This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Below are a selection of what I feel to be truly great foreign movie posters of UK or US films. Some of them were officially sanctioned and used in the marketing campaign, others independently released by distributors or artists, while some are basically one-off homemade efforts which somehow escaped into the wild. All are works of art offering a unique and different slant on the film in question, going far beyond the usual “it stars this person, and features them doing that, and visiting here.” Some are iconic scenes twisted beyond all recognition, others moments which usually go unnoticed. While I am in no way an art critic, I’ve tried to give some context to what you’re seeing.
Finally, special mention must go to Poland, who have rightly made a true art form of unique poster design. If you’ve seen foreign movie posters before, there’s a good chance they’re Polish. I could have easily filled the whole list with the work from that one country. Enjoy!
Star Wars – Russia
As you might expect, Star Wars was as much a gold boom to international poster designers as it was to everybody else. But in particular Soviet era designers seemed to connect to it, producing some of the most amazing work. But this Russian poster is my particular favorite, featuring a cat-faced Darth Vader shooting a rainbow of lightsabers from his head while an assortment of aliens surround him. I’m not sure if the artist had actually seen the film before they drew this, but it doesn’t really matter. Darth Vader is a malevolent big cat hunting his prey. It works.
The Empire Strikes Back – Hungary
As mentioned above, something about Star Wars seemed to really inspire the Eastern Bloc to create truly magnificent works of art. This Hungarian take by Tibor Helényi is no exception. While Vader and the bounty hunters are menacing at the front of the poster, while the Star Destroyers lurk ominously above, Helényi reserves the star turn in the poster for the AT-AT, which becomes a haunting terror straight from your nightmares, which is exactly how it should appear to both audiences and rebel pilots upon seeing it for the first time.
Return Of The Jedi – Russia
I guess they felt like they could really flex their creative muscles when the third one came around? It’s truly, truly surreal.
Saving Private Ryan – Poland
A limited edition print from 2012, this Leszek Zebrowski design feels more of a piece with Apocalypse Now than Saving Private Ryan. Until you actually re-watch Saving Private Ryan and realise just how brutal it is as a film. Which makes this piece of art the perfect poster to accompany the carnage of the D-Day landings.
The Godfather – Cuba
El Padrino indeed. A epic poster befitting an epic film, this conjures up images of Catholicism so intertwined with not only the mafia but Cuba and Latin America too. Both cultures fusing to create a take on a film which already has iconic, stunning, poster work. But this is the flip side of the puppet master. This is revenge, the devil vs God, and a whole mess of subtext wrapped in ornate presentation.
The Godfather Part II – Poland
What’s not to like here? Andrzej Klimowski’s original 1976 Polish poster for its cinema release is truly something special. The question on the poster, and indeed in the film, is who sits upon the throne? Who is the Don? This is a question for both the audience and the characters.
Michael seeks to establish his dominance of the Corleone’s, but at the same time we are asked to watch Vito’s own rise to power. Both lay claim to sitting in the chair, and this creates a powerful image which intrigues and delights.
Planet Of The Apes – Romania
Taking its cues from pop art rather than the film, this poster is a different take on Planet Of The Apes. It feels more like it would be in keeping as a cover jacket for the original book rather than the film, but there’s no denying it has a sinister style of its own which makes it a deserving representation of the film.
The Fly – Poland
Possibly the most famous image in the Polish film poster body of work, Eugeniusz Skorwider’s The Fly takes the body horror of the Cronenberg’s classic and puts it front and center. In some ways it reminds of David Shrigley, and I half expect to read some incisive commentary to go with it. But instead there’s no getting away from the fact The Fly will be a brutal and transformative experience.
Anaconda – Ghana
There’s something truly special about the hand-painted posters from Ghana. Bootlegged gems one and all, the art is endearing, on point, and hilarious all at the same time. Take this spectacular one of Anaconda. Who the hell wouldn’t want to immediately see this film upon looking at this. Only an image of Jon Voight’s stupendous leer could compete.
Fatal Attraction – Poland
Feel the allegorical power. Despite featuring no imagery whatsoever of the film, this poster tells you everything you need to know about the morality play you are about to watch. It uses our knowledge of the bible, the phrase, ‘hell hath no fury…’ and the requisite power of the simple intertwined image to hack our brains and get us to create meaning. Superb.
King Kong – Belgian Congo
This poster for the classic King Kong comes from colonial Belgian Congo. Which is telling, as while some of the original US posters made a point of playing up King King’s ‘native’ origins, portraying him as something unknowable from a dangerous part of the world, and featuring tribespeople running screaming, the poster from one of these colonies goes the opposite way, showcasing the modernity of the film.
It’s elegant, with both font and lines bed for drawing the buildings and feeling people evoking the glamor of the art deco era. King Kong himself is impossibly huge, towering over both buildings and the title of the film, dominating the scene completely, Yet it is the fleeing figures I’m most drawn too, showcasing the incidental terror a giant ape attack would cause.
Plus they’re incredibly well dressed.
Deliverance – Yugoslavia
This poster certainly became iconic in its own right, with English language versions of it appearing. Making explicit the internal struggle of the characters in the film, this captivating image of the men paddling out of an eye is as surreal as is it spot on at selling the movie.
Amelie – Japan
One of the best things about these posters is how they put a spin on the familiar, making us reassess the film we know. Take this Japanese print for Amelie. Stripping away the whimsy of the original poster, it instead plays up the stylish romance which is at the heart of the film.
The red colur evokes an entirely different mood, and paired with the elegant Japanese script it sweeps you up. A photographer friend also told me that it uses negative space incredibly well, but as I only have a rudimentary understanding of how to use that effectively, I’ll pass on their comment without my comment.
Duel – Sweden
This poster acts as the best possible review of the film. Faceless truck is the literal embodiment for the metaphorical monsters that pursue us relentlessly. Trust Sweden, a country which struggles with more than its fair share of psychological drama, to encapsulate the tension inherent in Duel.
Carrie – France
Eschewing any sort of blood soaked image is a brave move when marketing Carrie. There’s no hint of a prom either. Instead, this French poster is full on apocalyptic fire and brimstone, with the madness in Carrie’s eyes selling the horror as effectively as the repeated motif of a burning building.
Jaws – Czechoslovakia
Beautifully simple, this tricolor against black pixellated work is striking for its use of a completely new and original Jaws image. The red against the blue of the ocean is the centerpiece of the image and draws the eye, while you can’t help but smile at Jaws nonchalantly swimming off after his attack.
Scanners – Italy
Taking cues from the original USA one-sheet, the Italian poster goes further in a way European censors and attitudes were obviously much more relaxed about. It certainly produces an evocative image, with the stylized exploding head and burning man selling the most extreme version of the film you possibly could.
Chinatown – East Germany
While the original makes much use of outlines, faces, and evokes a sense of regret and romance, this East German poster gets to the bloody heart of the film. This is a piece about violence. This is what Chinatown ultimately revolves around. This is much more a hardboiled pulp mystery than the original poster suggests.
Psycho – Italy
Capturing the sense of faceless terror lurking in the shadows, this Italian poster for Psycho is claustrophobic and tense, making it a great partner for Hitchcock’s film.
Easy Rider – Japan
The entire Japanese series of posters for Easy Rider are worth checking out. This one merges the main design elements into one image, but instead of feeling crowded it gives a sense of the film and its revolutionary attitude that is missing in the others. It’s the American dream resisted and re-imagined, all from the perspective of true outsiders, as shown by the Japanese characters instead of English.
Dirty Dancing – Poland
IT’S SO GOOD.
Confession time, I’ve never seen Dirty Dancing (although weirdly I have seen Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights). I know the iconography, the music, the lines. But this poster makes me reconsider everything I knew about it. It makes it seem like the coolest thing ever, and my life is less good the longer I take to watch the film. The power of a simple image, presented well.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom – Czechoslovakia
It reminds me of one of those choose your own adventure books, popular in the ’70s and ’80s. Which I guess share a DNA with the Indiana Jones films, a yearning for adventure, a pulp sensibility, the threat of a deadly end at any moment. It’s far simpler than almost any of the usual Indiana Jones posters you’ll normally see, and the blue font color is really unusual.
Gremlins – Poland
Oh my. So much is brilliant here. The charming illustration by Jan Mlodozeniec makes it look like a children’s story book (much like the films pretence that it’s a kids movie). The overt acknowledgement that yes, it is a Christmas movie.
But the fact that Santa is actually just wearing a mask tells you everything. This is only a Christmas movie in disguise. The gremlins are also hiding in plain sight, ready to spring into mayhem. And they are very much grinch like.
Army Of Darkness – Japan
It’s almost purposely designed to be the most Japanese rendering of a Hollywood film they know nothing about possible. From the Bruce Campbell soup tins, to the stylised Japanese sun rays, the cartoon strip imagery, and take-out bag, this could be anything. But the fact its so gloriously and unashamedly taking multiple elements and throwing it all together is exactly in keeping with the Evil Dead films, especially Army Of Darkness.
The Muppet Movie – Poland
Animal quite rightly takes center stage here as the Muppets burst onto the big screen. Yes, Miss Piggy, Kermit, and Fozzy Bear are important and featured, but who is everyone’s real favorite? Who represents the chaotic energy of the Muppets let loose, as they were here at your cinema? Animal of course.
Short Circuit 2 – Poland
I love this poster so much. What could possibly scream ex-American military asset doing his own thing and wanting to party more than this? Nothing I tell you. From the fiesta colors to the fact Johnny 5 seems to have a bat and ball in his hands (not a flute as someone who definitely wasn’t me thought), everything screams loveable robot. I’m going to get this one framed and placed on my wall.
Aliens – Poland
While the Polish poster for Alien (or Obcy) is pretty famous (it’s an image of eyes in a cardiovascular system), I think Andrzej Pagowski’s 1986 design for Cameron’s sequel is my preferred Eastern European Alien poster. It’s dynamic, terrifying, messy, and completely unknowable. Which is exactly what the fight against the aliens is like.
Bullitt – East Germany
Well it’s certainly a lot less cool than the original poster, which sold itself on the fact Steve McQueen was the man. Here he’s presented as more ‘the man’ who also happens to be high on coke. It’s certainly evocative, and provides a sense of almost nausea the more more you look at it.
Ghostbusters – Czechoslovakia
A more surrealist interpretation of the classic film from artist and designer Petr Poš, with the ghostbuster featured reminiscent of a 17th century plague doctor (the pointy snout made me think of this). The Stay Puft Marshmallow man is a devilish red here, making literal his demonic origin.
Bad Lieutenant – France
Well, they can’t say they didn’t warn you.
Sex And The City: The Movie – Poland
A limited edition poster from designer Andrzej Krajewski, I think it actually perfectly articulates the differences between the TV series and the film. One was smart, ahead of its time, and brought a diverse audience. The other was loud, brash, and seemed like people grading at all the worst, most obvious aspects of Sex And The Cityand cramming it into a fan pastiche. This poster represents this, while also nicely emulating Picasso.
300 – Ghana
A pretty accurate rendering of Gerard Butler here, and in fact a pretty accurate rendering of 300 too, which is mainly about half naked buff men killing things and shouting catchphrases. I would frame this over any of the official marketing images.
The Spy Who Loved Me – Ghana
A true labor of love, this hand-painted gem from Ghana sums up what an icon like James Bond means to people across the world. In this case, an iconic pose complete with suit, gun, Bond girl, and car. Oh, and a big giant fish of course.
Harold And Maude – Italy
Rather brilliantly, Harold And Maude seems to have fired the creativity of poster designers across the world judging by how many excellent variants there are on it. This one for me is bold and iconic though, the pair making their way on a motorbike with flower wheels, put against a simple blue background. It’s their film, so quite rightly they’re front and center, no distractions.
Pulp Fiction – Japan
I guess dancing is really important in Japan. It’s so thoroughly Japanese that you can easily imagine it as a poster for a forthcoming act at a karaoke bar. The composition is somewhat slapdash, Bruce Willis looms over it all, while John Travolta is set up as the very embodiment of a lover and a fighter. But somehow it all comes together pleasingly.
A Fistful Of Dollars – Italy
I guess this is its native poster, and we count as the alternate one? No matter, there are many Italian variations for this spaghetti Western classic, but this is the finest. The bold colours, the binary shading on Clint’s face, the startling font which demands your attention. Then you notice the bodies piled up behind Clint. Almost impressionistic renderings of his deadly force. You should frame this.
Dawn Of The Dead – Italy
No time for any subtlety here, instead its a quick rename of the film to Zombie, and an arresting image of a man (zombie?!) with a machete in the head. Of more interesting note is the use of Dario Argento’s name to sell the film to an Italian audience, much the same way we get ‘Quentin Tarantino’ presents on our imported world cinema…
2046 – China
A small cheat here, as this is most definitely not a US or UK film. Instead it’s a variant poster design shown in China which might just be my favourite poster of all time. Completely oblique, yet utterly spellbinding, the poster uses color, shapes, and the outline of a woman turned away from us to evoke the film’s sense of longing, loneliness, and lost love. It’s all there, but almost indescribably so.
Godzilla – Poland
My younger brother has this poster hanging in his room. Whenever I’m visiting I’m always struck by Godzilla’s kind eyes. It’s like he doesn’t want to damage anything, but he can’t help it.
Godzilla as hero and reluctant terror is essential to the complete understanding of Japan’s most famous monster, and this poster captures it perfectly. The fact that it’s illustrated using a primary colour scheme plus green, and laid out in almost geometric shapes just makes the whole design punchier and more immediate. It’s a striking image of a monster with a conscience. Yes I know it’s another poster of a non-English language film, but Godzilla is pretty much universal right?
Empire Of The Sun – Japan
Showing how the smallest of differences can change our impressions of something, the Japanese poster for Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun is identical to the startling main version, except with one visible change. Japanese characters in place of Roman ones. It essentially flips the whole experience round from a Western centric view of the ‘alien’ to one in which we try to assimilate instead.
500 Days Of Summer – Switzerland
Similar to the US poster, and a hundred times better than that horrible UK one with Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking at his belly like he’d eaten Zooey Deschanel, the Swiss poster has Gordon-Levitt in the corner with his scrapbook as per the original, but by having the images directly coming from his head it makes it more that this is his vision of the relationship, and you’ll be seeing his impression. The poster is the blank page in his mind ready to be written in the book so to speak, with the images his cuttings.
How To Train Your Dragon – Taiwan
While Toothless and Hiccup have always been the focus of the How To Train Your Dragon posters, they’re usually shown either in flight and/or combat, or with Hiccup reaching up to touch Toothless, demonstrating he is the weaker one in the partnership, needing to show the fearsome dragon he is not a threat. The Taiwanese poster takes a step back from this petting scene, and opens the world they live while also putting them on a more even level. This emphasises their friendship, which is the core theme of the film.
Boogie Nights – Germany
There’s just something so appealingly tawdry about this German poster for Boogie Nights. By relegating the star outlines to snaps from the camera, the focus instead becomes an illustrated Heather Graham. It’s a poster that wouldn’t look out of place promoting a Berlin sex club, and promises an experience you’ll never forget, rather than the somewhat chaste main poster.
Young Sherlock Holmes – France
I guess Sherlock Holmes didn’t quite the have the same name recognition as Steven Spielberg in 1980s France? With a quick name change to Le Secret De La Pyramide, any Holmes iconography present in the original poster is also removed in favour of a Victorian themed adventure spectacular more recognisable to a French audience familiar with Adele Blanc-Sec.
The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad – Japan
Easily my favourite thing about this poster for The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is how it reimagines the movie as a big man in suit epic pitched directly at the Japanese movie going psyche. It’s almost as if for a ’90s British version they’d put Hugh Grant’s face on the monster. Superb recontextualisation of a film ostensibly about Sinbad.
But really we all watch it for the monsters.
The Fountain – Taiwan
As much as I love this film (and I do, I put it number one on my list of underrated films of the 2000s), the poster art has never really helped sell or explain the film. Tree in a bubble is the best way to sum it up.
Taiwan, however, got it spot on. With Hugh Jackman at the bottom of the poster, gazing up at an inverted Rachel Weisz at the top, it immediately establishes both the connection between them and hints at the fact that you’ll be watching a film which mirrors its story and scenes across different timeframes. Oh, and tree bubble is still there for those who were worried.
Labyrinth – Netherlands
It’s a variation on the usual poster, but with a couple of stand-out twists. It’s much more light-hearted than the usual one, with Bowie’s expression almost, ‘look at all my crazy shenanigans’, which basically what the film is on multiple levels. Making that even more explicit is the fact that the border of the of poster is all the fantastical creatures, making sure you know this isn’t going to be a grim and gritty fantasy story.
Although Jennifer Connelly is trapped in a crystal ball still.
Blade Runner – Poland
There are many, many posters for Blade Runner. Most run on a similar theme of bleak dystopian future cityscape. Of course Poland decided to do things a little differently. Designer Michal Ksiazek eschews any high-tech imagery, or even Harrison Ford’s pensive face, and dives into its pulp origins as devised by Philip K. Dick in his short story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. So girl in bikini with a gun.
The Italian Job – Japan
High speed chases featuring Minis flying over humps in the road isn’t exactly what The Italian Job is known for, but this Japanese poster manages to capture the fun and stylishness of the film while also attempting to sell the film as an action movie rather than a heist one. Oh, and of course there’s the alluring hint of sexy naughtiness with the street map painted onto a naked woman’s back…
Nowhere Boy – Norway/Sweden/Poland/Romania/Greece
While the main poster and most international variations featured Aaron Johnson as John Lennon with guitar slung across his back and glasses on, making sure you knew this guy was a musician, the Europeans decided to try something different. In it a bequiffed Johnson is shown lying on his back, staring up at a cloud in the sky. This is Lennon as a dreamer, thinking of the future while stylistically wearing his influences for all to see. This is the Lennon poster which sums up the character of the man he would become.