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The 30 Best Movie Posters of 2013

We don’t cover the movie poster beat too much around here, and for good reason: most movie posters are terrible. They seem to all traffic in the same clichés, unimaginatively slapping the biggest possible picture of their expensive stars’ heads above a title and a release date. But some films go the extra mile, taking imaginative leaps with their key art (or, often, with the alternate versions they release on the Internet for extra buzz). So let us take a moment to salute some of the more eye-catching, ingenious, and beautiful movie posters of 2013.

1-nymphomaniac

There’s certainly an argument to be made for just filling out this list with those hilarious/horrifying character posters from Lars von Trier’s upcoming sex epic, and calling it a day. But instead, we’ll go with the simple and (erm) elegant (?) imagery of the first teaser poster.

2-escapefromtomorrow

Randy Moore’s surrealistic, black-and-white guerrilla-style indie was shot on the sneak at the Disney theme parks, so what better way to convey not only its backstory but its dark themes than by stealing the Disney font and slapping a little blood on Mickey?

3-oldboy

Though clearly engaging in some shady business when it came time to put out the final version, the simple design of the first teaser poster for Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s cult classic is clean, direct, and perfect.

4-wolf_of_wall_street

Again, a stark, clean design, coupled with loaded iconography, is far more interesting than the “look at our handsome movie-star lead” posters that have followed.

5-theblingring

And at risk of overstating the point, here we go again: key in on an object, let it pop against a white background, and let that tell the story.

6-salinger

Say what you will about the terrible movie it’s promoting, this poster is sheer genius, repurposing the iconic cover of Salinger’s most famous book (complete with beat-up edges) and squarely targeting those who know it so well.

7-bettie_page_reveals_all

Again, a promotions team using the visual shorthand of a film’s subject to market directly to its ideal demo — this time, utilizing the familiar fonts and splashy style of pulp-fiction novels for their documentary profile of pin-up queen Bettie Page.

8-side_effects

The final poster was your standard, boring, push-the-stars affair, but the teaser poster for Steven Soderbergh’s erotic thriller focused on the prescription drugs element and created a clever “doctor’s script”-style package, coupled with a tantalizing image of star Rooney Mara.

9-hunger_games_catching_fire_ver2

Credit where due to Lionsgate: when you’re selling the second Hunger Games movie, you don’t have to do much more than slap “CATCHING FIRE 11-22-13″ on a piece of paper and call it done. But they went the extra mile, taking a cue from the narrative to create a series of slick, propaganda-style “VICTORY TOUR” posters.

10-dune

Frank Pavich’s documentary looks at the aborted production of what would’ve surely been an all-time mind-melter: surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. And, ingeniously, its art campaign imagines what the poster for such a bananas project might have looked like.

11-berberiansoundstudio

Obviously, when you’re making a movie about a film technician going a little nuts, the self-referential graphic possibilities are endless.

12-glimpse_inside_the_mind_of_charles_swan_iii_ver6

Roman Coppola’s absurd comedy gets an awesome throwback poster, with an appropriately sun-bleached ’70s-cinema vibe.

13-inside_llewyn_davis_ver2

The Coen brothers’ moody masterpiece could only get a poster with a decidedly gray pall, along with a key image that recalls the iconic Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan poster (but with a cat!).

14-computer_chess_ver2

Another clever throwback poster, expertly mimicking the distinctive early-’80s aesthetic that makes Andrew Bujalski’s oddball comedy so memorable. And, as always, the creases are a welcome touch.

15-frankenstein_created_bikers

Confession: I have heard of neither “Big World Pictures” nor Frankenstein Created Bikers. But if they were going for the old-school exploitation vibe that the title conveys, then this poster gets a standing ovation.

16-theheat

This ’80s-style, hand-drawn number is an impressive enough achievement by itself — but its quality increases tenfold when you compare it to the horror show Fox decided to use as the primary poster.

17-rewind_this

And OK, maybe that last one just made the list because of my personal weakness for hand-drawn art. But that makes this poster utterly perfect for Josh Johnson’s wonderful documentary valentine to the joys of wandering video store shelves, looking for the cheapo video box that you can’t look away from.

18-kissofthedamned

Director Xan Cassavetes is not just a movie maker, but a movie lover (check out her wonderful Z Channel documentary for proof), so it only makes sense that her debut horror movie would so evocatively recall the horror posters of the ’70s.

19-free_angela_and_all_political_prisoners

Talk about stacking up your iconography.

20-blueisthewarmestcolor

And here we find another distinctive hairstyle placed front and center, to great effect.

Nebraska poster

And thus we conclude the “hair” section of the countdown.

22-american_hustle_ver4

Well, maybe not. Character posters have become a de rigueur piece of the film promotion pie, but they were quite welcome in the case of David O. Russell’s late-70′s crime epic — in order to give us the opportunity to gawk a little closer at the permed-out hair and plunging necklines. And your film editor’s personal favorite of the bunch, this fierce portrait of show-stealer Amy Adams, offers both.

23-gangster_squad_ver6

Okay, maybe I’m now just showing my weakness for the character posters of sultry redheads in period dress. Moving on…

24-deceptive_practices_the_mysteries_and_mentors_of_ricky_jay

Documentaries can be a tough sell from a poster standpoint (well, in terms of film marketing in general, really). The poster for this doc portrait of the fascinating magician, historian, and character actor Ricky Jay manages to graphically convey his story, his darkness, and his distinctive mug, all at the same time.

25-hay_days

The colors pop, the art is eye-catching, and the facial hair tells us all we need to know about the characters. Why, it’s such a good poster, you almost wonder if a certain ubiquitous studio comedy might be aping it.

26-upstreamcolor

Like trailers, movie posters too often tell us way more than we actually need to know. You can’t accuse this key art for Shane Carruth’s head-scratcher of doing that: Who are these people? Why are they in the bathtub? What are they hiding from? Aside from its attractive design, it’s just a good tease; it makes you want to see the film and find out. (Good luck after that!)

27-blue_caprice_ver2

Stark type, a foreboding gray sky, and two figures near the car that terrorized a city. Simple, scary, and effective.

28-aintthembodiessaints

This moody, gorgeous, watercolor-style poster perfectly captures the handmade feel of David Lowery’s exquisite small-town drama. 29-stoker

Park Chan-wook’s Hitchock homage is a delightfully demented trip, and this illustrated poster beautifully captures its anything-goes feel — and replicates countless tiny details from the picture to boot. 30-springbreakers

Harmony Korine’s spring-break head trip pretty much won the movie poster sweepstakes, if for no other reason than sheer volume: not only did its bikinis-and-guns aesthetic yield several terrific official posters, but the film’s French distributor got amateur designers to create scores of amazing fan posters.

31-three_geezers

And just for good measure, here’s the runaway winner for the worst movie poster of 2013. It’s a remarkable stew of terrible elements: ugly background, clumsily repurposed actor headshots, a horribly miscalculated vertical title design, and the weakest tagline imaginable. It’s “A FUNNY MOVIE,” you see, if you couldn’t guess from the poorly placed exclamation mark after the title. This, friends, is what 20 minutes of work and a barely rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop will get you.

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