Movie artwork of the 1980’s

Do you remember a time when walking into your local video shop (…that’s right ‘VIDEO’!) was a magical experience and the chunky video cassette boxes smeared with hand painted artwork glared at you amongst the giant cardboard advertisements? Well I do and it made a huge impression on me. I would go down to Video City in Aldershot(now a hairdressers) and spend hours picking up each new release and studying the cover art- when we hired the video we would always have them in a big green case with no artwork so the shelf copies HAD to be studied before hiring!

It was always the 18 section that got me buzzed the most- seeing Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers staring down at me gave me goosebumps and made me long for the day I could actually hire an 18 movie! But without those covers, advertisement cutouts and posters cluttering the place there would be no appeal or magic!

The 80’s were definitely a time when every character in the movie would be adorning the cover and pretty much every cover was hand painted with a bold title in its own specific font. It was rare to see a cover for a movie that wasn’t cluttered with plot ruining images, if there was it would 9 times out of 10 be a bicep flexing Arnie or Sly Stallone,
These covers fell into certain catagories:- Sexy, Funny, Serious or unashamedly powerful!

It was the ‘Powerful’ theme that got the most use, it literally summed up the decade- muscle flexing, weapon toting, pose giving bombastic dominance (possibly America’s political stance towards the rest of the world at the time!) I fell in love with some of these pieces of artwork, below are some examples, good and bad of some of these movies from the era that still puts a smile on my face:

My first ’18’ was ‘A nightmare on elm street’ and it royally freaked me out, I was about 8 years old and had to spend a week sleeping on the floor in my ma’s room! Great artwork here though, the video cover is a little less striking but this was the advertising poster used!

You see the cover and you want to watch- it’s simple and it worked… well for me anyway!

Note the use of fonts, always reflecting the mood of the film, i.e sci fi, childrens, futuristic, scary etc etc…

Raunchy humor was a big theme through out 80’s cinema and these display covers that perfectly… Remember the donkey doing drugs scene in Bachelor party…!

One of my favorite movies- ‘The Lost Boys’, Ahead of it’s time and in a world of it’s own back then, the artwork summed up the mood and style of the movie perfectly! great use of music, mega strong characters, nice blend of humor and horror and superb acting especially from Keither Sutherland to a 9 year old boy this reeked of sexy decadence!

The National Lampoons covers were clever because they literally took the piss out of the genre and played on the themes so many movies used and took far too seriously! They are also comedy gold, Chevy Chase is dynamite in these movies!

As you can see here, taking themselves rather too seriously, mind you, Masters of the Universe is a classic and I may have watched it a little too many times as a little-un (I had a thing for Teela!) Typical 80’s cover format though- cluttered, hand painted awesomeness!

Robocop’s cover signalled a change- a more slicker, less pastiche and more accurate style of artwork- soon after we would see less and less of the hand painted covers and more sparse, photographic covers.

The cover to the right is a Soul Bass influenced design that was used to advertise the movie in various different parts of the world- you would often get a variety of covers for one movie as civilization and taste differs around the world.

I think it’s safe to say the photographic cover is the better of these two, even though there is heavy airbrushing used to create the cyborg effect! Terminator is for me one of the best movies of the decade and really scared the crap out of me when i saw it as a very young and impressionable little dude, I have to admit that I fell in love with Linda Hamilton too!

Tim Curry’s portrayal of the devil in ‘Legend’ is possibly my favourite villain of all time- he plays this role so well its incredible, add to that amazing prosthetics, lighting and production and you have one hell of a movie on your hands! Great artwork on both covers!

Some very different movies but you can see the similarity in the creation of the cover artwork! The score for Flight of the Navigator is one of my all time favourites- sheer class, have a listen to the end credits and you will see what I mean.

More hand painted covers- the thing about this technique was you had to get the likeness spot on or it just looked crap- some failed but most really delivered and these two either side are no exceptions!

One is a comedy, one is serious, by todays standards both would suggest comedy! Anything M.J Fox did in the 80’s was golden, Teen wolf is no exception- great characters, innocent fun and a scene that made me more than aware of the opposite sex…! Over the top is good in a kind of sentimental way!

Both fantastic movies, but my god, terrible covers- they let the film down when they create sub standard poor artwork to advertise! Never Ending Story was the first movie I saw at the cinema, along with E.T!!!!

Here we have two really great examples of a good movie cover- Ghost is incredible, for the time, this cover really stood out and it’s so slick, from the perfect font use to the colour choice and even the focus of the picture!

Typical late 80’s photographic, carefully set up imagery. Both covers are very strong and work well, alot of time has evidently gone into setting the shots up! Boy do I miss John Candy, he was such a brilliant Comedy actor and a very lovable guy.

Two good examples of stark, visually graphic covers that have aged gracefully- the text on fatal attraction is very 80’s but Pretty in pink could be a new film! It’s down to a great use of colour and good design.

Here we have two very sparse, simplistic but well done covers. Both are millitary orientated movies and the artwork reflects this but also gives a glimpse of something more. Empire of the sun’s artwork is incredible, with a great use of the font!

Again, these two covers are in my opinion, brilliant, bearing in mind the lack of artistic computer technology present at the time, they manage to surpass some of todays cover art which goes to show it’s down to the idea and skill of the artist/designer as opposed to the technique and tools to get the best results!

Brilliant painted cover art with the winning idea of not giving too much away- for example as good as say- the famous Jaws artwork was, it didn’t leave much to the imagination- a shark eats some humans etc, it’s always good to tease and intrigue rather than expose and inform.

Two covers superbly painted , capturing very different moods, but in my opinion being let down by a poor choice of font. The Great outdoors is another of my all time favorite movies- the genius humor between Dan Ackroyd and John Candy is pant wettingly hilarious!

Two covers for the same movie… again, my thoughts on this are that Bond by this time had been around for a while and consequently had older fans but a new era was upon us and action was very much the order of the day for the younger audiences, thus a cover to appeal to each generation was in order!

Rain Man- a humble looking cover with an intelligent looking font and two very different characters. This cover screams out Oscar to me, the simplicity of it and the subject matter is there to see.

To Right we have ‘Krull’, Not such a great cover and to be honest I aint seen it BUT this movie used to glare down at me from the top shelf and give me the heebie jeebies every time- the tag line on the cover said “A world light years beyond your imagination” -I thought it was referring to me and so it made an impression without me even seeing it- the power of cover art girls and boys! Another notable story connected is- Motley Crue used to reffer to Cocaine as ‘Krull’ so they could ask each other for it in public without offending- they claimed while high on coke, they would imagine themselves resembling the monster on the cover of the movie!

Knocking on the door of the 90’s movie cover art changed dramatically, it seemed to get more serious and arty as opposed to simple and busy.  These two show different styles but a deffinate change in cover direction. You can almost see the link between ‘Sex, Lies’ and trainspotting, it’s got that edgier vibe about it that was simple but effective and seriously abundant circa mid- late 90’s!

Finally we have two 1980’s classics with detailed hand painted covert art and their very own font designed logo’s. The word I would use to describe these covers is -Energetic! So much is presented within a small space and attention is grabbed by the layout of this.

As with anything, times evolve and trends change but I would say that the 1980’s excelled in movie cover/poster design simply because it wasn’t afraid to be big and bold and boisterous, the goal was always to entertain and flamboyance was in baby! When you picked up a movie and stared at the cover you knew there and then if you were gonna like or dislike that particular film. I’ve missed a few gems here I know such as Batman & Ghostbusters, possibly the two best films of the 80’s but they deserve there own post so I will leave till’ another day. Oh to go back to the days of chewed up video tapes and Rod Jane & Freddy-  In the words of Gwildor from Masters of the universe…”It tasted goooood!” .

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About High Velocity Trifle

My friends call me Sammy Lee but I was born Lee Tomlinson, I play drums in loads of bands and have done since I was 12, music is an obsession of mine, I try to balance it with my other love which is design; digital / hand drawn illustration / photography / video... I love to be creative and get excited when I see other peoples clever use of imagery, whether it be a piece of graffiti, a billboard, a magazine advertisement, brand logo design, an original/against the grain adornment of style, not to mention a well executed shamrock in the head of a pint of Guinness... What? Music and design share many similarities and as a working musician and design degree student I intend on creating work that depicts this as I try to establish myself as a graphic designer. I studied graphic design at ND level after leaving school and since then I have concentrated my efforts on playing music- this has been frustrating to say the least but also given me some incredible moments to cherish- I have some road stories and varied success with a few artists. The music industry leaves you with a very sour, synthetic taste after a while... Kinda like Sambuca but less flammable, but I was fortunate to record in many of London's legendary studio's and play in some great venues. After nearly ten years of sacrificing a decent wage (and occupation) playing music full time, I now want to focus more on my design work and put more of my artistic energy into this area/platform from which to be creative. There will always be critics and confidence breakers in every creative field but at least with creative design you don't have to deal with LSD (lead singer disease) ego platforms, dodgy promoters, touring up and down the country with hairy smelly wannabe rock stars and lugging instruments too and fro setting up only to find out the total attendance at that particular gig is the bar staff and the support band... I don't agree with that in the workplace!
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