When MGM was preparing to release the religious epic “Ben Hur” in 1959, they hired Reynold Brown to create an equally epic poster.
What could be more monumental than type carved in stone, particularly a stone the size of a mountain? The type “Ben Hur” is a bigger star on the poster than Charlton Heston, whose name and likeness appears small and insignificant.
The movie went on to win eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture. The poster for the movie set the trend for all other movie posters which had anything to do with religion, such as “El Cid” (1961) (which coincidentally also had Charlton Heston protecting the “good” religion), “Sodom and Gomorrah” (1963), and “Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy” (1966).
The trend spread outside the realm of religious movies, from those that pretended to have religious content such as “The Sins of Adam and Eve” to historical movies such as “Genghis Khan” and “Marco Polo,” etc. It is still alive, as seen in the relatively recent movie, “The War of the Worlds” (2005). Of course, that trend didn’t go unnoticed by comedies such as Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” (1979). The poster for “The Life of Brian” set yet another trend for other comedy posters that followed, using three-dimensional typography if not stone.
That started an avalanche of movie posters using stone typography to try to prove their monumental value in pursuit of the Academy Awards. Some of them did so despite their soft porn content such xas “Expose Me Now.”
The full slideshow is below and on Flickr:
All images on this page are courtesy of Mirko Ilic, a New York-based graphic designer and illustrator. He co-authored The Design of Dissent, with Milton Glaser, and The Anatomy of Design and Icons of Graphic Design, with Steven Heller. He teaches illustration at the School of Visual Arts.