What’s In A Movie Poster?

September 16, 2014

A Collector’s Guide to Movie Poster Terminology

Although many of us spend 90% of our time knee-deep in the technicalities of producing films, the marketing of the finished product is equally as intricate. One aspect to this that everyone can enjoy—fans, fanatics, and filmmakers alike—is the all important movie poster.

Given the vastness of the market, there truly is something for everyone when it comes to collecting movie posters. As such, it’s easy to find a cinematic treasure no matter where your interests lie (or how small your budget may be).

The only difficulty is knowing where to start, as well as getting to grips with the subtleties in movie poster terminology. Even to someone who makes movies, a lot of it can be counter-intuitive at best and frankly baffling at worst.

To begin with a classic case in point…Original or Not?

It sounds like it’d be obvious, but what constitutes as ‘original’ can confuse many new collectors. In a nutshell, it simply means that the poster was issued for use in promoting or advertising a film, not for general sale to the public.

Confusingly however, while nearly all original posters are issued by the National Screen Service (NSS), there are a handful of movie posters which have been issued by another party (such as the studio or a third-party promo company) and they can also be considered original.

To further complicate matters, most NSS-issued posters have their own NSS number, usually stamped or printed near the bottom. But a word of warning: a poster can be an original without an NSS number, and just because a movie poster has one doesn’t mean it’s genuine (since the tag is easily faked).

Re-issues, Re-releases and Re-strikes

In terms of originality, it mainly boils down to how ‘authorized’ the poster is; as such, the term ‘reprint’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fake’ if the print run was conducted by the NSS in an official capacity, and would therefore be an original.

Of course, there are plenty of unauthorized reprints out there which are not to be considered originals. These are generally made by fraudsters looking to sell them as the real deal, and are generally easy to identify if you know what you’re looking for (see further below).

What aren’t easy to identify are NSS re-strikes, which are authorized but in this case not considered to be original. These are intentionally printed for sales purposes by the NSS or studio behind a movie, and since they come from the same source, look virtually identical.

But as they were mass-produced and not intended for theater display reasons, these are not ‘original’ in any sense and are unfit for investment purposes.

Re-releases are another matter altogether. On the event of a movie’s cinematic re-release (usually a massively popular film), a new poster will be issued to go with it. It can vary massively from the original or not at all, but either way it’s still an ‘original’ in its own right albeit slightly less desirable in a collectible sense.

Spotting a Fake Movie Poster: Warning Signs

As it goes in the world of collectibles, fraudsters always try to remain one step ahead of the professionals and use convoluted movie poster terminology to their advantage. In 99% of cases, however, it’s easy to spot the fakers if you stick to common sense and follow a few pointers:

– Buying a super-rare or super-expensive movie poster on eBay? Just don’t. Fakes are easier to verify in person, and the chances that Real_VintageMerobilia2942 is selling a legitimate Frankenstein one-sheet is pretty slim anyway.

– Seller’s credentials. The movie poster community is exceptionally tight-knit, and ‘unknown’ sellers virtually never pop up out of nowhere with a collection of desirable items they found in a stack in the back of a store (a common story).

– Item provenance. When shopping online, provenance is highly important. A legitimate seller won’t have any problem at including every shred of information regarding where it came from, what year it was printed, the sizing, etc. A conman, on the other hand, will.

– Folded, not rolled. Prior to the 1980s, movie posters were almost always folded and you should be asking some serious questions if someone tries to sell you a rolled poster from the vintage era. You can usually see decades-old fold marks in online images.

– Trust your senses. Fraudsters can’t get their hands on blank vintage paper of the kind they printed movies on during the golden age, and the difference in feel and hue is startlingly obvious when compared side by side with modern fakes. If you’re able to inspect it in person, do examine the paper and also the smell; modern printing smells of ink, whereas vintage printing does not.

– Look for printing alignment lines. The X or L shaped markings appeared on the corners of most posters pre-1960s, and a lot of them up until the 1980s. Fraudsters, however, rarely remember to add these since modern printers don’t require them.

And lastly, follow the good old mantra: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!