20 Cool Posters for Silent Movies

I get paid to be a graphic designer. Mixed together with my love of movies, it’s only natural that I’d have an appreciation for interesting movie poster art. Each year, studios produce several outstanding posters for their various movies. It’s nothing new. They’ve been doing it for years, going all the way back to the silent era. Here are 20 of my favorite posters for silent films. Much thanks to the IMP Awards website, which houses most of these:

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)

The Trail of ’98 (1928)
I include this one because seeing someone being lit on fire is a pretty shocking thing to see in a poster from 1928. Good for them… I guess.

Birth of a Nation (1915)
This one is on the list because, well, look at it, for crying out loud. It openly brags about being based on a book about the Ku Klux Klan, and refers to the death of John Wilkes Booth as robbing the south of its “best friend”. Don’t get me wrong–I know what this movie is all about, so it’s not new to me. The fact that it’s so brazen about it is what’s shocking to me. That’s how far society has come since 1915. Think about that the next time you’re lamenting how disappointed you are that people watch reality TV or that something called a “Snooki” is a star.

Faust (1926)

Metropolis (1927)
I love art deco.

The General (1927)
The first of two featuring Buster Keaton. I think it’s fascinating how they tried to capture his “stone face” in the artwork. I have no clue why they put him in lipstick and mascara.

Safety Last (1923)
Do you see what’s going on in this poster? It actually happens in the movie–Harold Lloyd dangling from the top of a building, inches of his grasp away from hurtling to his doom. If you’re afraid of heights, watch it, but I almost guarantee your palms will sweat.

City Lights (1931)
Why not complete the perfect triumvirate of silent comedians–Keaton, Lloyd, Chaplin?

Nosferatu (1922)
Any list about silent cinema would be incomplete without this triumph of German Expressionism.

The Fighting Streak (1922)
How about an early Western?

The Scarlet Letter (1926)
Ah, 1920’s sexuality. I think that “A” stands for “boobs” and she’s supposed to be ashamed of them.

Wings (1927)
A war film:

The Unknown (1927)
This poster features more Lon Chaney, and more sexuality in film. If you’ve seen it, then you know that it’s about a character who pretends that he has no arms because it helps him escape the law for his crimes, while simultaneously lusting after the object of his affections. As you can see, the poster-makers went subtle on the “no arms” angle and went right for the “lusting”. Also, the visual elements make a perfect ‘Z’:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
What I find fascinating here is that so much is lost in translation. A significant part of what makes this movie so amazing is the extraordinarily expressive face of Maria Falconetti. And yet, you can’t capture that in a drawing.

Häxan (1922)

The Cameraman (1928)
Here’s yet another Buster Keaton film poster. First and foremost, we can see yet again how they’ve opted to accentuate Keaton’s “stone face”. But secondly, I had to include this one because some day in the relatively near future, I’d like to get a tattoo of Keaton, the camera, and the monkey from this poster.

The Last Days of Pompeii (1913)

October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928)
Purely from an art standpoint, this may be my favorite.

The Ten Commandments (1923)
And last but not least, here’s a print promoting Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic:


Filed under Movies, Silent Movies

19 responses to “20 Cool Posters for Silent Movies

  1. Some great posters! The clown one looks very scary though. Love the Metropolis one

    • I almost included another one for Lon Chaney- The Hunchback of Notre Dame- but the clown one was freaky enough that the Hunchback print was omitted.

  2. Wow. Very nice list. I really feel like watching Safety Last now.

  3. Love, love this list. I’m particularly fond of The Phantom Carriage and October. I miss the days of hand painted movie posters. It also makes me nostalgic for the hand painted covers to pulp novels of the forties and fifties. Side note: I went to an art exhibit a few years back that included the original paintings that were made for the covers of various pulp novels. It was pretty rad.

  4. I love classic posters, these days it feels like everyone uses the same three photoshop templates and it’s boring.

    • Yep. You’ve got the floating head version; the words-on-top-of-faces version (like Social Network); black and white photos with flames for action movies; etc…

  5. If only my life were depicted in a silent film era movie poster.

  6. Vladdy

    I think you’re mis-reading the Birth poster. It says LINCOLN’s assassination, then the bit about robbing the South of its best friend. In other words, Lincoln’s death resulted in the crapfest that was Reconstruction. Remember Lincoln had determined NOT to take revenge on the Secessionists. (Not, mind you, that the film is not stupefyingly racist.)

  7. Love this post. Most of these are amazing, especially the Keaton/Chaplin ones. The Cameraman poster in particular makes me want to watch the film just to see what hijinx Keaton and that monkey get into.

    • Oh, there are definitely highjinx. The Cameraman is easily my favorite Keaton MGM movie (1928-1933)- Steamboat Bill was his last pre-MGM feature. And while it’s a funny movie without the monkey, the monkey is my favorite part.

  8. The Insane Clown Possee’s logo is disturbingly similar to the poster for The Cameraman. I wish I did not know that.

  9. Pingback: Blogging Community Highlights | The Warning Sign

  10. Wow a bunch of awesome posters. It’s a delight just to look at them! 😀 Nice finds John.

  11. I don’t know much about Lon Chaney, but those two posters of him do not make me want to see his movies. He looks like a rapist on The Unknown poster.

  12. rtm

    WOW, these are excellent John, thanks for compiling ’em. As you know I LOVE movie posters as you & I are in the same field. The Phantom Carriage is gorgeous but the rest are very cool as well.

  13. Pingback: Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) | The Cinema of Silence

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