The art of priceless movie posters

Vintage movie posters are proving to be major blockbusters at the auction house. Andy Round saves up his popcorn money to see what he can buy. [XVI images in total, text continues below]

Long, long before downloadable trailers, Internet viral campaigns and DVD extras, the poster was the only way to lure people into the cinema. Offering much more than publicity, these wonderful pieces of art promised worlds populated by chisel-jawed heroes and swooning beauties; villages where monsters could lumber with iron-footed determination and 50-foot women could bestride the world like bikini-clad behemoths.

Today these posters command huge sums at auction and are rapidly becoming the art of choice for a new generation of collectors that likes to spend their popcorn money on culture that comes in blockbuster sizes.

And collecting film posters has become big business. Recently a poster for the iconic science fiction film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang in 1927, was sold for a film poster world record of US$690,000. The striking art deco work was created by the graphic artist Hein Schulz-Neudamm and sold through London’s Reel Poster Gallery to a private collector in the US.

So what led to such an incredible sale? Well, firstly, there are only four known copies of the two-metre by one-metre poster in the world and adding extra value to this rarity factor was the immaculate condition of the poster. “Hundreds of copies would have been produced at the time and they would have be hung on billboards and then thrown away,” said Reel Gallery’s Tony Nourman at the time of the sale. “But this one was in absolutely pristine condition and obviously never used.”

Prior to the sale of the Metropolis artwork, a poster for the 1932 horror film The Mummy starring Boris Karloff held the world record after Sotheby’s in New York sold the work for US$452,000. Horror posters have always been popular. A year ago, a publicity sheet for Karloff’s 1931 film Frankenstein achieved US$198,000 and a poster for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a 1919 kitsch classic, went under the hammer for US$31,000.

Despite the stratospheric prices paid for these works, collecting film posters is relatively accessible compared to other forms of contemporary art. At a sale of film posters organised by Christie’s in London as part of its 20th Century Week, prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.

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