that it is VERY hard to tell them apart… There’s a huge market for movie poster forgeries.”

revenge of the jedi poster, star wars movie posters for saleMy advice is to never spend what you’re not comfortable parting with.

Sure, that uber-rare Revenge of the Jedi poster (the early teaser posters for Jedi have a different title – hence the rarity) would look AWESOME on your wall. But do you really want to fork out $700+ when you’re not completely certain of its authenticity?

If in doubt, visit a reputable movie poster dealer. You can search locally for one in your town, or you can contact one online. CineMasterpieces and MoviePosters.com are two such places.

I’m also a member of a Facebook group, Movie Poster Collectors, which has helped me learn about detecting forgeries.

There’s plenty of knowledgeable folks out there who can help you acquire the real poster you’re after and also lend advice on any potential future purchases.

Hang on. What if you still want that lovely Revenge of the Jedi poster hung in your living room, but don’t want to fork out?

Simple.

Buy a reproduction.

3. Reproduction movie posters

movie posters for sale cheap, movie posters

I’ll admit it.

Owning an original movie poster for a film you love is great. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with opting for a reproduction. After all, we’ve just covered the fact that originals can be rather spendy, and may take time to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

So why go for a reproduction?

Let me tell you a little story. One of my favourite films is Mulholland Drive. The posters for it are stunning — and rather pricey.

At the time of release, I desperately needed the original Spanish one-sheet because my life would be over otherwise. Hey, I was 21.

As it turned out, the feasibility of spending a larger amount on a poster that would require care and attention was trumped by my desire to look at it every day and not worry about it getting damaged.

I purchased a great reproduction of said poster shortly after, and it still hangs on my old bedroom wall to this day (sorry, Ma!)

Likewise, I had a great Carrie one-sheet and an awesome one for The Shining.

You can enjoy stunning film art without having to break the bank.

I moved house a couple of years ago and really wanted an Aliens poster. That too, is one of my favourite movies. I’d put off the decision to purchase one because I knew I wanted to care for it properly and have the correct storage parameters in place.

Saying that I still really wanted the iconic image of Ripley and Newt up on the wall. So I simply got a reproduction. It makes me feel like an ultimate badass each time I walk past it.

That doesn’t mean that they’re illegal or bootlegs. They’re absolutely 100% legal. That Aliens poster? It’s not a bootleg: it’s just not technically an original. It’s a reprint/reproduction licensed by the studio.

4. Framed movie posters

framed movie posters, movie posters for sale

Depending on which type of poster you have – an original, a super rare vintage, or a reproduction – you might be tempted to show it off in all its snazzy glory. Fair play. Movie posters were created to entice us, right?

Why not have them on display instead of rolled up, in a temperature-controlled vault.

If you’re serious about your memorabilia, or are quite fond of not having pinholes and/or putty marks staining your living room wall, then framing is the way to go.

Framed movie posters are excellent for home theater displays, giving your abode that glitz and glamour of your local movie theater, without the scent of rancid popcorn.

They also make terrific gifts, because, let’s face it, no-one ever gets excited about cardboard tubes on their birthday (cats excluded).

Before you go about framing your film art or prepping that poster for your brother’s birthday, there are a few things to know:

  • Don’t put your posters behind glass. Plexiglass is the way to go.
  • Whatever you do: don’t trim your posters (unless it’s a reproduction that you can easily replace)
  • Glue is not your friend! If you’re framing it correctly, there’s no need to use a store-bought adhesive
  • Consider getting them framed by professionals

The last point is one I highly recommend.

You could easily scout out a place locally that can frame an existing item. Otherwise, online stores will offer up framing for posters – right as you’re purchasing them.

Before planning to get your work framed, I recommend reading this fantastic in-depth guide penned by Sue Heim of HollywoodPosterFrames that delves into the technical specifics of why getting a poster framed is important.

5. Alternative movie posters

star wars poster

Alternative movie posters have grown increasingly popular in the last decade. They are created by a bunch of super skilled designers with a massive love for movies.

But wait a second — can’t anybody just do that?

True. Anyone can design a poster for whatever they like.

Want to design a Terminator one sheet that has an endoskeleton sucking on a lollipop? Be my guest! But if you want to sell it, the art has to be fully licensed.

That means: the rightsholder to the property, usually a studio or production house, has given permission for recognisable images, text and characters to be used for commercial reasons. (They get a cut, too, which helps!)

Even though they’re not technically originals – because they weren’t distributed during a theatrical run – alternative posters tend to be limited editions. They are highly collectible for a few reasons.

As well as the scarcity of the items, they’re just plain AWESOME.

I mean, look at that trio of Star Wars posters above. None of these were studio-commissioned designs. They were all conjured up by artists who worked on them after the films had been released. Most of them, decades after.

When you think about it, it kinda makes sense that these posters are so damn genius; they’re made by fans.

Wrapping up

You’ve decided you want to start a movie poster collection. Hooray!

But still, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices available. Not having a basic knowledge of the types of posters out there can be troublesome: if you don’t know what type of poster you’re buying, you stand to get taken for a ride by unsavoury sorts on eBay.

Seriously, it happened to me.

Luckily, all that is in the past!

You’re now armed with a fundamental understanding of the five types of film poster, so you can be better equipped to sniff out a great deal. They are:

  • Original movie posters: produced by movie studios to promote upcoming films
  • Vintage movie posters: an original that’s been around for a while
  • Reproduction movie posters: fully-licensed copies of original posters
  • Framed movie posters: any type of poster that’s housed in a frame
  • Alternative movie posters: licensed posters that are normally limited editions

Go forth, and start buying movie posters with the confidence that you’re going to get exactly what you want, and not some dodgy bootleg that Keith from work says he got from a “reputable source”.

Be sure to let us know how your collection is going and if you’ve got any other tips on scoring good deals on movie posters, sound off in the comments!

Images: Valerie Everett  CC BY-SA / Michael Saechang  CC BY-SA / Ed CC BY-SA / M01229 CC INT Bob Bekian  CC BY-SA / Olly Moss via Steve Wilson CC BY 2.0, Davidd,CC BY 2.0

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About Author

Gem is a freelance entertainment journalist, a professional blogger, and social media nerd, who is uber-obsessed with the Alien franchise. She can also be found drumming, baking and being a librarian when not geeking out.

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