By Siri Ratnam
San Jose, California
When I heard the news that Marvel had released five new official movie posters for Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I became full of hope. After months of seeing posters hinting at the mystical horror movie that the sequel is going to be, I expected the official ones to capture that theme, but I was disappointed with them. Out of five posters only two of them even came close to qualifying as a ‘good’ movie poster. The rest, like every other Marvel movie poster, involved a design consisting of a hodgepodge of serious faces and characters holding intense poses with the title of the movie slapped on at the bottom.
It was almost as if the marketing team had decided that audiences would flock to theaters simply because they recognized Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange or Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. While that is true in the sense that many Marvel movies gain their audiences simply based on the recognizability of their star-studded casts and iconic characters, the design strategy of hastily placing every character’s face on a 27x40 inch poster is quickly becoming old and undesirable. Especially as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) expands and the list of main characters becomes lengthier, this formula increasingly risks crowding. Take Avengers: Endgame (2019) for example. The poster featured a total of 22 characters, and with the exception of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Josh Brolin’s Thanos, the remaining 20 characters almost blend in with the background despite the majority of them having equal amounts of screentime, if not more. The reality is that the current poster strategy that Marvel employs is not only ugly, but it also doesn’t do justice to the sheer amount of story each film has.
On top of that, the posters consistently fail to suggest a tone for each individual movie when they all follow the same formula. One could use photoshop to replace the Black Widow poster with the Thor: Ragnarok poster and nobody would know that the two movies could not be more widely different, with the latter was widely touted for its quirky and humorous tone while the former quickly became known as Marvel’s darkest movie. The goal of a movie poster is to promote a story and the way to do that is by highlighting the uniqueness of it, an idea Marvel of all studios needs to keep in mind. The franchise, as of April 2022, has produced 27 films with one more on the way (Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is set to release in May of 2022), not to mention their catalog of TV series, all of which fall under the umbrella of ‘comic book action’. It’s easy for audiences to look at all of Marvel’s official movie posters and not be able to discern the uniqueness of each character and story being brought to life on the silver screen.
That isn’t to say that all Marvel movie posters are bad, nor does it mean that there aren’t good posters out there. In fact, more often than not, the fan made posters found online, available through social media sites such as Instagram, Reddit, or Pinterest to name a few, successfully match the tones of the movie they correspond to. In addition to that, they also utilize quality design practices and suggest that the film they are portraying is its own unique story and not just another comic book movie. The teaser posters that Marvel releases also succeed in doing the same thing. Though the official Spiderman: Homecoming poster was a trainwreck, the teaser posters, particularly the one in which Tom Holland’s Spiderman is lying on his back and listening to music, became iconic to an extent.
Overall though, Marvel, with the budgets that they have, needs to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to their movie posters. They say don’t judge a book by its cover but if a movie poster is the cover equivalent, then Marvel consistently fails to deliver ones that match the quality of their movies and as an audience, we should expect more.