ARTISTRY PLUS SCARCITY WAS A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS FOR THE EDGY, IN-DEMAND PRINTS
By Hope Grubbs
Over the past 15 years, alternative movie posters have rocketed from humble online offerings for a niche audience to in-demand collectibles with an ever-growing fan base. Part pop culture and part fine art, these creative reimaginings of Hollywood classics, cult cinema and contemporary blockbusters serve as a welcome contrast to the mass-produced, often-uninspired movie posters gracing today’s theaters.
Since the days of legendary artists such as Saul Bass, Robert McGinnis, Reynold Brown, Drew Struzan and the “Father of the Modern Movie Poster” himself, Bob Peak, film posters have become less of an art form and more of a lesson in Photoshop. But the talented artists creating the gorgeous, limited-edition screenprints that make up the AMP genre have revived the lost art of the movie poster – and collectors have taken notice. Created by some of today’s most renowned commercial illustrators, the limited-run posters – beloved for their scarcity as much as their striking appearance – often sell out in minutes when offered online by the artist, released at special debuts with notable galleries and exhibited at events like San Diego Comic-Con. Almost always hand-signed and numbered by their artists, the posters come from limited to small print runs, numbering from a handful of copies to a few hundred prints at most, each a work of art in both design and production.
The works have also become a hit at Heritage Auctions, which, on July 3, will present a dedicated AMP auction featuring more than 500 alternative movie posters by trendsetters including Laurent Durieux, Martin Ansin, Tyler Stout, Rory Kurtz, Kevin Tong, Ken Taylor, Tomer Hanuka and Daniel Danger, to name just a few. Most notably, the auction features several prints dating back to as early as 2005 and more than a handful of signed special artist prints. Also included is a wide selection of Durieux prints for Jaws, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, various Hitchcock flicks, The Godfather: Part III and many more, including my personal favorite: a sensational reflection variant from Apocalypse Now.
Many of the posters featured in the auction come from Mondo, the Austin, Texas-based company that pioneered the concept of limited-edition AMPs – a practice that began more out of necessity than marketing strategy. In Mondo’s early days of commissioning artists to create original movie posters, the company had little storage space to hold the mesh screens used during the screenprinting process, which meant only a minimal number of prints could be created. The limited runs made the posters highly sought-after, and their popularity surged throughout the 2010s, with online distributors and galleries like Spoke Art, Bottleneck, Hero Complex Gallery, Dark Hall Mansion and more also getting in on the action.
Back then, with AMP desirability growing at a rapid pace, companies commissioning alternative poster artists started approaching major film studios in hopes of including them in the process – another trailblazing idea from Mondo. In many cases, the studios granted the companies licensing and likeness approval, but when likeness wasn’t approved, it created an opportunity for artists to produce more creative illustrations, some even better representations of the films than their original campaigns. Today, almost all AMP distributors work with the film studios and must seek licensing, depending on the art concept.
Partnerships with major studios have turned the AMP market into big business, with investors leaping at opportunities when limited poster debuts drop. The works later appear on the secondary market for over twice the original price. Because of this and the lack of profit return for the artist, AMP illustrators now issue limited-edition first releases and later an open release, with the possibility of special artist prints once they’re sold out. Regular editions are among the favorites of these prints; however, color variants are scarcer in their number run, making them even more sought-after. Many of these commissions have led to monumental success for the artists, who often go on to create original artwork for Blu-ray boxes, vinyl releases and more.
Today, cinephiles of all ages are still eager to collect nostalgic images released in modern poster form. As a movie fan and AMP collector myself, it was a joy to catalog the exceptional prints offered in Heritage’s July 3 auction. The featured posters are true works of art, and their desirability is only increased by their extremely limited nature.
HOPE GRUBBS is Lead Cataloger for Movie Posters at Heritage Auctions.