Originally, film posters were produced for the exclusive use by the theatres exhibiting the film the poster was created for and were required to be returned to the distributor after the film left the theatre. In the United States, film posters were usually returned to a nationwide operation called the National Screen Service (NSS) which printed and distributed most of the film posters for the studios between 1940 and 1984.
As an economy measure, the NSS regularly recycled posters that were returned, sending them back out to be used again at another theatre. During this time, a film could stay in circulation for several years, and so many old film posters were badly worn before being retired into storage at an NSS warehouse (most often, they were thrown away when they were no longer needed or had become too worn to be used again). Those posters which were not returned were often thrown away by the theatre owner, but some found their way into the hands of collectors.
Beginning in the 1980s, the American film studios began taking over direct production and distribution of their posters from the National Screen Service and the process of making and distributing film posters became decentralised in that country.
- UK Movie Posters
- US Movie Posters
- German Movie Posters
- Japanese Movie Posters
- French Movie Posters
- Italian Movie Posters
- Polish Movie Posters
UK Movie Posters
30″ x 40″. Landscape format. The quad (or to give its full name Quadruple Crown) has been the standard size British cinema poster for many years. Printed on heavier stock paper than the U.S. one-sheet and in far fewer quantities. Prior to 1985 they were almost always machine folded prior to issue. Printers include Berry & Co., Lonsdale & Bartholomew and Stafford and Co. Stone lithography (or offset printing that produced an effect very similar to stone litho) can be encountered in posters produced up to the early 1960s (nice late examples include those printed by the Modern (Electric) Printing Co in the 1950s and early 1960s). Noted British poster artists include Tom William Chantrell, Eric Pulford and Brian Bysouth. From the 1990s onwards, quads are frequently printed on both sides to enhance the visual effect when placed into a lightbox.
27″ x 40″. Portrait format. Slightly shorter than the U.S. equivalent. This format was occasionally produced instead of, or as well as a quad. These were sometimes intended for foreign release of British films but were also used for display in British cinemas. Many posters for Ealing comedies, Hammer horror and Carry On films were also produced in this format. Quite scarce prior to 2000 but a format that has become more common since that date.
20″ x 30″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A QUAD. Portrait format but very occasionally printed in the landscape style. Half the size of a quad. Printed on heavy paper stock. Distributed for advertising out-of-house and frequently displayed on buses, community notice boards and similar venues. Quite scarce.
81″ x 41″. At various times these have been produced in slightly different sizes. The earlier posters, particularly those from the silent era, tend to be printed in the longer format. Originally started at 90″ x 40″ and over the years reduced to the standard U.S. size 81″ x 41″. They are produced in 2 or 3 sections (although there are some late examples that comprise a single sheet) and were intended for pasting onto small bill-boards. Consequently those that have survived tend to be only those that were never used and which have escaped war-time paper-drives, etc. They are rare.
81″ x 81″. Usually in 4 sections intended for pasting to small bill-boards and for an eye-catching display outside the cinema. Few have survived.
Front of House (FOH) Lobby Cards
10″ x 8″. Printed on card stock. These were generally produced in sets of 8. They can be printed either in colour or in black & white and show scenes from the film above a panel containing the films title or credits. Cinemas commonly had a purpose built, wall-mounted display in the foyer into which the cards were inserted. Most cinemas seemed to prefer this format to the larger lobby cards (11 x 14), which were also produced both here and in America. Many front-of-house cards that were used in British cinemas bear NSS numbers and were printed in the United States.
US Movie Posters
27″ x 41″. (From the mid-1980s they were also produced in 27″ x 40″ inches size for international distribution). Printed on fairly light paper stock. Invariably machine folded prior to 1985. The steel offset printing process was used from a fairly early stage in U.S. poster production and so stone-litho examples tend to date from prior to 1940. Typical printers include Morgan Litho and Tooker Litho. From around the 1940s onwards most U.S. posters were distributed by National Screen Service (NSS). Posters distributed by NSS carry a code number printed in the bottom margin and usually stamped on the reverse. The first two numbers in the code give the date of release of the poster, followed by a numeric code for the film. Re-release posters are indicated by an R which proceeds the date. Different styles or designs were indicated by the additional letters A, B, or C, etc. NSS is now defunct and so recent posters no longer carry this information.
81″ x 41″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A ONE SHEET. They were produced in 2 or, occasionally, 3 sections (although there are some late examples that comprise a single sheet). Intended for foyer display and for pasting onto small bill-boards. Consequently those that have survived tend to be only those that were never used. This format was only ever printed in relatively small quantities and was discontinued after 1983.
81″ x 81″. They were produced in 4 sections and were intended for pasting onto small bill-boards. Consequently those that have survived tend to be only those that were never used. This format was only ever printed in small quantities and was discontinued after 1983. They are rare.
28″ x 22″. Landscape format. Printed on card stock. These were usually issued rolled but were commonly folded later for ease of storage. Discontinued after 1983.
36″ x 14″. Portrait format. Printed on card stock. Issued both rolled and folded but tended to be rolled from the late 1960s onwards. Discontinued after 1983.
22″ x 14″. Printed on heavy card stock. Issued flat. These were generally produced as advance advertising for the film. They frequently have a simpler design than the one-sheet and may be printed in fewer colours. Used for display in shop windows and similar venues. They have a blank section at the top designed to be filled in with the name of the cinema and the showing times of the film. Examples are often found with this blank section cut off, this will reduce the value. Window cards were used extensively in the 1930s and 1940s but they declined in popularity and eventually their use was discontinued.
30″ x 40″ and 40″ x 60″
EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A ONE SHEET. Printed on card stock and issued rolled. Commonly used for the American Drive-In circuit. Prior to 1960 they usually carried very different artwork to the other posters issued for the film and are often attractively produced by the silk screen technique. The card on which they are printed is prone to creasing and cracking when rolled. This, together with the fact that they were intended for outside display, means that they are often encountered in fairly poor condition. Discontinued after 1983. Quite rare.
45″ x 60″. Printed on card stock. Produced for display on the American subway. This format has been in use from the 1960s but early examples are uncommon.
14″ x 11″ – Printed on card stock. These were generally produced in sets of 8 although sets of 6 or even 4 are not unknown. They usually comprise one title card with artwork similar to the poster designs and carrying the films credits and 7 scene cards showing the stars or scenes from the film.
German Movie Posters
46″ x 33″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A1. Paper stock. Issued folded. This attractive landscape style is quite rare.
33″ x 23″. Paper stock. Twice folded. This was the standard West German film poster size from 1945 onwards. East German posters, however, are produced in various different sizes in addition to the standard ones. Unlike East German posters, West German posters are rarely dated after 1945 but from 1953 onwards West German posters carry an FSK stamp. The design of the stamp changed in 1958 and this can be used as an aid to dating. German posters art typically produced by stone-lithography prior to 1945 and by the photo offset process after that date. Leading German poster artists include Rolf Goetze and Bruno Rehak.
23″ x 16″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A1. Paper stock. Folded. Quite scarce.
10.6″ x 8.5″. Printed on paper or card stock and usually issued in sets of 8 but occasionally many more.
Japanese Movie Posters
58″ x 40″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO B2. Paper stock. Printed in a vertical format and is double the size of a standard B2 size poster. Very scarce.
40″ x 29″. RARE COMPARED TO B2. Paper stock. Most often a double sided version of the B2 poster, often printed in a vertical format but sometimes printed in a horizontal format with different artwork. Quite scarce.
28″ x 20″. Paper stock. Most often used poster size for Japanese posters.
20″ x 14″. Referred to as a ‘Nakazuri’ which translates to ‘hanging inside’. Measure about half the size of a B2 poster and most often used inside bus and train stations. Very similar to a mini sheet.
29″ x 10″. Measure about half the height of a B2 poster and usual referred to as a Japanese insert or ‘speed’ poster.
10″ x 7″. Referred to as a ‘Chirashi’. They are a small promotional poster similar to a herald or flyer. Measurements can vary but are most often than not 10″ x 7″. These are quite often printed with information on the back. They are not rare or scarce and can easily be picked up for pennies.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Japanese movie posters from before WWII are almost impossible to find.
French Movie Posters
Double Grande (2P)
94″ x 63″. EXTREMELY RARE COMPARED TO A FRENCH GRANDE. Paper stock. Always folded. These are huge landscape format posters that include some of the most visually striking posters ever produced. They were designed for pasting to walls and small bill-boards. Rare.
63″ x 47″. Paper stock. Always folded. This is the standard French cinema poster although at various times French posters have been issued in a bewildering array of different sizes and formats. Modern posters for American films frequently use the studio artwork and are little more than larger versions of the U.S. one-sheet. Prior to the mid-1970s, however, French posters featured magnificent, independent designs by poster artists, such as Jean Mascii, Rene Peron, Boris Grinsson, Roger Soubie and others. Printers include Gaillard and Lalande. Re-releases are common and the only way to date original issue French posters is by a combination of the printer’s details, distribution company info and French censors number. Novice collectors should therefore only buy from knowledgeable dealers.
31.5″ x 47.2″. Paper stock. They are referred to as Half Grande because they are half the size of the Grande but printed in a horizontal style. This size is generally used as reissues.
23.6″ x 63″. Paper stock. Quite often referred to as a door panel or French insert. It’s half the size of the Grande vertically. Issued on major titles only and primarily issued in the 80s and early 90s.
31.5″ x 23.6″. Paper stock. Always folded. Sometimes referred to as ‘Affiche Moyenne’ or Medium Poster. Extrememly common poster size.
23.6″ x 15.7″. Paper stock. Extrememly common poster size. Can vary an inch in each direction.
10.7″ x 8.4″ (sizes vary). Printed on glossy paper or light card stock. Normally issued in sets of 8 but can sometimes be found in 6, 8, 10 or 12 cards and can have up to 3 sets issued with different images for the same movie. They are labelled as Set A, B and C. Usually contained in a printed envelope.
IMPORTANT NOTE: French movie poster sizes are released in metric, so the conversion to inches is approximate
Italian Movie Posters
28″ x 39″. Paper stock. Equivalent to US and UK one sheet.
55″ x 39″. Paper stock. Always folded. As with French posters, the attraction of Italian film posters lies in the different, often superior, artwork that was commissioned for their design. Notable Italian poster artists include Anselmo Ballester, Alfredo Capitani and Luigi Martinati. Prior to 1966 they were undated but after that date they carry a first edition or year of edition date. It is important to bear in mind that these are the original dates of release of the film and not necessarily the year of release of the poster. In common with French posters, re-releases are common and quite difficult to distinguish.
79″ x 55″. Paper stock. Always folded. Usually issued in 2 sections and intended for pasting to small bill-boards. The 4 Foglio (or Quatro) almost always carries artwork that differs from the 2 Foglio (or Duo) which was often commissioned from a completely different artist.
28″ x 13″. Paper stock. Usually folded but sometimes rolled. An advance poster corresponding to the U.S. window card, with a blank area at the top for insertion of the cinema name and showing times.
27″ x 19″. Paper stock. Issued rolled but frequently folded for the purposes of storage. Produced in sets of 10 or, less commonly, 12 – each showing a different scene from the film.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Reissues are quite common and are difficult to distinguish. Sometimes there is new artwork for the reissue and sometimes there’s not. You have to look at various marks such as distributors, studio logos, different artists, printers, etc. to verify a particular release. Make sure that you are dealing with a reputable movie poster dealer. Reproductions are also common on major titles.
Polish Movie Posters
33″ x 23″. Paper stock. Issued in batches that had one horizontal fold across the centre. Examples from the outside of the batch have a less sharp foldline than those from the inside of the batch. This was the standard size until 1977, after which date the size was increased to 39″ x “26”. Posters produced prior to 1977 were produced on cheaper, thinner paper and are quite delicate. Poland has recently switched to the universal one-sheet format (27″ x 40″). Polish posters have long been admired for the superior quality of their often innovative and striking artwork. Noted artists include Wiktor Sadowski, Eryk Lipinski and Wieslaw Walkuski. The collector should keep in mind that the first release of foreign films in Poland sometimes took place several years after the films release in the country of origin. Re-release posters are also common but these, too, are collectable as new artwork by a different artist was invariably commissioned.