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Wizards, and Wookies, and Replicants, oh my!

As a product of the 70’s and 80’s, the defining impressions I have of many of  the really important movies of my childhood are all the product of one visionary madman…Mr. Drew Struzan.

Sit down kids, and let daddy tell you a story. A long time ago, there was a thrilling era of movie posters that (way before the banal simplicity of Photoshop strangled the creativity out of the process) was really innovative and beautiful. The 60’s and the 70’s were the groundbreaking eras for the field. The smaller, more niche related genres like horror, exploitation, and science fiction were the breeding ground for not only a handful of  the obvious actors, writers, and directors, but also illustrators. That’s where Struzan was at the time, doing small one sheets for low budget movies like “Empire of the Ants”, and “Food of the Gods”. Fame and the force quickly came knocking on his door, asked by a friend to help out with the portraiture part of a poster he was doing, he immediately said yes, the movie was “Star Wars”, and it was a game changer for everyone involved. Riding the crest of that success, Struzan was prolific in the 70’s and 80’s moving on to create posters for just about every movie you loved (and Policy Academy too). I mean come on, Blade Runner, the Indiana Jones Trilogy, The Thing, Risky Business, Better Off Dead, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Harry f’n Potter, I could go on, I really could, it’s just beating a dead horse though; I get it, Drew, it’s an insane resume.

The magic of Drew’s work is that it intuitively captures the mood of a movie and it’s characters and conveys them without trying to appeal to a demographic. His work can be appreciated by anyone as a marketing tool or as simply what it is, an illustration…a really, really well done illustration. His success though, is reliant upon the fact that his greatest assets as an artist are his compositional skills. Struzan’s rendering is genius-don’t get me wrong, you can see how greasy Bobcat Goldthwait’s hair was, and how sweaty Harrison Ford’s furrowed brow is simply through the man’s painting prowess, but his use of color and composition to create a complexly simple visual that draws you in without getting lost in its labyrinth of elements is where the midichlorians are. This ability to intertwine so many disparate parts into one cohesive image that is both playful and narrative is what made him such a sought after artist. His ego does not permeate the product, but the product doesn’t overpower him. Once you’ve seen a Drew Struzan, you cannot unsee it, you will notice them everywhere.

Now I’m not some grumpy old man telling the kids to get off of my movie poster lawn, I appreciate what they are doing, I just think that there is a certain finesse that is lost when computer generated image is relied on, (though don’t ask me what I would do if there were a hand-painted poster for a PIxar movie…maybe my head would explode like “Scanners”) and a certain artistry that has been lost in this field in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never miss a movie if it happens to have a bad poster, but I sure will go see a movie if the poster can turn me around. How about you, what’s your favorite poster by Drew Struzan, or for any movie out there?



tweet me: @matthewebone

Images: Lucasfilm, Universal, Cannon Films, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros.

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  1. Dusty says:

    The 80’s were the greatest!

  2. scrufy 1 says:

    @Loren man, those are dope! the up posters are my fav by far, especially the Dug poster =]

  3. Rosie says:

    Wow! Im so glad you did a bit on Drew Struzan!! I am in a high school (11th grade) IB art class and we have to do ‘artist studies’ where we analyze three pieces of their work and write a short bio about them. I chose to do Drew Struzan as my first artist. Its super amazing what he’s done, and I love that this is one of the first things I see on the internet today. Thank you for filling my daily requirement of coincidence. 🙂

  4. Loren says:

    “(though don’t ask me what I would do if there were a hand-painted poster for a PIxar movie…maybe my head would explode like “Scanners”)”

    Then prepare for potential head-explosion:

  5. Brian says:

    Wait, all that and you don’t mention his new book, The Art of Drew Struzan? If you’re a fan it’s a must-buy (it’s not even that expensive). Early versions of his most famous posters, and he walks you through how he came to work on them, what the client wanted changed, etc. In the larger sense it’s about his career, yes, but more so about the changing marketing machine and how it eventually crowded him out and led to his retirement. Kind of depressing in the end, but you get a book full of awesome posters and awesome stories.

    That being said, I think it’s really sad that Photoshop became a way to cheaply pump out sub-par unimaginative poster, instead of opening up new possibilities for artists.

    Favorite Drew artwork? Probably Big Trouble or the Indy posters. Or the Dark Tower one he did for The Mist (which he also writes about).

  6. GuanoLad says:

    I have always adored the Back to the Future triptych. The 1,2,3 motif is ingenious, and really thrills me every time I lay eyes on them.

    I also like his Star Wars Special Edition triptych. Which is a true triptych, at least, unlike my misuse of the term above.

  7. Um, Howard the Duck, hello?!

  8. For me nothing captures the horror of the 1980’s like the Cannonball Run posters. But then there is that DC Cab poster, and Johnny Dangerously ….

    I may have to get back to you on this.